Climate change and feeding 10 billion people by 2050

By Linda Rich, member of the Side With Love Task Force

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An introduction:

Over the next few weeks, we will be “challenged” with “Meatless Mondays.” However, in essence, our challenge is not of one meal or of many, our challenge is to live up to and act upon our UU Values—to uphold each other’s search for the truth, together, and to realize that we are all part of our beloved earth’s interconnected web.

Therefore, with this challenge and the search for truth and justice, we find our earth and ourselves on the cusp of a climate crisis.

In my search for the truth, and possible answers to many of our questions regarding climate change and environmental justice, I have the following for you:

Strategies that we may be doing for the environment include: 

  • Buy local; 
  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle; 
  • Be mindful of water consumption; 
  • Go fuel efficient; and
  • Move toward “clean” and “renewable energy” sources like wind and solar. 

But, what about the food we eat—like meat?

According to 2021 EPA data, 24% of total world greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) come from the Agriculture sector. And according to the World Resources Institute (WRI), by 2050 we will have approximately 10 billion people to feed. Yet with increasing appetites for meat with an increasing global middle class, we will have a “food gap”, a “land gap”, and a “greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) gap”.

How can we help to feed ourselves and the world of a not too far future? 

Well according to WRI we have several courses we need to take to bridge the “gaps” and potentially stave off or mitigate a climate disaster: 

  • Increase food production without expanding agricultural land;
  • Protect and restore forests, savannas, and peatlands for they are our “carbon sinks”;
  • Increase our fishing supply;
  • Reduce GHGE from agriculture production; and 
  • Reduce the growth in demand of food (ruminant livestock in particular).

As Susan Crossley testified in last week’s Meatless Monday Message, we can reap many great health benefits AND significantly decrease much harm to our earth by moving away from meat while eating a predominantly plant-based diet.

One way to reduce demand for food in general is, first, to reduce food waste. Those of us in the US waste nearly 30% of all food (National Geographic). See “101 ways to go zero waste” for tips to reduce food waste.

Another way to reduce demand for food is to just plain curb our consumption of protein to a total of 15 or 20% of our total recommended daily calories– for 2000 calories a day, this translates to 5-6 ounces of animal protein (the size of a deck of cards). Nutritionally, 15-20% is all we need. See USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and MyPlate for great resources.

Note well, too, that the most current DGA recommends eating primarily grains, vegetables, fruits, some dairy, good oils (like olive oil), and a relatively small quantity of protein (fish, poultry, or a small amount of beef) which includes nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes—

Sounds like the “Mediterranean” diet… 

We can do this.

Last, did you know: 

The story of phosphorus- phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium are required elements for food production fertilization, but phosphorus is a non-renewable resource that is expected to be completely depleted within 50-100 years if our demands for (meat) is not reduced. Plant-based diets require significantly less phosphorus than meat eating diets. Recovering phosphorus and reducing demand are a must. See the ScienceDirect article referenced below.

…food for thought.

Resources to check into further: