Could Climate Change Cause Famines?

by Caroline Chmiel

More than ever, the rapid growth of the world population is causing a heightened demand for food. Making this struggle infinitely worse is climate change. Per decade, food demand rises by 14%. Climate change reduces wheat yields by 2% compared to the amount without climate change, and corn yields by 1%. The demand for food causes worry and stress, so the idea that climate change worsens an already critical situation makes the fight to feed billions even harder. This is the bleak picture painted by Eduardo Porter writing in the New York Times. Food price spikes because of increased demand strongly correlate with urban unrest. From temperature changes due to global warming, production of crops can change. Less than expected production often causes producers to ban exports and importers to try to hoard the crop. Overall, commodity markets experience chaos and strain further than just feeding people. The culmination of climate change, increased population and demand for food leads to a serious question about the possibility of famine. More likely, though, is a volatile world full of wars over substances. The most highly affected population will be the poor, unable to afford increased food prices.

An example of the repercussions of these food price spikes occurred in 2007. Prices rose, leading big producers like India and Vietnam to ban exports to protect themselves domestically, while importers like Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Iran entered the markets planning to hoard as much grain as possible. This disorder took the focus away from efficiently allocating food during high price periods, revealing the potential for alarmingly selfish actions.

One certain way to improve this situation lies in saving food that is currently wasted. Humanity wastes one quarter of food produced. Poor storage and transport infrastructure lead food to be unusable, while wasteful consumers in wealthier areas get rid of valuable food. Limiting this waste is crucial in efficiently dispersing food as to feed the growing population. In addition, patterns show that humanity has the capacity to invent ways around constraints, and will act efficiently when necessary. Specific suggested adaptations are farmers breeding new crops to better resist heat and drought, new techniques for water harvesting that will hold off evaporation for longer, and improving yields of crops through rotation.

Porter, Eduardo. “Old Forecast of Famine May Yet Come True.” The New York Times Web. 1 April. 2014

 

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