Could the World Population Live More Sustainably?

Plant-based diets and farming method optimization could significantly cut down environmental harm


According to the United Nations, we can expect there to be 10 billion people on the planet by the year 2050.

However, one scientist isn’t worried and, in fact, in an interview with Marco Springmann, Ph.D., of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food and the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, says, "We not only produce more than enough food to feed the current population, but also enough to feed 10 billion people, according to a 2012 article in the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture." The problem, he says, is that we aren’t doing so well when it comes to putting quality over quantity, both in terms of distributing food to those who need it and producing it sustainably. The hungry and the environment are paying for humankind’s bad habits.

Springman is a co-author of a study, published in Nature by the Stockholm Resilience Center and funded by EAT, which breaks down the numbers of how humankind can feed its 10 billion mouths while maintaining the Earth as well. It’s the first paper to quantify the effects of food production and consumption on the Earth’s systems. By shifting to plant-based diets, decreasing food waste and improving farming methods, researchers say all 10 billion of us can live sustainably. 

First of all, shifting to a plant-based diet could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than half, according to the study. And food production accounts for a full 17% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a separate Harvard study.

Decreasing food waste also holds high potential to lighten humanity’s environmental footprint. Every time food gets thrown away, the resources spent to create itwater, fertilizer, etc.are wasted too. But if food and waste loss is even halved, our impacts could shrink by 16%.

Finally, the study says, there are opportunities to improve in the agricultural industry, both in technology and management methods. This includes strategies such as the Netherland’s precise system to monitor fertilizer use or Israel’s system of desalinization plants and storage tank for water management. 

By the study’s calculations, optimizing the systems of global agriculture could cut our current agricultural impact in half. 


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