An Elevated Imbalance

The crops that we all need to sustain life

Are weakened by upturns in CO2;

Engaging in this atmospheric strife

Means less nutritious protein can accrue.

But will this cause distress for me or you?

For those who have the least, the risks are high,

Because of greenhouse gases that we spew.

And as we fight and eat and drive and fly,

We carry on our paths, then write them off to die.

The change in dietary protein intake that is expected for each country because of elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations, i.e. > 6% means that for this country elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations will result in the average protein intake for the people in that country reducing by more than 6% (Photo Credit: Medek et al., 2017).

This is a Spenserian stanza, inspired by recent research into the potential for carbon dioxide emissions to reduce the nutritional value of wheat, rice, and other staple crops, thereby leading to an increased risk of protein deficiency for 250 million people across the world.

Crops that are grown under elevated concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) contain less protein, and are therefore less nutritious, with edible crops such as wheat and rice particularly susceptible to this effect. By determining the effect of elevated CO2 on a number of edible crops, and then calculating the per-country protein intake for these crops based on current CO2 levels and those that are projected for 2050, the researchers were able to demonstrate that 18 countries might have their dietary protein intake reduced by over 5%.

Assuming that the levels of inequality and people’s diets remain the same, by the year 2050 over 140 million people, or 1.6% of the world’s population, will be at risk of protein deficiency because of elevated atmospheric CO2 levels. This means that many vulnerable poor people across the world, who rely on a largely plant-based diet, will be most at risk.


An audio version of this poem can be heard here.

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