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The Food Threat to Human Civilization

Humanity faces a growing complex of serious, highly interconnected environmental problems, including much-discussed challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, and epidemics. But the most serious threat to global sustainability in the next few decades will be the growing difficulty of avoiding large-scale famines.

PALO ALTO – Humanity faces a growing complex of serious, highly interconnected environmental problems, including much-discussed challenges like climate change, as well as the equally or more serious threat to the survival of organisms that support our lives by providing critical ecosystem services such as crop pollination and agricultural pest control. We face numerous other threats as well: the spread of toxic synthetic chemicals worldwide, vast epidemics, and a dramatic decline in the quality and accessibility of mineral resources, water, and soils.

Resource wars are already with us; if a “small” nuclear resource war erupted between, say, India and Pakistan, we now know that the war alone would likely end civilization.

But our guess is that the most serious threat to global sustainability in the next few decades will be one on which there is widespread agreement: the growing difficulty of avoiding large-scale famines. As the 2013 World Economic Forum Report put it: “Global food and nutrition security is a major global concern as the world prepares to feed a growing population on a dwindling resource base, in an era of increased volatility and uncertainty.” Indeed, the report notes that more than “870 million people are now hungry, and more are at risk from climate events and price spikes.” Thus, measures to “improve food security have never been more urgently needed.”

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