Food Security and Climate Change | theSkimm

Food Security and Climate Change

Published on: Jul 9, 2019fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round

A recent UN climate change report says our oceans are in serious danger. And if you like your salmon or lobster, your food is at risk. Here’s how climate change impacts the future of food security.

Climate change could impact the future of food security
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The Story

Listen up: a warming planet has dire consequences. Including for your dinner plate.

The Background

Climate change. It’s happening. But you knew that. In case you need it, here’s your refresher on why exactly the planet is all hot and bothered.

The Big Issue

Earth’s ecosystems – the natural way all living organisms and their surrounding environment interact – are a fundamental part of successful agriculture. Bees help pollinate plants. Wetlands help reduce the impact of flooding. Biodiversity makes sure soil keeps it 100. And on and on. 

In the cirrrclee, the circle of life.

Yea Simba knows what’s up. Problem is that climate change is throwing a wrench in the (eco)system. Let us count (some of) the ways:

  • Warmer ocean water is impacting fish habitats, making way for invasive species – like the European green crab, which preys on crustaceans like scallops. It also facilitates the spread of diseases that could impact salmon populations, for example.

  • Higher carbon dioxide levels have been linked to lower protein in some plants, making crops like wheat and rice less nutritious.

  • Extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and wildfires can wipe out crops, and can be particularly harmful for orchards. That’s because it takes trees years to produce fruit, potentially leaving farmers back to square one if disaster hits. Already, orchards are dealing with the consequences of fluctuating weather.

  • Temperature changes may be one factor contributing to a declining bee population. Bad news for the dozens of crops – everything from apples to strawberries to coffee – that rely on bees as pollinators. 

Speaking of coffee, the industry is in crisis mode. And climate change is partly to blame. Listen up:

Is there any good news here?

Such an optimist. In some cases, higher carbon dioxide concentration could actually help some crops grow faster, like wheat and soybeans. And make way for more agriculture opportunities in areas that have historically been colder, like certain northern parts of the world. Although the flipside is that more frequent extreme weather could mean more crop damage. 

Well someone’s a Debbie Downer.

Oh, there’s more. Agriculture itself is part of the problem. Livestock are responsible for about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Pesticides used in farming can pollute soil and water. Clearing forests to free up land contributes to an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. So there are two issues at play here. 1. How to make agriculture more sustainable. And 2. How to make agriculture more resistant to climate change.

The Debate

Some say, others say

One of the debates facing the agriculture sector is how to feed a growing population in the face of these threats. By 2050, the planet is expected to be home to nearly 10 billion people. That’s 2 billion more than today. 

Organic farming is a method that prioritizes natural land management (think: no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, no genetically modified seeds, using compost to enrich soil) in order to maintain biodiversity and overall health of the ecosystem. Team I Only Buy Organic says organic farming is better for the environment and more profitable. 

Conventional farming can rely on methods like genetically modified seeds, a lot of pesticides and fertilizers, and high-tech systems with the goal of producing a lot of food quickly. Team Let’s Keep Things Conventional says this is more efficient and uses less land to produce more food. 

But many people say that both methods have their upsides, and that in order to get food on the table for nearly 10 billion people, we’re going to need all farmers on deck.

The Impact

Long-term, climate change poses a threat to global food security. Lower quality food could hurt peoples’ health. Less access to food could make your grocery bill more expensive. More on this here:

If a farmer’s crop yield goes down, or severe weather damages a crop, the ripple effect could impact jobs and the economy. It could mean no peach pie in summer and not being able to sip coffee every morning. Across the board, quality of life is at risk. And there’s evidence that security may be too.

What do you mean?

One study points the finger at climate change for being one of several factors that contributed to the breakout of Syria’s years-long civil war. The study found that a severe drought made worse by climate change led to a mass migration of people from rural to urban areas. And that this influx contributed to the country’s instability and, eventually, violence breaking out.

Wait, really?

Well, multiple counter-studies say there’s not a strong link between climate change with war. Make of this what you will. Either way, the UN and the US military have warned that climate change could lead to mass migration and violent conflict as people fight over resources.

Is there anything I can do about all this?

Eat less meat and dairy. Especially red meat. Those faux-meat-but-almost-tastes-like-real-meat burgers popping up everywhere? Maybe try those out. Raising livestock requires a lot of land and water, and is among the largest agricultural contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. When in doubt: plant-based options are typically the greenest.

theSkimm

Not to be Captain Obvious, but human civilization can’t survive without food. And right now the world is facing a Catch 22: growing and producing food is a major contributor to global warming. And global warming is a major threat to the future of food security. Chew on that.


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