Photo by: Pixabay user Pezibear.
Climate change puts at risk the food supplies of people in developing and developed nations alike. Floods, droughts, more intense hurricanes, heatwaves and wildfires can drive down crop yields, destroy livestock, and interfere with the transport of food. Rising carbon dioxide levels from human activity can make staple crops like rice and wheat less nutritious.
Why it matters: About 800 million people worldwide lack food. Many more have deficiencies in essential nutrients. 76% of the world’s population gets most of its daily nutrients from plants—yet climate change is already causing droughts and flooding that can destroy staple food crops. If extra CO2 in the atmosphere makes those crops less nutritious, it will be even harder to feed the world’s growing population.
The details: In most of the places where food is grown today, crop yields are likely to be lower because of more frequent heat waves, worse air pollution, floods, and droughts.
- Research led by Sam Myers, Director of the Planetary Health Alliance at the Harvard Chan School, found that when food crops like wheat, corn, rice and soy are exposed to CO2 at levels predicted for 2050, the plants lose as much as 10% of their zinc, 5% of their iron, and 8% of their protein content.
- These are all essential nutrients for people’s health and represent major risks to people’s health in developing nations where deficiencies in zinc, iron and protein lead to major burdens of disease. These diseases range from from maternal mortality around childbirth to problems with brain development in children.
- Recent studies also found that extra CO2 can reduce levels of zinc and iron content in staple crops. Both minerals are crucial to human health: zinc for a fully-functioning immune system, iron to form a key building block of hemoglobin, the molecule that moves oxygen in our bloodstream.
- “Our research makes it clear that decisions we are making every day—how we heat our homes, what we eat, how we move around, what we choose to purchase—are making our food less nutritious, and imperiling the health of other populations and future generations,” says Myers.
The Upshot: Carbon dioxide isn’t just causing climate change. It can also deeply affect your food and your health. Right now, more than 2 billions people worldwide are undernourished, and that number may grow if crops lose nutrients due to rising CO2 emissions.
- Millions may face protein deficiency as a result of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions
- As carbon dioxide levels climb, millions at risk of nutritional deficiencies
- Rising CO2 threatens human nutrition
- Estimated Effects of Future Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations on Protein Intake and the Risk of Protein Deficiency by Country and Region
- Impact of anthropogenic CO2 emissions on global human nutrition
- Effect of increased concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide on the global threat of zinc deficiency: a modelling study
U.S. children not eating enough shellfish, study says
Explores the new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, written by Co-director Dr. Aaron Bernstein, on the benefits, risks and sustainability issues surrounding seafood and children's health.
How to Feed 10 Billion by Midcentury
Plan on less meat, more plants, and … err … pass the crickets, panelists suggest.
Shedding light on climate change’s threats to health
Gina McCarthy wants to get the word out that climate change is more than just “a distant issue”—that it’s a very real threat to public health right now. In a wide-ranging March 21, 2019 interview with Medscape, McCarthy, director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE) at Harvard T.H. Chan School…
Eating our way to a sustainable future
Explore the problems of the seafood industry and seafood’s potential to be the foundation of a healthier diet, promote more sustainable use of the environment, and even reduce carbon emissions.
The connection between coral reefs and human health
Coral reefs around the world are under threat. And that could have serious implications for the nutrition of people who rely on these reefs—and their diverse ecosystems—for food.
Former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy: Climate change hurts children's health
"We care about our kids way more than we care about polar bears." Our Director Gina McCarthy talks climate with Yale Climate Connections.
A diet to improve planetary health and human health
Changing what we eat and how our food is sourced could have significant benefits for human health and planetary health, according to experts. A recent report from the EAT-Lancet Commission provided several recommendations for an optimal diet that accounts for environmental sustainability and healthy eating. Among the recommendations are eating less than half an ounce…
Instead of beef, try this
Swapping beef for foods like beans, nuts, and peas can benefit people’s health, say experts—and it can help the planet’s health, too. While eating too much red meat has been linked with many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, eating protein-rich plants—which also contain fiber, healthy fats, and micronutrients—can lower disease…
Food system transformation needed for human and planetary health
The EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems calls for global cooperation and commitment to shift diets toward healthy, largely plant-based patterns; make large reductions in food loss and waste; and implement significant sustainability improvements in food production practices.
Should Pregnant Women Eat Fish? Exploring Prenatal Exposures to Chemicals
A video series exploring the impact of fish, mercury, and other chemical exposures on pregnant women and their babies.
Aaron Bernstein MD, MPH
Aaron examines the human health effects of global environmental changes with the aim of promoting a deeper understanding of these subjects among students, educators, policy makers, and the public.