The greatest 21st-century challenge that humanity will face is not terrorism, disease, or warfare. It is not solely an issue of politics, inequality, or climate change. Instead, it is the kindling that fuels and exacerbates all other issues. Our greatest challenge is one of demography. The problem is that we exist, or rather, that too many of us do, and that we are running out of ways to feed ourselves.
The most pressing issue we must decide how to handle, in the face of booming population, is how to deal with our current agricultural system. This paper will present the most damaging side-effects of conventional agriculture and will show how aquaponics, a nearly entirely self-sustaining agricultural system, addresses these impacts.
Around the halfway point of the century, the UN predicts there will be 9.6 billion people on Earth (UN 2013). From now until then, we will have to produce more food than what humanity has consumed in its entire existence (Weisman 2013). Most of this demand will come from developing countries. As their economies grow, not only will these countries be able to afford more food, their preferences will also shift towards more meat, dairy, and processed foods, all of which require disproportionately large inputs and the use of intense agricultural practices to produce (Trostle and Seeley 2013).
Paradoxically, modern agriculture is both the blessing that provided us with the abundant food that allowed us to flourish, and the curse that will lead to our collapse if left unchecked. Moreover, our agricultural practices are both shaped by and shapers of our environment. However, as our population grows, we find ourselves having to increase our roles as shapers to meet food demands, often with several environmental burdens.
Water usage is arguably the most destructive of such impacts. As our planet swells with more people, competition for this vital resource turns fiercer. However, only a small fraction of our freshwater is used for drinking. Worldwide, more than 70% of our freshwater is used for agricultural purposes (Pimentel et al. 2004). In the United States, that figure is an even more frightening 85% (USDA 2012). Inefficient irrigation techniques allow most of the water provided to crops to evaporate or to miss crop roots entirely as it seeps underground. Despite the wasteful ways with which we treat water, a quarter of the world’s people face water shortages (Watkins et al. 2006). This proportion will only continue to grow, particularly in the Middle East and Northern Africa (Bureau and Strobl 2012).
Another alarming issue is the rate with which we are losing our rain forests. At the current rate of deforestation, rain forests could be nonexistant in one hundred years. We need to preserve rainforests because they act as protectors of biodiversity. Even though they cover only 2% of the Earth’s surface area, they are home to over 50% of our species. Furthermore, rainforests play many other critical roles by keeping our...