As Climate Change Decimates Crops, 500,000 People Will Die Annually by 2050

With global temperatures rising, researchers predict there will be fewer healthy fruits and veggies to go around.
(Photo: Yuya Shino/Reuters)
Mar 7, 2016· 1 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

It’s an age-old scenario at the family dinner table: parents or caregivers nagging kids to eat their vegetables. But while some children need a little prodding to eat their peas or brussels sprouts, according to new research published Thursday in the medical journal The Lancet, thanks to climate change, future generations might not even have something green and healthy to hate.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford, predicts that the effects of rising temperatures could decimate nutritious crops and thus kill as many as half a million people every year by 2050. “The health burden related to climate change is much bigger than we thought,” Peter Scarborough, one of the study’s authors and a researcher at the University of Oxford, told The Guardian.

The study links the leading cause of death overall to reductions in fruit and vegetable supplies. Eating a diet rich in those items reduces the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and can lower blood pressure and the risk of obesity. Yet, if carbon emissions continue to rise, by 2050 the amount of fruits and vegetables available to people would be cut by 4 percent, followed by calories being cut by 3 percent, and red and processed meat by less than 1 percent, according to the study.

“Climate change leads to changes in temperature and precipitation that are expected to reduce global crop productivity, cause changes in food production and consumption and affect global population health by changing the composition of diets and, with it, the profile of dietary and weight-related risk factors and associated mortalities,” wrote the study’s authors.

The researchers estimated the number of projected deaths by examining the risk associated with changes to fruit and vegetable consumption and red meat consumption, as well as the average body weight for deaths linked to heart disease, stroke, and other conditions affected by poor diet.

They found that about 529,000 more people would die in 2050 if severe climate change continues to impact food supplies. While the study found that reducing red and processed meat will prevent some 29,000 deaths, an overall decreased calorie intake will result in more people dying from starvation, mostly in India and China. Overall, a majority of nations are projected to see an increase in deaths should climate change worsen within the next few decades, according to the study.

As countries work to develop new environmental policies following the climate talks in Paris, the world experienced its hottest January in recorded history. That comes on the heels of 2015 being the hottest year since record keeping began.

There are some signs of hope. In nations like Norway and Denmark, policy makers hope to cut vehicle emissions by making it easier for cyclists to commute. Norway announced last week that it plans to spend about $8 million building a bicycle highway to cut carbon emissions by half.

Cutting carbon emissions as well as improving education and the availability of produce can reduce the projected number of deaths, said Scarborough. Yet, according to the study, even with initiatives to reduce emissions, such as sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, more than 150,000 more deaths will occur in 2050 because of climate-caused poor nutrition.