Food production comes with a hefty carbon footprint, with damage caused by deforestation, the use of fertilizers which pollute our water, and pesticides which kill our bees. And, as we noted, food demand is expected to rise sharply — the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by 2050 a population of 8.9 billion will eat, on average, a diet with 340 calories more than the 2000 average of 2790, other studies posit that our food demand will double by that same date. Some of this projected increase is attributed to an expectation that areas which currently have inadequate access to nutrition will see improvements in the coming decades, a huge, important and challenging development.
But as we expect to produce more food to meet the needs of a growing, hungry population, we can expect to see a corresponding increase in our carbon footprint. One recent study called for a 50% reduction in meat consumption by 2050 just to keep emissions from the meat industry where they are now. But at our current rate, we also waste an estimated 30 to 50 percent of all food produced.
Huge changes are needed in agricultural infrastructure to stem this wastage. Lower cost imports of big ag’s often genetically modified crops are causing domestic produce to go to waste in developing countries, and misguided policies are causing food aid to go to waste. But while changes must be made in how we farm and how we then sell that food in order to ensure that the right amount of food is grown for supply food where it is needed, there’s also a great deal of progress we could make by simply avoiding unhealthily oversized portions.
Urban farming initiatives make a significant dent in both food environmental concerns. By converting urban areas into fruitful green spaces, food can be grown directly in the community, provide food security and serve as a hands on educational experience on where our food comes from and how its made.
On a related note, pink slime and tuna scrape are not food, they’re vaguely edible by products of the food industry, laced with chemicals to reduce the chances of poisoning us. They’re by no means the only examples; there are plenty of items finding their way to our plates that in no way should be in our bodies. And that’s wrong on so, so many levels.
In the US alone we’ve made the Gulf of Mexico toxic with oil, we’ve caused earthquakes in the midwest while fracking for natural gas, and we’ve blasted the tops off mountains in Virginia looking for coal. In the course of turning non-renewable resources into energy we’re releasing all manner of toxic gases into the atmosphere, driving climate change and creating a hazardous environment for all living beings.
The fact that we’re destroying the planet for a short term quick-fix of energy resources that will run out is a pretty good reason to give pause and change course. Yet massive corporations wielding immense political strength continue to drive increased, fundamentally experimental and ill-regulated fossil fuel sourcing missions. Deepwater drilling off the Cuban coast, anyone?
Steps to regulate drilling, fracking, mining and their ozone depleting emissions are certainly a great thing, but it’s time, if not well past the time, that we move wholeheartedly into renewable resources. This year has seen incredible progress in both policy, innovation and adoption of renewable resources, largely solar and wind power. But there’s still a long long way to go. The Great Lakes of the US and Canada have the potential to provide power for 210,000,000 homes, and as the US seeks to expedite the approval process for wind farms, we still have to design better turbines to adequately protect wildlife.
There’s a lot we can still do on an individual level to reduce our energy usage, and corresponding responsibility for fossil fuel usage and the generated emissions. Simply switching to LED lightbulbs can cut energy usage of lighting a home by a third. It might not sound like much, but — as with so many easy, individually adopted earth-saving measures — when replicated across a large area is starts to make a very significant impact. Plus, the bulbs are getting cheaper!