Feeding the Planet Without Destroying It


Climate change is the environmental problem that obsesses us, the one
that’s the focus of high-flying international summits and hardcore
national politics. But it’s not the only environmental problem — and
it’s not even the biggest one. That happens to be the crisis in
agriculture and land use, the subject of what Jon Foley — the head of
the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment — calls the
“other inconvenient truth.” Put simply, the act of feeding 7 billion
plus human beings already puts more stress on the planet than any other
single activity — and with both population and global wealth continuing
to grow, we’re going to need to figure out a way to produce more food
without further damaging the environment. Otherwise we may end up
running out of both food and the planet.

Of course, exactly how we should address these problems is the subject
of fierce debate in the U.S. and beyond. Is the solution to go organic
as much as possible, or should we focus on trying to extend the
fertilizer and irrigation of the Green Revolution to underperforming
agricultural areas in Africa and Asia? Do we need to change our diet and
reduce meat consumption, or is it simply unrealistic to expect more of
us to become semi-vegetarians — especially among the rising global
middle class just getting a chance to eat like Americans? How much value
do intact forests and wildlife habitat have as we struggle to feed the 1
billion people who go to bed hungry each night? And is it really food
production we need to improve, or distribution?