You Asked Us: Food security in a warming world – part 1
Last month, we hosted a webinar on the increasingly precarious global food supply chain. Here, one of our expert panellists answers your questions.
In the 1930s and 40s, 3.5million Americans were displaced by the over-farming of delicate prairie land. The dust bowl is just one example from history of the social and environmental dangers brought about by degenerative landscapes.
Dr Mark Everard, UWE
11 May 2021
Global humanity made significant, if regionally variable, social and economic progress during the twentieth century. Previous research has shown that human pressures resulting from land and other resource management strategies implemented to serve our rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel have resulted in the serious and continuing degradation of most global major habitat types. Ecosystem damage over the last 50 years of the twentieth century was greater than in any comparable period of human history, with estimates that the demands of contemporary global society effectively consume 1.5 ‘Planet Earths’.
The term ‘regenerative landscapes’ refers to uses and management of natural resources not simply for narrow purposes, but instead in ways that ensure as many as possible of the multiple supportive capacities of the ecosystem are retained or restored, building system resilience and supporting a diversity of linked socio-economic benefits.
Driving ESG in Real Estate and Construction – A Foundation for Impact Investment
There is no doubt that demand for ESG-linked real estate investment is increasing. With a wide range of global sustainability challenges and complex risks on the rise, investors are starting to re-evaluate traditional portfolio approaches. As public pressure builds for industries to adhere to environmental, social and governance standards, the real estate and construction industries are no exception. Numerous regulations and cultural shifts are changing the course of the European ESG landscapes. How exactly is ESG affecting the real estate and construction industries? How does the European ESG landscape look right now? Will these industries be changing its portfolio strategy (more) towards ESG?
America’s Dust Bowl
Approximately 3.5 million people moved out of the Plains states in the United States between the 1930s and 1940s. These people were displaced because of the rapid degradation of farmland, which had been converted from prairieland under efforts to combat the disastrous effects of the US Great Depression (please hyperlink: https://www.rics.org/uk/wbef/megatrends/urbanisation/the-history-and-future-of-places-part-6--war-depression-and-reconstruction/). Removal of the protective prairie vegetation combined with the use of deep ploughing technology and a severe drought destabilised the soil, making it vulnerable to severe erosion by wind and rain. The resulting dry lands across the American Midwest created dust clouds that engulfed farmsteads and rural towns.
Collapse of the Newfoundland cod fish stocks
In Newfoundland, the introduction of supertrawlers combined with a lack of effective fishery management policies, enabled fishing vessels to catch 8 million tons of cod over a 15-year period; the same amount as had been caught over the previous 100 years. By the 1990s, cod stocks, along with the local industry and economy, had entirely collapsed, and the whole coastal ecosystem had undergone an apparently irreversible shift into a different state almost devoid of cod.
In Newfoundland, the introduction of supertrawlers enabled fishing vessels to catch 8 million tons of cod over a 15-year period; the same amount as had been caught over the previous 100 years.
Water retention and diversion schemes impose a significant ‘take’ on land, water and other natural resources. Where landscapes were formerly in common stewardship, the dispossession, disempowerment and displacement of landless people is common. Large dams fundamentally change riverine ecosystems by simplifying the hydrology. This halts the regeneration of soil fertility on downstream floodplains, destabilises fish stocks and provides an ideal environment for vectors of water-borne diseases. Likely ecosystem service outcomes arising from the proposed Pancheshwar Dam on the India/Nepal border in the Himalayas revealed a highly asymmetric distribution of benefits and costs between already privileged constituencies and potentially millions of people suffering as a result of the degradation of the flows, nutrients, sediment and biodiversity of the Kali river system. All of these factors compromise the livelihoods of an often ‘silent’ majority of people living in watersheds surrounding large dams.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found that:
Key to a sustainable food future will be boosting the natural resource efficiency of agriculture. If we are to feed our hungry planet, we must produce more food per hectare, per animal, per kilogram of fertilizer, and per litre of water.
Over the past century, human actions have increased species extinction rates by up to 1,000 times.
The United Nations observed multiple desertification effects:
Tropical forests continue to disappear at an accelerating rate:
Deforestation destroys habitats for a diversity of species. It also degrades ecosystems’ capacity to store and purify water, and removes the natural buffer for storm energy: a buffer that also prevents soil erosion.
Agricultural and industrial practices are causing profound harm to ecosystems across the developed and developing world. Regenerating affected landscapes can have manifold environmental, economic and social benefits. Here, we spotlight three successful case studies.
 Worster, D. (1979). Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. Oxford University Press.
 Hakim, J. (1995). A History of Us: War, Peace and all that Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press.
 Ships with powerful engines allowing them to access more remote and deeper waters, equipped with larger nets and hold storage capacity and highly sophisticated GPS and sonar technology to locate and track fish shoals.
 Myers, R.A.; Hutchings, J.A. and Barrowman, N.J. (1997) ‘Why do fish stocks collapse? The example of cod in Atlantic Canada” in Ecological Applications. 7 (1): 91–106. Washington: ESA
 Kurlansky, M. (2010). Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. Penguin Books, London.
 World Commission on Dams. (2000). Dams and Development: A New Framework for Better Decision-making. Earthscan, London.
 Everard, M. and Kataria, G. (2010). The proposed Pancheshwar Dam, India/Nepal: A preliminary ecosystem services assessment of likely outcomes. An IES research report, Institution of Environmental Sciences, London – accessed 26th October 2017.
 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. (2005a). Ecosystems & Human Well-being: Synthesis Report. Island Press: Washington DC.
 Kahn, B. (2017). We Just Breached the 410 ppm Threshold for CO2: Carbon dioxide has not reached this height in millions of years. Scientific American, 21st April 2017 – accessed 17th June 2017.
 United Nations. (Undated). Desertification. United Nations – accessed 19th May 2017.
 Hansen, M.C., Potapov, P.V., Moore, R., Hancher, R., Turubanova, S.A., Tyukavina, A., Thau, D., Stehman, S.V., Goetz, S.J., Loveland, T.R., Kommareddy, A., Egorov, A., Chini, L., Justice, C.O. and Townshend, J.R.G. (2013). High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change. Science, 342(6160), pp.850-853.
 Shvidenko, A., Barber, C.V., Persson, R., Gonzalez, P., Hassan, R., Lakyda, P., McCallum, I., Nilsson, S., Pulhin, J., van Rosenburg, B. and Scholes, R. (2005). Chapter 21: Forest and Woodland Systems. In: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment - Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends. pp.585-621 – accessed 19th May 2017.
 Lawson, S., Blundell, A., Cabarle, B., Basik, N., Jenkins, M. and Canby, K.(2014). Consumer Goods and Deforestation: An Analysis of the Extent and Nature of Illegality in Forest Conversion for Agriculture and Timber Plantations. Forest Trends Report Series: Forest Trade and Finance September 2014 – accessed 19th May 2017.
 Nabuurs, G.J., Masera, O., et al. (2007). Chapter 9: Forestry. In: IPCC Fourth Annual Assessment Report – Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability – accessed 19th May 2017.
This piece is an excerpt from Regenerative Landscapes, a report funded by the RICS Research Trust and published by RICS. The RICS Research Trust became fully independent of RICS in January 2021 and has been rebranded as the Property Research Trust.