For American farmers, 2011 did not bring much to be thankful for. In the breadbasket Midwest, spring floods ravaged the fertile Mississsippi and Missouri river valleys, destroying some food crops and drastically delaying the planting of others. A record-setting tornado season ripped up farm fields from California to Pennsylvania. Drought-driven wildfires in Texas destroyed acres of wheat. And all of that happened before June.
Then in July and August of this year, an unprecedented heat wave broke temperature records in Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. The heat wave and drought combined to severely damage several staple food crops, including the U.S. corn crop, leading to the smallest corn harvest in three years and driving U.S. corn prices to a record high.
When the prices of basic grains like corn and wheat rise, so too do the price of meat and dairy — because the farmers who raise dairy cows and Thanksgiving turkeys feed their livestock grain. A sharp increase in the cost of the corn used in turkey feed means a sharp increase in the cost of a Thanksgiving turkey dinner.
And fruits and vegetables weren’t exempt from 2011′s weather-fueled price increases, either: this year’s wicked combination of floods, drought, and storm damage led to a nationwide pumpkin shortage — hence the higher cost of canned pumpkin for Thanksgiving pies.
Unfortunately, 2011′s wild weather may have been a glimpse into our climate — and food — future. Top climate scientists have recently linked 2011′s extreme weather events to the effects of global climate change. In early November, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report summary noting evidence that an increase in global temperatures has likely caused an increase in heat waves and unusual precipitation patterns not just in the U.S., but worldwide. Also this month, NASA physicist and climatologist James Hansen published a paper stating that the destructive 2011 heat wave in Texas, as well as a similar event in 2010 in Russia, “almost certainly would not have occurred in the absence of global warming.”
With climate-change fueled weather disasters likely to continue to disrupt the global food supply, Americans are not likely to see relief at the grocery store any time soon. The USDA predicts the cost of food will rise again by 3 – 4 percent in 2012.
So this year, if you’re lucky enough to be looking forward to an abundant Thanksgiving feast despite high food prices, consider sharing a little extra holiday food with your neighbors by donating to a food pantry — and after Thanksgiving, let’s all consider, too, as the time for New Year’s resolutions draws near, what steps we can personally take to fight climate change and live a more sustainable lifestyle in 2012.
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Photo of pumpkin pie by Patricia, from Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license.
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