The most troubling paradox of the 21st century may be that human population is expected to climb to 9.7 billion by midcentury — yet the global food supply is predicted to plummet, writes Amanda Little in a recent article published by Time magazine.
The Special Report on Climate Change and Land released earlier this month by the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change, penned by experts in more than 50 countries, details in stark terms “the risk to millions of people from climate extremes, desertification, land degradation and food and livelihood insecurity.”
Another recent IPCC report predicted a 2 to 6 percent decline in global crop yields every decade going forward — that’s potentially millions of acres phasing out annually — due to drought, heat, flooding, superstorms, weather volatility, shifting seasons, insect infestations and other symptoms of a warming planet.
According to Jerry Hatfield, the director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, the single biggest threat of climate change is the collapse of food systems: “Other threats — flooding, storms, forest fires — may be more sudden and severe in certain regions, but disruptions in food supply will affect virtually everyone.”
Disruptions in supply are already evident almost everywhere food is grown. Last month, the heat wave that swept Europe scorched old vineyards and new cornfields alike.
What, we must wonder, lies ahead? Will future historians look back on our current agricultural moment and see it as Dickens did Europe in the late eighteenth century—an age of belief and incredulity when “we had everything before us, we had nothing before us”?