Back in March I wrote about Peak Arabica Coffee: Top coffee scientist warns, “Coffee production is under threat from global warming.” I ran this chart:
Seven months later, Big Media grabbed the story when Starbucks started talking up the threat. Good Morning America and the CBS Early Show both did segments on it.
Characteristically, though, both networks treated the story mostly as a source for levity. And you’d be hard-pressed to find them given equal time to the far more consequential, far more serious, impact of climate change on global food prices and supply (see “Oxfam Predicts Climate Change will Help Double Food Prices by 2030: “We Are Turning Abundance into Scarcity”).
Here are the two network videos and an excellent print story on “Food price volatility – causes and consequences”:
Funny stuff, Americans might lose their coffee thanks to climate change.
But hey, at least the story was about Americans so the networks covered it. The food insecurity story is only a few orders of magnitude more consequential, indeed it may be the most important story of our time, as I’ve noted many times (see “How extreme weather could create a global food crisis“).
Within a decade or so, that’ll be painfully obvious to all. It already is to many. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from “Food price volatility – causes and consequences,” a terrific piece by Alertnet, “a free humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation covering crises worldwide”:
In the past four years, global prices of staples such as maize and wheat have twice hit record levels, driving hundreds of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people further towards hunger and poverty.
It is the poorest people in the poorest countries who are most affected by the high price of staple foods.
Recent responses to high prices have increasingly tended to focus on reducing price volatility -0 sharp fluctuations in food prices.
G20 countries in their June 2011 ministerial declaration recommended measure such as building grain reserves, a global market information system and regulating financial transactions in commodities markets….
Maximo Torero, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI’s) Markets, Trade and Institutions Division, highlights some “non-traditional” causes of price volatility: the increasing use of food crops to produce biofuels, extreme weather events, and an increased volume of trading in commodity futures markets.
He also notes that price volatility is common in agriculture because of seasonal variations.
The surge in demand for biofuel since 2006 caused a decline in aggregate grain and oilseed stocks that made markets and governments much more sensitive to routine disturbances, according to Wright.
“The increasing diversion of food crops like maize and soya to produce ethanol has been the new shock to the market that has kept stocks and supplies of food staples extra low. With low stocks otherwise – minor disturbances become major price movers, he said.
In the USA, the amount of maize being diverted to ethanol production has increased rapidly – from less than 5 percent of total maize production in 1995 to more than 35 percent by 2010, according to the Earth Policy Institute. This year it will rise again.
“To put the magnitude of these reductions into perspective, a drought or pest infestation that reduced US maize output by 30 percent in a given year would be viewed as a production catastrophe,” said Wright.
Weather events/climate change
Sudden weather events like the drought in Russia in 2010, which destroyed wheat crops and in part triggered the spike in wheat prices that year, are another major factor, said George Rapsomanikis, an economist with FAO’s Market and Trade Division.
Wright believes that oil prices and government policy on biofuels, not just in the USA and Europe but also in Africa and Latin America, will continue to be major determinants of food price behaviour in the future.
Low stocks of staples “made markets unusually sensitive to subsequent shocks such as high petroleum prices, the Australian drought [in 2006] and other regional production problems,” Wright said in a recent paper.
IFPRI – through simulated projections for the period 2010 to 2050 linking climate variability and food supplies – has shown that the rise in the price of staples could range from more than 20 percent for rice in the optimistic scenario (with high income and low population growth) to 50.4 percent for maize in the pessimistic scenario (low income and high population growth).
So the problem is a deadly serious one.
Yet, the most I’ve ever seen on any network this year is an ABC evening News from August 16 on extreme weather and its connection to global warming. I can’t find the video online, but here’s the key part of the transcript:
HEIDI CULLEN (Climatologist): When you crank up the heat, when you globally warm the planet, you’re going to see more extreme events.
AVILA: How is this for extreme? The arctic sea ice is at its smallest ever. While globally, July was the seventh warmest ever. Making the drought in Texas easier to explain. 75 percent of America’s second largest state, bone dry. Kemp, Texas’ water tanks ran dry for days and farmers all across the southern tier are suffering. Crops from corn to soybeans are dying on the vine. And soon prices on vegetables and beef are expected to climb.
GERALD NELSON (International Food Policy Research Institute): Every farmer in the world will be affected by climate change one way or the other.
SAWYER: So, Jim, you say soon the prices will begin to rise. How soon?
AVILA: Well, hit hardest is corn and soybean. That’s all the way from breakfast cereal to steaks. And that could start happening as soon as fall, certainly six months by now.
It’s the story of the century — and arguably the best major network on TV for climate coverage has only a couple of soundbites on it. Hard to believe some people think the media coverage isn’t part of the problem.
- The Coming Food Crisis: Global food security is stretched to the breaking point, and Russia’s fires and Pakistan’s floods are making a bad situation worse.
- More Corn is Used For Ethanol in U.S. Than For Food or Feed — The Top Five Reasons We Should Stop This Madness
- Grantham’s “Things that Really Matter in 2011 and Beyond”: “Global warming causing destabilized weather patterns, adding to agricultural price pressures”