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Dirty weather, food security and the 2012 drought

September 21, 2012 | 4:00 pm | , Solutions Fellow


© 2012 Pablo Tosco/Oxfam International cc by nc nd 2.0

As we pollute our atmosphere and warm our climate, extreme and disruptive weather is becoming a part of our lives. Here’s one big example of this dirty weather: Extreme drought.

It’s probably no surprise to you that this past summer was the third hottest ever recorded in the contiguous United States. As temperatures soared, over 62% of the U.S. experienced moderate to extreme drought — the worst drought in decades.

It isn’t yet clear how high prices will climb after this year’s crop failures, but we know this: Climate disruption means increased agricultural uncertainty, with the poor and vulnerable paying the steepest price when yields fall.

Currently, over half the U.S. corn crop is in poor or very poor condition. With 40% of the world’s corn and soybean exports coming from the U.S., lower yields in the Midwest often mean higher prices across the world.

To be sure, food prices are affected by many factors besides the weather, including available grain stockpiles and biofuel production, to name a few. In response to record-setting corn and soybean prices this summer, leaders of the Group of 20 major economies (G20) called an emergency grain meeting for mid-October to find ways to halt price spikes.

The impact of climate disruption on food security weighs most heavily on those with the fewest resources. The poor will have less ability to pay higher prices, and their alternatives are typically limited to less nutritious food. Climate change can exacerbate existing problems of malnutrition and poorly developed infrastructure, such as inadequate flood control or irrigation (PDF). On a local level, those with agricultural livelihoods will face increased risk of crop failure, new pests and diseases and loss of livestock (PDF).

As we push our planet’s climate to new extremes, feeding the world will be that much harder.

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