Symposium addresses the population boom’s challenges for energy, food and water

An expert speaking at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society, has highlighted issues and challenges posed by the growth of the middle class as the global population rises from 7bn today to almost 9bn people by 2040.

Ganesh Kishore, Ph.D., said producing food for a middle class that will number more than 5bn within 30 years will strain existing technology for clean water, sustainable energy and other resources.

Kishore spoke at a symposium, “The Interconnected World of Energy, Food and Water,” that focused on approaches to prepare for the population boom (here) . He was a co-organizer of the symposium, along with John Finley, Ph.D., of Louisiana State University and Hessy Taft, Ph.D., of St. John’s University.

The symposium aimed to foster greater awareness among scientists, the public and policy-makers about the interconnections between these three challenges.

Kishore said –

“Providing enough food to prevent starvation and famine certainly will be a daunting problem. But we also have to meet the rising expectations of huge numbers of people who will be moving up into the middle class.

“We will have a New York City-sized population added to the middle class every second month. Their purchasing power is projected to be more than $60 trillion by 2040.

“Most of this growth will be in Asia. The expanding middle class will demand food that doesn’t just fill the belly, but food that’s appetizing, safe and nourishing, convenient to prepare and available in unlimited quantities at reasonable prices. Producing food for a middle class that will number more than 5 billion within 30 years will strain existing technology for clean water, sustainable energy and other resources.”

Water, food and energy must be understood together — “it’s not just one or the other”, Kishore said.

“And the reason for this interconnection is that we need water to produce both energy and food — whether it is about harvesting fossil-fuel energy, producing biobased renewable energy or producing food, we need fresh water! In addition, we are competing with other demands for fresh water.

“It is not just about developing technology — we have to move the technology from the bench to the real world so that solutions see the light of day, which the industry speakers in the session can address.

“Regulatory policies have to keep pace with technology development, not just in places where the technology is developed but where the technology is deployed, and that requires science-based risk assessment capability and the creation of consumer confidence in the process.”

He described how the addition of one billion people every 12-13 years itself poses challenges that require innovations, rather than simply scaling up existing technologies. And he said that opportunities go hand-in-hand with the challenges.They include using plant biotechnology and tools of synthetic biology to expand the food supply and providing new sources of energy, developing more efficient ways to convert sunlight into chemical energy and applying information technology to the production of food and chemical energy more efficiently.

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