Asking the big questions

Panels at the upcoming Conference on World Affairs address climate change and food insecurity

Fred Haberman, Richard McCarthy and Bill Ryerson (left to right) are speakers on various environmental panels at this year’s CWA.

The annual Conference on World Affairs has never shied away from difficult topics, and this year is no different. Several of the panels tackle issues of climate change and sustainability, problems that beg for concrete solutions in an uncertain world. Panelists in a variety of fields, from activists to NASA employees, plan to dissect these topics in an effort to make sense of the environment both locally and abroad.

In one panel, Food Insecurity in the Midst of Plenty, experts will address access to healthy foods, even in the middle of food deserts. Research done by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2015 found that more than 790 million people are food insecure globally. In the U.S., households with children are more likely to be food insecure, leaving 13 million children across our nation unsure of where their next meal might come from, according to Feeding America.

“Today, more than 42 million people in the United States live in food-insecure households,” panelist Fred Haberman says in an email interview. “Yet, our country produces more than enough food to feed these people with healthy, nutritious food.”

Through his marketing agency, Haberman promotes pioneers supporting social change, including such food companies as Organic Valley and Annie’s. He also co-founded Urban Organics, an aquaponics farm that uses 98 percent less water than a traditional agricultural system.

“Agricultural sustainability is critical for the future health of our planet, and can be viewed as a key ingredient in helping to solve food insecurity and spur economic development,” he says.

“Food insecurity speaks to questions of access,” panelist Richard McCarthy says in an email interview. A fundamental problem for America, according to McCarthy, is our obsession with scale and speed, which has produced the large chain supermarkets that sell mostly processed foods with unhealthy ingredients.

“Both encourage waste,” he explains. “With big food, waste is big too. With our quest for perception and risk mitigation, we send far too much (40 percent) of our food to landfill. We are trapped in a consumer culture, not a conserver culture. Both behaviors and attitudes must shift.”

McCarthy currently works as the director at Slow Food USA, which strives to “change the world through food that is good, clean and fair for all,” he says.

In addition to food scarcity, severe droughts, extreme weather, rising sea levels and changing environments all contribute to an increasing number of “climate refugees,” people forced to flee their homes as a result of global warming. In Climate Refugees: The Human Cost of Climate Change, experts will address how climate change impacts human populations, as well as possible solutions to mitigate these effects.

“Policies by themselves are not necessarily going to solve the problem of the U.S. contribution to climate change because there’s only so much you can do with policy. Demand for consumption of energy and other resources is still a major factor in climate change,” says panelist William Ryerson. “So changing behavior at the individual and family level is critically important.”

Ryerson is the founder of the Population Media Center, which utilizes entertainment-education strategies to positively influence decision making and social norms in regards to family planning, HIV prevention, child nutrition and environmental protection by creating characters the audience can use as role models.

As part of the panel, Ryerson hopes to specifically discuss family planning, a topic he says is often left out of international discussions about climate change prevention, but can have a larger impact on our carbon legacies than people realize.

“Since Americans have high per capita carbon footprints, a decision by an American couple to have one less child is a contribution to reducing their carbon legacy. That is, if I remember correctly, 5.7 times greater than the combination of all the technological ‘fixes’ they might do, like changing the lights, insulating the house, using solar panels, driving a hybrid vehicle,” Ryerson says.

He also cites Bryan O’Neil who has done research at the University of Colorado Boulder that shows that a global effort on family planning could result in 16 to 29 percent of the change that is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

These issues may seem “big picture,” but these panels will help explain how to make an impact as an individual. 

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