Selasa, 16 Agustus 2011

Sustainable consumption: constraint on consumerism?

Over the last decades of the 20th century evidence mounted about the deleterious effect of contemporary food and agricultural policies. These include:
• pollution and chemical contamination from pesticide (over-)use (Conway and Pretty, 1991);
• falling water tables from over-irrigation and intensive crop production (de Moor, 1998);
• drinking water quality (McMichael, 1999);
• loss of biodiversity (Gardner, 1996);
• degraded soil (Oldeman et al ., 1991; McMichael, 2001);
• wasteful use of land and sea (World Resources Institute, 1993).
There is now considerable concern in agricultural policy on whether the earth’s food infrastructure can feed populations. The Worldwatch Institute has pointed to evidence of slowing of yield increases, declining crop diversity, declining fish stocks, and the impact of climate change (Gardner and Halweil, 2000). The challenge of meeting sustainability goals is not just a matter for ecology, but also society. Key trends include urbanization, rising meat consumption and civil wars, which upset agricultural capacities. The growing debate about sustainable consumption raises additional long-term questions about the “pull” exerted by consumerism. What are the implications of continued changing consumer demands for more meat, fish and use of nonrenewable resources, such as in packaging?
A foretaste of what could follow in the wake of the nutrition transition, if developing countries adopt the entire Western intensive approach to food production and consumption exemplified by hygienic packaging, can be appreciated by looking at what the “advanced” economies do. The global packaging industry is worth an annual $100 billion and in some developed countries, packaging accounts for between 10% and 50% of end food costs. The USA’s packaging industry manufactures 32 billon kilograms of plastic food packaging each year, and its population of 280 million people throws away 60 million plastic bottles each day, less than 3% are recycled. If the USA is a world leader in such waste, the UK with a population of 60 million also manages to use 15 million plastic bottles per day, of which less than 3% are recycled. Where does this waste go? The choice is either to bury it in landfills or to recycle it.
The European Union has now set the ambitious goal of recovering 50% of all plastic waste and of recycling half of that. But the recycling currently means that shiploads of plastic waste are taken to China for sorting by cheap labor (Vidal, 2001). Such solutions are probably unsustainable. That what is required is more than palliatives, but rather a structural rethink, is given further weight by the enormity of carbon emissions. The UK’s food, drink, and tobacco industries produce 4.5 million tons (Mt) of carbon a year, and also deposit 6 Mt of waste in landfill sites each year (DETR, 1998). A policy debate about the relative health value of packaging is urgently required.
A similar challenge for health is raised by the rapid urbanization of global populations. In policy terms, the questions are: firstly, how are the populations of cities to be fed? Secondly, who is to do it? In 1900, approximately 5% of the world’s people lived in cities with populations greater than 100 000. By the 1990s, an estimated 45% – more than 2.5 billion people – lived in large urban centers. And by 2025, that proportion is likely to be 61% of the world’s population (Howson et al ., 1998). This is likely to be accompanied by a considerable growth of the urban poor. As the population in cities continues to expand into the 21st century, the demand for food to feed urban people will grow. The FAO estimates that in a city of 10 million people, 6000 tonnes of food may need to be imported on a daily basis (FAO, 1998). By the year 2025, there will be a huge increase in the numbers of people in the south living in cities. Between 1950 and 1990, the world’s towns and cities grew twice as fast as rural areas (World Bank, 1999). In 1950, only two cities had more than 8 million inhabitants, London and New York (Harrison, 1992). It is estimated that over the next 20 years, 93% of urban growth will take place, whereas the majority of the population in the continents of Africa and Asia will remain in the rural areas.
Urbanization poses a special challenge for building a sustainable route to development. If just one feature associated with the nutrition transition – meat consumption –were to be replaced by a greater emphasis on increasing availability and consumption of vegetables and fruits, patterns of production would have to be markedly different. To reduce the use of nonrenewable energy via transportation, more local cultivation would be desirable. The UN Habitat 2 conference in 1996 concluded that urban or peri-urban agriculture will have to make a come-back, after decades of declining policy focus (UNDP, 1996). In fact, for half a century, the emphasis in global food policy, and certainly in the Western model of agriculture, has been specialization and intensification. Despite this policy marginalization, in 1993 15–20% of world food was produced in urban or peri-urban areas and was worth US$500 million (WHO-E, 1999).
In cities such as Kathmandu where 37% of urban gardeners already grow all the vegetables consumed, and Hong Kong, where 45% of demand for vegetables is supplied from 5–6% of the land mass, a practical alternative to long-distance food exists. The new global movement of urban agriculture (Pretty, 1998), which tends to be encouraged on ecological and community self-reliance grounds, is beginning to receive public health encouragement. The WHO European Region, concerned about diet-related diseases, has recently produced an ambitious and far-sighted policy document (WHO-E, 1999). This notes that up to 80% of Siberian or Asian cities are already involved in urban agriculture, and that in 1997 in Poland, for example, 500 000 tonnes of vegetables and fruits (one-sixth of the national consumption) were produced on 8000 council “employees” gardens. In Georgia, home-produced food accounted for 28% of income and in Bulgaria in 1998, 47% of people were self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit and 90% of urban families make preserves for winter (WHO-E, 1999).
     To orthodox Western food economists, a policy emphasis on local urban or peri-urban food smacks of an irrational return to a mythical halcyon past. But the case for thinking through the connection between what is produced, grown, processed, and consumed And how this happens sits at the heart of the new food policy challenge. The issue is not just quantity but quality. An illustration is the huge amount of nonrenewable energy (fossil fuels) used in transporting food increasingly long distances, as the food supply chain intensifies, concentrates, and specializes. To neoliberals, that a developing country could produce, for example, dessert apples and export them to the UK would be a good thing. The fact that the UK has a good climate and could grow its own is secondary. In 1993, 685 000GJ (equivalent to 14 million liters of fuel) was used to transport 417 207 tonnes of imported apples (Garnett, 1999). Four out of five pears and two out of three apples are now imported into the UK (Hoskins and Lobstein, 1998). In 1995, by foods such as these, the UK was a net importer of “ghost hectares”; in other words, its food needs were produced on 4.1 million hectares of other countries’ land, as well as its own (MacLaren et al., 1998).
In the period 1975–91/93, food transported on UK roads increased by 30% and the distance traveled by the UK’s total food supply increased by approximately 60% (Hoskins and Lobstein, 1998). The distance traveled for shopping in general rose by 60% in that period, and travel by car more than doubled. With the citing of food shops (supermarkets) in ever larger stores, consumers had to use cars to get their food. So the net result is that the “modern”, “efficient” food economy externalized environmental costs (Raven and Lang, 1995). The western model of food shopping is not appropriate as a sustainable consumption paradigm, yet that is the cultural dimension behind the nutritional transition –a change of lifestyle with consequences for ecological as well as human health.


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