5 things you need to know about climate change and food

Rebecca Shaw

You may have heard about the toll California’s punishing drought is taking on craft breweries such as Lagunitas. Or perhaps you saw that articulate Mother Jones headline, “Lay Off the Almond Milk, You Ignorant Hipsters.”

Talking about climate change in terms of beer and almond milk isn’t a bad strategy for capturing the attention of thirsty Americans, but it’s not just our favorite beverages that are at risk.

Climate change poses a number of potential threats to the global food system because of how it affects agriculture. Here are five reasons why everyone from beer drinkers in California to bean farmers in Latin America need to worry about climate change and food.

1. It could burn a hole in your wallet

The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that with average temperature increases of 3 to 4º Celsius, we will see large negative impacts on farm yields and severe risks to food security. Not only are food markets sensitive to climate extremes, but food prices are expected to rise anywhere between 3 to 84 percent by 2050.

2. It could make some specialty foods hard to get

As the severe drought continues for a third straight year in California, growers of water-intensive crops such as almonds, broccoli and tomatoes are making tough decisions that include idling cropland. With talk of a megadrought, water deliveries to farms could be cut off completely, ending their production. This, in turn, would have direct effect on consumers.

3. It could shake up California’s wine industry

No one should have to choose between wine and wildlife, but this could become one of the tough choices Californians face in the future. By 2050, production in California’s famous wine country is projected to decrease by 70 percent due to climate change. (And we’re not so sure Australia’s wine industry will fare much better in a warming world.) Rising temperatures could force California vintners to grow their grapes in higher altitudes where they would encroach on habitat important to moose, grizzly bears and grey wolves. Whether production will be sustained remains to be seen.

4. It could cause crop losses that have a global impact

The 2014 Risky Business report found that U.S. agribusiness in particular – a global leader in corn and soybean production – should brace for impact. The report’s “business-as-usual” scenario projects average yield losses up to 73 percent in states such as Missouri and Illinois by the end of the century, with short-term average yield losses up to 15 percent in the next 5 to 25 years.

5. It could threaten food supplies for people already on the edge

The largest climate change impacts are expected in tropical areas, where there is greater economic and individual dependence on agriculture. In Latin America, farmers are likely to experience temperatures that are too hot for bean production, a staple in the region. Such reductions could significantly affect food yields and food access for people already living on the edge.

At Environmental Defense Fund, we’re pioneering approaches to land and water conservation in the United States that reward farmers for pursuing economic prosperity in ways that increase the resilience of our natural environment and, hopefully, continuing to produce the foods we need and love

We’re striving to create healthier ecosystems and a more robust global food system. We simply can’t have one without the other.

See 1 comment