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Your Nutrition May Be at Risk Thanks to Climate Change
Hundreds of millions globally could be impacted in a significant way.
When it comes to climate change, we’ve taken into account less arable land, more flooding, less reliable weather, and how all of this might affect crop yields. But what scientists are now finding is that dramatic, atmospheric changes are effecting how plants operate internally. Today, food crops are getting more carbon dioxide.
As a result, they’re manufacturing more sugars and carbs and producing fewer nutrients. That means over time, our food becomes less nutritious. In the near future we might gorge ourselves, and still come up malnourished.
Before the industrial revolution, our atmosphere was about 280 parts per million carbon dioxide. Last year, the planet surpassed 400 parts per million. Scientists say if nothing dramatic changes, we’re likely to reach 550 parts per million within the next 50 years or so. Though climate change may still be a hot button issue for some, the fact that there is far more CO2 in the atmosphere doesn’t seem to be disputed.
We’ve known that for the last 50-70 years that the vitamin, mineral, and protein contents of certain vegetables has been dropping. Agricultural researchers have said that since we’ve been breeding the same crops for greater and greater yields, nutrition has fallen to the wayside for so long, it was bound to drop. But this doesn’t account how significant a decline took place. A groundbreaking 2002 study out of Princeton University was the first to link CO2 in the atmosphere with less nutritious food crops.
It was authored by mathematician Irakli Loladze who first noticed this phenomenon in a biologist’s lab. Zooplankton populations suffered after they fed upon green algae which had gotten more sunlight than they normally would out in the wild. Although the algae grew much faster, they also traded producing nutrients for carbohydrates. As a result, the zooplankton population suffered. Although they engorged themselves, they received less of the nutrients they needed. The mathematician wondered if the same thing could happen to us.
The nutritional value of many crops has been dropping for decades. Getty Images.
A 2004 study supported these findings and brought the issue to the forefront. Here, researchers found that a variety of fruits and vegetables had been losing iron, vitamin C, calcium, and protein, a decline that’s been occurring since 1950. Though impactful, according to a recent Politico report, few scientists in the agricultural, nutritional, or health spheres have been aware of this encroaching problem, until recently.
A 2014 Harvard study conducted over six years on fields in Japan, Australia, and the US, served up a dire warning. It found that around 150 million people in 18 different countries could face a protein deficiency, due to a 5% drop in dietary protein in staple crops like wheat and rice, by 2050.
The study compared crops grown in the field to those grown in lab-like conditions, where crops were ensconced in carbon dioxide via sprayers, which kept them at between 546 and 586 parts per million. That’s where scientists think our atmosphere will be at in forty to sixty years. Wheat saw 9.3% less zinc, an essential nutrient to health. While wheat, peas, and rice saw reduced protein levels.
This is the first study to evaluate the risk climate change poses to the nutritiousness of our food supply. The results were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Samuel Myers authored the study. He’s a senior research analyst at Department of Environmental Health, part of Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Over a billion of the world’s most vulnerable will be further at risk. Getty Images.
Myers and colleagues looked at UN data including demographics and income inequality measures, and combined these figures with their experiments with crops. As a result, the protein content of staples are predicted to decrease as follows: rice 7.6%, wheat 7.8%, potatoes 6.4%, and barley 14.1%. The hardest hit places would be South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, places where protein deficiency is already a substantial problem. In India authors point out, the diet might lose 5.3% of its protein, affecting 53 million people.
A paper alongside this one, published last summer in the journal GeoHealth, found climate change will also likely reduce iron content in staple food crops. This could increase iron deficiency globally. Iron is expected to drop 3.8% due to global warming. Here, those in South Asia and North Africa are the most at risk of anemia, particularly children under five and women of childbearing age. 1.4 billion children ages 1-4 and women of childbearing age are thought to be at risk.
According to Myers,
Strategies to maintain adequate diets need to focus on the most vulnerable countries and populations, and thought must be given to reducing vulnerability to nutrient deficiencies through supporting more diverse and nutritious diets, enriching the nutritional content of staple crops, and breeding crops less sensitive to these CO2 effects. And, of course, we need to dramatically reduce global CO2 emissions as quickly as possible.
Why can’t we address climate change? Well, turns out we’re bad at thinking about it. To find out why, click here:
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.