FOOD SECURITY

Is 2019 a taste of what’s to come?

George Tsakraklides
Aug 23 · 6 min read
Photo by jasper wilde on Unsplash

A number of respected scientists have estimated that between 2050 and 2100, depending where the Russian Roulette of the planet’s temperature lands, the Earth will only be able to feed half a billion people, possibly a billion. This is 6.5 billion fewer than today’s population.

A 4-year study by the University of Minnesota published last month found that the total global yield in the 10 most important food crops is being negatively affected by climate change. The study used modelling to compare how yields would be affected with and without climate change, and concluded that the latter is responsible for what we are observing. This concerns corn, rice, wheat, soybeans, oil palm, sugarcane, barley, rapeseed, cassava and sorghum.

The reason you don’t hear about these figures is that these scientists have often come under attack due to their “scaremongering” and “shocking” predictions. If anyone in Power were to endorse these figures they would lose their job immediately.

The truth however is that these predictions and estimates are invaluable to us and they come from reputable academic sources.

It doesn’t matter whether there will be half a billion, a billion or even 3 billion of us left. What is for sure is that between 30 and 80 years from now, massive parts of the Earth will likely have turned into desert and will therefore be “unfarmable”. On top of this, all countries close to the equator will be uninhabitable by humans for large parts of the year.

The famine, the billions of people trying to get out of India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, China and into northern Europe and the US will create conflict and lead to societal collapse. So if you think you are safe in the West, think again.

I’m a plant biologist and food scientist. I have been following with interest the increasing number of worrying reports over the past year about the crisis that is beginning to unfold regarding our food production. There is a picture that is starting to build up:

What may seem like seasonal, isolated events is nonetheless adding up to a global effect. Events will always be seasonal, and isolated. What matters is the total number, frequency and severity of these events, and these are undoubtedly on the increase as climate change advances. Farming is directly linked to the weather, and there is no research or evidence needed to prove this.

Below is a summary of some of the major flashpoints in farming across the world as they happened so far this year:

Extreme “non-starter” flooding situations in farmlands

US, UK

Photo by Inge Maria on Unsplash

Extreme weather during the first half of the year has resulted in perfectly fertile earth ending up not being usable for farming. The most common issue was extreme rain and flooding, which effectively “drowns” plant seedlings. By the time the rains stopped, it was too late in the season to plant crops.

Figures from the US Federal Government have shown that a record 19 million acres were not able to be planted with crops this year, mostly in the Mid West due to the “Bomb Cyclone”. This heavily affected soy and corn, two of the most lucrative crops of the region. Similar phenomena have been increasingly seen in other parts of the world.

Cattle deaths due to extreme weather events

AUSTRALIA, US

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/13/we-have-death-and-devastation-at-every-turn-the-flood-massacre-of-queensland-cattle

The extremity of events associated with Climate Change means that drought can quickly turn into flood, and the unpredictability as well as severity of these events rises the more we progress into the future. Cattle that is starving in the drought one day, can quickly find themselves struggling through mud and drowning in a flood.

This is precisely what happened on February in Queensland, where it is believed that the region lost up to 500,000 cattle due to the devastating rain and flooding. This followed an equally devastating 6-year drought that had already affected the health of the cattle.

One million cattle drowned in the Midwest floods in the US in April.

Decrease in Yields

BRAZIL, MEXICO, WEST AFRICA

Photo by Christophe Maertens on Unsplash

Double-digit drops in corn yields were a result of the El Niño, a natural global weather phenomenon that occurs every 3–5 years and alters the growing season around the tropics, brings winter drought in Africa and South America, and is capable of changing the timing of monsoon in Asia.

Although the El Niño is a natural phenomenon, it is “fed” by warm ocean water. It is therefore believed that climate change will increase its severity, as already evidenced by higher intensity in droughts and heat waves in the Amazon. This ofcourse will mean more severe crop failures in the future.

Global Warming = Parched Land

INDIA, AFRICA, SOUTH AMERICA, FRANCE

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zahrahirji/climate-change-land-report-ipcc

One doesn’t need to be a genius to figure out that higher temperatures mean higher rate of plant transpiration and water evaporation from the land. In fact, a UN study found that the land where we grow our food is heating up twice as fast as the Earth’s average. This means more water-stressed plantations, more droughts, more desertification.

Plants simply stop growing above a certain temperature, even if they have water. Farmers in France this summer had to feed their cattle out of the winter food reserves, as grass failed to grow vigorously due to the heatwave. Some desperate farmers are converting their land into wind farms in order to have another stable source of income.

“Farmers across the world are shitting themselves” — Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion and farmer

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash

You can follow me on Twitter @99blackbaloons

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George Tsakraklides

Written by

Molecular biologist, food scientist, advocate for an Earth of empathy, gratitude, compassion, awareness. Recovering workaholic, author of Age of Separateness.

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