Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

It's going to be a dirty scorcher

One little snippet of changing climate and food supplies

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Says the report in its introduction: "Around the world, weather patterns are shifting and farmers are scrambling to adjust as the leading edge of climate change is arriving. In quite a few places, growing seasons have expanded, in others they have contracted. Sea levels are rising and water tables are shrinking.

"For agriculture, climate change is no longer conjecture but a fact of daily life."

Of graver concern is the report's conclusion that securing and maintaining the vital levels of calories, protein and nutrients for populations around the world will be "an exceptional challenge."

Yes, some climatic changes could mean extending food production into areas and growing times previously unsuitable, but it's not enough to tip the balance favourably. As well, new hybrids able to tolerate higher temperatures can be introduced, but the report cautions they will not necessarily be able to tolerate the accompanying increased levels of pests and diseases.

One small taste of what we will be facing in our own privileged world — although caffeine addicts may not agree with me that it's not vital for human health and nutrition — are the alarm bells sounding about the world's coffee supply.

Last week media carried the conclusion from a study done by U.K. and Ethiopian researchers that 70 per cent of the world's coffee supply could be wiped out by 2080 due to climate change. It's the Arabica plant in peril. The worst-case scenario puts the wipe-out at 90 to 100 per cent; the rosiest projection is that 38 per cent of Arabica plants will be gone.

The research for this report was done by the Coffee Forest Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. In 2010 Kew also concluded that, after studying 4,000 species, one-fifth of the world's plants overall and one-fifth of the world's mammals are at risk of extinction.

Never mind the direct loss of food crops for the world's most vulnerable people, they will also face a sea change when they're unable to grow or raise food bound for the dinner tables of the less vulnerable that they used to sell for cash.

Remember when climate change made headlines back in 2007 when Al Gore and the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change?"

I've been tracking policy changes and politics since then and not much has changed. In fact, the Columbia Journalism Review reports not only less coverage of climate change in mainstream media but public fatigue about hearing about it as well.

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