Decisions, Data, Biases and Feeding the Planet

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash

This week, we take a look at how we can make better decisions for ourselves, how to recognise our own biases, and why we need to be conversant about what happens to our personal data. We finish by sharing the 22 solutions that are needed to sustainably feed everyone on our planet by 2050, and the opportunities that these present.

Why is it easier to make decisions for other people? It's all to do with mindset. When it comes to thinking for ourselves, we tend to be cautious, uncertain, avoiding risk. With others though, our perspective is different, we focus on the 'big picture' and overall impressions. When making decisions for ourselves, every detail matters and has significance, when looking at others, not so much.

What does this mean for our learners, and indeed ourselves? It means that we all need a mentor, someone who we trust who tells you what you need to hear. We also need to practice acting as our own advisors, and adopting a 'fly on the wall' perspective when viewing our own problems. Not an easy thing to do, and something that requires learning and practice.

It's either that or let someone else make our decisions for us.

Cognitive biases - so crucial for us to recognise, and so few appear to be aware of them - just read any Twitter flame war. As aspirational human beings, it's easy to make simple mistakes when we process information and try to make sense of the world around us, however many of us do not appear to realise this - our perception of reality is Truth, and Truth can be a problem. It's crucial that we understand the mistakes that we can make when receiving and interpreting information and why they happen.

I consider this to be essential for any human being to engage with, discuss, reflect on and recognise. Let's at least start the conversation, and if you're interested, have a look at School of Thought. What biases am I personally sensitive to? It's a long list, but the dunning-kruger effect, just world hypothesis, curse of knowledge, group think and optimism bias. I have a poster of them on my office wall - I need to be constantly reminded of them, as we all do.

With the massive amount of surveillance and data gathering now going on in China, one might think that its citizens are less sensitive about what is being collected and how it's being used. That, however, may not be true. Due to recent recent data leaks both in China and internationally, people are becoming more aware of the need for data security. However, it does appear that there is still some way to go before data protection is a real priority, particularly with regard to legal protection and access to personal data. One Chinese company that uses AI is finding it hard to expand and run its business model successfully outside China because of tighter data protection laws.

We've talked about personal data security and protection before, and it's something that every human being must start becoming aware of and conversant with. One to watch I think.

From our 2050 desk - how is our planet going to feed 10 Billion people sustainably in 30 years time?

WRI Research has identified 22 solutions that need to be simultaneously applied to produce 56% more food, reduce greenhouse emissions, and not use any more land. This is an excellent article presenting a 'Five Course Menu' of the 22 solutions - all of them presenting future opportunities for our young people.

First Course: Reduce Growth In Demand for Food and Other Agricultural Products

1. Reduce food loss and waste

2. Shift to healthier, more sustainable diets.

3. Remove competition between bioenergy crops and food crops on arable land.

4. Achieve replacement level human fertility rates.

Course 2: Increase Food Production Without Expanding Agricultural Land

5. Increase livestock and pasture productivity.

6. Improve crop breeding.

7. Improve soil and water management.

8. Plant existing cropland more frequently.

9. Adapt to climate change.

Course 3: Protect and Restore Natural Ecosystems and Limit Agricultural Land-Shifting

10. Link productivity gains to the protection of local ecosystems.

11. Limit crop expansion to lands with low environmental opportunity costs.

12. Reforest agricultural lands with little intensification potential.

13. Conserve and restore peat lands.

Course 4: Increase Fish Supply

14. Improve wild fisheries management.

15. Improve productivity and environmental performance of aquaculture.

Course 5: Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agricultural Production

16. Reduce 'cow burps', or enteric fermentation through new technologies.

17. Reduce emissions through improved manure management.

18. Reduce emissions from manure left on pasture.

19. Reduce emissions from fertilizers by increasing nitrogen use efficiency.

20. Adopt emissions-reducing rice management and varieties.

21. Increase agricultural energy efficiency and shift to non-fossil energy sources.

22. Implement realistic options to sequester carbon in soils.

Again, let's remember each of these menu items when we're next talking with young people about opportunities for the future.

Thank you for joining us this week. We welcome any and all feedback and comments, and please contact me with any questions or suggestions you have.


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