I just finished reading “A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself” written by Justin Gillis and published in the New York Times on June 4, 2011. The title pretty much gives you the gist of this long but very worthwhile piece. Gillis notes how weather disasters are responsible for failed harvests all across the planet. For example: Floods in the United States, drought in Australia, and extreme heat waves in Europe and Russia. Farmers all over the world, from Mexico to India, are seeing their crops damaged by “emerging pests and diseases and by blasts of heat beyond anything they remember.” Most scientists believe that climate change is, by and large, responsible for this and that climate change is “helping” to destabilize Earth’s food system.
As a result, consumption of wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans—the foods that pretty much feed the world—has outstripped production for most of the past decade. Stockpiles are going down. Prices are going up, pinching those of us in rich countries and bringing hunger to millions of people in poor countries.
According to agricultural experts, in the upcoming decades farmers “will need to withstand whatever climate shocks come their way while roughly doubling the amount of food they produce to meet rising demand.” (The population is projected to reach 10 billion by the end of the century.) At the same time, farmers also need to reduce the environmental damage that can come with farming. To produce more food while causing less environmental damage is a tall order indeed.
While Gillis expresses the hope that we can develop crops to meet the challenges brought by climate change—there is a type of rice that can withstand floods by waiting until the water recedes before germinating—there is no denying that this is a sobering article. Who knows what the eventual outcome will be? None of us can see into the future. Maybe ingenuity, creativity, and innovation will help us get through the approaching era of climate chaos and an ever-increasing population. I sure hope so.
I just wish that the leaders of the world would take this problem more seriously, that they would start addressing the problem right now, this minute, and not delay the way they usually do.