Climate Change and the Future of Food

Climate change will have a profound effect on the future of food but climate and weather are not the same thing. "Weather" is a local phenomenon at any given moment; climate is a long-term trend of what is happening globally. A century’s worth of scientific data show that the world is in a warming trend. This is nothing new.

Throughout the history of the world, climate change has been cyclical. The cycles range between ice ages and hot spells, some lasting 100,000 years or so.

What is new is the rate at which the earth is heating up. The acceleration correlates nicely with the advent of the industrial revolution and its insatiable burning of fossil fuels for energy.

Climate change is one of the most hotly debated and politically charged subjects around today with both sides firmly entrenched in their beliefs. The book covers shown above and to the right from Amazon attempt to analyze the forces behind the controversy and ponder what, if anything, can be done to reverse the trend.  Both are well worth the read no matter what your current postion might be.

No matter which way it goes, the global climate will always have an impact on the future of food. Click on the books image above to review it at Amazon.com.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and water vapor, all of which occur naturally in nature. Their function is to absorb and emit the sun's infrared radiation.

Plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen; a very nice arrangement for us but when we pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and continue to cut down vast tracts of forest, the remaining plants can't keep up with the load of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Putting it in perspective, one estimate was that by 1970 the amount of greenhouse gases had reached 28.7 gigatons per year and by 2004 had grown to about 50 gigatons per year. A gigaton is a billion tons. Think of it as piling more blankets on the earth. 

In reality the number varies greatly depending on who is making the estimate, their political bias, and whether they are just figuring manmade emissions or including natures contribution from such things as plant decay, volcanos and forest fires.  No matter, what plants can't absorb all adds to the greenhouse effect and thus warming. 

While that increasing level of greenhouse gases has only caused a little less than a 2 degree rise in the Northern Hemisphere's surface temperature from 57.5 to 59.5 Fahrenheit between 1860 and 2004, the results have been alarming.

Arctic Ocean sea ice has been disappearing at the rate of 9%/decade and it is estimated that by the end of this century there will be no summertime sea ice. The melting ice combined with the expanding warmer seawater is causing rising ocean levels. How much it will rise depends on how much greenhouse gas we continue to emit. 

Pity the Polar bears.  Now they have to go farther out to sea in search of food and without the expanses of floating ice they have no place to rest and many drown from pure exhaustion.

One climate change model predicts a rise of three feet which will cause coastlines to migrate inland displacing hundreds of thousands of people and inundating precious farmland. That means more people in less space with less land. How does that bode for the future of food?

Climate Change and Weather

Climate change in the form of global warming has devastating effects on local weather events. More noticeable is widespread drought resulting in dropping water tables, disappearing lakes and reservoirs and desertification of existing farmland.

The video below, Global Warming 101, courtesy of National Geographic, uploaded July 11, 2011 under the Standard You Tube License, brings home the implications of a warming earth. The share link, if you wish to watch it from your browser is: http://youtu.be/0F3QPY83NZQ .

Higher temperatures translate to more energy in the atmosphere and thus stronger winds that dry out and carry away valuable topsoil and more frequent and stronger hurricanes. Considering the effects on the future of food, it is not just crops that are threatened but livestock as well.

Cattle are dying in the southwestern U.S. for lack of forage and water and with the price of corn going up, we will see sky-high beef prices; well actually we already are.

Now let's look at how desertification, and several other factors are effecting the future of food.

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