Connecting the Dots on Climate Change -- and Food

The folks at 350.org are at it again this Saturday, with a global event designed to drive home the fact that climate change is no longer a shadow looming on a distant horizon. It’s here and evident in an upsurge in extreme weather — weather that cost the United States over $50 billion in damages last year. While an outbreak of tornadoes in the Midwest might seem unrelated to floods in Australia, the sheer volume of catastrophic weather worldwide in recent years speaks to a larger and worrying trend.

Though U.S. public sentiment may relate directly to mercury readings on local thermometers, change isn’t measured by temperature alone. It’s the rise in atmospheric moisture that causes dizzying polarities. It’s the shifting of weather patterns that shows up as extreme drought in one region and flooding in another. It’s a fragile ecosystem pushed increasingly out of balance.

This is what it means to connect the dots on climate change and extreme weather.

It may come as no surprise to people who struggle to put any kind of food on the table, but extreme weather often makes that more difficult, whether in the form of local crop failures or global food prices. Food — a necessity for every person on this planet — is inextricably linked to climate. And it’s one of our big issue areas. As part of our participation in 350’s 5/5/12 event, we decided to highlight three popular food items that are at risk because of climate change:

  • Chocolate: If Ghana and the Ivory Coast — sources for nearly half the world’s cocoa supply — experience an annual temperature increase of only 2.3 degrees Celsius, the region will be too hot for cocoa farming by 2050.
  • Beer: The quality of Saaz hops (the variety used to make the pilsner the Czechs are so famous for) has decreased in recent years due to climate change. Warmer weather has shortened the growing season and also caused a drop in the essential acidity of the hops — a key flavor component.
  • Maple Syrup: Anecdotal evidence from harvesters suggests that climate change is moving the maple syrup region north. And researchers from Cornell and Purdue confirm that by 2100, the sweet stuff will likely stop flowing south of Pennsylvania as the earth gets warmer. Harvest time is already moving — the start dates of the maple tapping season are a week earlier than in 1970.

These three may be particularly sensitive to climate, but as any farmer will tell you, all manner of crops are impacted by extreme weather. The more people start to connect the dots, the better chance we have to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

We've created three digital postcards for download and encourage you to share them on social media. They can be found at http://www.eatwellguide.org/i.php?id=postcards.

But we're also curious: what are your “food dots?" How have you been affected by climate change? We'd love to hear from you in the comments or via social media.

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