The latest victims of climate change: iron and protein
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The latest victims of climate change: iron and protein

It’s common knowledge that climate change is bad news for agriculture: crops will struggle to grow in higher temperatures, farming will be more difficult as weather becomes less predictable, and the global water crisis will be exacerbated, making it harder to rear crops and livestock. But researchers have discovered a new way in which climate change could damage agriculture: by harming the nutritional value of food.

A new study published in scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives claims that rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide will seriously impair the nutritional value of wheat, rice, and other crops – diminishing their protein and iron content. This could put millions of people around the globe at serious risk of protein deficiency and malnourishment.

Samuel S. Myers, senior research scientist in the department of environmental health at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, who was the study’s author, said:

“These findings are surprising. If we sat down together 15 years ago and tried to anticipate the human health impacts of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, we would not have predicted that our food would become less nutritious. If we disrupt and transform most of the natural systems on our planet, we will continue to encounter surprises like this.”

Assuming that carbon dioxide levels continue to rise as predicted, then the populations of 18 countries could lose more than 5% of their dietary protein by 2050. Since roughly 76% of the world’s people derive the majority of their protein from plants, this could become a health catastrophe. Staple carbohydrates like Rice, wheat, barley, and potatoes will fare the worst, losing between 6% and 14% under high carbon dioxide conditions.

Myers predicts that an additional 150 million people globally could suffer from this loss as well as the “hundreds of millions of people who already suffer protein deficiency, whose deficiencies will be exacerbated.”

Does the study have a solution? Yes. The most promising solution would be to diversify diets worldwide, carefully monitor the nutritional sufficiency of vulnerable populations, and find ways to make their diets richer. But, as Myers notes, this is “easier said than done.”

Another solution may be to engineer our crops against global warming. Myers says: ““Bio-fortification of crops with iron and zinc is possible, as is breeding crops that are less sensitive to these CO2 effects.”


Dominion holds a number of companies involved in the fight against climate change in its Global Trends Managed Fund.

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