As the world has industrialized, people have moved further and further from the means of production of their food. Many in Western society take for granted both the abundance, and certainty with which we can consume food. Regular trips to the grocery store, where every food option is available year-round, have conditioned us to believe that we possess an infinite food supply, permitting us to consume and waste as we see fit. However, with the global population continuing to exponentially grow (and proportionally burden the planet), increased stress upon agriculture and global food security is inevitable. As such, it seems as though we carelessly hold the potential fate of our planet in an ever-tightening noose inside of our mouth.
My personal awareness of this issue was engendered nearly a year ago, when the prices of corn and soybean crops climbed amidst a South American heat wave. Since fluctuations such as these are becoming commonplace, many were optimistic in asserting the potential ‘solution’ to the recurring problems facing corn – merely plant more acres of corn “than in any year since World War II1.” This exhaustingly naive portrait offers no consideration for the consequences of land-use change, increased water and fertilizer usage (and subsequent increases in nitrogen runoff), and their cumulative effect upon the climate. And with the rising population’s growing need for shelter coupled with the limited amount of arable land globally, we logistically do not have enough room to continually add cropland. It is this anthropocentric shortsightedness that is beginning to catch up to us, and it looks to be heading where it hurts – our food.
According to the IPCC, “as early as 2050, the median projected summer temperature is expected to be higher than any year on record in most tropical areas,” while similar forecasts are predicted for Africa, the Middle East, as well as Central and North America by the end of the century2. However, climate change does not occur in isolation; along with increases in temperature come such ramifications as reduced soil moisture, increased water consumption from plants, and accelerated crop ripening3. These issues all culminate with a reduction in crop yield, and along with that uncertainty comes variation in food prices. The effects of rising food prices are not spread equally among countries, and more importantly, people. Poor households which spend the majority of their income on basic necessities such as food are most impacted by increased costs of food4. Seeing as a significant percentage of the world’s population lives on under two dollars a day, imagine the impact for those in poor countries. However, there are plenty of ways in which one can personally become proactive in both reducing their personal carbon footprint, and increasing global food security. One of the simplest ways to do so is to eat less meat. The meat industry accounts for an enormous amount of greenhouse gas emissions and resource use. From the production and transportation of feed to cattle, living arrangements for livestock, running of slaughterhouses, water for growing crops for feed as well as satiating livestock, methane emissions from the animals themselves, and the processing, storage, and transportation it is not difficult to see why. On top of the negative environmental ramifications of meat production lies an unfortunate phenomenon wherein as countries industrialize, it’s inhabitants tend to eat more meat.
1 See Pleven and Moffett.
2 See Battisti and Naylore, 243.
This is a particular problem in terms of food security, seeing as the world grows more than enough grain to feed our total population, but most is diverted unto to either livestock or biofuels. The problem is clear: the meat industry exerts a large burden upon the planet, the population is growing, and meat consumption tends to increase with affluence. While meat alone is a substantial pollution source in itself, the distance with which one’s food travels additionally plays a large role in tallying its total environmental impact. Reducing meat consumption will therefore reduce the miles foo travels in two ways: first, the crops which are grown and shipped to be used for feed will be
reduced, and secondly, the meat will not have to be shipped from the slaughterhouses to the
distributors. Freeing up grains and other crops will increase the supply within the market, and
along with reducing fuel and transportation costs, might possibly allow for a drop in prices,
potentially having a beneficial effect on the many people around the world (including the U.S.)
who live in poverty. Lastly, in science the principle of parsimony states that the simplest
hypothesis is often the most valid. I relate this to the current argument in the sense that this
solution doesn’t require any technological advances, or capital investment; the simplicity of the
notion is only rivaled by it’s potential effectiveness.
I frequently hear skeptics of pursuing a more sustainable future speak with a nearfatalistic
tone regarding the scope of change which is possible. Through a distorted perspective
they view the seemingly insignificant differences one person can make, wherein the changes we
make will be rendered null by the selfish masses. With an attitude like this, how can progress
ever occur? How would brilliant inventions, or scientific breakthroughs occur if not for the one
person it took to believe in, and pursue it? We do not need to seek international treaties, or
government policies in order to catalyze substantial change. Far from it. We can each do our own
part every single day to live in a more harmonious way with each other, and the earth. Increasing
one’s knowledge on the issues we face, and adopting small changes can spark in others the same
passion. In a state like Florida where brushfires frequently occur to cleanse our lands, it all
begins with a single spark – that bolt of lightning – to create something much bigger than ever
anticipated. As Unifying Theme has stated on the “Fact vs. Myth” tab5, our current methods for
producing, consuming, and disposing food “accounts for 42% of U.S. greenhouse gas
emissions.” Climate change will not simply affect one thing, or even a group of problems, it is
truly an all encompassing issue which affects nearly everything on the planet. Left unchecked,
the global food supply will surely be an accessible victim for the ills of an unstable climate.
Thus, when considering the future of the world, a future that our children will one day inherit, a
reliable food supply is something that is overlooked and under-appreciated. However, when
considering means to mitigate our impending crises, maybe we can all start with a critical look at
Battisti and Naylore, “Historical Warnings of Future Food Insecurity with Unprecedented
Seasonal Heat,” Science 323, 240 (2009);”
Pleven, Liam, and Matt Moffett. “Crop Prices in Growth Spurt.” Wall Street Journal [New York]
12 Mar 2012. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://search.proquest.com/wallstreetjournal/