Whose Carbon Footprint is Larger? Diet Versus Over-Population
Whose Carbon Footprint is Larger? Diet Versus Over Population
by Moses Seenarine 12/15/17
Many parts of the world expect substantial modifications in population size, age structure, and urbanization this century. These variations can affect energy use and GHG outflows. In particular, aging, urbanization and variations in household size can substantially influence GHG footprints in some regions.
Aging will occur in most regions, due to declines in both fertility and mortality. Aging is expected to be particularly rapid in regions like China that have recently experienced sharp falls in fertility. On the positive side, slowing population growth could provide 16–29% of the GHG reductions suggested to be necessary by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate transformation.
There is an inverse relationship between the two main drivers behind increased land requirements for food – as socioeconomic development improves, population growth declines. At the same time, diets become richer. Typically, consumption of animal protein, vegetable oil, fruit and vegetable swells, while starchy staples become less essential. With higher purchasing power comes higher consumption and a greater demand for processed food, animal carcass, cow milk products, chicken eggs, and fish, all of which add pressure to the food supply system. This over-consumption severely affects global sustainability, equity, food security, and GHG emissions.
During a span of 46 years, from 1961 to 2007, a review of FAO data showed that in most regions, diets became richer while the land needed to feed one person diminished. In many regions, dietary change may override population growth as a major driver behind land requirements for food in the near future. Potential land savings through yield improvements are offset by a combination of population growth and dietary change. These dynamics were the largest in developing regions and emerging economies.
Notably, additions to the total per capita food supply were not observed everywhere around the world. In most developed regions, the share of animal products is extraordinary high. From 1961 to 2007, food animals constituted one-third of the available calories in the global North, compared to 10% or less in many of the poorer regions in the global South. These over-consumption dynamics are slowly changing but remains highly skewed.
The FAO projects that world population will expand 34 to 41% by 2050 to reach 8.9 - 9.1 billion. Food demand will soar upwards by 70%, and daily per person calorie intake will rise to 3,130 calories. Food is a major part of climate warming, but it is essential for survival, security and equity. Although the consumption per capita of cereals is likely to stabilize, population growth will escalate the demand for both food animals (almost doubling) and cereals for feed (50%) by 2050.
Another problem related to over-consumption is the hidden population of obesity. The average body mass is climbing at a sharp pace. For the first time in human history obese people outnumber underweight people. Almost 11% of men and 15% percent of women worldwide are obese, while under 9% of men and 10% of women are underweight. In 2005, global adult human biomass was 287 million tonnes, of which 15 million tonnes came from being overweight. This extra mass is equivalent to that of 242 million people of average body mass or 5% of global human biomass. Biomass from obesity was 3.5 million tonnes, the equivalent of another 56 million people of average body mass.
In 2012, the US came in third following the Pacific island nations Micronesia and Tonga for having the highest average weight in the world. By comparison, Americans are 33 pounds heavier than the French and 70 pounds bigger than the average Bangladeshi. In addition to extra energy and food demands, severe and morbid obesity are associated with highly elevated risks of adverse health outcomes.
Excerpt from "Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming," by Dr. Moses Seenarine.
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