Fast Company - We know that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are raising global temperatures and creating unstable and extreme weather patterns that will continue to threaten communities across the globe. And perhaps few people are more familiar with this fact than Kristie Ebi, the University of Washington professor who was the lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) blockbuster report last fall on the need to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But on the stage at TED in Vancouver, Ebi made it clear that climate shifts are far from the only consequence of rising CO2 levels. “Our emission of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels is reducing the nutritional quality of our food,” she says.
Ebi directly refuted an idea that’s been floating around for a while about the effect of CO2 on food production and global hunger. Technically, plants need CO2 to survive: They bring it in, break it down, and rely on carbon to grow. Some researchers have claimed that more CO2 means that more plants will be able to grow, and higher CO2 levels will then help solve food insecurity.
That, according to Ebi, is a hugely, dangerously wrong. Not only will climate change and global warming make agricultural productivity and much more unstable, but when plants take in an excess of CO2, their chemical makeup changes in a way that that’s harmful to the humans and animals that depend on them for nutrition: higher concentrations of CO2, increases the synthesis of carbohydrates like sugars and starches, and decrease the concentrations of proteins and nutrients like zinc, iron, and B-vitamins. “This is very important for how we think about food security going forward,” Ebi says.