A new study attempts to give some concrete predictions on just how seriously the global food supply will be impacted by man-made climate change in the next 20 years, and the results are eye-opening.
The research by Stanford University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research says that the possibility of a slow-down in crop production in the next 20 years as a result of natural climate change is relatively low. However, while still remaining low, when you introduce man-made climate change, which under a moderately conservative estimate could lead to a temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), the risks of a reduction in staples like corn and wheat are much higher, with a 10 percent chance that the rate of corn yields will slow, while wheat is predicted to suffer a 5 percent slowdown.
In all, the researchers calculate the risk of a production slowdown due to crop failure to be about 20 times higher than natural climate change patterns would predict — and if that’s just in the next 20 years, what about in the future?
To arrive at this conclusion the researchers, writing this month in the journal Environmental Research Letters, took current figures of crop yields and predictions on future crop yields, as well as data on supply and demand ratios, and plugged all that into our best climate models so that they could track of how the warming temperatures might impact food production. They found that supply and demand for crops has kept a roughly even pace when looked at globally. However, when man-made climate change is factored in, and as above, the potential for a shortfall rises significantly.
It’s important not to let these predictions go unqualified though. The risk is still relatively low, but what the scientists point out is that this problem isn’t going to go away if we don’t act now.
Of course, this all hinges on how fast global temperatures will rise. It may be that this problem doesn’t emerge for several decades, but unless we plan for it, the problem will be serious.
The researchers believe that in order to deal with this risk, we could implement a strategy of planting wheat and corn in cooler regions. At the moment that’s not been happening quickly enough to combat warming temperatures, but a concerted effort now could forestall future problems. Perhaps most interestingly of all on this topic, when the researchers added in data to their climate models on strategies like using different crop varieties or changing how we grow crops, these did not offset the reduced yields that were predicted, and as such the researchers believe that new strategies will be needed.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization recently published a document (pdf) predicting that global production of major crops will increase by 13% by 2030. Previously, demand has kept pace with this but, due to a number of factors including global population rise coupled with the rise of new consumer powers like China, the margin has tightened more than ever before. The UN believes that man-made climate change makes that narrow margin potentially disastrous if the world doesn’t take action now.
As a result, global powers should start seriously considering how both the supply and pricing of crops will be affected if global temperature rises have the impact predicted here. Given that the US House has just seen two amendments introduced that would, as one Representative put it, limit spending on pursuing “a dubious climate change agenda” and block federal money from being used on such initiatives, there is still a lot of work needed to convince our legislators that not only is action and serious consideration of climate change important, but also vital if we don’t want to see widespread famine and serious economic turmoil in the future.
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