PUBLISHED JUL 11, 2019

Food insecurity and the role of climate change: What to know

Climate change could impact food security in the future.
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The Story

Listen up: a warming planet has dire consequences. Including for your dinner plate.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse.

We know. First, let’s get up to speed: Earth’s ecosystems – the natural way all living organisms and their surrounding environment interact – are a fundamental part of successful agriculture. Bees help pollinate plants. Wetlands help reduce the impact of flooding. Biodiversity makes sure soil keeps it 100. And on and on. 

In the cirrrclee, the circle of life.

Yea Simba knows what’s up. Problem is that climate change is throwing a wrench in the (eco)systems. Let us count (some of) the ways:

  • Warmer ocean water is impacting fish habitats, making way for invasive species – like the European green crab, which preys on crustaceans like scallops. It also facilitates the spread of diseases that could impact salmon populations, for example.

  • Higher carbon dioxide levels have been linked to lower protein in some plants, making crops like wheat and rice less nutritious.

  • Extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and wildfires can wipe out crops, and can be particularly harmful for orchards. That’s because it takes trees years to produce fruit, potentially leaving farmers back to square one if disaster hits. Already, orchards are dealing with the consequences of fluctuating weather.

  • Temperature changes may be one factor contributing to a declining bee population. Bad news for the dozens of crops – everything from apples to strawberries to coffee – that rely on bees as pollinators. 

Is there any good news here?

Such an optimist. In some cases, higher carbon dioxide concentration could actually help some crops grow faster, like wheat and soybeans. And make way for more agriculture opportunities in areas that have historically been colder, like certain northern parts of the world. Although the flipside is that more frequent extreme weather could mean more crop damage. 

Well someone’s a Debbie Downer.

Oh, there’s more. Agriculture itself is part of the problem. Livestock are responsible for about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Pesticides used in farming can pollute soil and water. Clearing forests to free up land contributes to an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. So there are two issues at play here. 1. How to make agriculture more sustainable. And 2. How to make agriculture more resistant to climate change.

So what’s being done about this?

That’s the big question. And it’s led to a pretty fierce debate. We get into that, plus the potential long-term impact of climate change on food security in theSkimm app. Every week, the app goes deep on a different news topic to give you the context you need to understand what's going in the world. Download the app now, and you get the first week free.

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