The recent droughts across the United States serve as reminders of how vulnerable our food sources can be. Add to that it takes about 14 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef, and you can see where our susceptibilities are headed.
Humans worldwide, according to John Vidal in Britain’s Guardian and posted on Reader Supported News, get about 20 percent of their protein from animal products. With both climate change throwing a wrench in the works for agricultural production, and human population predicted to increase by 20 percent in the next 40 years, humanity and its environment may be in for a period of dramatic adjustment.
According to Swedish hydrologist (yeah, there is such a thing) Malik Falkenmark, “There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common int Western countries.”Falkenmark contends that only if we limit animal-sourced foods to five percent of our total calories will there be enough water to sustain humanity, providing international food trade is adequate.
What’s more, the international organization Oxfam and the United Nations are preparing for a (second) global food crisis in five years. International market prices of corn and wheat have risen nearly 50 percent in the last three months, due in large part to droughts in the United States and Russia, and to monsoon rains in Asia.
Oxfam expects price hikes in developing countries that depend on food imports to be overwhelming. Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East will be particularly impacted.
Since animal-rich food consumes five to 10 times more water than does a plant-based diet, vegetarianism may be the way to go. In our opinion this is not a bad thing. To domesticated animals, it’s even better. (Western diets are inflicting us with poor health, particularly in the United States.) But here is the kicker: Humans use one third of all farmland just to feed animals. Those animals provide meat, eggs, dairy and the like. This means we are using farmland very inefficiently.
Thirty percent of the world’s people are already malnourished and about one in eight go hungry. According to the Swedish report, “With 70 percent of all available water being in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land.”
Now let’s add more injustice to this cauldron. Overeating is on the rise. So is food waste. This, while people around the world go hungry. In the United States, however, food is plentiful, despite droughts, hurricanes, and who-knows-what else. So what do we have to worry about?
There’s foreign aid for one thing. A political debate is brewing about whether we should reduce such assistance in order to help reduce the national debt (even though foreign aid makes up only about one percent of the budget). Should we dismiss climate change as so much balderdash and ignore the sustainability needs of the poor? Do we throw the dice and keep our fingers crossed that the atmosphere calms down? Do we just hope that large, environmentally callous or incompetent nations avoid making things so bad for the have-nots that they won’t want to see us gluttons punished?
“We’ve seen again and again what happens to the world’s poor—the majority of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and already suffer from water scarcity—when they are at the mercy of our fragile global food system,” said Dr. Colin Chartres of the International Water Management Institute.
We stand at a crossroads now. We must decide, or conversely, make no decision, on which way we will go in terms of the world’s water resources. We can kick the can down the road and leave it to future generations to deal with the impending disasters; or we can decide to face reality and rethink the way we live.
One thing is for sure. If we keep adding people to the world’s consumer societies—and keep stressing the poor in terms of their ability to survive extreme poverty—all of humanity will be in for a world of hurt.
There are enough of us. When will we begin to have serious discourse about human, and planetary, sustainability?