But is it possible the world could run out of food entirely? Barring a doomsday scenario in which the planet becomes temporarily or permanently unable to host plant life (say following a major meteor strike like the one believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs), then the question really boils down to this: Could a reduction in arable land and fresh water lead to a massive drop in food levels, creating a worldwide famine?
Unfortunately, increased desertification and water use are serious threats to future food production. Perhaps not enough to cripple the entire human race, but certainly enough to cause serious problems if everybody plans to keep eating on a regular basis. Add in factors like increased competition from biofuels, an impending population explosion, crop failures and climate-related drought, and you have a perfect storm for severely decreased food production.
But perhaps the larger part of the problem is that agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the planet's water use, and while you can reuse fresh water, there's just not that much of it to go around. Using conventional (and unsustainable) agricultural methods, it takes nearly 400 gallons (1,500 liters) of water to grow just 2 pounds (1 kilogram) of wheat. Meat-eaters cause even more of a problem. To get that 2-pounds-worth of meat, it takes a whopping 4,000 gallons (15,000 liters) of water [source: FAO].
And while people definitely need to eat, drinking water is also definitely a must. Because an extreme amount of water goes into food production, and because climate change could increase the acreage of nonarable land and melt our remaining freshwater glaciers, it's becoming more difficult to ensure that everyone gets the proper amount of water to drink -- 1.5 gallons (2-5 liters) a day. So the even more critical question could be: Will we run out of water?
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- How Desertification Works
- Will the U.S. be a desert in 50 years?
- Is global warming irreversible?
- What are climate refugees?
- What are green-collar jobs?
- What is grass banking?
- Will there be farms in New York City's skyscrapers?
- Will alternative fuels deplete global corn supplies?
- The Top 10 Worst Effects of Global Warming
- What's a food desert?
More Great Links
- Borger, Julian. "Feed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits." The Guardian. Feb. 26, 2008. (6/7/2010) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/feb/26/food.unitednations
- FOA Web site. (6/7/2010) http://www.fao.org/
- Ho, Mae-Wan. "The Food Bubble Economy." Institute of Science in Society. Oct. 1, 2005. (6/7/2010) http://www.i-sis.org.uk/TFBE.php
- Lim, Bomi. "North Korea's Food Aid Will Run out Next Month, UN Agency Says." Bloomberg Businessweek. May 3, 2010. (6/7/2010) http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-05-03/north-korea-s-food-aid-will-run-out-next-month-un-agency-says.html
- McDonald, Joe. "Surging costs hit food security in poorer nations." Associated Press. June 7, 2010. (6/7/2010) http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g-PV1iJxWc4KqE-gLaWEOIMQs-RQD9G5RK9O0
- Prince, Stephen. "Desertification." University of Maryland, College Park. (6/7/2010) http://www.geog.umd.edu/research/projects/Desertification.htm
- Randerson, James. "Food crisis will take hold before climate change, warns chief scientist." The Guardian. March 7, 2008. (6/7/2010) http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/mar/07/scienceofclimatechange.food
- "Riots, instability spread as food prices skyrocket." CNN. April 14, 2008. (6/7/2010) http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/americas/04/14/world.food.crisis/
- Rosenthal, Elisabeth. "To Counter Problems of Food Aid, Try Spuds." New York Times. Oct. 25, 2008. (6/7/2010) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/26/world/26spuds.html?_r=1
- The Food Chain Web site. New York Times. (6/7/2010) http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/news/business/series/the_food_chain/index.html
- "Water: A Shared Responsibility." World Water Assessment Programme. March 2006. (6/7/2010) http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001444/144409E.pdf
- "Without new funding UN will run out of food for nearly 500,000 hungry Yemenis." UN News. May 4, 2010. (6/7/2010) http://www.speroforum.com/a/32188/Without-new-funding-UN-will-run-out-of-food-for-nearly-500000-hungry-Yemenis
- World Food Programme Web site. (6/7/2010) http://www.wfp.org/
- World Health Organization Web site. (6/7/2010) http://www.who.int/en/
- "Yemen." CIA World Factbook. (6/7/2010) https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ym.html