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NY Times Bombshell: “The latest scientific research suggests” climate change is “helping to destabilize the food system”

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"NY Times Bombshell: “The latest scientific research suggests” climate change is “helping to destabilize the food system”"

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“PRICE SPIKES:  Have increased the number of hungry people worldwide in recent years, and led to food riots in several countries.”

Okay, the fact that climate change is helping to destabilize the food system and cause major price spikes is not a ‘bombshell’ to Climate Progress readers.  We’ve been writing about this for a long time (see “how extreme weather, climate change drive record food prices” and links below).

The bombshell is a 4000 word front-page story in the Sunday New York Times (above the fold!) headlined:

A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself

Let me extract the key parts and best quotes for you, though I highly recommend reading the whole thing.  It is quite thorough.

UPDATE:  At the end are two featured comments, including one by long-time poster Wit’s End (aka Gail) where I’ve copied and activated the link to her website, another new feature I’m adding for select comments as an end-run around the lame FB system.

The rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed to the point that it is failing to keep up with the demand for food, driven by population increases and rising affluence in once-poor countries.

Consumption of the four staples that supply most human calories — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has outstripped production for much of the past decade, drawing once-large stockpiles down to worrisome levels. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes in international grain prices since 2007, with some grains more than doubling in cost.

Those price jumps, though felt only moderately in the West, have worsened hunger for tens of millions of poor people, destabilizing politics in scores of countries, from Mexico to Uzbekistan to Yemen. The Haitian government was ousted in 2008 amid food riots, and anger over high prices has played a role in the recent Arab uprisings.

Bizarrely, some criticized me for my analyses from earlier in the year that price jumps were contributing to clinical instability in food riots, but it was always pretty obvious and has now become fairly standard wisdom (see The Economist: “The high cost of food is one reason that protesters took to the streets in Tunisia and Egypt”).

As for whether climate change and extreme weather were contributing to the food price spikes, again I took some flak for stating the obvious, but now, as the NYT piece makes clear, this too is something widely understood:

Now, the latest scientific research suggests that a previously discounted factor is helping to destabilize the food system: climate change.

Many of the failed harvests of the past decade were a consequence of weather disasters, like floods in the United States, drought in Australia and blistering heat waves in Europe and Russia. Scientists believe some, though not all, of those events were caused or worsened by human-induced global warming.

Temperatures are rising rapidly during the growing season in some of the most important agricultural countries, and a paper published several weeks ago found that this had shaved several percentage points off potential yields, adding to the price gyrations.

Characteristically — and unfortunately — the New York Times does not provide a link to that paper. You can read about it here (“Crop yields fall as temperatures rise“).  The study itself is in Science, “Climate Trends and Global Crop Production Since 1980.”

As the NYT reports, this is surprising news to some, who bought the myth that rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere would somehow be an unadulterated benefit to crops — which requires ignoring the increased heat as well as the increase in weather extremes, including heat waves, droughts, and deluges.

For nearly two decades, scientists had predicted that climate change would be relatively manageable for agriculture, suggesting that even under worst-case assumptions, it would probably take until 2080 for food prices to double.

In part, they were counting on a counterintuitive ace in the hole: that rising carbon dioxide levels, the primary contributor to global warming, would act as a powerful plant fertilizer and offset many of the ill effects of climate change.

Until a few years ago, these assumptions went largely unchallenged. But lately, the destabilization of the food system and the soaring prices have rattled many leading scientists.

“The success of agriculture has been astounding,” said Cynthia Rosenzweig, a researcher at NASA who helped pioneer the study of climate change and agriculture. “But I think there’s starting to be premonitions that it may not continue forever.”

A scramble is on to figure out whether climate science has been too sanguine about the risks. Some researchers, analyzing computer forecasts that are used to advise governments on future crop prospects, are pointing out what they consider to be gaping holes. These include a failure to consider the effects of extreme weather, like the floods and the heat waves that are increasing as the earth warms.

A rising unease about the future of the world’s food supply came through during interviews this year with more than 50 agricultural experts working in nine countries.

These experts say that in coming decades, farmers need to withstand whatever climate shocks come their way while roughly doubling the amount of food they produce to meet rising demand. And they need to do it while reducing the considerable environmental damage caused by the business of agriculture.

This NYT story was slightly preempted by the Oxfam paper that we wrote about a few days ago, which made clear we weren’t gonna have to wait until 2080 to seafood prices double driven in large part by climate change (see Oxfam Predicts Climate Change will Help Double Food Prices by 2030: “We Are Turning Abundance into Scarcity”).

Here’s more on the new science from the NYT:

For decades, scientists believed that the human dependence on fossil fuels, for all the problems it was expected to cause, would offer one enormous benefit.

Carbon dioxide, the main gas released by combustion, is also the primary fuel for the growth of plants. They draw it out of the air and, using the energy from sunlight, convert the carbon into energy-dense compounds like glucose. All human and animal life runs on these compounds.

Humans have already raised the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution, and are on course to double or triple it over the coming century. Studies have long suggested that the extra gas would supercharge the world’s food crops, and might be especially helpful in years when the weather is difficult.

But many of those studies were done in artificial conditions, like greenhouses or special growth chambers. For the past decade, scientists at the University of Illinois have been putting the “CO2 fertilization effect” to a real-world test in the two most important crops grown in the United States.

They started by planting soybeans in a field, then sprayed extra carbon dioxide from a giant tank. Based on the earlier research, they hoped the gas might bump yields as much as 30 percent under optimal growing conditions.

But when they harvested their soybeans, they got a rude surprise: the bump was only half as large. “When we measured the yields, it was like, wait a minute — this is not what we expected,” said Elizabeth A. Ainsworth, a Department of Agriculture researcher who played a leading role in the work.

When they grew the soybeans in the sort of conditions expected to prevail in a future climate, with high temperatures or low water, the extra carbon dioxide could not fully offset the yield decline caused by those factors.

They also ran tests using corn, America’s single most valuable crop and the basis for its meat production and its biofuel industry. While that crop was already known to be less responsive to carbon dioxide, a yield bump was still expected — especially during droughts. The Illinois researchers got no bump.

Their work has contributed to a broader body of research suggesting that extra carbon dioxide does act as plant fertilizer, but that the benefits are less than previously believed — and probably less than needed to avert food shortages. “One of the things that we’re starting to believe is that the positives of CO2 are unlikely to outweigh the negatives of the other factors,” said Andrew D. B. Leakey, another of the Illinois researchers.

Other recent evidence suggests that longstanding assumptions about food production on a warming planet may have been too optimistic.

Two economists, Wolfram Schlenker of Columbia University and Michael J. Roberts of North Carolina State University, have pioneered ways to compare crop yields and natural temperature variability at a fine scale. Their work shows that when crops are subjected to temperatures above a certain threshold — about 84 degrees for corn and 86 degrees for soybeans — yields fall sharply.

This line of research suggests that in the type of climate predicted for the United States by the end of the century, with more scorching days in the growing season, yields of today’s crop varieties could fall by 30 percent or more.

Though it has not yet happened in the United States, many important agricultural countries are already warming rapidly in the growing season, with average increases of several degrees. A few weeks ago, David B. Lobell of Stanford University published a paper with Dr. Schlenker suggesting that temperature increases in France, Russia, China and other countries were suppressing crop yields, adding to the pressures on the food system.

“I think there’s been an under-recognition of just how sensitive crops are to heat, and how fast heat exposure is increasing,” Dr. Lobell said.

Such research has provoked controversy. The findings go somewhat beyond those of a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body that episodically reviews climate science and advises governments.

That report found that while climate change was likely to pose severe challenges for agriculture in the tropics, it would probably be beneficial in some of the chillier regions of the Northern Hemisphere, and that the carbon dioxide effect should offset many problems.

In an interview at the University of Illinois, one of the leading scientists behind the work there, Stephen P. Long, sharply criticized the 2007 report, saying it had failed to sound a sufficient alarm. “I felt it needed to be much more honest in saying this is our best guess at the moment, but there are probably huge errors in there,” Dr. Long said. “We’re talking about the future food supply of the world.”

The NYT story has a somewhat ironic section — though whether it is intentionally ironic or unintentional is not clear:

‘The World Is Talking’

Sitting with a group of his fellow wheat farmers, Francisco Javier Ramos Bours voiced a suspicion. Water shortages had already arrived in recent years for growers in his region, the Yaqui Valley, which sits in the Sonoran Desert of northwestern Mexico. In his view, global climate change could well be responsible.

“All the world is talking about it,” Mr. Ramos said as the other farmers nodded.

Farmers everywhere face rising difficulties: water shortages as well as flash floods. Their crops are afflicted by emerging pests and diseases and by blasts of heat beyond anything they remember.

In a recent interview on the far side of the world, in northeastern India, a rice farmer named Ram Khatri Yadav offered his own complaint about the changing climate. “It will not rain in the rainy season, but it will rain in the nonrainy season,” he said. “The cold season is also shrinking.”

Well the whole world is talking about climate change and climate change impacts — other than the United States that is.  Here, President Obama and many other politicians and environmentalists tried to pass legislation to help address climate change — without talking about either of those things (see “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?“)

The story tries to conclude on both a realistic and upbeat note, but that really isn’t possible:

The United Nations recently projected that global population would hit 10 billion by the end of the century, 3 billion more than today. Coupled with the demand for diets richer in protein, the projections mean that food production may need to double by later in the century.

Unlike in the past, that demand must somehow be met on a planet where little new land is available for farming, where water supplies are tightening, where the temperature is rising, where the weather has become erratic and where the food system is already showing serious signs of instability.

“We’ve doubled the world’s food production several times before in history, and now we have to do it one more time,” said Jonathan A. Foley, a researcher at the University of Minnesota. “The last doubling is the hardest. It is possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Well, it may be possible, but not in a world of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions, where the temperature rise of 10°F by centuries end is not even the worst case, but just business as usual.

Related Food Insecurity Posts:

FEATURED READER COMMENT #1:

Wit’s End · The following information comes from an article about the United Nations Environment Programme. Tropospheric ozone including near-surface ozone is a major greenhouse gas, harms human health and is linked to significant damage to crops and ecosystems.

A regional assessment report by the UNEP Project Atmospheric Brown Cloud cited annual losses from the wheat, rice, corn and soya bean crop in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea alone-linked with ground level ozone-may be $5 billion a year. Another study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that five per cent of cereal production in the United States is lost to ground level ozone and that by 2100 crop yields globally could be cut by 40 per cent.

Up to a fifth of all summer-time hospital visits in the north-eastern United States related to respiratory problems are linked to low level ozone, sometimes referred to as smog. Researchers at the University of Illinois are suggesting that tree growth in the United States is some seven per cent less and that this will climb to up to 17 per cent less by 2100 as a result of low level ozone pollution.

Tropospheric ozone, which occurs from the ground up to 15 kilometres in altitude, is generated by substances such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides mixing with emissions of petroleum products like volatile organic compounds and solvents in the presence of sunlight.

Researchers estimate that the contribution of tropospheric ozone to the greenhouse effect could range from 15 per cent to 20 per cent, of the CO2 warming….

[For more, go to Gail's website here.]

FEATURED READER COMMENT #2:

Ian R Orchard

Another denialist delusion on food supplies worth contemplating: The shifting climate zones just mean that subtropical food plants will be able to grow in temperate zones even if they are struggling in their current cropping areas due to heat or water stress. Except that even if temperate hots are hotter and cold seasons are shorter, the latter don’t disappear entirely. Even just one good frost will knock out a banana plantation.

 

Below are the earlier comments from the Facebook commenting system:

Richard Brenne

Nice to know the Grey Lady reads Climate Progress, where this stuff is reported every day instead of century.

· June 5 at 12:17pm

Joseph Romm

My goal has always been to get readers the story before the MSM.

June 5 at 12:50pm

Leif Erik Knutsen

the goal of the “right” has always been to get the lie started before the facts. Accuse the opposition of the very underhanded tactics that they have deploying in spades. Up front with the truth requires a few facts to counter. (Short supply on the GOBP front.) Not just a few well places sound bite to drown the background.

· June 5 at 3:06pm

Colorado Bob

Crisis meeting is called as drought leaves crops dying in the fields.

Rising food prices and restrictions on power and water use are likely to result from a lack of rain in the south and east of the country, experts believe.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/​environment/2011/jun/05/dr​ought-farming-caroline-spe​lman-uk?commentpage=last#e​nd-of-comments

June 5 at 12:38pm

Peter S. Mizla

Prices are up on everything, from OJ to pet food. It makes me wonder what is next in the climate change road to disaster.

June 5 at 12:44pm

Joseph Petrillo

Another report on the growing evidence of the deleterious effect climate change on world food production.

June 5 at 12:51pm

Steve Hynd

Meanwhile, over at TP:Security – and at every other national security and foreign policy punditry outlet, left or right – you’ll find only an occasional mention of climate change, despite it being the greatest international driver of instability in the coming century. It’s as if they’re scared it will make their knowledge, and thus they themselves, obselete. The last decent study of global warming’s effect on national security was by CNAS in 2008, and this week we heard we’ve blown past the carbon release that woul put us into their “serious climate change” model, with a temperature rise of 2.6 degrees C or thereabouts.

http://www.newshoggers.com​/blog/2011/05/tipping-poin​t-for-severe-climate-chang​e-already-reached.html

June 5 at 12:54pm

Joseph Romm · Top Commenter · Center for American Progress

I will work on TP: Security.

June 5 at 1:18pm

Mike Roddy ·

The New York Times may be waking up, and this could be related to Keller’s departure. We have seen many embarrassing stories in the last few years, from the likes of Tierney, Broder, Rosenthal, and Revkin, usually featuring equal time for people like Christy, Watts, and Lindzen.
If the Times decides it’s actually going to report scientific truth- even if people get pissed off- we may finally be moving forward.

June 5 at 12:56pm

Colorado Bob

BEIJING, June 5 (Xinhua) — Torrential rain has greatly eased the severe drought in central China, it also caused flooding in some regions as well.

Most of the western, central and northern parts of Hunan Province have been battered by moderate to heavy rain since June 2, the provincial meteorological center said Sunday. The Fenghuang County of the province had recorded the largest precipitation of 231.5 mm by Sunday morning……………….​. The provincial meteorological center in Jiangxi forecast the torrential rain to last till June 12.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/​english2010/china/2011-06/​05/c_13912490.htm

June 5 at 1:06pm

Climate Chaos

Climate Chaos
UK’s second driest spring in 100 years left soils concrete hard.

Government calls in farmers for crisis talks as Home Counties dry spell threatens environmental disa.
www.dailymail.co.uk
Farmers, supermarkets and water companies will meet ministers for talks this week after the UK’s second driest spring in 100 years left soils concrete hard.

June 5 at 1:17pm

Peter S. Mizla

I read this over at the Guardian
http://www.guardian.co.uk/​uk/2011/jun/05/uk-hot-weat​her-arctic-ice-cap

It seems our problems are beginning to act in a Domino like cascade.
What happens when the ice cap is totally gone?

· June 5 at 1:27pm

Climate Portals

What happens when our existing climate is totally gone?

We actually dont have climate any more.

The climate (weather pattern) is changing so rapidly and constantly now, moving towards a more extreme state that the definition of climate (ave weather over a given period) doesn’t hold any more.

· June 5 at 1:45pm

Climate Chaos

food prices will be doubling in the next couple of years….

· June 5 at 1:18pm

Climate Chaos

The pattern we see is a very wet, soggy plant season (if not flooded). Farm machines often cant get out in to the fields. Extremely dry, hot growing season. Or vi si versa.

And now they appear to be occurring in sync.

Agriculture gets hammered from both ends… constantly now.

· June 5 at 1:28pm

Climate Chaos

Joe missing the tag sections for posts. Can find old articles like I use to. I think this is a necessary service of any serious blog. Paul.

June 5 at 1:30pm

Climate Portals

ok found it….paul

June 5 at 1:42pm

Joseph Romm

I will create a more useful archive of best posts. It may take awhile.

June 5 at 2:46pm

Climate Chaos

ops. Take that back. found them…

June 5 at 1:31pm

Steve Ela

Joe: I hope you’ll comment on Gillis’s blog that came online today, too. http://green.blogs.nytimes​.com/2011/06/04/damaging-t​he-earth-to-feed-its-peopl​e/

June 5 at 1:38pm

Joseph Romm

I’ll see if I can Monday.

June 5 at 2:44pm

Climate Portals

“A scramble is on to figure out whether climate science has been too sanguine about the risks. Some researchers, analyzing computer forecasts that are used to advise governments on future crop prospects, are pointing out what they consider to be gaping holes. These include a failure to consider the effects of extreme weather, like the floods and the heat waves that are increasing as the earth warms.”

I think youll find that in all areas… visa vi nuclear! SLR. I think it is a psychological human(male) thing which edges us forward to take chances. In the back of our mind common sense aught to prevail over some decisions like Japan building Nukes just off the coast from a major fault line.

We need more female input in big decisions and politics….

The future is female: Why the business world wants a woman’s touch.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk​/home/you/article-1204533/​The-future-female.html

· June 5 at 1:40pm

blogbob forsooth

This does not, however, mean that we should elect Sarah Palin president.

· June 6 at 6:33pm

Climate Portals

“The United Nations recently projected that global population would hit 10 billion by the end of the century, 3 billion more than today.”

This is a totally inaccurate statement. The world population is not going to be anywhere near 10billion in 2100.

June 5 at 1:48pm

Anthony Silvestri

That’s what happens when you mindlessly project past trends into the future without consideration for reality.

· June 6 at 10:26am

Colorado Bob

Disastrous spring costing Mo. billions of dollars.

http://www.timesunion.com/​news/article/Disastrous-sp​ring-costing-Mo-billions-o​f-dollars-1410558.php#page​-2

June 5 at 1:55pm

Andy Heninger

Good article. There’s a typo about a third of the way in,
” seafood prices” -> “see food prices”.

June 5 at 2:35pm

Mike twotwo

“Here’s more on the new science from the NYT:” Hardly new, Schlenker, Lobell, Roberts, Long, etc have been publishing on the main conclusions here for several years. Schlenker http://www.columbia.edu/~w​s2162/ Lobell http://fsi.stanford.edu/pe​ople/publications/davidlob​ell/ Roberts http://www4.ncsu.edu/~mjro​ber2/main/Publications.htm​l.
Long http://soyface.illinois.ed​u/publications.htm.

June 5 at 2:45pm

Joseph Romm

Yes it isn’t new for those paying attention — but I consider any major findings since ipcc report to be new for CP purposes.

June 5 at 3:02pm

Paul Magnus

The arctic needs our help… we need a response plan….petition to sign…
http://www.greenpeace.org/​international/en/campaigns​/climate-change/arctic-imp​acts/

June 5 at 4:43pm

Maura Sheehy

Times took a big step today with this huge front-page article–part of a series–on the already-in-progress threats to basic human security coming from climate change. Kind of unforgivably late, but essential. Let’s keep pushing!

June 5 at 5:32pm

Wit’s End

The following information comes from an article about the United Nations Environment Programme. Tropospheric ozone including near-surface ozone is a major greenhouse gas, harms human health and is linked to significant damage to crops and ecosystems.

A regional assessment report by the UNEP Project Atmospheric Brown Cloud cited annual losses from the wheat, rice, corn and soya bean crop in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea alone-linked with ground level ozone-may be $5 billion a year. Another study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that five per cent of cereal production in the United States is lost to ground level ozone and that by 2100 crop yields globally could be cut by 40 per cent.

Up to a fifth of all summer-time hospital visits in the north-eastern United States related to respiratory problems are linked to low level ozone, sometimes referred to as smog. Researchers at the University of Illinois are suggesting that tree growth in the United States is some seven per cent less and that this will climb to up to 17 per cent less by 2100 as a result of low level ozone pollution.

Tropospheric ozone, which occurs from the ground up to 15 kilometres in altitude, is generated by substances such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides mixing with emissions of petroleum products like volatile organic compounds and solvents in the presence of sunlight.

Researchers estimate that the contribution of tropospheric ozone to the greenhouse effect could range from 15 per cent to 20 per cent, of the CO2 warming.

Meanwhile nitrogen compounds, emitted from sources including animal wastes, sewage, inefficient use of fertilizers, sewage and vehicle emissions are being linked to a wide range of impacts and not just climate change. The rising number of dead zones-deoxygenated areas of seas and oceans-is raising concern over already vulnerable and depleted fish stocks. Meanwhile nitrogen compound emissions are also contributing to changes in vegetation and ecosystems as a result of their artificial fertilizing effect.
In the European Union more than 21,000 premature deaths annually are associated with ground level ozone according to the European Environment Agency. It is estimated that in 2000 in the European Union, well over Euro 6 billion-worth of crops were lost due to ozone. Besides health concerns, the effects of air pollution on crops are closely linked to the fundamental conditions of man in society. An adequate supply of food and water is instrumental for the survival, functioning and development of mankind. Thus, safeguarding agricultural production against the impact of air pollution must be a strong driving force for policy interventions, not least in developing countries. Studies in Europe, Africa and Asia suggest that agricultural output may be dramatically reduced by air pollution, above all ozone (formed by chemical reactions with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight).
The Sida funded programme on Regional Air Pollution in Developing Countries (RAPIDC) includes studies in e.g. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as in southern Africa, which indicate that the crop yield of wheat may be reduced by some 30% due to air pollution (based on European dose response functions). Investigations in these countries and in Sri Lanka suggest a potential yield loss of 50-80% for mung beans, spinach and potatoes. It has been indicated that rice yield in Japan has been reduced due to the influence of long- range transport of air pollution. The impact of air pollution on agricultural crops and quality of produce and ensuing food security has hitherto been largely ignored by policy makers. The ubiquitously rising ambient ozone levels are a matter of serious concern in a world with growing food shortages and increasing food prices. Some 75% of the world’s cereal is grown in areas which are exposed to damaging ozone concentrations. In the ongoing debate on the effects of climate change matters such as floods and soil erosion, drought and desertification are seen as detrimental to sustainable livelihoods, including falling agricultural production. It should be kept in mind though, that air pollution, and above all ground level ozone, may also lead to the impairment of such production where the conditions for agriculture and food production are otherwise excellent. http://witsendnj.blogspot.​com/2011/02/rude-awakening​.html

June 5 at 5:37pm

Richard Brenne

Thanks for the update Gail. You are our tropospheric ozone guru!

June 6 at 4:21am

Wit’s End

Hi Richard! It always perplexes me that news reports about food shortages never include the percentage of crop yield and quality lost to air pollution, when that percentage globally every year is greater than any isolated weather events (so far…).

· June 6 at 6:44am

Joseph Romm

I made this a featured comment — and activated the link in the text!

· June 6 at 7:24am

Russell Hayley

It seems to me that the peaks and troughs follow the trends in oil prices rather than increases in temperature/time.

June 5 at 5:37pm

Joseph Romm

Actually, I see analysis that suggests oil prices follow food prices. But in any case no one said food prices would rise linearly with greenhouse gas emissions. Heck, even temperature doesn’t do that. But climate change is exacerbating increasingly tight market and leading to higher highs and higher lows.

June 5 at 8:17pm

Russell Hayley

By what mechanism do oil prices follow food prices?

· June 6 at 6:16am

Joseph Romm

Not sure. Most commodities rise in tandem, roughly. Food may be a leading indicator. Also, high food prices drive riots, instability that fuel oil speculation. Obviously, high oil prices drive up food prices.

June 6 at 7:29am

Joan Savage

Failed crops wouldn’t destabilize the food markets if they were a predictable percentage of loss; it is loss of prediction itself that seems to contribute to price volatility.
Farmers can’t afford to bet on wildly inconsistent rainfall patterns. They refrain from planting crops if the window of time for a growing season is constrained by wet or dry soils at the beginning of the season. US farmers who rotate corn and soy had a wet spring this year and some either planted alternate crops or will take a an insurance payment.
Back on May 5, they were holding on to a late planting:
http://cornandsoybeandiges​t.com/corn/cool-wet-spring​-may-warrant-corn-and-soyb​ean-management-adjustments
Commodity futures were getting major readjustments by mid month.
http://www.businessweek.co​m/news/2011-05-16/corn-whe​at-gain-as-wet-weather-cur​bs-spring-planting-soy-dro​ps.html
By June, Purdue University had published quite a list of suggestions about what could be done with late planting of corn and soy.
http://www.agry.purdue.edu​/ext/corn/cafe/lateplantin​g/index.html

The IPCC (2007) Chapter 5, p 293 has a color-highlighted unit on pastoralists’ adaptations to “high spatial and temporal variability in rainfall.” www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment​-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-ch​apter5.pdf.

Agriculturalists need their own strategic adaptations to “high spatial and temporal variability in rainfall.”.

If I can do a stump speech to those who know this: Variability is a huge part of the climate change prediction, the predictable unpredictability. It seems almost misleading to have thin lines on the climate change models; they would be more self explanatory if they were shown as thick messy bands of destabilizing variability.

June 5 at 7:31pm

Lou Grinzo

Thanks for highlighting this, Joe.

I would urge everyone here to download the free PDF of Lester Brown’s latest book, World on the Edge from the EPI web site. He has been relentlessly talking about how co2 emissions lead to not just climate change and food insecurity but failed states.

June 5 at 8:02pm

poitsplace burt

Its so sad to watch people talking about the weather we experienced in the cold period from the 1950s to the 1970s as if it was somehow new. Its even more sad that they don’t realize that the reason this weather is back…is that the climate subsystem has switched back to the state that caused that.

The “extreme” weather then and now is largely the result of the less stable polar vortex. As the vortex lashes out across the continents it causes more pronounced local temperature variations and this fuels storm/snow production, just like the wintery weather we had during the 50s, 60s and 70s and were (initially) told we would not see again due to global warming.

It should be noted that global warming would weaken this effect by reducing the gradient between the tropical and polar temperatures…part of the reason many meteorologists doubt the gloom and doom prophesies is their knowledge of these facts. A warm world should be a better world in almost every respect…and pretty much all of history and real-world data supports that.

· June 5 at 9:10pm

Joseph Romm

The weather of the 1950s to 1970s is NOT back. The scientific literature did NOT say we wouldn’t see big snow storms again. Quite the reverse. And all of paleo-history shows that the warming we are facing would rain multiple catastrophes on a planet headed toward 9 billion people.

June 5 at 9:56pm

Sarah A. Green

The climate doesn’t “switch states”. It responds to forcing by the sun according to the absorbing and reflecting gases, clouds, and land surfaces. Those, especially the CO2, have certainly not “switched” back to 1950s levels.

· June 6 at 8:13am

John McCormick

Burt, give a thought to an Arctic warming and its tundra and permafrost melting and releasing stored CO2 and methane. Then, try to convince us you have something new to offer.

John McCormick

June 6 at 8:59am

lelandpalmer77

Yes, but the commodities speculators love it.

So, there is certainly no pressure from the financial quarter on Republican politicians to acknowledge the existence of AGW and do something about it.

If it’s good for Goldman Sachs, it’s good for the entire country, right?

June 5 at 9:13pm

Dean Element ·

Great coverage…I’m amazed that the mainstream media hasn’t picked up on this sooner. This all ties in to peak oil as well…today’s agriculture is already so petroleum intensive.Throw in climate change pressures and we’re looking at a problem of cataclysmic proportions.

Dale Allen Pfeiffer has a great piece on the effect of peak oil on agriculture in his piece “Eating Fossil Fuels” available here: http://www.fromthewilderne​ss.com/free/ww3/100303_eat​ing_oil.html.

June 5 at 11:24pm

blogbob forsooth The MSM is owned by corporation conglomerates, which have a vested interest in NOT raising the alarm.

· June 6 at 6:34pm

sime

This is not difficult to understand…you simply can not sustain this on a planet that is finite and has finite resources.

June 6 at 3:58am

Richard Brenne

Of course regular Climate Progress readers are aware of Lester Brown and his Plan B book series that has been alerting us to these issues for years. We used that series in our NASA-sponsored climate change class and so I was quite familiar with it when Alexander MacDonald, the founding director of NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory, told me these food issues were his primary big-picture concern as well. Sandy, as he is usually called, answers to NOAA Director Jane Lubchenco who answers to the new Commerce Secretary who answers to Obama, so hopefully everyone in that chain of command and others can get on the same page and address this most critical issue.

Moderating a panel titled “The Future of Food” I realized that many of the best experts on Climate Change, aquifer and glacial run-off depletion, water infrastructure, topsoil loss, Peak Oil, Natural Gas and Phosphorus as well as pollinator loss and Wit’s End’s tropospheric ozone killing plants including crops each wonder how we’re going to feed 7 billion people with their concern alone, let alone over 10 billion the UN recent revised projection predicts we’ll have by mid-century. Each of their concerns are synthesized in ways that might often come closer to multiplying than merely adding their impacts.

There’s a reason Thomas Malthus, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Al Bartlett and the MIT Limits to Growth folks (all fairly bright, by the way) thought we’d have the problem we’re now having for decades (the last three groups) or centuries (the first three individuals).

It was only cheap and abundant fossil fuels that temporarily delayed their predictions. It is far past time to wake up, pull our heads out, and address their warnings the best we can. And anyone who thinks Malthus was too Malthusian is too Dunning-Krugerian to know that they’re incompetent to comment.

June 6 at 4:53am

Anthony Silvestri ·

Maybe someone already mentioned it, but why not link to the chart showing the correlation between the price of food and the price of oil — something you, yourself, have covered in the past? I’m in total agreement that climate change is going to destabilize the food system, but let’s not forget the exacerbating impact of peak oil. http://www.paulchefurka.ca​/Oil_Food.html

· June 6 at 10:25am

Joseph Romm

thank you so much for digging that up. I will definitely do a post on it.

June 6 at 11:50am

Leif Erik Knutsen

Perplexing to understand the close coloration in short time scales. The only thing the I can think of is that for the most part, food travels so far to reach our table that oil then becomes a large source of food price over night. Coming from a farm background the price to the farmer is usually set far in advance to the harvest. His production costs are “SEP”. The wholesaler and retailer will have to pay those costs on shipment and often even up-charge stuff already on the shelf for the trouble. Grow a garden, eat local, would appear to be the only remedy. Even then local suppliers are required to surcharge their delivery costs as well, so store prices instantly represent farm stall prices. Fossil fuel makes out just fine.

· June 6 at 7:21pm

Anthony Silvestri

I agree about the irony of this article. I’ve been scratching my head about why any of this is news. I was learning about the food system impacts of climate change back as an urban planning master’s student in 2007, and even then it was clear there was only going to be a modest positive impact from CO2 fertilization, if any; and that it would be quickly overwhelmed by extreme weather events.

I don’t see any conceivable way for us to double food production again. Maybe if people cut meat out of their diet we can feed a world of vegetarians/vegans.

We should probably prepare ourselves mentally for a massive die-off in the global population. Unfortunately, it likely will be concentrated among those who are least responsible, particularly in Africa and Asia.

June 6 at 10:33am

Jan McElroy

We need more fact based information like this shared with the general reading public so people understand the significance of what is happening now and will to a greater extent in the future. And then take action to slow the production of CO2.

June 6 at 5:45pm

blogbob forsooth

“NY Times Bombshell: ‘The latest scientific research suggests’ climate change is ‘helping to destabilize the food system’ “.

Talk about a “No $hit Sherlock” moment…

June 6 at 6:30pm

Claudia Friedetzky

What wasn’t mentioned in the article is that the research showing significant decreases in agricultural yields due to climate change was published in 2005, see http://www.newscientist.co​m/article/dn7310-climate-c​hange-warning-over-food-pr​oduction.html.
Despite that, the nyt published slews of stories about the winners and losers along the climate change trajectory, and North America and Europe were routinely described as winners in agricultural production.

· June 12 at 12:11pm

Richard Laverack ·

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Australia, there are idiots like Chris Berg from the Institute of Public Affairs (a right wing think tank) putting out articles like this. It was published in the Melbourne “Age” 10 days after the NYT article.

http://www.theage.com.au/o​pinion/society-and-culture​/dig-in-dont-wait-our-slow​-food-nostalgia-is-misplac​ed-20110611-1fy7f.html

June 13 at 8:42am

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