Can We Feed 3 Billion More People and Save the Environment?

Feeding 3 Billion More People

worldpopThe U. S. Census Bureau uses world data to estimate that in 2150, Earth’s human population will reach 9 billion and stay around that number for the next few centuries.  But must we stop?  Can’t we go on to 12 billion?  In an article published in America’s leading academic journal, Science, a group of scientists led by Paul C. West say yes.  Here is the full abstract of their article:

“Achieving sustainable global food security is one of humanity’s contemporary challenges. Here we present an analysis identifying key “global leverage points” that offer the best opportunities to improve both global food security and environmental sustainability. We find that a relatively small set of places and actions could provide enough new calories to meet the basic needs for more than 3 billion people, address many environmental impacts with global consequences, and focus food waste reduction on the commodities with the greatest impact on food security. These leverage points in the global food system can help guide how nongovernmental organizations, foundations, governments, citizens’ groups, and businesses prioritize actions” (Paul C. West, et al, Science 345: 325-328).

The editors of Science had this to say:  “Keeping societies stable and managing Earth’s resources sustainably depend on doing a good, steady job producing and distributing food. West et al. asked what combinations of crops and regions offer the best chance of progress. Their analysis focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient pollution, water use, and food waste. They identify regions that are likely to yield the best balance between applying fertilizer to increase crop yields versus the resulting environmental impact” (editor, Science 345: 325).

Of course, there will be problems finding the leadership needed to pull the levers the authors identify.  If we can find them, however, perhaps we can then begin looking for more solutions that will let us sustain our growth far into the future.  Some pessimists have pointed out that we can’t keep growing because we would eventually reach the point where we would shoulder-to-shoulder cover the planet.  Well, we have learned it is possible to live and reproduce in tight spaces.  Besides, what about adapting to living standing on someone’s shoulders (or being stood upon)?  We could double the bleaker’s so-called space limitation.

New Housing With Uncertain Water Supplies

New Housing With Uncertain Water Supplies

Despite the uncertainties, the effort of Paul C. West his coauthors should encourage renewed efforts by developers who might have felt a tingle of concern that growth and profits could slow.  Their new slogan might become:  “Don’t say slow, science says grow.” ;-).

2 thoughts on “Can We Feed 3 Billion More People and Save the Environment?

  1. I think one of the issues that we have to face is the amount of wasted food that we in some countries treat with disdain.. We as consumers also have to look at our expectations of what we expect to find in the supermarkets and buy more sensibly. Distribution or redistribution of food supplies is one thing but there is also the issue of bringing water and sustainability to areas where staple foods needs to be grown.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are right about efficiency in food production, water use, and food use. But it seems like expending energy and creativity on ways to use these to sustain increased population is a mistake. I would rather see creative effort going into the social mechanics needed to reduce the human population. But, then I favor Leopold’s Land Ethic that respects the right of other creatures to live on Earth (



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