Climate Change Could Cut Global Food Output 18% By 2050

Illustration for article titled Climate Change Could Cut Global Food Output 18% By 2050

The world's food supplies will be hit hard by global warming, according to a study published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study's authors advise investing in irrigation and infrastructure to attenuate this loss, but what's less clear is where these measures should be taken. In fact, we probably won't know for at least 15 years.

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Photo Credit: Ryan Wiedmaier via flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

Via Reuters:

Where [irrigation] should be expanded is difficult to model because of competing scenarios on how rainfall will change, so the majority of irrigation investments should be made after 2030, the study said.

"If you don't carefully plan (where to spend resources), you will get adaptation wrong," David Leclere, one of the study's authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Infrastructure and processing chains will need to be built in areas where there was little agriculture before in order to expand production, he said.

International food markets will require closer integration to respond to global warming, as production will become more difficult in some southern regions, but new land further north will become available for growing crops.

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[Environmental Research Letters via Reuters]

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DISCUSSION

Curiously, we've already reached an odd sort of tipping point. Southern California simply grows too much food to be supported by its resources (read that "water.") As the droughts continue, less and less of the US food supply will be able to be grown in the Southwest. What will happen? That's the 24 billion dollar question.

For one thing, our food supply will probably change drastically in type. All those tomatoes and kale and citrus fruits that only grow well in well irrigated but hot and sunny climates will start to become prohibitively expensive. Only yesterday I was at a local Mexican restaurant (who's owner is a 2nd generation Mexican immigrant originally from San Diego) where they told me there were no tomatoes on the menu. Why? "Because they're so expensive right now." (Presumably the high-quality tomatoes she insists on.)

But other changes may compensate. For instance, the Willamette Valley in Oregon has some of the richest farm land in North America, with plenty of water (in comparison) and projections are for that to continue, while growing seasons will lengthen and the climate will warm. Could the Willamette Valley become the replacement for The Emerald Valley? (Not while they insist on farming McMansions there!)

Or take the Southwestern Interior of British Columbia, Canada. Currently it has a climate pretty good for growing grain and potatoes, and not a lot else. What happens when the climate warms enough that lettuce and tomatoes become possible? Again, it's an area that has far more reliable water resources than Southern California ever did, which are expected to continue even as temperatures rise.

Then there's the far north, which used to have permafrost that made farming impossible. The permafrost is already receding Northwards, leaving incredible tracts of extremely fertile lands covered in peat that could be farmed. In 50-100 years they may be perfect for growing wheat, soy, or root vegetables that are now being grown in places that are starting to have resource problems and soil conditioning issues. Infrastructure problems of course, but we know how to handle that. We've done it before.

The thing is, our world won't be destroyed. It'll just change. There may be mass starvation in the third world, but humanity won't disappear.