Climate change conjures desolate imagery—a parched earth starved of its once abundant natural beauty. That may still be the planet’s destiny; but the humans living on a CO2-heavy planet may look a lot different—many of them much larger, in fact.
Released earlier this month, a report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program suggests that changing CO2 levels directly related to climate change could significantly alter the structure of edible plants over the next century—a change that would make many key food sources higher in carbohydrates than protein. That juxtaposition of nutrients would require humans to consume more to meet current dietary needs—and that would likely lead to obesity, an issue already affecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
While obesity would increase primarily in western countries at rates even higher than we’re seeing currently (as high as 30 percent in some populations), this shift could be particularly troublesome in the developing world, too, where food insecurity is expected to increase with a warming planet.
“This direct effect of rising CO2 on the nutritional value of crops represents a potential threat to human health,” warns the report.
Food grown on a warmer planet would also be less abundant in key nutrients including zinc, iron, copper, and calcium, which could decrease by as much as 10 percent in most plants, leading to “hidden hunger” epidemics, the report noted.
“The consequences of the micronutrient insufficiency may not be immediately visible or easily observed.”
Food borne illnesses such as salmonella, E.coli, and norovirus would also become more prevalent, thriving in warmer climates.
“With increasing temperatures, the vulnerability of food due to multiplication of pathogens, it’s likely to increase,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University told ABC. “[Pathogens] replicate, or multiply, better at warmer temperatures.”
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Drought image via Shutterstock