Sustainable America Blog

How to feed the billions

Playing off the popularity of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” several concerned groups are now calling industrial agriculture the new ‘inconvenient truth’.

Wondering how we are going to continue to feed the 7+ billion people on this planet, a recent video by the University of Minnesota’s Institute of the Environment cites some alarming figures:

  • More than 40% of the earth’s surface has been cleared for agriculture
  • Global pastures cover 30 million km2–the size of the African continent
  • Agriculture uses 60 times more land than urban and suburban areas combined
  • Every year we use 2,800 cubic km of water on crops – its the biggest use of water on the planet, and major rivers and lakes are drying up
  • Agriculture contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet combined.

What are we to do? While there are no easy solutions, this video and others like it aim to elevate the global dialogue around this crucial issue quickly. The University of Minnesota group suggests initiatives around: incentives for farmers, precision agriculture, new crop varieties and drip irrigation. This is clearly a huge and complex issue, but one that will become increasingly present in international policy debates, and as a matter of survival, a reality we cannot ignore.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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