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A Hotter Planet Could Make Our Food Less Potent

Extreme changes in weather patterns pose risks for the world's malnourished peoples.

Rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in our atmosphere not only lead to a warmer planet; they may also place millions of people at risk for certain nutritional deficiencies, according to research published in Nature Climate Change in September 2018.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health presented data suggesting that ever-increasing levels of CO2, released from sources like cars and coal-burning power plants, can make dietary staples like rice and wheat lower in important nutrients such as protein, zinc and iron. That could spiral into nutrition shortfalls, particularly among people in at-risk regions such as India, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

To help contain the planet’s fever risk, it would be useful if more of us scaled back our meat intake. Research reported in Food Policy in 2018 shows that production of meat and dairy protein releases significantly more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere than production of plant-based proteins like beans and nuts.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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