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.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

MStudioImages / E+ / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Backpacking is an exciting way to explore the wilderness or travel to foreign countries on a budget.

Read More Show Less
Tim P. Whitby / 21st Century Fox / Getty Images

The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.

Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.

The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A protest march against the Line 3 pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 18, 2018. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Collin Rees

We know that people power can stop dangerous fossil fuel projects like the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, because we've proved it over and over again — and recently we've had two more big wins.

Read More Show Less
Scientists released a study showing that a million species are at risk for extinction, but it was largely ignored by the corporate news media. Danny Perez Photography / Flickr / CC

By Julia Conley

Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.

Read More Show Less
DoneGood

By Cullen Schwarz

Ethical shopping is a somewhat new phenomenon. We're far more familiar with the "tried and tested" methods of doing good, like donating our money or time.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pixabay

Summer is fast approaching, which means it's time to stock up on sunscreen to ward off the harmful effects of sun exposure. Not all sunscreens are created equally, however.

Read More Show Less
Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images

The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.

Read More Show Less
Flooding in Winfield, Missouri this month. Jonathan Rehg / Getty Images

President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.

"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.

Read More Show Less