Climate Change Will Forever Alter Our Food System

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Lately I have learning a lot and also thinking about climate change and it’s impact on the food system. This will happen in two ways: agriculture is a major contributor of emissions and this needs to be lowered;  also, frequent, unpredictable extreme weather events like droughts and flood will destabilize food production. In the show “Years of Living Dangerously” the various threads of the climate change discussion are very effectively presented. But , the critical link between the food system and climate change did not come through as sharply. In the opening episode, we see how the drought in Syria was the crucial catalyst in the subsequent political events. Another clip talks about the escalating food prices in Egypt sparking off unrest in that country . The story presents  the intriguing insight that Egypt imports about half its wheat from the USA, where also drought is changing the way the land is farmed.

Climate skeptics often say they do not see the crisis scenario that others are describing. That is because the have not yet felt the really brutal impact of this change. Consider the case of rice for example: it is mostly grown in Asia and has the largest number of consumers there as well. What if there was a drought and from India to Vietnam, the rice harvest failed? And this is not merely hypothetical, the prospect of a failed monsoon is nerve wracking, my twitter friends from India, farmers and others,  have all been updating anxiously for the past few days, waiting for the monsoons to make landfall and hoping they will we plentiful. There would be millions of people desperate to feed themselves and their families. At first, violence and unrest would break out in the region. Then, if no solutions were on offer, large groups would start migrating elsewhere in the search for food. This “elsewhere” might very well be the countries where people still do not see the facts in support of climate change. Only now, the climate is also unstable here, as well, and they can no longer ignore the evidence. There would begin a global struggle for food and water which is quite frightening  to contemplate.

Climate change is discussed mostly in the context of the environment but we need to give attention to the food system as well. Some of there solutions are being worked on already, like this amazingly simple way to reduce methane production in rice paddies.  Or the project to create a  new variety of rice which can withstand the long periods of flooding which are predicted to occur in the rice growing  regions of Asia in the future. But this is still an issue on the periphery of the main debate and often it is boxed off on its own when it should be a focus of  climate policy and action. “Years of Living Dangerously” is a brilliant show that everybody should be watching. ( Previous reviews are here and here).  If there is a second season I hope the producers would consider giving more time to the food system.

(Image Courtesy: Freedigitalphotos.net)

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