“Unlocking the Climate Puzzle” is the title of National Geographic‘s May 1998 issue. More than a decade ago scientists, politicians and global citizens were disputing whether or not human behavior was negatively impacting our climate. Today, this issue is no longer a puzzle, but a well-documented fact. Humans are contributing to global climate change and environmental devastation on Earth.
Giving thought and arguing over whose to blame is the past. Today, scientists and concerned individuals are asking: “What can we do to stop this change?” Unfortunately, years of research proved that once change is in motion, it’s unstoppable. All we can do now is hope to minimize the negative ripple effects.
Scientists at University of College London (UCL) published their new research in the journal of Nature outlining what it would take to keep global temperature from exceeding a 2C limit. “[The] new research is first to identify which reserves must not be burned to keep global temperature rise under 2C, including over 90% of US and Australian coal and almost all Canadian tar sands.” (The Guardian)
Changing human behavior is challenging, but it is essential for our survival. To motivate change we require monitoring and guidance. Today, we’ll examine global trends on food consumption, land and energy use. This will help map where we are and where we’re going.
1. Food Consumption
Eating more and having more food available are two big trends in the USA. Comparing our diet from 1950’s to 2000’s, average meat consumption increased from 138.2 pounds annually to 195.2 pounds. There are also 19% more calories available for American consumption compared to 1983. Total fruit and vegetable consumption increased by one-fifth between 1970 and 2000. Interestingly, we’re eating more of everything, even the bad stuff. Our new love for high fat, low nutrient and fast food is wreaking havoc on our bodies; diabetes and obesity are on the rise.
2. Growing Food
Few know that quality and nutritional value of consumed foods depends on the quality of soil. As we continue depleting nutrient rich soil with frequent high volume crop yields we run out of arable land. Figures from the World Bank demonstrate that percentage of land used for agriculture in USA declined from 2000 to 2014, dropping from 44.9 to 44.7. This figure is too broad to make any specific conclusion, but it looks like the average farm size in the USA is shrinking. Figures of agricultural imports and exports demonstrate some interesting findings. Exports in USA show that Feed grain export has declined the most, from 61,006 metric tons to 54,794 metric tons. Oilseeds more than doubled, going from 15,820 to 43,297 metric tons, experiencing the most growth of any sector. Imports in the USA have increased in all areas but one, tobacco.
Growing consumption and declining farm lands, topped with higher agricultural imports, implies that a lot of the food in the USA has been coming from the outside world. Globalization means that our diets are getting more interconnected. In Brazil, this problem is reflected by changes in land that was once used as pasture land for livestock, but is cleared down for soybean farming.
3. Energy for growth
Innovation in technology has greatly helped with efficiency in agriculture. And although energy required for food production increased from 2001 to 2009, thanks to technology, efficiency has increased as well. Despite these improvements, this innovation has negative effects. All this good food doesn’t get evenly distributed to people who need it most. And since it can’t last forever, a lot of it goes to waste. Currently, 40-50% of all produced food is wasted, and in the USA that accounts for $165 billion in annual losses. Not something to be proud of when one in six people in America struggle with hunger, and 70 billion pounds of goods are sent to rot in landfills.
Next week, I’ll provide suggestions that you can implement in your daily life to address issues in the food industry which undermine our global sustainability.
Until next time!