Roz Pidcock, Carbon Brief | April 24, 2016 10:40 am
on hills in the Burundian countryside. The green patches are tea. Until recently most of these hills were completely forested. Photo credit: Jane Boles / Flickr
Itis possible to produce enough food to feed a growing population without another tree being felled, according to new research. But there’s a catch.
The only way to guarantee enough food in 2050 is if the world turns vegan, says the study published Tuesday in Nature Communications. That way, even the most pessimistic projections for technological improvements and availability of farmland wouldn’t see people going hungry.
With a global transition to veganism unlikely, the study explores the options left on the table if we continue to eat meat, as well as how climate change might narrow those options further.
The study is more of a thought experiment than a realistic set of projections. But the point it makes is simple: We, as humans, must work out how to make the most appropriate use of a finite amount of land. While there will inevitably be compromises, the paper concludes:
“Deforestation is not a precondition for supplying the world with sufficient food in terms of quantity and quality in 2050.”
Whether for growing crops, grazing or building on, 75 percent of the Earth’s ice-free surface is used in one way or another by humans, today’s study begins. Put another way, only a quarter is left in something resembling its natural state.
Land-based ecosystems house a large fraction of the world’s biodiversity, as well as providing food, fuel, energy, air and water purification and protection against the elements for humans.
Forests, in particular, also play an important role in mitigating climate change. The paper notes:
“Forests store more carbon than any other land-cover type per unit area.”
The starting point for the study is a hypothetical world in which the global population recognizes the intrinsic value of our remaining forests and halts to deforestation.