People have worried about overpopulation on Earth for centuries, and climate change has only recently accelerated that fear. But a new study found that feeding 10 billion people on Earth is not only possible—but it could be done sustainably as well.
Researchers from the University of Chicago and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research suggest a comprehensive outline for feeding 10 billion people within our planet’s environmental boundaries in a recent study in Nature Sustainability.
“When looking at the status of planet Earth and the influence of current global agriculture practices upon it, there’s a lot of reason to worry, but also reason for hope—if we see decisive actions very soon,” said Dieter Gerten, lead author from PIK and professor at Humboldt University of Berlin.
Supplying a sufficient and healthy diet for every person while keeping our biosphere largely intact will require no less than a technological and sociocultural U-turn, the authors wrote. It includes adopting radically different ways of farming, reduction of food waste and dietary changes.
“We have to rethink global agriculture and our current behavior and then start over, in order to see a fundamental transformation of global agriculture,” said Jonas Jägermeyr, a UChicago postdoctoral researcher and co-author on the study.
Recalibrating methods—and behavior
Jägermeyr, a researcher working with UChicago Prof. Ian Foster and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies’ Cynthia Rosenzweig, contributed simulations of Earth’s biosphere and agriculture to the study. This allowed the planetary boundaries to be scrutinized globally at a new level of spatial and process detail.
“We have to acknowledge environmental limits, but at the same time eradicate poverty and food insecurity. To achieve these Sustainable Development Goals we need to sustainably increase agricultural production, and that’s a pretty tricky dilemma,” Jägermeyr said. “By implementing better farm water management and using irrigation in a better way, by redistributing current fertilizer applications and cropland patterns, we can substantially boost agricultural production.”
The encouraging result is that, in theory, 10.2 billion people can be fed without compromising the Earth system.