Climate change and nutrition: threats and solutions

More CO2 into the atmosphere less nutrients in plants, which are the next steps?

The climate change is taking place. Whatever our position is on this, it is undeniable that the temperatures grow, the sea level rises and the rains acidify. That all of this it is the result of human act since industrial revolution and so on, today it is not an issue in this article. Instead, it is an objective data that the global industrial system has produced and produces emission of gases into the atmosphere, first of all the carbonic anhydride. Taking that as a starting point, Kristie Ebi, a woman researcher of the Center for Health and the Global Environment, studies and develops speeches at international level for helping people to face challenges put by the CO2 release in the atmosphere.

The enrichment of carbon coming from the use of fossil fuel has a number of effects in the atmosphere: the most well-known are the temperature increase for the greenhouse effect, the acid rain and the acceleration of the plants growth. But these last grow without their basic nourishment, such as vitamins, lowering their nutritional quality. Having as reference the food pyramid, every person need carbohydrate, protein and different micronutrients to grow healthly and feel good. Not to mention that we do not eat only for necessity but also for pleasure; the world is full of typical dishes which go over their fuction to serve as nutrient and which are landmarks for traditions, old stories and cultures. All of this put at risk by greenhouse gases leakage into the air. This process started during the industrial revolution, taking the number of carbonic anhydride particels from 280 parts per million to over 410 per million to nowadays. As we have just said, CO2 is necessary to plants which absorbes it and breaks it down into carbon, which is used for chlorophyll photosynthesis, while oxygen is expelled. So, if carbonic anhydride serves to plants as well as food serves to us, not should be a good news that the level of this gas rises into the atmosphere?

The food safety (SDG 2) is a marker which calculate how many people in the world can access to enough food to live; nowadays, there are around 820 million people who have not what they need to survive. The increased presence of CO2 in the air helps to produce more food. However, the climate change is bringing the agricultural productivity down, varing microclimates and tightening up meteorogical events as sudden heat waves, unexpected flood and long periods of drought. The carbonic anhydrate, together with making plants grow, has other consequences on their metabolism; it increases the synthesis of sugars and reduces the concentration of proteins, vitamins and minerals. More over, it makes cultures less nourishing and, with a view to improve the food security during the next years, this fact put an important interrogative: what will happen to those who today are at the minimun limit of food safety? Some negatively affected minerals by the big presence of carbon into plants are the iron, whose lack leads to anemia (toil, out of breath, chest pain, heart failure, growth retardation) and the zinc whose deficit leads to loss of appetite (which involves serious risks for pregnant women and infants), loss of smell, retardation in wound healing, human immunodeficiency and serious risks of growing. The B group vitamins are required for the regulation of the nervous system, because they turn food into energy and help to fight off infections. With more carbon into plants we have less nitrogen and less vitamins of group B. Also cows are affected by this problem, the fodder quality they eat is in decline taking this worsening in their derived products. 

Several experiments have been performed either on site and in laboratories; an explanatory example of an experiment on site has been conducted building different rice basins identical for size, soil and rainfall. Everyone has been treated according to the same condition, except for some basins which have been continuously aired with carbonic anhydride. The reason is to be able to have a comparison between the energetic value of the current rice production and the future one with a major CO2 concentration in the air. The result has been that the content of proteins has dropped by 10%, the iron by 8%, the zinc by 5%. The most significant decrease has been at the B vitamins level: B1 and B2 has dropped by 17%, B5 by 13% and B9 by 30% (essential for babies develop and pregnant women to avoid giving birth to newborns with pathologies). If we had to have a map where the link between the CO2 increase and the decrease of iron and zinc has the major effects in terms of malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and anemia, we could identify the areas of Africa, India, Japon and South East Asia. Not to mention that also North American and European populations could be indirectly damaged (for a total of about 125 million people). 

The solution is easy: reducing the injection of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This could be possible crossing the commitment of governements to guide more sustainable politics with new technologies and methodologies of cultivation, such as hybridization between species, graft, bio-fortification and the use of smart land. Especially, now we need to invest on research to understand how facing future issues. An emblematic and so much discussed case is offered by the use of genetic modification techniques or OGM.

The genetic modification is not new, many products we daily consume are a genetic modification product, such as banana, eggplants, Brussels sprouts and mais. However, the product which suffered much more genetic modifications (because at the base of the major number of diets at global level) is the rice. More than half of the earth's population based its nourishment on rice. All this pressure put on a so much small grain, farmers have always used the most durable types of rice. For centuries nobody have never known these genes which make rice stronger, until 90's when they were identified and isolated. Then the resistance genes have been studied more, leading to the discovery of specific genes resistant to infection of certain bacteria and virus, flood and parasites. Adding these genes to a DNA of other varieties of rice has allowed to the most safety and abundant developing countries, which use less pesticide and insecticides, damaging for  the environment and human health, to have plantations. But that is not all, every year aroung 500 thousand child in underdeveloped countries becomes blind because of the lack of A vitamin, while more than 250 thousands are  destined to a premature death. However, thanks to a research funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, some genetic engineers have developed a rice variety called "Golden Rice" because of its golden color. Golden because they have added to it a gene which allows the formation of beta-carotene, th A vitamin forerunner, of a straw yellow color. This new rice variety with added nourishments is designed to save the lives of thousands of children.

This is only one case in which GMO can be applied to reduce the malnutrition. Otherwise, GMO are at the center of many controversies: there is who thinks there is no need to interfere with nature work, there is who sees the future in this technology. Just one thing is sure, that is the misinformation about plants genetic modification have some effects. These last mostly occur among poorer and weaker people, who has a major need to draw to this technology. Actually, the groups most at risk are denied to access to this resource with huge possibilities, because of sketchy fears and prejudice of whom have enough to eat. It is our task to relieve human suffering and safeguard the environment for future generations, regardless our opinion is about the climate change responsibilities.

Translated by Giorgia Melis

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  • L'Autore

    Andrea Radaelli

    Andrea Radaelli, nato il 20 ottobre 1997, caporedattore del progetto 'Tecnologia ed Innovazione' mi considero un soggetto particolarmente vivace e interessato a come funziona il mondo. L’aggettivo che più spesso hanno utilizzato i miei parenti, i miei amici e le persone che mi stanno accanto per descrivermi è senza dubbio ‘curioso’.

    Curioso del mondo, di come funziona e dei nostri effetti su di esso. Non solo in campo scientifico ma anche economico e geopolitico. Mi interesso di tutto ciò che ha un outcome positivo e propositivo, soprattutto nella sanità e nelle nuove tecnologie.

    Curioso per le mie opinioni molto forti e per certi aspetti critiche sulla società, che a volte diventano i miei limiti. Alcune di queste sono che la conoscenza è faticosa ma rende liberi, che l’ignoranza nell’era dell’informazione è una scelta consapevole e che l’uguaglianza (dare alle persone le stesse cose) è un paradigma da superare con l’equità (dare alle persone le stesse opportunità).

    Curioso anche per la mia personalità; ho delle idee molto ben determinate, sono un convinto ‘individualista sociale’. Cioè che ognuno di noi deve prima crescere e acculturarsi secondo le proprie inclinazioni per poi poter entrare in un gruppo di lavoro per poterlo arricchire della sua prospettiva.

    Curioso per le mie scelte, dopo le medie ho scelto un liceo ad indirizzo artistico nonostante i miei professori spingessero per un liceo classico. Durante questi cinque anni ho avuto modo di viaggiare per l’Italia e scoprire gli incredibili siti dell’UNESCO. Ho viaggiato anche in Europa nelle maggiori capitali e mi sono innamorato dell’Unione Europea. Ho compreso quanto siamo fortunati del far parte di comunità internazionale e delle straordinarie opportunità che offre. Finite le superiori, ho scelto di studiare lingue applicate all’ambito economico nel CdL di ‘Scienze per la Mediazione Linguistica e Culturale’, un’università ricca di diversità; di nazionalità diverse, di lingue diverse e di culture diverse. Tutta questa eterogeneità mi ha spinto a ricercare un percorso magistrale decisamente più strutturato ed innovativo; 'Data Science and Business Intelligence'. La scienza dei dati si compone di principi metodologici basati sul metodo scientifico e di tecniche multidisciplinari volte ad interpretare ed estrarre conoscenza dai dati attraverso l'analisi statistica.

    Di Mondo Internazionale mi ha colpito la potenzialità, la composizione giovane e il dinamismo. Le aree tematiche nel quale mi trovo a mio agio sono economia, sanità e innovazione. Il progetto di ‘Tecnologia ed Innovazione’ è quello con cui collaboro maggiormente e, soprattutto grazie alla pazienza dei miei collaboratori, mi trovo veramente bene.

    Andrea Radaelli, born on 20 October 1997, editor-in-chief of 'Technology and Innovation' project, I consider myself as a particularly lively person and interested in how the world works. The adjective that my relatives and my friends have used the most to describe me is undoubtedly 'curious'.

    Curious about the world, how it works and our effects on it. Not only in the scientific field but also in the economic and geopolitical field. I am interested in everything that has a positive and proactive outcome, especially in healthcare and new technologies.

    Curious for my very strong and, in some respects, critical views on society, which sometimes become my limitations. Some of these are that knowledge takes effort but is essential, that ignorance in the information age is a conscious choice and that equality (giving people the same things) is a paradigm to be overcome with fairness (give people the same opportunities).

    Also curious about my personality; I have very well-defined ideas, I am a convinced 'social individualist'. That is, each of us must first grow and acculturate according to their own tastes in order to be able to be a good team player in a work group in order to enrich it with new insights.

    Curious about my choices, after secondary school I chose an artistic high school despite my teachers pushing for a classical high school. During these five years I have had the opportunity to travel around Italy and discover its incredible UNESCO sites. I also traveled around Europe in the major capitals and fell in love with the European Union. I realized how fortunate we all are to be part of this international community and the extraordinary opportunities it offers. After graduating from high school, I chose to study languages ​​applied to economics, 'Sciences for Linguistic and Cultural Mediation', a university rich in diversity; of different nationalities, of different languages ​​and of different cultures. All this heterogeneity pushed me to seek a decidedly more structured and innovative master's path; 'Data Science and Business Intelligence'. Data science consists of methodological principles based on statistics, scientific method and multidisciplinary techniques aimed at interpreting and extracting knowledge from data through statistical analysis.

    I was struck by Mondo Internazionale's potential, young composition and dynamism. The thematic areas in which I am comfortable are economics, health and innovation. The 'Technology and Innovation' project is the one I collaborate with most and, thanks to the patience of my collaborators, I am really happy with it.


Sections Health & Wellness 2030 Agenda Sustainable cities and communities Fight against climate change


climate change GMO CO2 Nutrition Food food security health public health SDG 2 vitamin genetic engineering golden rice malnutrition DNA carbonic anhydride

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