Feeding the world sustainably: Can science sustain us?

turner-AAAS-sustainabilityHow will we feed a world population that is predicted to grow to 9.6 billion people by 2050, using only the resources that are available to us today? The answer may be what scientists call sustainable intensification. Arizona State University geographer B. L. Turner II was a discussant at a panel symposium on that topic at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), held in San Jose, Calif. Sustainable intensification refers to increasing food production without reducing environmental quality, and takes into account a broad range of factors including a changing climate, changing patterns of consumption, and the need to sustain both natural resources and human livelihoods. Turner, a distinguished sustainability scientist in ASU's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, is an expert in human-environment relationships, both modern-day and historical. Part of his extensive body of work includes examining how climate change affects a civilization's ability to feed its people, and conversely, how changing patterns of farmland cultivation affect climate through things like deforestation and desertification. Currently Turner is working on the design of urban landscapes to reduce their environmental footprint while maintaining human well-being. Turner's methods and approaches draw from the natural, social and spatial sciences, including remote sensing and GIS, combined with extensive field work. "Intensification and the potential for sustainability will certainly be affected by climate change and urbanization." Equally important, says Turner, will be existing knowledge systems, social equity and the increasing globalization of society. "Solutions to complex problems require innovative and information-based approaches. This is what we addressed today in our symposium." Turner is the Gilbert F. White Professor of Environment and Society in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as a professor in the School of Sustainability at ASU. He is a member of the National Research Council's Committee on Considerations for the Future of Animal Science Research, which produced the 2015 report, Critical Role of Animal Science Research in Food Security and Sustainability.