Carbon Dioxide (CO2) impacts the nutritional content of produce, according to lead researchers on climate change. Heavily affecting the most poorest of people, those suffering from malnutrition will fare the worst as carbon dioxide levels continue to rise across the globe. As high levels of carbon dioxide emissions continue to warm the planet, this will eventually impact the nutrition levels on many of the Earth’s staple foods such as corn and wheat.
According to a Harvard University study, it is predicted that by the year 2050, increased levels of carbon dioxide found in corn, rice, soybeans and wheat will have resulted in a decreased amount of iron, protein, as well as zinc in produce. Samuel Myers, a Harvard University environmental health expert, stated that increased levels of carbon dioxide are damaging nutrition for humans through the reduction of important nutrients found in staple food crops. He also stated that iron and zinc, which are found in staple produce, are of most importance to human nutritional needs.
Myers also explained that over two billion people around the world have already suffered a deficiency in both iron and zinc. Because of this, pregnant women and their babies have greatly undergone harm. He stated that there exists a fundamental public health issue, and that rising levels of carbon dioxide accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere will “exacerbate that problem further.”
Comparing the level of nutrients in field produce grown under normal levels of carbon dioxide versus produce grown under the expected level of carbon dioxide in 2050, researchers found that produce had overall less nutritional content after the effects of carbon dioxide. Having analyzed 41 various strains of crops in different locations, produce with higher levels of carbon dioxide saw nine percent less zinc, five percent less iron, as well as six percent less protein. Rice was found to have three percent less zinc, five percent less iron, with eight percent less protein. Like rice, corn faced a significant decrease in the amount of nutrients, with soybeans also experiencing a loss of zinc and iron. However, soybeans differed in that they did not experience a reduction in protein levels.
It is still unknown about why carbon dioxide impacts the nutritional content of produce, as these staple crops experienced dropped levels of nutrients after being exposed to increased levels of CO2. However, Brian Thomas, a professor at the British University of Warwick, agrees that the evidence is “convincing and consistent with what we do know about the plan physiology.”
At least 2.4 billion people around the world get at least 60 percent of their iron and zinc intake from staple produce. People living in countries where meat is more of a staple part of their diet need to understand this impact on the greater worldwide diet.
As Myers states, consumption of staple produce to meet nutritional needs will probably not be an option for most of the world’s population in the near future, as the production of food will most likely have to be doubled by the year 2050 in order to quell the demand for food in rising populations.
While carbon dioxide impacts the nutritional content of produce, many researchers are concerned for the future of human civilization, which will need at least double the amount of produce to survive in the near future. As levels of carbon dioxide continue to increase due to human activity and resulting climate change, humans face a difficult road ahead in terms of being able to provide enough food, while reducing carbon emissions.
By Scott Gaudinier