Climate change is already impacting major crops worldwide. Increased temperatures are responsible for reducing yields of coffee, corn, rice, soybeans and wheat. As Politico reports, there are also lesser-known effects taking root in our food supply. A mathematician has found that climate change is responsible for effectively turning plants into junk food.
Irakli Loladze identified that rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere are responsible for declining nutrition in plants, Politico reports. As CO2 has increased, the balance of sugar to nutrients such as iron, protein and zinc has been disrupted.
“Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising,” Loladze told Politico. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history― [an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”
Agricultural research has previously shown that crucial garden crops are becoming less nutritious. Declining levels of vitamin C, calcium, iron and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables had been measured since 1950. As Politico reports, this decline was chiefly attributed to breeding practices that favoured yield over nutrition.
“Loladze and a handful of other scientists have come to suspect that’s not the whole story and that the atmosphere itself may be changing the food we eat,” Helena Bottemiller Evich writes for Politico.
Loladze published the first research paper on the “junk-food effect” of CO2 on plants and nutrition in 2002 (in the respected journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution). In 2014, he published another paper on the same subject, which was the result of 15 years of research. Despite his work, the issue has remained under the radar.
“To say that it’s little known that key crops are getting less nutritious due to rising CO2 is an understatement,” Evich writes. “It is simply not discussed in the agriculture, public health, or nutrition communities. At all.”