The world is facing some major problems food security, water security species loss climate change Vertical farms have been proposed as part of the solution to these global problems But is it just another overhyped technology, with great claims but lacking in practical application? this video and go to explore these global problems, in context of current agricultural techniques and Investigate whether this technology can really help solve them. But first what is a vertical farm vertical farm is essentially an indoor farm that uses soilless technology (hydroponic or aeroponic) to grow food Rather than being restricted to two dimensions. They stack levels on top of each other and make use of artificial lighting The combination of highly controllable growing conditions, optimal light levels at all times full year-round growing and harvesting give vertical farms an incredible yearly output, for a given area of land and it doesn’t really matter where in the world you place them, in the desert, in the city in Antarctica, even on Mars But while you could technically place them more or less anywhere, should you? Why waste energy lighting plants artificially? When the Sun does it naturally? Why build towering racks, when the world is covered in fertile land? To understand why we might want to First we must have a quick look but the tremendous success of agriculture and its impact on the world simply put agriculture is one of humans oldest and most important innovations a practice over 12,000 years old yet, it continues to deliver Using the USA as an example, in 1790, 90% of the population were farmers. Today that number is just 1% Yet despite this staggering reduction in farmers, the USA can still feed its citizens. In fact, it’s the world’s largest exporter of food! This amazing feat, is due to magnitudes of improvement in efficiency. And that efficiency is crucial, because the world as we know it, wouldn’t be here without it. Today, the global population stands at 7.6 billion. Over 4 times higher than it was 100 years ago, yet this recent population boom would have been impossible without an associated boom in agricultural productivity But scaling up agriculture is not without some serious side effects And it’s contributing to some major global issues So let’s take a look at some The UN predicts world population to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 With an increasing demand for food in the developing world and an increased demand for meat in particular According to the FAO, we will need a 70% increase in our global food production by 2050 If we take technological improvements into consideration, will we have enough land to meet this increase? Global food yields increase every year on average With the projected non confounding yearly growth rate, of 0.65% percent Yet despite yield improvements The demand will still lead to an expected 12% increase in cropland. An area of 2 million square kilometers unfortunately, it’s not the only increase. A profitable market for biofuels exists and is expected to increase by 2050 The global biomaterials market is also expected to grow significantly Taken together these will increase the cropland required by an additional 1.2 million square kilometers Taking our 2050 cropland increase up to 21% This is an area around the size of India The bad news isn’t over though. We are also losing our existing land Farmable land is set to be turned into an urban environment With the global urban footprint expanding by 33% meanwhile, desertification turns previously farmable land sterile Combining these effects, the loss of land relative to the current cropland, is 18%. That’s a considerable amount of land Do we even have enough farmable land left ? As of 2005 the world was 71% ocean and 29% land 66% of that land is considered farmable. of that, we see that 51% is already being used for agriculture, with 40% being forests and 6% shrubland If we factor in our 2050 model and take cropland increases and land losses into account, we get the following We still have enough land left to feed the world of 2050 But we essentially have no spare farmable land left globally This model doesn’t even account for the anticipated yield loss Related to climate change, nor any additional grazing land for the projected 73% increase of meat consumption These factors, make the likelihood of cutting down significantly more global forests in 2050 almost inevitable global deforestation last year was a hundred and 180,000 square kilometres. An area around the size of England Vertical farming may not be needed to ensure we can put food on the table We do have enough capacity in hand to prevent mass starvation But the land requirements to keep the global population sustained, points us to our next global challenge But first, a quick note on global hunger Even though we produce enough food today to feed all 7.6 billion people on earth 870 million people suffer chronic undernourishment due to a lack of food. That’s eleven percent of the population! I will talk more about this in my appendix video and how vertical farming may help and I’ll leave a link to that at the end of this video However, global hunger is more than just a food production problem. As such, I will touch on it in a number of my future videos The increasing demand for land comes at a steep environmental price since humans first wielded axes We’ve cut down over half the world’s forests and it’s not been without consequence in fact, some scientists argue that the world is undergoing its sixth mass extinction event as evidence by massive animal population reductions According to the World Wildlife Foundation We’ve lost 38% of land animals in the last 40 years primarily from habitat destruction It’s not hard to see why Remember this graph? this 50% has only appeared in the las t 12,000 years with most of it happening in the last hundred years or so. That 50% used to be forests or shrub land However, it’s not just deforestation freshwater animal populations have seen an alarming 81% reduction since 1970 Agriculture is the main contributor to this primarily draining wetlands to create cropland In fact, 50% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1910 water consumption for irrigation further depletes local water levels, damaging habitats agricultural runoff such as pesticides Finds its way into local water systems poisoning wildlife. Runoff fertilizer can cause massive algae blooms Draining the water of oxygen and creating dead zones Desertification is a process where fertile land turns into desert, unable to support crops and it’s happening at a significant rate? Greater than 3 times the area of Switzerland, every single year Agriculture is the primary reason, with over grazing overdrafting of ground water Deforestation and tillage practices all contributing to the problem. In China it’s happening at a huge rate with 2,000 square kilometers per year Turning into desert and about 10 times that area becoming significantly degraded These are creating large dust storms that are making Beijing’s already bad air pollution even worse Beijing is now less than 70 kilometers from the rapidly encroaching desert and Projected to be encircled by it in less than 20 years This is a big problem for China 40 years ago China was a net exporter of food yet. Now, it’s the world’s biggest importer of food by far All of the countries in the world with the exception of the United States have agreed to the Paris climate Accords The aim is to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century, against a baseline of pre-industrial levels. Preventing the temperature rise essentially focuses on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases This is going to be a huge challenge because much of civilization as we know it is built around technologies that cause greenhouse gas emissions in some form Climate change is a topic that will crop up in a number of my future videos. But for now we will focus on Agriculture’s role Agriculture is a big player in the emission game, while the conversation is usually around carbon dioxide Agriculture’s primary responsibility is related to far more potent greenhouse gases: methane and nitrous oxide Methane is mainly produced by beef production, while nitrous oxide is produced primarily through fertilizers converting methane and nitrous oxide into a carbon dioxide equivalents and also taking into account that agriculture is responsible for 75% of global Deforestation we see that agriculture is responsible for 18.3% of global emissions And that is excluding its transport footprint. With an increasing demand for food, land and a diet shift towards more meat Agriculture can be expected to contribute close to double its already large footprint This is a great concern at a time when the Paris Accords target aggressive emission reductions On Planet whose surface is 71% ocean. It seems surprising to hear that we are running out of water But we are According to NASA the majority of the world’s fresh water supplies are draining faster than they are being replenished Agriculture is responsible for 92 percent of the global freshwater usage and since agricultural demand is set to nearly double Fresh water demand is set to increase by 55 percent By 2050. This represents a major problem even for developed countries with places such as Western, Australia California the Gulf states China for developed countries this may be manageable, because they can afford water imports and even desalination. But for North Africa the situation is particularly critical. If more countries are forced to import water then prices increase This can make water prohibitively expensive for many developing nations that find themselves short on water While our civilization wouldn’t be where it is today without agriculture it’s a big factor in a number of humanity’s greatest challenges If we continue as we are we will likely have to cut down more of our remaining forests for land destroying even more land and freshwater habitats in the process We will permanently degrade more fertile land into deserts while significantly increasing our greenhouse gas emissions Instead of reducing them. Perhaps the highest risk of all for Humanity is water scarcity Current projections make a global water crisis almost certain In light of these challenges, we probably want to ask if there is a way to reduce the negative impact of current agricultural methods It’s worth remembering that this data is the global picture If all of agriculture used the best practices and technologies. Then the negatives could at least be somewhat reduced Still, with the sheer size of the problems, we may well need a more radical change in approach Can vertical farming really solve these problems? To get notified when the new video comes out click the subscribe button If you are watching the video more than a week after posting You can click the box on the right to see the new video now. I look forward to seeing your comments on the video below And don’t forget to checkout the subreddit if you want a more detailed discussion.