Quantcast

How to Feed 10 Billion by 2050 Without Destroying the Planet

Food
Pexels

By 2050, there will be 10 billion people on the earth, and global income will triple. Feeding more people with more money will increase the environmental pressures put on the planet by the global food system by between 50 and 92 percent. If nothing is done, those pressures will push Earth "beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity."


That's the starting point of a major new study published in Nature Wednesday that is the first to quantify how food production and consumption impacts the planet's ability to sustain human life.

The food system gobbles up planetary resources in four key ways:

  1. It is a major contributor to climate change.
  2. Land use changes required for farming drive biodiversity loss.
  3. Agriculture uses up lots of fresh water.
  4. Nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer pollute land and water.

Luckily, the study also mapped a way out of this mess.

"Feeding a world population of 10 billion is possible, but only if we change the way we eat and the way we produce food," research participant professor Johan Rockström at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany told The Guardian. "Greening the food sector or eating up our planet: this is what is on the menu today."

The researchers found that greening the food sector depends on three major changes.

1. Diet

To keep warming below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world will have to change how it eats. What that means is different for the population at large and for people in wealthy countries like the U.S., but overall, researchers recommended a "flexitarian" diet that eschews meat in favor of beans and nuts.

For people in the U.S., that will mean:

  • Eating 90 percent less beef, pork and lamb
  • Eating 60 percent less poultry, milk and sugar
  • Eating five times more lentils
  • Eating more than four times more nuts and seeds

2. Waste:

It's not just about how much we eat, but about how much we throw away. The researchers found that cutting food waste in half would reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture by 16 percent, BBC News reported.

"Tackling food loss and waste will require measures across the entire food chain, from storage, and transport, over food packaging and labeling to changes in legislation and business behavior that promote zero-waste supply chains," Fabrice de Clerck, the director of science at food-system think tank EAT, which funded the study, told BBC News.

3. Farming:

In order to reduce the environmental footprint of food production, farming techniques themselves have to be changed. The study recommended increasing the yields on existing cropland, improving water use and storage and reducing or recycling fertilizer.

The agricultural changes required mean that altering our food system for the better isn't just a matter of consumer choice.

"People can make a personal difference by changing their diet, but also by knocking on the doors of their politicians and saying we need better environmental regulations—that is also very important. Do not let politicians off the hook," research leader and University of Oxford scientist Marco Springmann told The Guardian.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Geneva Vanderzeil, A Pair & A Spare / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Is your closet filled with clothes you don't wear (and probably don't like anymore)? Are you buying cheap and trendy clothing you only wear once or twice? What's up with all the excess? Shifting to a more Earth-conscious wardrobe can help simplify your life, as well as curb fast fashion's toll on people and the planet.

Read More Show Less
Christine Zenino / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Greenland is melting six times faster than it was in the 1980s, which is even faster than scientists thought, CNN reported Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
The 18th century St. Catherine of Alexandria church is seen after its bell tower was destroyed following a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck the town of Porac, pampanga province on April 23. TED ALJIBE / AFP / Getty Images

At least 16 people have died, 81 are injured and 14 are still missing after an earthquake struck Luzon island in the Philippines Monday, according to the latest figures from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, as the Philippine Star tweeted Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Climate change activists gather in front of the stage at the Extinction Rebellion group's environmental protest camp at Marble Arch in London on April 22, on the eighth day of the group's protest calling for political change to combat climate change. TOLGA AKMEN / AFP / Getty Images

Extinction Rebellion, the climate protest that has blocked major London thoroughfares since Monday April 15, was cleared from three key areas over Easter weekend, The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

Veganism refers to a way of living that attempts to minimize animal exploitation and cruelty. For this reason, vegans aim to exclude all foods containing meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and honey from their diet (1).

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
American farmers use chlorpyrifos, a pesticide tied to brain and nervous system issues, on crops such as apples, broccoli, corn and strawberries. Stephanie Chapman / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Jessica Corbett

In a ruling welcomed by public health advocates, a federal court on Friday ordered the Trump administration to stop stalling a potential ban on a pesticide linked to brain damage in children, giving regulators until mid-July to make a final decision.

Read More Show Less
fstop123 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

At EcoWatch, our team knows that changing personal habits and taking actions that contribute to a better planet is an ongoing journey. Earth Day, happening on April 22, is a great reminder for all of us to learn more about the environmental costs of our behaviors like food waste or fast fashion.

To offer readers some inspiration this Earth Day, our team rounded up their top picks for films to watch. So, sit back and take in one of these documentary films this Earth Day. Maybe it will spark a small change you can make in your own life.

Read More Show Less
NASA

By Shuchi Talati

Solar geoengineering describes a set of approaches that would reflect sunlight to cool the planet. The most prevalent of these approaches entails mimicking volcanic eruptions by releasing aerosols (tiny particles) into the upper atmosphere to reduce global temperatures — a method that comes with immense uncertainty and risk. We don't yet know how it will affect regional weather patterns, and in turn its geopolitical consequences. One way we can attempt to understand potential outcomes is through models.

Read More Show Less