Food, agriculture & the environment: Can we feed the world & save the earth?

David Tilman, Michael Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations

Abstract

Secure and nutritious food supplies are the foundation of human health and development, and of stable societies. Yet food production also poses signi½cant threats to the environment through greenhouse gas emissions, pollution from fertilizers and pesticides, and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services from the conversion of vast amounts of natural ecosystems into croplands and pastures. Global agricultural production is on a trajectory to double by 2050 because of both increases in the global population and the dietary changes associated with growing incomes. Here we examine the environmental problems that would result from these dietary shifts toward greater meat and calorie consumption and from the increase in agricultural production needed to provide this food. Several solutions, all of which are possible with current knowledge and technology, could substantially reduce agriculture’s environmental impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, land clearing, and threats to biodiversity. In particular, the adoption of healthier diets and investment in increasing crop yields in developing nations would greatly reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture, lead to greater global health, and provide a path toward a secure and nutritious food supply for developing nations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-23
Number of pages16
JournalDaedalus
Volume144
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

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