Obama Talks Food, Sustainability, and Climate Change at Summit

published May 11, 2017
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In his first public appearance since leaving office, former President Barack Obama discussed the connection between food and global warming at a summit focused on climate change and food availability in Milan, Italy on Tuesday.

Obama, who shared the stage at the Global Food Innovation Summit with his former chef Sam Kass after delivering opening remarks, discussed food from an environmental, policy, and tech angle. He gave his two cents on an array of topics:

food and climate change

food waste

When it comes to climate change, the changes are already in effect and, according to Obama, it’s impacting politics. “Our change in climate is already making it more it difficult to produce food,” he says. “We’ve already seen shrinking yields and spiking food prices that in some cases are leading to political instability.”

Part of the problem is that the average consumer isn’t connecting the two. The 44th president said there isn’t a greater focus on food because people readily make the association between energy production and greenhouse gases. But when it comes to food and the environment, the link is not always clear.

“People aren’t as familiar with the impact of cows and methane, unless you’re a farmer,” says Obama. “Then you know what takes place there. Some of it is just lack of knowledge in the general public. Now keep in mind, it took a long time to educate people around climate change and we still have a lot of work to do.”

Obama conveyed optimism in the future, saying a sustainable future can be attained using “creative power.”

He said: “Emissions from food production and agriculture are still growing significantly … the path to a sustainable food future will require unleashing the creative power of our best scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs backed by private investment and public investment. [We need] better seeds, better storage, crops that grow with less water, crops that grow in harsher climates.”

Obama also offered his insight on food waste — roughly 4.6 trillion pounds of harvested crops are wasted — and how technology can provide a solution. “Part of waste has to do with commerce and how things are packaged and how things are sold,” he said. “I think an area where tech and innovation can make a huge amount of progress is in the equivalent of what happened in manufacturing, where you just have smaller inventories you wait until you need the part you don’t store as much. The same can be done in food.”