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Downtown Lecture Series: Q&A with Diana Liverman

Diana Liverman, co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona, talks about the effects of reducing poverty and hunger on greenhouse gases, how wine and coffee will suffer from climate change, the “carbon paw print” of your pets, and what you can do about it all.

October 14, 2014

Diana Liverman

Diana Liverman

Diana Liverman, co-director of the Institute of the Environment and a regents professor in the University of Arizona’s school of Geography and Development will be giving a lecture titled, “Changing Geographies of Food” on Wednesday, October 15 at the Tucson Fox Theater at 6 pm. Her talk will kick off the UA’s Downtown Lecture Series, this year focused on food.

She will discuss the global success of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in reducing poverty and hunger; but, as more people have become more productive, they create more greenhouse gases, affecting the global food system. She says the ensuing changes in climate will affect things we enjoy daily—wine, chocolate, and coffee. Liverman says there are things we can do to both combat the changes in climate and also adapt to the warming environment.

She’ll even talk about what she calls the “carbon paw print.” To find out how just ecofriendly your furry friends are, you’ll have to attend the lecture.

Liverman has been studying the effects of global climate change on society for most of her career. Before coming to the UA, she was the director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, as well as a member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Change Advisory Committee and the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Inter American Institute for Global Change Research.

 

What will your be lecture about?

 I’m trying to provide people with a global overview of food and hunger. I’m going to give people some good news about [how] we’ve halved the number of hungry people in the last 25 years worldwide. And then I’m going to talk about the threat of climate change and the world food system, and the choices we have about how to either adapt our food system to a warming word or reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our food system. So, it’s basically: Things are better than you think in terms overall state of the global food system, but there is this serious risk out there which is climate change. But there [are] some things we can do about it.

What can we do about these issues?

My lecture sort of falls into a few sections. The first section will be focused on the United Nations Millennium goals, which set out to halve hunger and halve poverty worldwide, and we wanted to do that between 1990 and 2015 and we’ve already met the goals. And then I talk about why—why we’ve been successful in meeting these UN goals. But, I’ll point out that although we’ve halved poverty and halved hunger, and given everyone access to water, one of the ironies is that as people become better off and eat more they produce more energy which then produces more greenhouse gas which then causes the climate to change.

Then, I’ll move into what climate change is doing and might do to the world food system. For a little bit of a lighter touch, I’m going to focus on wine, chocolate, and coffee, to show that some of the things that we really like are at threat from climate change. Then in the last part of my talk I’m going to talk about how even though our food system is threatened by climate change, it’s also a source of green house gas emissions, so the food itself contributes to changing the climate. I’ll talk about how the world food system is probably responsible for about a quarter of all the greenhouse gas emissions warming the climate.

Why did you decide to focus your lecture on these topics?

My whole career, I’ve been interested in how drought affects climate and society… [and] that in part comes from growing up in Africa and being really upset by seeing all of the starving children on television; and thinking initially it was all caused by the natural environment, by drought, and then coming to the understanding that its much more complicated. It’s about poverty and war. You know that hunger isn’t just caused by bad weather; it’s caused by lots of things.

Then… I discovered that we were actually changing the climate, so for my Ph.D. I looked at how climate change would affect the world food system. Because if drought caused famine in Africa now, what would more intense droughts do to the world food system? For the last 30 years my research has been about how climate variability and climate change affect society and what we can do about it.

Why is food an important issue for you?

 It’s one of the basic needs of humanity—water, food, energy. And we’re transforming the planet in ways in which put at risk the security of future generations and current generations. We’re affecting food, we’re affecting energy, we’re affecting water—in some ways that are pretty serious.


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