Greenhouse Gases, Overpopulation, and Agriculture

One of the most energy and resource intensive human activities is harvesting food, mostly because we have so many people to feed. And the population is only growing. There have been a variety of responses to this dilemma, three of the big ones being

  1. to genetically engineer crops and livestock to produce more food with less resources,
  2. optimize farming practices to reduce waste (e.g. organic farming), and
  3. reduce the consumption of foods that are energy intensive (e.g. beef) or whose harvesting lead to unacceptable levels of environmental degradation (e.g. palm oil).

Unfortunately, each of these approaches faces major obstacles. The public is reticent to embrace genetically engineered foods, primarily because of perceived risks. Organic farming is not only expensive, but requires more space for the same crop yields as conventional farming. Reducing the consumption of energy intensive foods like meat and dairy–something advocated by the United Nations and the Environmental Working Group— is wildly unpopular. In the case of detrimental crops like palm oil and bananas, most people aren’t even aware there is an environmental problem.

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