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2 Billion More Coming to Dinner

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science on a sphere.jpgBY JOHN GORDON

Whether the planet is ready for it or not, by 2050 approximately 9 billion people will be living on Earth.

How can we expect to support 9 billion, when today we struggle to feed 7 billion?

There's not an easy answer to that question. But a Discovery Grant from the Institute on the Environment has made it possible for the Science Museum of Minnesota to at least break it down into an entertaining 9-minute film.

The issue of food production is complicated by the fact that we already use about 40 percent of Earth's land surface for agriculture, and there simply isn't much available arable land left. Increasing global cropland area would require clearing natural ecosystems and destroying the valuable services they provide.

Formatted for spherical displays (such as the Science on a Sphere and Magic Planet systems), the new film, "2 Billion More Coming to Dinner," features data sets developed by IonE's Global Landscapes Initiative, and presents challenges and potential solutions for our hungry planet.

How is global cropland distributed, and exactly how much does each area produce? With ideal fertilization and irrigation, how much could each area produce? Which regions show the greatest gap between current and potential production, and what would it take to close that gap, maximizing food production? Spherical visualizations and a conversational narrative style address each of these questions in the film.

2 Billion More Coming to Dinner" also considers what kinds of food we eat. To support the animals that feed us, a significant amount of cropland is devoted to producing animal feed instead of human food. A "food vs. feed" GLI data set is visualized as a global map of who produces crops mostly for direct consumption by people, and whose cropland is largely used for growing animal feed. Without offering a direct course of action, the film allows viewers to consider the data and how it might apply to their behavior.

How can you become one of these viewers? You'll soon be able to find "2 Billion More Coming to Dinner" at one of the world's 80 Science on a Sphere installations. Also, the film and its associated data sets will soon be available for free download from the Science Museum of Minnesota at sciencebuzz.org/earth. It's a fun showcase of a small part of IonE and GLI's work, and we hope people enjoy it!

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.