Hundreds of millions of people around the world are at risk of malnutrition as a direct consequence of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. That’s the latest bad news, suggesting that climate change is not only negatively affecting the environment, but the health of humans as well. The global study, published in the Journal of Nature and Climate Change, is the latest in a string of recent studies to scientifically prove the that the environment and human health are intricately linked.
Researchers have shown that the ever increasing levels of CO2 in our atmosphere may potentially decrease the levels of iron, zinc, and protein in crops worldwide by up to 17 per cent. By reaching a CO2 level of 550 parts per million in 2050, 122 million people may be come protein deficient, with 175 becoming iron deficient. To put that scarily in perspective, that is almost 7 times the population of Australia lacking sufficient iron.
While protein deficiencies affect almost all aspects of healthy human functioning, iron deficiency is a huge risk for women of child-bearing age, putting unborn babies at risk.
According to the results, the areas that are most likely to be hardest hit areas will be those that rely heavily on plants for sustenance, such as India and South-East Asia.
“We cannot disrupt most of the biophysical conditions to which we have adapted over millions of years without unanticipated impacts on our own health and well-being," said Sam Myers from Harvard Chan School, the lead author of the study.
The study was a metadata analysis of over 151 countries across the globe, looking at the impact of carbon dioxide in 225 different foods.
There are already 2 billion people currently living with nutritional deficiencies, and if the findings of this study are correct, their condition will severely worsen.
If the world continues to emit CO2 at the same rate that we currently do, levels are predicted to reach 940 ppm by the end of the century, almost double the levels that have been labeled as dangerous for our food.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Governments worldwide have the potential to save 153 million lives in the next century, if they commit to an accelerated reduction of fossil fuel emissions. The findings from from Duke University, put a tangible figure to the premature deaths we can expect if our air quality doesn’t improve from the current state, before factoring in these new nutritional implications.
While financial and environmental factors have been major drivers in climate change action, these new studies place a real emphasis on the human cost of poor air quality.
“This is another demonstration of how higher CO2 could affect global health that may not be as well recognised,” said Dr. Matthew Smith, co-author of this week's study. “Continuing to keep up our vigilance around reducing CO2 emissions becomes all the more important because of this research.”