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Butterfly Wings & Wheat: How The Ukraine War Could Spark Global Food Crises

In an interconnected world, we are faced again with the negative implications of the so-called "butterfly effect" when a localized conflict can have far-reaching consequences and trigger lasting crises. For our world's broken food systems, the war in Ukraine should be a wake-up call.

Volunteers provide food at the railway station to internally displaced persons who fled the hostilities waged by Russian invaders in Mukachevo, Ukraine

Volunteers provide food at the Mukachevo, Ukraine railway station

Carlo Petrini*

-OpEd-

Could the conflict that erupted in Ukraine cause a new bread revolution in Egypt? Alas yes, the conditions are in place for this — and other similar upheavals — to happen.

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The outbreak of war in Ukraine — which is upsetting, unexpected and utterly unjustifiable — again leaves us feeling powerless and overwhelmed by circumstances far beyond our control. In a deeply interconnected world, this also forces us to again reckon with the negative implications of the so-called "butterfly effect:" how a dramatic event limited to a specific geographical area can have unexpected consequences in faraway areas of the planet, laying the foundations for serious and lasting crises.

Here, I want to focus specifically on the agri-food sector, in light of a sad fact: conflict and hunger are intimately connected phenomena, when one occurs the other follows almost naturally.

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Artificial Satellite Pollution, Perils For Biodiversity In Space And On Earth

Exploiting space resources and littering it with satellite and other anthropogenic objects is endangering the ecosystem of space, which also damages the earth and its creatures below.

Image of the small satellite NanoRacks-Remove Debris satellite deployed into space by the ISS

Thomas Lewton

Outer space isn’t what most people would think of as an ecosystem. Its barren and frigid void isn’t exactly akin to the verdant canopies of a rainforest or to the iridescent shoals that swim among coral cities. But if we are to become better stewards of the increasingly frenzied band of orbital space above our atmosphere, a shift to thinking of it as an ecosystem — as part of an interconnected system of living things interacting with their physical environment — may be just what we need.

Last month, in the journal Nature Astronomy, a collective of 11 astrophysicists and space scientists proposed we do just that, citing the proliferation of anthropogenic space objects. Thousands of satellites currently orbit the Earth, with commercial internet providers such as SpaceX’s Starlink launching new ones at a dizzying pace. Based on proposals for projects in the future, the authors note, the number could reach more than a hundred thousand within the decade. Artificial satellites, long a vital part of the space ecosystem, have arguably become an invasive species.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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