In an effort to shed more light on the need for health equity over health equality, please take a moment and read some of my work...
The rising threat of climate change impacts our daily lives in a multitude of ways and to varying degrees of effect. Globally, our unified mission should be directed towards creating and enacting measures to achieve future sustainability. The effects of climate change are unavoidable on our current course. Knowledge increases are necessary to close the understanding gaps and, perhaps, alter worldwide perceptions of climate change’s existence and impacts. World food production will experience the negative effects of increased greenhouse gases (ozone and carbon dioxide) and regional temperature. Alterations to crop physiology, nutritional quality, and nutrient quantity are also projected as higher concentrations of carbon dioxide increase carbohydrate content while also decreasing protein and essential nutrients (USGCRP, 2016). It has, therefore, become necessary to shift the focus from factors effecting the yield and productivity of staple crops to the exploration of techniques that would enable increases to the nutritional value of those crops.
According to some estimates, the projected global population is expected to be 9.1 billion people by the year 2050 (Leisner, 2020). Access to nutrient-dense foods sources in economically unstable or less affluent countries has been diminishing, thus creating a fillable void to address the necessity of increasing sustainable nutrition security (Leisner, 2020). Elevated levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions potentially reduces the nutritional value of staple crops by causing decreases in essential mineral concentrations. It has been noted that an approximate 8% decrease in minerals and 3-17% decrease of protein, zinc, and iron has been observed via environmental manipulation-type studies to assess the impacts of climate change (Leisner, 2020). Moreover, the decreased value of zinc and protein would affect roughly 175 million and 122 million people, respectively (Deitterich et al., 2015; Leisner, 2020). These witnessed decreases are contributory factors of “hidden hunger”, that is, the need to achieve the worldwide caloric, vitamin, and essential mineral needs, especially in disproportionately affected regions and countries.
Climate change has elicited some benefits in the morphology of some crops, but these benefits are arguably offset by the detriments otherwise simultaneously experienced. Contained within a meta-analysis conducted by Myers et al. (2014) are the results of studies that attempted to replicate projected year 2050 levels of carbon dioxide. For example, phytate, a chemical responsible for inhibiting the gut’s ability to absorb zinc and thus creating zinc deficiencies, decreased significantly in the presence of elevated carbon dioxide (Myers et al., 2014). Regardless of the perceived benefit obtained by the reduction in phytate levels, the increased effect of zinc absorption was outweighed nearly twofold in the reduction of measured zinc levels of those same plants (Myers et al., 2014). Elevated carbon dioxide levels cause an increase amount of photosynthesis occurring during crop production. Conversely, though, those crops were noted to have decreased quality measures, such as changes in firmness, flavor, and oil production (Leisner, 2020). Also noted was an increased sugar content of tubers coinciding with increased malformations and decreased protein, potassium, and calcium quantities (Leisner, 2020). Myers et al. (2014) have remarked rural populations are currently experiencing health consequences relative to decreased protein consumptions without the need for exacerbated coronary effects caused by elevated carbohydrate intakes. Likewise, the increased antioxidants produced in some fruits in the presence of elevated ozone are also offset by the changes to the starch and sugar content of those same crops (Leisner, 2020).
The observable changes to these crops have led to rationally formulated questions, such as: what ways do and to what extent does regional climate change affect production, are there notable resiliency changes to perennial crops compared to annual crops, and what impact does climate change have on soil characteristics? Securing funds will enable efforts to focus on developing applicable knowledge and the mechanisms of exploration, potentially yielding successful and complete answers those questions. We are beginning to empirically realize the effects of climate change on global crop yield and characteristics. Integrating physiologic understanding by combining the areas of genomics, phenomics, and comprehensive experimentation must be conducted utilizing the best projected future environmental landscapes.
Genomic sequencing and understanding can allow for testing to quantify particular traits and genetic responses to environment via specified alterations. As explained by Dietterich et al. (2015), free air CO2 enrichment (FACE) technology has afforded climatologist and environmental health experts the ability to grow plants and crops within “precisely manipulate[ed] local CO2 concentrations”. Field concentrations can mimic the anticipated conditions of 2050, thus increasing our understanding of the future stakes. Phenomic-developments will greatly contribute to observable biochemical and physiologic properties via use of robotic imaging capable of computer vision and machine learning algorithms (Leisner, 2020). Also, infrared thermographics, unmanned aerial vehicles, and computer-assisted analytic tools can help monitor canopy volume, root and shoot sizes, and promote advances in global food security (Leisner, 2020).
Merging these technologies can be the linchpin to better understanding and the development of governmental protocols that slow the detrimental effects of climate change and global warming. It is not sufficient to settle for what is unknown and then theorized, but it is necessary to explore what our future may become. Pragmatic policy perceivably so often succumbs to a windfall of denial or arguments against the financial costs incorporated with climate change directives. Costs have bottlenecked research, financial burdens buoy rhetoric to maintain our heading, and in the midst of the existence debates and global summits, our nutritional security encounters the ultimate test of survival. Gaining understanding and creating rational climate change legislation should not fall by the wayside and become an untested backroom hypothesis, nor be relegated solely to a bulleted item during a campaign event. Response must be exacted and immediate. Allocating assets for experimentation is key to creating any future initiatives aimed at slowing the process, for without it, we are seemingly directionless and merely, at best, simply wishing these detriments escape the scientific method and not manifest into reality.
Dietterich, L. H., Zanobetti, A., Kloog, I., Huybers, P., Leakey, A. D., Bloom, A. J., Carlisle, E., Fernando, N., Fitzgerald, G., Hasegawa, T., Holbrook, N. M., Nelson, R. L., Norton, R., Ottman, M. J., Raboy, V., Sakai, H., Sartor, K. A., Schwartz, J., Seneweera, S., Usui, Y., Yoshinaga, S., & Myers, S. S. (2015). Impacts of elevated atmospheric CO 2 on nutrient content of important food crops. Scientific data, 2(1), 1-8.
Leisner, C. P. (2020). Climate change impacts on food security-focus on perennial cropping systems and nutritional value. Plant Science, 293, 110412
Myers, S. S., Zanobetti, A., Kloog, I., Huybers, P., Leakey, A. D., Bloom, A. J., Carlisle, E., Dietterich, L. H., Fitzgerald, G., Hasegawa, T., Holbrook, N. M., Nelson, R. L., Ottman, M. J., Raboy, V., Sakai, H., Sartor, K. A., Schwartz, J., Seneweera, S., Tausz, M., & Usui, Y. (2014). Increasing CO 2 threatens human nutrition. Nature, 510(7503), 139-142.
United States Global Change Research Program. (2016). The impacts of climate change on human health in the United States: a scientific assessment. http://dx.doi.org/10.7930/J0R49NQX