To follow by Email (RSS Feed)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

This Is Your Food Supply On Climate Change

OK, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I think that this year's climate extremes are linked to human-caused climate change.  We might not really have the definitive answer on whether that is true for 20 years, but I would like nothing better than to be proven wrong about the linkage I'm making today.  From a global food supply perspective, the effects of weather on 2012 food production is problematic no matter what its cause.  As bad as it seems, it might just be a "shot over the bow" relative to what me might expect in the future. The unfilled corn cob pictured above is a relatively decent example of what the US corn crop is yielding this year.

How Hot Is It?

This isn't just about low rainfall.  There is a recent graph about temperature extremes on the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency) site that is striking. The 2012 difference from average is off the chart!


When it is both hot and dry, our dominant, rain-fed crops suffer the most.

It Isn't Just A US Drought

Yes, we have a massive drought in the US unlike anything we have seen for decades.  But there are also drought issues with wheat in Russia and excessive rain issues with crops in Western Europe that could ruin some of their harvest with mycotoxin contamination.  Ironically, the last season in Australia was better than many for their wheat crop which means that there is less low quality wheat going into the feed market that has been important for Chinese and other Asian meat production in recent years.
What ever this year's weather represents in a climate change context, it has been problematic for the global food supply.  The FAO (UN Food and Agricultural Organization) tracks the prices for various foods in international trade and generates a "Food Price Index" each month.  I've been blogging about this for a couple of years, but the new data released on August 9th is disturbing - particularly the data for cereals (wheat, rice, corn, soybeans,etc).  See the graph below


The red line is for the period 2010-12 and in the 30th month of that cycle we are seeing a 17% increase in one month - a steeper climb that was even seen in the 2007-9 price spike (green line).  This rise was seen even before the full magnitude of the US drought was known.  I shudder to think what the index will show next month.  The 2007/8 spike has been linked to a great deal of political insecurity and even credited as a driver of the "Arab Spring."  Hold on to your hats to see what this new price spike will mean.
Of course the impact of these high food trading prices depends on how dependent a country is on imports and how much of family income is spent on food.  There is an excellent new site from the Economist which compares countries around the world in terms of their food security and food spend.
I'll say it again.  This certainly looks like the sort of climate extreme and related food supply impacts that we would expect from climate change.  I both hope to be around in 20 years and to be proven wrong about my belief that "this is our global food supply on climate change."

You are welcome to comment here and/or to email me a sdsavage@sprynet.com
Drought damaged corn image from grifray

18 comments:

  1. You are correct, the steps we have taken to prevent climate change have caused prices to rise. Burning our feed grains for ethanol, skyrocketing energy prices from inefficient and costly 'novelty' energy production such as wind and solar. Restrictions on oil and gas, nuclear and coal. Costly regulations restricting efficient food production. All self-inflicted wounds to solve an imaginary problem.
    Then we should "hope to be around in 20 years and to be proven wrong about my belief that this is our global food supply on climate change." Well sir, you don't have to "hope". In 1988 these same predictions and prognostications were made and have been proven unreliable by empirical evidence. Unfortunately we are still living with the ramifications of decisions made to "battle" climate change from 1988. Another 20 years? We should throw these Malthusian nut-jobs to the lions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Check back in 20. Actually if you look at what has been happening in the absence of any coordinated international effort, lots of businesses have been innovating to reduce their energy demand. Its a win/win. I believe that the best sustainability moves are the ones that pay for themselves.

      On the agriculture side the main restrictions have come from places like Europe and Japan. I'll be writing soon about the question of who should get grain when it is in limited supply. I will argue that it is ethically and strategically better to make sure that our poorer grain customers are served before the wealthy nations who effectively delayed technology investment and development in the wheat crop by decades

      Delete
    2. @AndrewX: You're kidding, right? Are you seriously blaming food price hikes on alleged climate change mitigation policies implemented by the Reagan administration in 1988? Really? It boggles the mind to think that anyone can be that delusional and still write a coherent sentence.

      Since when did ethanol production become a climate change mitigation strategy? How is wind and solar energy production inefficient and costly? What exactly are the regulations on food production you don't like? Exactly where are the restrictions on gas production?

      The only thing imaginary is your commitment to the truth; or your cerebral cortex, whichever.

      Delete
    3. Betty,
      Good questions for AndrewX.

      Steve

      Delete
  2. I thought Global average temps were down this year...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's before the records are "adjusted".

      Delete
    2. Anonymae (assuming it is many),

      I hope you are not doubting that these droughts and deluges are real? The food prices are also real. The point is that we need to do all that we can to try to stabilize the food supply. If you are a poor person in a grain dependent country, you could care less about endless arguments about data. You have to make choices like school for your child or food, or even whether you can buy food at all.

      Delete
    3. Whether the poor person would care about causation is debatable. The policy maker should be very concerned. If the drought is not caused by MMGW, then attempts to curb global warming will destroy the economy (and they will destroy the economy, no doubt) will be for naught. That's before we even take into account whether it would be preferable to sink hundreds of trillions of dollars into adaptation as opposed to futile prevention attempts. So yes, data is important.

      Delete
  3. Here is a reality check. This is a self correcting problem. If food gets more scarce, the population will go down.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ShaneH,
      OK, are you seriously that callous? Even if you don't care about your fellow man, you need to realize that people don't just quietly die of starvation. What happens is major political unrest, disruptive migrations, etc. The well proven path to lowering rates of population growth are a degree of economic opportunity and the education of women.

      Delete
  4. I find it interesting in the graph of the 5 warmest and 5 coolest years that 3 of the 5 warmest years are after 1995 (and now 4 of 6 with 2012). All of the coolest years are prior to 1930.

    Richard

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for sharing such a good opinion, piece of writing is fastidious, thats why i have read it fully
    Also visit my site :: http://www.greenerideal.com/tag/climate-change

    ReplyDelete
  6. So basically you are saying to move North to areas that benefit from global warming because warming is not all bad.

    The costs associated with global warming in the United States are in the billions. The costs associated with the proposed solutions to global warming are in the trillions.

    The understanding of what a warmer world will look like is basically unknown because know one wants to talk about global warming having any benefits whatsoever.

    ReplyDelete
  7. thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Now, that is an awakening on the effects of climate change. In addition, that also calls for a need for carbon offsets. Thank you for this post.

    ReplyDelete
  9. From a global food supply perspective, survival warehouse.com the effects of weather on 2012 food production is problematic no matter what its cause.

    ReplyDelete
  10. There is an excellent new site major surplus and survival warehouse from the Economist which compares countries around the world in terms of their food security and food spend.

    ReplyDelete
  11. From a global food supply perspective, the effects of weather on 2012 food production is problematic no matter what its cause. wheatgrass juice

    ReplyDelete

Please send comments if you wish. Sorry about the word verification, but I'm getting tons of spam comments