October 18, 2019 | By Perri Sheinbaum

Saving Us from Ourselves

Data has shown that if every person lived like an average United States citizen, we would need five earths to sustain us. Americans consume far more resources than any other major country in the world. Earth Overshoot Day—the annual date where humanity’s demand on ecological resources surpasses Earths ability to regenerate in a year—occurred the earliest in history on July 29, 2019. And on top of that, 2018 was the warmest year on record for both the ocean and atmosphere.

The impact of human activities on our planet is astounding. Human consumption of natural resources and systems have exponentially increased in the last one hundred years, from water and energy usage to plastic production. While feeding our need for products and services, we have degraded our oceans and forests through the loss of biodiversity and collapse of fisheries. But this all comes at a cost to our health and wellbeing. In 2015, the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health asserted that human health is directly linked to the management of our natural resources—from air quality, to deforestation, to desertification and more.  

And over the past two years, new assessments and reports have driven this message home. In 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C, COP24 published a Special Report on Health and Climate Change, and the United States government released the Fourth National Climate Assessment. The reports continued into 2019, with the release of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on climate change and land use. These reports are simply a fraction of the hundreds of reports published detailing the inextricable links between human health and our environment. Recommendations vary from action at the individual level, such as eating a plant-based diet and flying less, to enactment of policies at the city, state, or federal level. Do individual actions ultimately lead to a healthy future? Studies have shown that people are more likely to change their behavior if they see their friend or neighbor doing this new behavior. But does this apply when dealing with a time sensitive crisis?

On October 23, food security researcher, Esther Ngumbi, environmental anthropologist Eduardo Brondizio, and environmental writer Tatiana Schlossberg, will discuss these questions and the issue of individual change verses systemic and policy change. If Americans are using the resources of five earths to maintain our lifestyle, something needs to change. We hope you will join us to explore these issues further.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

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Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

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One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

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WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet. 

| By Janet Fierro

Guest Commentary - Rural Niger Women find Opportunity and Hope through Innovative Business Model

When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.