Will Climate Change Cause a Collapse of Our Food System?
Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and Princeton professor, has an interesting opinion piece tiled Droughts, Floods, and Food in the February 6 edition of the New York Times. In the article, Krugman posits that rising food prices have led to political instability, as we have seen recently in the Middle East.
The Same Old Scare Tactics?
Why is this significant? After all, historians have posited that the French Revolution was sparked by two failed harvests that led to a spike in bread prices; the end of British rule in India has been linked to a similar source; and as recently as 2008, a surge in grain prices were blamed for riots in Haiti.
So what makes this moment different? Krugman links his argument to global climate change, and the types of severe abnormalities that cause disruption and destruction to the agricultural systems we have built our entire societies around. From the 2010 heat wave in Russia that caused forest fires in Moscow and the disruption of wheat farming, to the recent flooding in Brazil and Australia, more extreme and unpredictable weather can be expected in future if we believe in the existence and effects of climate change.
And what are the impacts? Krugman paints a chilling picture in his last sentence: “the evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we’re getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we’ll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come."
Food: A New Focus for Climate Change Advocacy?
While much of the discussion around climate change has centered around petroleum and the energy we need to keep ourselves and our communities moving, heated, and “plugged in,” we rarely connect that to the food system as we know it. What we produce (for instance, corn), how we produce it (with lots of petroleum-based fertilizers?) and how we consume it (diverted for ethanol? Converted to High Fructose Corn Syrup?) has a huge effect on who feasts and who fasts around the globe.Continued on the next page