Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Global warming incompatible with our food supply

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As I’ve noted in many previous posts, one of the many problems that global warming creates is the failure of major food crops due to changing climate patterns: regions that once could grow plentiful crops relying simply on rainfall will soon find yields sharply decreasing. I suspect food wars will be even more intense than the energy wars we’re likely to see as part of the transition away from petroleum.

And the US, in the face of these problems, is busy shutting its eyes, putting it hands over its ears, and reciting ancient religious texts that “prove” that global warming is not happening. (They never address the scientific case or the actual evidence.) This is mainly the GOP, but certainly the Democrats have not shown any signs of growing a backbone, stepping up to the plate, and doing what’s right. It’s not a good time to have a president who seems to fear confrontation and who is inclined toward repressive government measures, with little regard for civil liberties.

At any rate, the problem will soon reach a magnitude that it cannot be ignored, though God knows the GOP will certainly try. Janet Raloff reports in Science News:

Since summer, signs of severe food insecurity — droughts, food riots, five- to tenfold increases in produce costs — have erupted around the globe. Several new reports now argue that regionally catastrophic crop failures — largely due to heat stress — are signals that global warming may have begun outpacing the ability of farmers to adapt.

Some one billion people already suffer serious malnutrition. That number could mushroom, the new reports argue, if governments big and small don’t begin heeding warning signs like spikes in the price of food staples.

Severe summer droughts in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan ravaged 2010 cereal yields. When Russia, the fourth largest wheat exporter, imposed an export ban in August, international markets responded with price spikes. Having sold around 17 million metric tons on world markets in 2009, Russia’s 2010 wheat exports are expected to fall closer to 4 million metric tons, according to a November Food Outlook report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, or FAO. (Russia’s export ban is slated to remain in effect until next July.)

Overall, FAO reports, food imports by the world’s poorest nations are expected to cost 11 percent more in 2010 than a year earlier — and 20 percent more for some low-income food-importing countries. FAO predicts the total cost of 2010 food imports will be roughly $1 trillion — a near-record level. Contributing to the problem is a 2 percent drop in global cereal yields; earlier this year 2010 cereal production had been expected to post a 1 percent gain.

Food prices offer a good proxy for agriculture’s health, notes Gerald Nelson, an economist with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. Rising prices signal increasing resource scarcity, he explains, which can be triggered by expanding populations, growing incomes (because people can afford more and better food) and declining crop yields.

Recent food-price shocks and yield shortfalls initially surprised analysts, note IFPRI’s Derek Headey and Shenggen Fan in a November 18 report. Government officials had been lulled into complacency by decades of falling food costs. But prices bottomed out around 2000 and have since begun climbing in response to commodities speculation and a string of poor harvests, the pair notes.

Nelson and his colleagues have now used computer models to get some grasp on how crop yields and prices might respond, several decades out, to Earth’s continuing low-grade fever.

The team considered three scenarios of income and population growth that might reasonably be expected to occur between 2020 and 2050. Then they applied four “plausible” climate scenarios with warmer temperatures and anywhere from slightly to substantially wetter weather. They also included an “implausible fifth scenario of perfect mitigation (a continuation of today’s climate into the future).”

The resulting 15 scenarios all indicated that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 7:52 am

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