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As we continue our journey into the future and look at what is happening in a decade or two from now, the time around 2025-2035. We are surrounded by people who are working on passion-projects and moving around in self-driving smart vehicles. Even smarter devices that make your iWatch look like a stone-axe are keeping you connected to the internet of things, enabling communication with with your home, your transport devices, collaborators and retailers, enabling making payments and other transactions.
But while robots and smart devices don’t take lunch breaks, we will.
The challenge we face today is that food production in its current form is not able to be increased at the same rate as the world’s population with our current agricultural methods.
One of the first things that we will be confronted with is a very significant decrease in meat consumption.
Meat is by far the most resource-intensive and ecologically “expensive” food to produce.
Combined with the fact that the current consumption levels in the western diet are actually causing an increased in colon cancer and other ailments, and being a contributor towards obesity epidemic. This is not as a result of the meat itself, but as a result of the habitual over-eating and unnaturally large servings of food that are common today.
The second – and far more sinister problem with meats is that the antibiotics required to maintain the health of industrially farmed animals cycle through the food chain, primarily via water. It means we are eating – and accumulating vast uncontrolled quantities of antibiotics that not only mess with our immunity, but cause resistant mutations in pathogens. To make matters worse, the livestock industry requires 6 kg of plant protein to produce 1 kg of meat protein and as a result consumes about seven times as much plant based food than what humans consume (based on US figures – these vary between countries depending on the region’s respective primary source of food).
It is highly likely that plant based foods will form the most significant part of our food intake.
But before you decide to jump the curve and become a vegetarian, it is important to aknowledge that a very similar problem exists with our current methods of industrial agriculture.
While antibiotics are the trojan horse of meat and dairy, pesticides are the equivalent problem in the plant-foods. Our current industrial agriculture methods for plant-based foods are as unsustainable as the ones for animal products. While GMO’s are contentious and are blamed for all sorts of ailments, the reality is that all food we eat today is GMO. The fashionable idea of Paleo diets (derived from “Paleolithic”, the period of very early human life from about 2.6 million years to approximately 10,000 years ago) ignore two important factors: none of the foods that have been agriculturally developed (through selective breeding and domestication, and blending of plant varieties) existed in the paleolithic. Secondly their diets varied greatly between regions and seasons. The early humans were hunter-gatherers, and significant agriculture did not emerge until the very end of the paleolithic. Today we do not (and would not) eat any of the foods they ate, most of those pre-agricultural varietes no longer exist.
One of the greatest indicators is a resurgence of lower-yield organic farming. And while these are producing smaller crop volumes, peripheral problems such as soil depletion and water-table problems are also significantly reduced. One of the most successful technological innovations of recent years is salt-water farming. This is industrial scale greenhouse farming for vegetables that is extraordinarily water-efficient. Already a commercial reality in arid countries including UAE and Australia, methods like these show tremendous promise for sustainable food production.
But besides organic grains, fruit and veggies, what will be on your plate?
Chances are that a significant part of your animal protein intake will come from farmed fish, seaweed, algae- and mushroom-derived “vege-meat” products, and “grown meat”. While still in early development, growing meat in the lab is a reality, and one that holds promise to provide meat proteins and nutrients without the enormous overhead of farming animals. But as mentioned earlier, it is likely that those will be a significantly smaller share of you overall food intake, which will be primarily plant-based, using moderate-yield organic methods. Given that a significant portion of the population will have a far greater availability of free time while robots do the boring, dangerous and repetitive work, it is not unimaginable that seasonal community and home gardens will make an important and sustainable contribution to the food mix.
Another area that will change profoundly is food-related waste, and food waste.
Disposable protective packaging will no longer be polluting – as Architect William McDonough proposed in 2002 in his book “Cradle to Cradle”, it will serve secondary purposes such as decompose an release nutrients or act as a composting enhancer. All food waste will be collected for composting either by local or by community level collection, and utilised to regenerate and enhance the soil for agriculture.
Overall food will simply become healthier again, by the simple necessity of an ecologically sustainable and sufficient supply.
This has a profound effect on health and leisure industries. Not only does healthier food mean generally less lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes, it means longer active lifespans, more energetic people with lots of free time eager to engage in meaningful experiences. The demand for experience-based entertainment will be a significant industry, that will in turn require salvaging, restoring and protecting many endangered natural ecosystems. And again, with that comes yet another industry: ecological regeneration and ecosystem restoration, this time driven by a strong economic motivator.
So now we know how we are fed the humans (and started living longer, working less, travelling more, and repairing ecosystems), but what powers the machines, the internet of things?
Last week I promised you the food and the energy of the next two decades. I have decided however to keep things brief, and so I have split this episode into two. I will explore energy next week. This is another area that is overflowing with innovative changes and possibilities worthy of the best science fiction. Except that it is not sci-fi.
The purpose of these posts is to encourage you to imagine a different future.
It is to create a context for you, so that you may wake up tomorrow exited about the future, and eager to be a part of it instead of afraid of it, to contribute and help shape it rather than to be unexpectedly derailed by it.
It’s purpose is to fight the dark and distorted reality portrayed by mainstream media, and reveal one far more certain, and far more exciting: the future as is being created right under our noses, sometimes quietly and sometimes with great fanfare, by innovators, visionaries and entrepreneurs.
Cradle to Cradle Book, Amazon (no, I am not affiliated in any way – it is still a great book!)
Please share your thoughts. Agree, add to, disagree or challenge. The share and comments links below are yours to use… I look forward to hearing from you.