Bad News for Food: Climate Change is Here

Climate change made front page news with the newly released National Climate Assessment's assertion that climate change is here and the country is already feeling its effects. The assessment, compiled by a "team of more than 300 experts," found impacts on human health, water supply and agriculture among others. According to the report, parts of the country are "already experiencing climate-related disruptions, particularly due to extreme weather events."

Agriculture is expected to be hit particularly hard due to extreme heat, drought, disease and heavy downpours. The report predicts that after mid-century climate effects will continue to worsen for crops and livestock. And new research indicates that higher levels of carbon dioxide could leave some crops with fewer nutrients. Tom Philpott at Mother Jones lays out "6 alarming facts":

  • Iowa is hemorrhaging soil.
  • Dry spells are on the rise.
  • Crop yields will decline.
  • California, our vegetable basket, will be strapped for irrigation water.
  • And even if California can get enough water, heat stress and other climate effects will likely knock down yields of some crops.
  • Wine grapes, nuts, and other perennial California crops will be hard-hit.

With these predictions, the assessment identifies food security as a key issue. Climate change is expected to disrupt the availability, stability, access and utilization of food. To reduce risk and adapt to changing conditions, food supplies can be maintained through "reducing waste in the food system, making food distribution systems more resilient to climate risks, protecting food quality and safety in higher temperatures, and policies to ensure food access for disadvantaged populations and during extreme events."

Changing diet and agriculture practices could help reduce agriculture's contribution to climate change, according to researchers from Climate Focus and California Environmental Associates. They estimate emissions from global agriculture could be reduced from 50 to 90 percent by 2030 through improved practices and reducing waste. ("75 percent of this mitigation potential comes from changes in diet and the other 25 percent from reductions in food loss and waste.") 

Agriculture is only one of the assessment's 12 categories of findings, so there's much more to explore at their accessible website. There are also regional reports to find out more about how climate change is impacting your part of the country.

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