Affecting over 821 million people worldwide, more than one in ten people go hungry every day. After years of steady decrease in global undernourishment statistics, the previous two years has shown instead an increase. Extreme weather brought on by climate change contribute to this growing global food-insecurity, especially as standard farming practices already harm the environment. This vicious cycle puts not only the future of the environment on the line, but also challenges the future of world health and nutrition.
In 2017 and due to global food insecurity, 29 million people needed humanitarian aid, with 3.9 million of them requiring urgent, life-saving assistance. If left unchecked, the effects of climate change and its relationship to food production and consumption could lead to an additional 4.8 million hungry children worldwide by 2050. Food prices could reach up to 84% higher than they are today in response to the -33% less available food worldwide and the 70% increase in demand for food overall.
As a major source for greenhouse gases, food production and consumption causes and estimated 19%-29% of all GHG emissions. As GHG pretense in the atmosphere grows, fields are less productive and the crop yield begins to suffer as well. These staple food crops become less nutritious when grown in high CO2 environments, contributing to two billion people already suffering from nutrient deficiencies. This reduction of nutritional value shows in lower levels of iron, zinc, and protein – all essentials for a healthy human body.
Vulnerable demographics and populations are at a heightened risk for these damages, especially infants and young children. Undernourishment in the early years of life can lead to irreversible developmental damage, stunted growth, and life-long poor health. For communities in poverty, the lowered nutritional value of basic foodstuff hits even harder when every dollar counts. Even agricultural workers and farmers are at risk; up to 122 million people could fall into poverty over low crop yield as a result of climate shocks and extreme weather damage.
Today, United States federal crop insurance encourages farmers to continue planting on degraded land by offering payouts for below average crop yields. Modern farming techniques like overuse of chemicals and pesticides, excessive land tilling, and the use of heavy machinery degrade soil while facilitating air and land pollution. This furthers the destruction and misuse of farmland and contributes heavily to CO2 levels in the atmosphere, feeding the vicious cycle.
In many ways, the future projection for climate change-related malnutrition are already a reality. Affecting production of wheat, rice, and maize, the foundation for another Dust Bowl is being laid. Just this past year, the devastation of Hurricane Florence on the Carolinas destroyed local agriculture. An estimated 3.4 million chickens and turkeys and over 5,000 were killed and acres of cotton, sweet potatoes, and tobacco crops were damaged. Subsequent complications from flooding meant toxic sites like landfills, animal waste facilities, and coal ash pits were breached as well.
Take a look at this infographic for more on the effects of climate change on the environment and farming, how it’s hurting our health and nutrition, and what it will take to reverse these effects for the future.