By now it's no surprise that climate change is doing irreparable damage to Earth, but a new study shows that things could get much worse if no significant efforts are made to combat it.
The world's supply of vegetables could be affected down the line, potentially falling more than a third by 2050 unless urgent action is taken to deal with climate change, the researchers caution.
The world's yields of common legume crops, including soy beans and lentils, are bound to decrease as a result of rising temperatures and water shortages, they say. This in turn could affect public health as key ingredients to a healthy diet become even scarcer, say researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
How Climate Change Might Affect Our Vegetables
Their findings were published June 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, the first study that looks into the possible effects of climate change on legumes and non-staple vegetables.
"Vegetables and legumes are vital components of a healthy, balanced and sustainable diet and nutritional guidelines consistently advise people to incorporate more vegetables and legumes into their diet," says lead author Pauline Scheelbeek.
There have been numerous studies on the effects of drastic environmental changes on staple crops that show increased carbon dioxide levels lead to increased crop yields. But in analyzing all studies on this topic published since 1975 in 40 countries, the researchers found that other environmental factors are largely ignored.
While carbon dioxide does seem to increase crop yields by an average of 22 percent, that's canceled by a number of other environmental changes: a 25 percent increase in ozone, a 50 percent increase in water scarcity, rising temperatures in tropical countries, and a 25 percent increase in water salinity could negatively impact total legume yields by 8.9 percent, 34.7 percent, 31.5 percent, and 2.3 percent, respectively.
What Should We Do?
Senior study author Alan Dangour says if we don't act now, expect these important foods to be substantially reduced in the decades to come. If things don't change, global average vegetable yields could decrease by up to 35 percent, and global legume yields could decrease by 9 percent. The world must develop new crop varieties and make inroads in agriculture to sufficiently protect vegetable supplies, according to the researchers. It doesn't help that the global demand for food is expected to soar as the world population is expected to grow to 9.8 billion people by 2050 according to the UN.
"This research is a wake-up call, underlining the urgency of tackling climate change and of improving agricultural practices," says Our Planet, Our Health head Howie Frumkin.