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How Will Man-Made Climate Change Affect Our Food Supply?

How Will Man-Made Climate Change Affect Our Food Supply?

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.

“Climate change has substantially increased the prospect that crop production will fail to keep up with rising demand in the next 20 years,” Claudia Tebaldi, co-author of the study, is quoted as saying. “We can’t predict whether a major slowdown in crop growth will actually happen, and the odds are still fairly low. But climate change has increased the odds to the point that organisations concerned with food security or global stability need to be aware of this risk.”

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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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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41 comments

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4:07AM PDT on Aug 4, 2014

Nils Anders L.,
So true. Waste is the biggest issue in feeding the world. We produce much more food than needed to feed the entire world, but much is lost before it can feed them. Many complain about the waste in first-world countries, whereby excess food is thrown out. This occurs more often than it should. However, large amounts of food spoil in third world countries due to poor storage and transportation. Improvements in these areas would greatly reduce hunger in those nations most greatly affected. Improving the political climate in some of these countries would not hurt either.

Regarding the use of chemicals in farming, the jury is still out on the long term effects. The increase in crop production in recent decades can be attributed to many factors; longer growing season due to warmer winters, increased precipitation due to rising temperatures and irrigation, higher photosynthesis due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, and fertilization by artificial and natural processes. Most of these are expected to continue enhancing crop production. The only question is whether they are all sustainable, and for how long. Currently, food riots appear to be based largely on politics, rather than environmental factors.

12:22AM PDT on Aug 4, 2014

i always see that you say likely...or could rise..the temperatures i am talking about...why does anyone not say it will...i stake my reputation on it ?? reason why..cos it may or may not depends on what mother nature wants too do...

12:34PM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

Thanks

3:27AM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

Thank you

2:47AM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

ty

2:27AM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

Our future sounds very GRIM every way you dice it...and still there's millions upon millions living in denial.

1:31AM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

noted

10:49PM PDT on Jul 31, 2014

ty

3:11PM PDT on Jul 31, 2014

There may be some new food producing countries that weren't able to do so before, but the biggest issue is going to be the ongoing destruction of water. Crops simply don't grow without water, and as temps rise, more water is needed. Even if countries can produce food, can we spell apples for $10 each? And just how many people can afford that?

3:11PM PDT on Jul 31, 2014

It is annihilating the food supply, a little more everyday, as it is..

The future looks bleak, if you ask me...

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