A new comprehensive study asserts that within a few decades even if you want to eat a healthy portion of fruits and vegetables, it may be hard to get your hands on the goods.
Underlying this lack of produce are the impacts of climate change, which will cut otherwise anticipated improvements in food availability by about a third by mid-century and lead to a total of just over half a billion additional deaths.
According to the report, extreme weather events such as floods and heatwaves that devastate crops and harvests will result in a reduction of 99 calories per person per day by 2050. There will be a 4% reduction in the consumption of fruits and vegetables and a 0.7% drop in red meat consumption.
While these percentages may seem small, they add up.
“Even quite modest reductions in per-person food availability could lead to changes in the energy content and composition of diets that are associated with substantial negative health implications,” states the paper.
Most of the deaths modeled in the study will happen in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, mainly in China and India. The study looked at deaths from coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and an aggregate of other causes related to unhealthy food.
“If you take India for example, they will [be likely to] substitute vegetables and fruit with potatoes and rice that have less health benefits than leafy vegetables,” said Dr. Marco Springmann, the study’s lead author and a policy researcher at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food.
According to the study, the health effects from dietary and weight-related risk factors associated with climate change could "exceed other climate-related health impacts that have been estimated." These would include deaths associated with extreme weather, disease, air and water pollution, and a number of other factors.
If the problem goes unmitigated, the situation will only get worse. The authors cite some examples that go beyond 2050. Intense outdoor work, the kind required for farming, may become physiologically impossible during the hottest month of the year in northern India in the early part of next century. In China, rice crops could start to fail much more often if temperatures warm by 2–3 °C or more.
"Restricting our view to what might happen in the next 30 to 40 years is understandable in terms of conventional concerns with data quality and model stability. But there is a danger here that we might underestimate future threats, and undervalue present actions needed to mitigate and adapt," said Dr. Alistair Woodward at the University of Auckland and an author on the study.
And what if we could look forward to a future without climate change? The authors determined that in such an optimistic scenario an increase in food availability and consumption could prevent 1.9 million deaths by 2050.
"There should be enough food to produce a better diet in 2050 than we currently have globally but if you add in climate change then you loose some of those improvements," said study co-author Peter Scarborough from the University of Oxford.