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Will there be more than a billion acts of green on Earth Day this Sunday 22 April?  The international Earth Day Network (EDN) - the organisation behind this world celebration - certainly hopes so, but what will your act be to help them reach their target? Over the past four months, we've been discussing the big issues of our planet's sustainability at our Earth Debates here at the Museum and it seems fitting to actually do something practical and personal to mark the end of these events.

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Plant a tree or shrub, sow some seeds, make a compost heap and get that water butt out there... it's Earth Day this Sunday.

The EDN suggests some very simple things you can do on the day: recycle all your rubbish, plant a tree or sow some seeds, make a compost heap, install a water butt for rainwater harvesting, or walk instead of drive your car.

 

But because of the hosepipe ban in the south and southeast of England, I'd suggest you plant a hardy shrub, cactus or some lavender for the bees rather than a thirsty tree.

 

This Earth Day comes at the end of the week that Thames Water has been giving out drought warning leaflets with free shower-timers - I got mine at Paddington - so it's a good time to get more determined about their water-saving tips. The recommended time for a shower is 4 minutes. If we make it a brief blast, then we could save 10 litres of water per minute, they say.

 

And best to fix those leaking taps and toilets - a dripping tap can waste more than 60 litres of water per week and, at 2,800 litres per week, a leaking loo can be much, much worse. Choosing to only flush the loo when you really need to and turning off the tap while you're washing up or brushing your teeth really helps to save water too.

 

Of course it's deeply ironic, or just a consequence of being British, that the week the drought warning leaflets are being distributed is when we've been having heavy rain and thunder storms here in London. Every time I've ventured out of the office this week to grab a late lunch I've been deluged! However, will a week of downpours repair the damage caused in the UK by the driest two years since records began? Unlikely, so we should all be happy for the April showers to continue for more days yet.

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Witness the wonder of water and its cycle of life at the spectacular audio-visual quadrosphere installation in the Museum's Ecology gallery.

If you're visting the Museum at the weekend or sometime soon, I'd recommend a trip round the Ecology gallery. Stop awhile at the gigantic water cycle quadrosphere - it's really impressive. And, come rain or shine, take a stroll in our thriving Wildlife Garden (below) to immerse yourselves in its earthy, watery wonders. Remind yourself of the preciousness of our wild resources.

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See what Earth Day 2012 is all about and what's on for Earth Day UK

 

Find out about more about Thames Waters' drought information


Browse the Ecology gallery highlights and discover the water table quadrosphere.

 

Discover the Museum's Wildlife Garden and see some simple,  practical steps you can take to reduce your environmental impact

 

Find out more about our Earth Debates and watch them online.

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While many of us here in the UK feast our eyes on an appetising array of food and cookery TV shows and our stomachs on pre-prepared foods, and as our kids are tempted by ever-more cunningly-named cereals from Kraves to Choc'n'Roll, it's hard to reconcile ourselves to the hard facts of food production and sustainability. Probably because we want this basic ingredient of life to remain a sensory object of our desires rather than an everyday concern.

 

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By 2050, to feed the estimated world population of 9 billion, we'll need an annual production of around 3 billion tonnes of cereal and 200 million tonnes of meat. Image © Ellen Goff

 

But for nearly 1 billion people - one in seven - there simply isn't this luxury as they do not have enough to eat each day. And many more suffer from malnutrition, despite the fact that every human being has a right to adequate food. (I sometimes wonder why some clever bod hasn't come up with a way to recycle and preserve unused food that's chucked out daily from our households, restaurants and workplaces, and which could be supplied somehow to hunger hotspots. Here in the UK we throw away an astonishing 7.2 million tonnes of consumable food and drink each year - enough to fill 4,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools!)

 

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that by 2050 we will need to increase agricultural production by 70 per cent to meet the food demands of a suggested 9.1 billion population (one that is about 34 per cent higher than that of today). But will there be enough land, water and genetic biodiversity to meet the demands?

 

The FAO also estimates that only about a dozen species of animals provide 90 per cent of animal protein we consume globally, and only four crop species give us half the plant-based colonies in our human diet. Conversely, the gene pool in plant and animal resources and natural ecosystems, which breeders need, is known to be diminishing. In the future we may be encouraged to be more vegetarian or reconsider genetically modified foods such as in vitro meat on our menu. Our breeders and farmers may be asked for alternatives to single crops and to re-evaluate the benefits of industrial as opposed to family farmng. As more people move to the cities, there may need to be more institutionalised plans in place for rural agriculture.

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Is there enough water for the crops of the future? Will the need for staple grain crops decline in an increasingly industrialised world?  These and other key concerns of food security and production will be  discussed tonight in our fourth Earth Debate at the Museum.

And how will factors like a much larger urban population and the associated rise in supermarket culture, climate change and biofuels impact on our food security? In what ways can we balance the uneven distribution of resources and the over-nutrition of developed, more industrialised societies with the malnutrition of poorer communities? How much of the problem is one of production rather than managing wastage and taking over more land? And what of population growth checks?

 

These paradoxes of food and our future food security are the subject tonight of our fourth and final Earth Debate to be webcast and hosted in the Museum's Attenborough Studio and we need your thoughts on the subject too. Stakeholders Forum for a sustainable future will feed - scuse the pun - the discussions on to the big Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June.

 

On the panel are Sue Dibb, Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council, Barry Gardiner, MP and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Biodiversity, John Ingram, Food Security Leader at the Natural Environment Research Council and Camilla Toulmin, Director of the International Insititute for Environment and Development. The BBC's Richard Black will be chairing and, as with the previous debates, an invited audience and submissions via #earthdebates on Twitter will lead the questions to the panel.

 

Watch the Food security: how do we feed 9 billion people in 2050 debate live online at 19.00 BST tonight. If you can't tune into the webcast, we'll also be live-tweeting from @NHM_Live starting at approximately 18.50 or you can follow #earthdebates.

 

See the other debates online

 

Find out more about our Earth Debates

 

Read the Food and Agriculture Organisation's food security report


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Along the streets and alleyways of our future eco-cities there will be borders of wild flowers buzzing with bees and butterflies. Swifts and bats will fly freely again to and from the eaves of public buildings and tower blocks. Glimpses of solar panels, wind turbines and roof gardens, reflected in self-cleaning windows, will frame the high horizon. It will take under 7minutes to walk to your nearest public transport, recycling centre and local farmer's market. A tree-lined park, river or lake will be just as close.

 

Does it sound romantic and as far away as the Emerald City seemed to Dorothy when she first set foot in Oz? Such improvements to the sustainability, biodiversity and natural quality of urban life are already part of the greening plans for many cities around the world. And for good reason. It's the first time in history we face a situation where half of the world's population is located in urban spaces rather than rural areas. Planning the future of our cities will make or break a green economy.

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Above: Green roofs are starting to pop up all over London. Enough of them could cut down flooding risks, help cool the city, and reduce health hazards in the anticipated hot summers that climate change may bring. And make more space for nature.

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In places like Curitiba, capital of Brazil's Parana State, and Sweden, to name a couple, there have been big successes in cutting pollution, fuel consumption and waste through innovative city planning. There are also more ambitious schemes for completely new developments such as Masdar City near Abu Dhabi. Masdar is being hailed as the world's first zero carbon city and a showcase for sustainable living.

 

And what of Britain's most energy-efficient cities? Are they doing as well as they should? Here in London, there has been much talk of the Green Olympics with sustainability embedded firmly in Olympic planning from the outset. Pictured right is the area around east London's Olympic Park site which is being transformed in line with sustainability guidelines.

 

The costs and benefits of making our cities and urban housing greener and the promise of the greenest-ever Olympics will no doubt be among the hot topics on the agenda of this week's Earth Debate taking place here at the Museum. Olympics sustainability head, David Stubbs, joins the panel of key speakers to discuss Green cities in a green economy.

 

Green cities in a green economy - how to pioneer a sustainable transition? is on Wednesday 14 March from 19.00 to 20.00 GMT in the Attenborough  Studio. Like the last two it folllows a Question Time format with an invited studio audience and four panellists.

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Watch the Green cities debate live on our website or join us on our online community to have your say before, during and after the event. On the night, you can contribute questions or comments using #earthdebates on Twitter.

 

This is our third Earth Debate, organised jointly with our Earth Debates partner, the Stakeholder Forum for a sustainable future, in the lead-up to the UN's Earth summit in June, Rio+20.

 

Find out more about the Earth Debates and watch the previous debates on video


Join in the UK's Climate Week activities

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As I walked through the Museum’s Earth galleries last week it made me chuckle to see a small sign posted on the What is Earth’s future? exhibit. The sign read ‘Out of Order. This exhibit is being repaired…’ The group of young lads who noticed it too were also highly amused at the irony of it.

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The Museum's What is Earth's future? exhibit, recently declared 'Out of order'. Symbolic of things to come for our planet? The exhibit, located in the From the Beginning gallery in the Museum's Red Zone, has since been restored to its spinning globe with haunting moving images projected on it. Select images to enlarge them

 

Of late, we’ve experienced some trying times behind the scenes in the Earth galleries office block, where I work. First our staff lift ground to a halt (leaving us with a lung-busting hike up the stairs), then the water packed up - just as well since the toilets had stopped working - and to top it all off  the heating threw in the towel for a day at the height of the recent cold spell. However, we soldiered on to make the Red Zone's galleries the greatest show of Earth on Earth. And, because we care and because the Natural History Museum is an inspiring place to work, we were happy to do so (like the rest of our 'fairly happy' fellow Britons as recently observed in the much-talked-about Happiness survey.)

 

It strikes me that what happened in the Museum's Earth galleries is in uncanny synchronicity with the central concerns of our current series of Earth Debates, which continue here over the next three months: if we don’t do some vital repairs to our resources and society, will parts of the Earth soon be declared out of order too? What is the real impact of what we produce and consume on our surroundings? Does our quest for the greatest show, greater monetary wealth and the constant demand for more material goods come before our immediate day-to-day living needs? Are we happier and do we feel more valued if we are more affluent or is it because of what we achieve and where and who we are with?

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Would you be willing to go vegetarian, or even just to switch to eating poultry, pork or pasture-fed beef rather than grain-fed beef to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment? Big decisions are ahead at the next international Earth summit.

 

There is little point in me trying to explain here why the UN's earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in June is so important (aka Rio+20 as it is being held 20 years after 1992's seminal summit). It would take too long - our Earth Debates partner, the Stakeholder Forum for a sustainable future, who are coordinating and guiding key discussions in the lead-up to Rio+20, has identified 97 key issues (see the tag cloud below) - and besides our Earth Debates pages online already do a very clear job of this and will point you to all the right places for more information.

 

What's more vital is that the Museum needs your input now on the big issues that will be acted upon at global level in June. We need your thoughts on a sustainable green economy for the world or your local area, and all your favourite bugbears that go with it, as part of our ongoing Earth Debates.


Each of our four Earth Debates, with its four panellists and invited audience, is broadcast live from the Attenborough Studio on our website. The format of each debate is like BBC’s Question Time and you can watch it live, follow or contribute your questions or comments using #earthdebates on Twitter, or post your views to our online community before, during and after the event.

 

The next Earth Debate is this Wednesday 22 February from 19.00 to 20.00 GMT where the panel and studio audience will ask Beyond GDP - how can we measure progress? This debate will question the alternatives - like measuring our wellbeing and the value of the environment - to the traditional measures of economic growth and and asks what is needed for businesses and governments to invest in a green economy rather than exploit it.

 

Bookmark the link to the webcast and to #earthdebates on Twitter to join us on the night.

 

Missed the first Earth debate on 25 January about the price of nature? Watch the highlights in this short video clip which features debate chair Tim Radford, panellists Professor Sir Robert Watson, Claire Brown, Ian Dickie and Will Evison, and audience member Tony Juniper.

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'Business as usual is absolutely unsustainable... but we also have to show business that there are solutions.' An extract from the closing comment of Defra's Robert Watson in January's first Earth Debate.

Watch the whole of the first debate Ecosystem economics - can we put a price on nature? (video of the 1st Earth Debate).

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The third debate will tackle Green cities in a green economy - how to pioneer a sustainable transition? on 14 March 2012, followed by the fourth debate Food security - how do we feed 9 billion people in 2050? on 11 April 2012.

 

Find out more online about our Earth Debates and the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro

 

Get more information on the the Stakeholder Forum for a sustainable future and their priority concerns.