Earth & Environment

November 10, 2021: Food Security and the Environment

Posted on November 10, 2021 at 12:00 AM

Food insecurity currently affects over 690 million people worldwide. While environmental issues are only one cause, they are an important one. Climate change will exacerbate existing problems with our food supply while creating new ones. Drought, flooding, insect pests, and temperature changes destroy crops and harm oceans. As the natural environment changes, climatic zones will shift.  As a result, food production and human behavior will need to transform in order to withstand these impacts. For example, corn production, a worldwide crop, is predicted to decrease by approximately 24% by 2030. While an increase in CO2 can increase productivity, the resulting crops have less nutritional value. Longer periods of warm temperatures also result in losses to many fruit and vegetable crops.

Meat production results in one of the largest sources of methane released into the atmosphere (from the US) due to burps and manure produced by cattle. Land planted with crops meant to feed cattle and other farm animals could be planted instead with crops meant for direct human consumption. Warmer temperatures mean insects can reproduce more often and potentially with an even greater appetite, destroying crop yields. Warming and acidic oceans are causing coral bleaching resulting in entire reefs dying, harming all the people and animals which depend upon them. Fisheries that large populations have depended on for food are shrinking.

As food insecurity is exacerbated because of climate change, increased food insecurity will in turn have a negative effect on the environment. Agriculture related to animals are a major source of environmental degradation, including freshwater pollution. Water used for growing crops is not available for household use, such as we see in California. Overfishing harms ocean ecosystems by destroying the balance, leaving fewer fish to reproduce.

Despite the environmental costs of food production, an estimated one-third of all food produced is never consumed. Identifying and reducing food waste, shifting to a predominantly plant-based diet, normalizing vertical farming, increasing genetically modified crops where appropriate, and subsidizing desalinization plants where possible will go a long way to mitigating food insecurity while also lessening further environmental impacts.

— Jamie Picard, PPC Member 

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