This is the sixth post in a series considering the root causes of hunger. The Millennium Development Goals serve as a helpful framework.

Millennium Development Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

How carefully we manage our natural resources and environment has a direct impact on hunger, especially through issues of employment and health. Here are a few examples:

If we remove fish from our oceans, lakes, and rivers faster than they can reproduce, catches get smaller. As catches get smaller, fisherman make less money and eventually may be driven out of the job altogether. With less income and/or uncertain employment, it is harder to buy food and other necessities. In addition, as we deplete one or more species of fish, it can change the whole ecosystem in that location, affecting additional industries, animals, and people.

When we cut down too many trees too quickly, it exposes soil to erosion. Some of the soil washes away in the rain, causing silting in waterways. Some of it is picked up by wind and carried to other places. In Beijing this month, the sky was orange with dirt. Soil in the air led to a level-five pollution warning, the highest level, with people advised to wear masks and stay indoors. Those with respiratory illnesses were at especially high risk, and people suffering from illness have a difficult time making it to work. In the meantime, where there used to be trees, top soil is lost and root systems no longer hold water, making the land drier, less nutrient-rich, and less able to grow things (like food).

How much garbage did you throw away today? Where will it go? In addition to removing natural resources from the environment, we add many unnatural ones back in. The chemicals. metals, and minerals in our discarded products find their way into the soil and water, which find their way into what we eat and drink. Those who live in poverty and hunger are most vulnerable, as they have fewer resources for acquiring healthier options, and less power to prevent contaminants from being dumped near their homes.

These are just a few examples and a few of the impacts. If you’re interested in learning more, here are some suggestions for additional information that I particularly appreciated:
The Story of Stuff – a video about consumption and its effects on the environment.
– Collapse, by Jared Diamond – a book that looks at how and why civilizations have caused significant damage to their environments.
– The End of Food, by Paul Roberts – a book that considers how our food production systems affect the environment and us.
– Hot, Flat, and Crowded, by Thomas Friedman – a book that suggests not only how increasing populations and consumerism are a threat to the planet, but also some ideas about how it can be changed.

Do you have additional resources you’d recommend? Please leave a comment!

-Nancy Michaelis