You may have seen news reports that a Swedish scientist advocated cannibalism to combat climate change. It would be more accurate to say that he made a hypothetical connection.
Magnus Söderlund, a Swedish behavioral scientist, told a conference that continued global warming could cause agricultural problems and food shortages. In that case, humans may have to eat things we normally don’t, such as insects or worms.
He didn’t mean roadkill. He said that if we become accustomed to how our own flesh tastes, humans might develop a more favorable view of cannibalism.
Last year, Richard Dawkins made a similar suggestion, although he floated the idea of growing meat from human cells in a laboratory. He wondered if humans could overcome the “yuck factor” for a moral cause like combatting climate change.
But what benefit is using something immoral as a means to a moral end?
Dawkins’ idea is marginally less barbaric than Söderlund’s, but both of them distract from the main point and contribute to the idea of many Americans that climate change is a program of the lunatic fringe.
Söderlund and Dawkins follow in the footsteps of Paul Ehrlich, probably the most overrated scientist of the twentieth century. The environmental community’s failure to acknowledge the utter falsity of Ehrlich’s claims sufficiently explains the equally unscientific ranting of modern climate change deniers.
After decades of errors . . .
Ehrlich, a Stanford University biology professor and expert in the study of butterflies, wrote The Population Bombin 1968. He claimed that world population had grown so large that hundreds of millions of people would inevitably starve to death in the 1970s.
In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, he continued to preach of the looming disaster of a growing world population in numerous interviews, speeches, and magazine articles. He claimed that it was already too late for India and Pakistan to avert famine leading to mass starvation. If the people of the world didn’t act voluntarily to curb population growth, governments would have to use coercion to force them to change their ways.
At the very same time, Norman Borlaug had already taught Indian and Pakistani farmers new methods of agriculture. Pakistan had actually become self-sufficient in wheat production the same year Ehrlich published The Population Bomb. India followed by 1974. The population in both nations has grown since then, but food production in both has grown more.
Ehrlich was hardly alone in sounding the alarm. Peter A. Gunther, a professor in Texas, published an article claiming that, by 2070, the world’s population would need every square foot of the earth’s surface, including the oceans, to house everyone.
On the same page, he claimed that demographers almost unanimously predicted famine in India beginning in 1975. By 1990, famine would spread throughout Asia and Africa and spread to South America within a decade.
A large swath of the population dying of famine by 2000, but the population continues to increase?
And if the phony population predictions weren’t bad enough, Ehrlich and others warned that global temperatures were falling, leading to a new ice age by 2000!
To this day, Ehrlich hasn’t admitted he was wrong. Politicians and activists still take him way too seriously.
The real problem with feeding people
Better scientists than Ehrlich worried instead about the prospect of global warming as least as early as the 1960s.
It is the specter of an overheated Earth unable to sustain its agriculture that spurred Söderlund and Dawkins to suggest that maybe people could eat people.
Surely if current warming trends continue, crops won’t be able to grow where they do now. But they will grow in places now too cold for them.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, about a third of the food farmers produce for human consumption gets wasted. Developed countries waste large quantities of produce simply because it doesn’t look good. And consumers waste a lot by preparing food—or ordering it at a restaurant––and not eating it.
But poorer countries also waste food, mostly after harvest but before consumers receive it. For one thing, they lack technology and capacity for adequate low-temperature storage.
The world produces more than enough food to feed everyone. If food waste were a country, it would trail only the US and China in the production of greenhouse gases. Eliminating food waste would go a long way toward preventing the collapse of agriculture that Ehrlich and his intellectual descendants worry about. Reducing greenhouse gases will reduce global warming.
I have written about numerous new technologies that in one way or another can either reduce greenhouse gas emissions or remove at least carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Barriers appear to have more to do with economics and politics than technology, although not everything I have reported is yet practical.
Will American society see the importance of reducing greenhouse gases?
Not if the lunatic fringe keeps distracting us with ridiculous notions like socially acceptable cannibalism.
A Swedish scientist suggested the climate crisis could lead people to consider eating human flesh. It’s not the first time a scientist has suggested the idea / Aria Bendix, Business Insider. September 11, 2019