What will global warming do to our food supply?

Global warming brings  many changes, which, in turn, brings many significant, unwanted alterations worldwide.  Does global warming concern you? Perhaps you worry about a catastrophic weather condition destroying your home or an insect bite infecting a family member. Here's yet another cause for concern: Scientists tell us that one of the most significant (and troubling) changes that extreme weather conditions can cause is an adverse effect upon our food supply--reducing quantity, quality, and  safety while increasing cost.


Food Supply, Food insecurity


Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, lead author of the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that the effects of climate change are already impacting food supplies. He considers food supply the most pressing effect of  climate change.  It will create "hotspots of hunger" among the world's poorest people.  Why?  Dr. Oppenheimer  explains that there will  be "decreases in some of the main crops like wheat or corn that feed their populations."  The problem of feeding people will become more severe as the world's  population continues to grow. 


Last year (2015) was the world's hottest year on record.  Why? Most of the blame goes to greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels.  Some people might ask this question: "Aren't heat and carbon dioxide beneficial to plants?"  The answer is sometimes, but overall global warming will reduce food products.  According to insect ecologist David Pimentel, "Food crops are sensitive to climate change.  Such change, which affects soil temperature and moisture levels, also determines the vitality of beneficial organisms and pests." He also mentions plant diseases and weeds as causes of crop reduction.


Can't technology solve the problem?  Dr. Oppenheimer considers relying on  that a risk. Right now, the  demand for food and the supply are  "pretty close," but some areas of the world are already seeing a decline in food production. 


The food supply could also become less safe, according to Dr. John Swartzberg, a columnist for the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter.  In his April 2016 column, he mentions that researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health found that extremely hot and rainy days are associated with an increase in salmonella, a food-borne illness.  He cites the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, a collaboration of academic centers in Europe and China formed last year [that] has called climate change "a medical emergency  that can reverse a half-century of health and nutrition advances."


The EPA, in an article entitled "Agriculture and Food Supply," points this out: "Crops grown in the United States are critical for the food supply here and  around the world.  US. exports more than 30% of all wheat, corn, and rice on the global market.  Changes in temperature, amount of carbon dioxide, and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather could have significant impacts on crop yields."


Specific  Foods Already Affected By Global Warming


Global warming has already adversely affected the supply of and, in  some cases, the quality of these products:


Coffee: in the  richer coffee-growing places in Central and South America


Apples: in orchards in eastern Washington


Cherries: in orchards in California


Wine:  The quality and quantity of wine made in Europe, the U.S., and Australia may be hurt by climate changes. Portugal and British Columbia may become better countries for producing wine.


Meat: Heat waves, likely to increase along with climate changes, could kill large numbers of livestock.  Some states have already lost more than 5,000 animals from just one heat wave.  Heat can also affect the health and fertility of animals  and reduce their ability to produce milk.


Fish: The ocean is getting warmer and more acidic.  This is making it more difficult to feed people who rely on fish as a main ingredient of their diet, says CBS News.  Dr. Swartzberg, mentions a 2014 study that says more acidity in the ocean makes shellfish taste sour. A more acidic ocean also makes the shells of mussels thinner, leaving them "more defenseless against predators." Mussels could become rare and more expensive and eventually disappear.


Tea: An analysis of Chinese teas showed that, when there is a significant increase in rain (a characteristic of climate change)  the phytochemicals in tea (which are thought to give this drink its health benefits)  become diluted. 


Again from David Pimentel's article: "Due to the enormous uncertainties surrounding global climate change, estimates of cropland reductions vary widely--from 10 to 50 percent. But this much is clear: global warming is likely to alter production of rice, wheat, corn, soybeans, and potatoes--staples for billions of people and major food crops in both North America and Africa."


What to do?


Among the many helpful lifestyle changes that individuals can make to reduce global warming (and you've probably heard all this before): eat more plant-based food and less meat and drive a car less and cycle or walk more. We can also urge our political representatives, says Dr. Swartzberg, "to honor the commitment the U.S. made in the Paris Agreement."


A final thought: Educate yourself about global efforts to save the planet by googling "Paris Agreement on climate change." You'll find many articles  on this historic agreement.

Note: The Paris Agreement, involving 195 negotiating countries, agreed that "the global temperature average should not be allowed to rise more than two degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels."  The final Paris agreement also recognized the importance of pursuing an even lower level--1.5 degrees Celsius.  Additionally, the agreement directed the IPCC (the climate-change arm of the UN) to prepare a report (by  2018) on how to reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal. 



cbsnews.com "Climate change already impacting food supplies, says UN report"



University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, Speaking of Wellness column, "Tip of the Iceberg" by John Swartzberg, M.D. , April, 2016.


 www3.epa.gov "Agriculture and Food Supply: Climate Impacts on Agriculture and Food Supply"



ciesin.org  "Climate Changes and Food Supply" by David Pimentel











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