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How Rising CO2 is Affecting The Food We Eat

We’ve all heard about the miraculous benefit of trees in our world. They take in carbon dioxide (CO2) and expel oxygen. One mature tree can absorb an average of 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. Awesome, right? Yes, but consider this - In 2011 alone we filled our atmosphere with 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. So how is that carbon affecting us? Well, we know the earth is warming and pollutants in the air are making us sick, but have you stopped to think about how it affects the food we eat? I never did. But after hearing Dr. Rattan Lal, a professor of soil science and director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State University, speak at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training in 2020, it got me thinking and wondering what consequences are our actions having on the food we rely on to give us sustenance.

Research shows us that because of high CO2 levels our plants are losing their nutritional value. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture compared growing plants in controlled settings to mimic the CO2 levels of the preindustrial age (before our CO2 blew up), which was about 250 years ago and what the CO2 levels are projected to be at the end of this century. During the experiment, they saw something interesting. Crops grown with more CO2 were larger. In a way it makes sense, right? Crops need carbon dioxide to grow so more of it will make them bigger and better. But that’s not entirely true.

Though they are larger, the team running the experiment showed that increased CO2 levels decreased the nutrients within the plant itself. How much? When they tested different varieties of rice, they saw decreases of 10 percent in protein, among other decreases in vitamins and minerals. That means as we continue to pollute, our food will become less nutrient-dense. It may not seem like much of an issue until you look at the already staggering amount of hunger in our world. 1 in 3 people worldwide is currently malnourished. And if you dive deeper, as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization did in 2016, it was estimated that 815 million people, over 10 percent of our world population, were suffering from chronic undernourishment. And even more upsetting, the Global Nutrition Report of 2015 shows us that 45 percent of childhood deaths are related to nutrition as an underlying cause. So, what happens when the food we can produce doesn’t do as much for us?

Take Action!

What can we do to curb the CO2 levels in our air to avoid an even more strained food supply? We first need to take a look at our carbon footprint. There’s a really simple tool provided by that can give you a rough estimate of what kind of carbon footprint you’re creating.

Every day our family makes efforts to do better for the environment. But we certainly aren’t perfect. When I did the carbon footprint calculator It showed I’d need to plant 179 trees to offset my CO2. And according to the site, I’m far less than the average American. That’s an eye-opening thought.

How can we cut down on our footprint?

1. Watch your usage of fuel. Whether it’s in a car, a plane, or public transit. It all adds up. Our family combines errands into one afternoon and maps them out so we drive as little as possible. You could also try biking or walking when appropriate.

2. Watch your energy usage at home. Do you need to have all the TV’s, tablets, and electronics running all at once? Or can you cut down on electrics more often? Your thermostat is a big one. No one wants to be uncomfortable, and I completely understand that. But consider energy-saving tools like smart thermostats.

3. Stop buying everything that is brand new and shiny! As I said, our family isn’t perfect, I have plastic cooking utensils, microfiber cloths, and an array of other not-good-for-the-environment items. But it doesn’t mean you trash them and get the newest eco-friendly item this moment. Use what you have, purchase less, and when it’s worn out, dispose of it appropriately and research before you buy something else. And if you can, buy used! There’s a reason we say, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” in that order. Recycling is great but it comes with its downfalls and setbacks. If we reduce what we bring into the home, reuse what was can, then we don’t have as much we need to recycle.

4. Cut down on your meat consumption. I know, I know. This is a touchy subject. But reducing your meat to one or two meals a week makes a massive difference. In the United States, 42% of agricultural emissions come from animal agriculture. Worldwide, livestock is credited with over 14 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Consider cutting it out one day a week to start. Get creative and make a family competition out of it. Who can be the most creative in creating a well-rounded meal without meat? Then start cutting it out a little more, replace milk with a non-dairy alternative. And just keep going. I never thought I’d be a person advocating for this kind of lifestyle but I now eat a mostly vegan diet. I’m eating far more vegetables and fruits, less processed foods, and I feel great.



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