Science Book a Day Interviews Julian Cribb


Special thanks to Julian Cribb for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It

Julian Cribb is an author, journalist, editor and science communicator. He is principal of Julian Cribb & Associates who provide specialist consultancy in the communication of science, agriculture, food, mining, energy and the environment. His career includes appointments as newspaper editor, scientific editor for The Australian newspaper, director of national awareness for CSIRO, member of numerous scientific boards and advisory panels, and president of national professional bodies for agricultural journalism and science communication. – From The Drum

Julian will be speaking about the future of food at the World Association of Chefs Societies’ Congress in Stavanger, Norway, in July. “Chefs are very important people – they determine the fashions that drive food consumption behaviour right through the market chain. They can help lead us to a healthier, more sustainable and safer food system in the future.”

#1 – What was the impetus for The Coming Famine?

University of California Press approached me with the idea first, having presumably seen some of the things I had been saying and writing on the internet over many years. I did not know the answer at the time I began the work, but as a long-time (40yrs) writer about agriculture I was intrigued to find out whether or not we could actually feed humanity at the peak of population. I do now. The present industrialised food system is not sustainable and cannot support 10-11 billion people in the latter 20th century. It is already killing three quarters of all people in developed countries, and two thirds globally. It must change.

#2 – Your book is replete with data and studies. How did you go about doing the research for this book?

A journalist is like a stamp collector. We all horde disassociated fragments of information – and eventually these start to build a picture. I am a science journalist, so I was chiefly interested in reputable scientific source material. The scientists did painstaking, credible, peer-reviewed research. I merely assembled it into a global picture covering the next 50-100 years.

#3 – Your book seems to be a warning call against overpopulation and overconsumption. Is there anything we can do for our future?

Yes, of course. The future depends on what we do today, as Gandhi once remarked. The women of the world will solve overpopulation – indeed are already starting to solve it, voluntarily and without reference to men. However it will take another 80-100 years before the human population declines to a sustainable level (about 4-5 billion) and the big challenge is how we are going to feed everybody in the meantime (with a peak population of around 11 billion). I am confident we can do that provided we being again to grow most of our food locally and in cities, recycle all water and nutrients, use modern concepts like algae farming and biocultures, reduce the stress on farmers and farming landscapes, use renewable energy and focus on restoring the world’s ravaged soils (store carbon, manage soil micronutrients and microbiota, use eco-farming or permaculture concepts etc), water and biota.

#4 – Your book has been out for 4 years, what has the response been? By the public? politicians? students?

I am certain there is a tidal wave of change sweeping through consumers (especially the young) and farmers all over the world, mainly via social media – but industry and governments in general seem unable to comprehend the scale of either the change or the risks humanity now faces and are doing little. I take encouragement from the fact this is a ‘middle class revolution’ led by educated and concerned farmers and consumers in all countries – and so will probably become the dominant global opinion in time. However we will suffer some rude shocks before this happens.

So, I am optimistic we can solve this problem and feed humanity safely and well through the peak in population – but I am pessimistic about the will or capacity of contemporary human structures (government, the global economy) to achieve this. (For example most governments are still bribing their citizens to have more babies, while most supermarkets discourage food production by paying farmers such low prices and externalising the environmental damage. They are both completely out of touch with reality.) In particular I think the nation state is now being found wanting in so many ways on these global issues that it will probably fade away during this century. The economy will de-materialise – I hope.

#5 – Are you working on another book/project you can tell us about?

I am soon to publish a new book on how we have poisoned the entire planet and every member of the human race, the scale of the man-made toxic assault, what it is costing us – and what we need to do to cleanse society and the global ecosystem. This issue is a ‘sleeping giant’ of which few people are fully aware (even climate change stems from only a small part of our chemical emissions), yet it affects the future of every person and probably all life on Earth. The book proposes a very optimistic and encouraging solution.

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