Hard to Feed 9 Billion People

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If we expect that the global population will grow from its current 7.5 billion people, to 9 billion in the next 30 years, there are several key factors to look at to feed that many people.

First, we’ll analyze the variables in the types of nutrients required for the food supply, and environmental impacts of agriculture. Then, we will have a better sense of how markets need to adapt and respond to varying circumstances.

Nutrients For Life:

Let’s look at macronutrients that meet basic human needs, and the impact on the health that animal proteins have had so far. There are 3 basic macronutrients that our bodies need to maintain a balanced diet: fat, protein, and carbohydrate.

Consuming the right amount of each of these nutrients is essential for proper digestive health and physical wellbeing. Overconsumption of anything is unhealthy, but populations breaching out of poverty and approaching middle class trend toward overindulgence in their eating habits. The popularization of Standard American Diet (SAD) or Western Diet is seen with fast-food chains moving into emerging markets globally. Health risks associated with eating SAD include increased prevalence for heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other risk factors associated with poor health. Processed foods, in general, are usually the cheapest and most widely available. The trend of overconsumption, when paired with poor diet, leads to less healthy populations.

Food Supply:

To feed our global population, natural resources such as land and water get transformed through the miracles of modern agriculture, and the Earth bears foods rich in nutrients. Wheat, Maize, Rice, and Soy are all nutritious and easy to grow. Unfortunately, almost half our plant crops go to feed our animal crops. Beef, specifically, requires a high amount of grain to produce. Of all the animal protein sources, beef actually requires the most land, water, and feed per pound of protein produced.

Since protein and carbohydrate yield the same 4 calories per gram of food, virtually all animal proteins in the human diet can be replaced with plants. While the protein content is lower, there is more fiber in whole grains and legumes.

Environmental Impact:

In addition to all the resources needed to produce animal protein, livestock also have a negative carbon footprint. By contributing greenhouse gasses (GHG) to the atmosphere, animal protein production leads to overall increases in average global temperatures. Despite the amount of CO2 produced across industrial, power generation, and transportation sectors, agriculture remains a low contributor of GHG as measured in global volume.

Beef production incurs high levels of Methane gas being released during the digestion process when cattle are grazing. Methane is denser than CO2, making it more likely to cause rapid change. It is a more effective insulator than CO2 in the short term but dissipates quicker. CO2 generated in other sectors of industry will be apparent over the long term as it accumulates.

Plants metabolize CO2, and the replacement of nutritional calories with plant foods would not only cause decreased GHG emissions, it would also increase the amount of green-space in agriculture. While industry sectors such as transportation and energy are responsible for the bulk of CO2 production, the double-edged sword is this: expanding populations not only demand resources, meeting their demands causes decreased green-space.

Forests are critical for the carbon cycle and help decrease atmospheric carbon and put it back in the ground via plant metabolism. The problem is that CO2 builds up slowly over time, so the effects are felt on a delayed time scale. While agriculture related It may not be rocket science, but it is certainly easy to see how some climate scientists may be confused.

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