Paul Hanley's bold and sweeping new book, Eleven, opens with a simple but extremely consequential question: Given that the world's population is by all accounts slated to reach 11 billion by the year 2100, how will we feed everyone?
Mr. Hanley, a Canadian journalist specializing in agriculture and the environment, gives a two-part answer.
First part: if humanity stays on its current consumerist economic path, there is no way we can feed another four billion people. Indeed, he says, the earth is already taxed beyond its carrying capacity in the effort to feed seven billion, and will soon reach a crisis point.
Second part: If people adjust by embracing a new conception of themselves and rethinking their relationship with material things, it is quite possible for all 11 billion to have enough to eat--and to enjoy a bountiful and meaningful life.
Like many others, Mr. Hanley says our current path is unsustainable, noting human activity already exceeds the earth's ecological carrying capacity by 60 percent. "While the sheer volume of Earth's natural capital may allow us to carry on as is for some time, to do so with 50 percent more people would mean that our collective ecological footprint in 2100 would exceed Earth's carrying capacity several times over."
He then explores what can be done to ensure humanity does not starve itself and precipitate an ecological collapse at the same time--an exploration that in its positive and pragmatic detail makes this book stand out from purveyors of environmental gloom and doom.
In one chapter, for example, he methodically totals up the available global acreage of damaged or underutilized land that can be recovered.
And he offers success stories, like China's restoration of of the upper banks of the Yellow River, calling it a "little-known, $500 million enterprise" that transformed an area the size of Taiwan from a "dusty wasteland to productive farms, wetlands, and forest" through "terracing, watershed restoration, replanting native trees and other vegetation" with the help of the World Bank.
He also cites studies saying that organic farming can easily match and even exceed the yield--and profits--of petroleum-based agriculture, which is unsustainable. Organic farming also helps sequester carbon, which, he says, can "substantially mitigate climate change if done on a large scale."
"This form of geoengineering is a safe, win-win situation, since land restoration and soil improvement...