April 21, 2011

Earlier this week we wrote about the first Earth Day, 41 years ago. Today, we’re looking at what scientists and other planners imagine our world will be like forty-one years in the future.

By the year 2050, it is estimated that the world’s population will increase by about 3 billion people, and nearly 80% of us will live in cities. Think about all the greenhouse gases we would generate trucking in enough food to feed all these people. And, if we tried to grow enough food to feed everyone using the same farming techniques that we use today, we would need to find new farmland covering an area as large as the size of the United States! Since we are already using almost all of the land that is suitable for farming, we need to invent new ways to produce food.



Some people think that vertical farming - bringing the farm to the city, and finding the space to do it by expanding upward - is the answer. In fact, people already practice vertical farming in their own, small city gardens. Can you imagine what it would be like if you tried it on a very big scale, and built a skyscraper that was basically a farm?

Photo Credit: Blaine O’Neill 

I first heard about vertical farming when I saw Dr. Dickson Despommier being interviewed on The Colbert Report. Dr. Despommier, of Columbia University, believes that we can grow food-including fish and poultry-in urban buildings as tall as 30 stories and covering a city block.

This drawing, from his website, shows a farm which grows plants without soil, either hydroponically (in a liquid) or aeroponically (in the air). This would reduce water use, since all the water used to grow the food would be recycled and used again, and greatly reduce the cost of transporting food to all these people who live in cities. The benefits, as he sees them, are:

1. Year-round, indoor farming produces 4-6 times more food
2. Everything grown is organic (no chemical pesticides)
3. Big reduction in use of fossil fuel use (less trucking of food to distant locations)
4. Less water consumption - a vertical farm recycles the water it uses
5. Avoids weather-related crop failures, a cause of famine and starvation

Although no one has built one of these "skyscraper farms" yet, lots of architects are thinking about it, and they are drawing their ideas.

This design was created by a company called Work AC. "We are interested in urban farming and the notion of trying to make our cities more sustainable by cutting the miles that food travels," one of the designers told New York Magazine. In their design, the space underneath the farm is intended to be a farmer’s market, where urban residents could come to buy their food.

Who knows? Maybe by the time Earth Day 2051 comes around, people will be so used to the idea of vertical farms that they won’t even remember how we used to do it.

What else do you imagine we might be doing differently 40 years from now, as we learn to take better care of our planet home?



What are you doing this Earth Week to contribute to the Billion Acts of Green? Click on "Comments," at the bottom of this story, and tell us how you are celebrating Earth Day 2011. We will publish all your comments in one big article, to honor each writer’s promise to protect our planet, and inspire other readers to do the same.


Posted by: Liz Nealon

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