Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

No more time for failed old-think

Changing climate "deadly for food production"



I've been thinking hard about how to kick off this food column in light of last week's IPCC report on the impacts of climate change and our world's vulnerability, not only regarding food production and security but the whole darn planet.

I didn't want to trot out the usual sound bites, like how B.C. will have to contend with a 1.2-metre rise in seawater on our fine Fraser Delta farmlands; how many of the hungriest will be hungrier; how species ranges, ecosystem interactions, plant diseases and more have been negatively impacted already and will be even more.

Luckily, I see as I do research that my lede is right in line with the head of the IPCC, who hopes the report will "jolt people into action."

So that's my best shot, my jolt, given I can't fill this whole newsmagazine, though I could, with facts and arguments about why we all need to take climate change very, very seriously. Given I can't come round in person and inspire you, beg you, cajole you, boot you in the rear to have you make the right choices in your personal lives, including — underscored in red — getting active politically to light a fire under our politicians and make them bring in the policy changes scientists have been practically begging us for, for, what is it now? Decades?

The IPCC — Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — is 32 years old. It was set up in 1988 by two UN organizations, the World Meteorological Organization and the UN Environmental Programme, and was later endorsed by the entire UN General Assembly. (I'm detailing all this because I've been in London pubs where nearly everyone I spoke with knew about the IPCC and its work; same with Aussies I've met in Thailand, and Kiwis in Banff. We Canucks are ho-hum asleep at the climate change wheel.)

But if you need further evidence of the gravitas of the IPCC's work, then how about this?

"Because you'll no doubt get some naysayers reading Pique, it's worth pointing out that all of the IPCC reports are signed off on by all of the countries that are signatories to the UN Framework Convention On Climate Change, which is about 194 countries," says Tom Pedersen, executive director for the multi-university Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, or PICS, which issued a report last fall on the state of B.C.'s agricultural production in the face of climate change.

"Each government goes through the report line by line and they approve every line, so in terms of the summary report for policymakers, it's essentially almost word-for-word approved."

Oh, and the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore in 2007 for its climate change work.

Based on the input from hundreds of scientists from around the world (831 scientists contributed to the latest assessment report alone), the IPCC has produced, amongst other documents, a series of assessment reports on the state of the world's climate, the first in 1990.

The latest assessment report, the fifth, has been released in sections. The first, describing the physical science of climate and climate change, came out last September, generating headlines like this, from Ars Technica: "It's warmer and we're responsible". (PICS reports that here in B.C., from 1900–2012 the number of frost days per year decreased by 24 days, while winter temperatures rose 2.1°C and summer ones 1.1°C.)

The most recent section of the IPCC's fifth assessment report, all 2,600 pages, was released March 31. Titled "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability", it's also generated plenty of headlines and comments, like these from U.S Secretary of State, John Kerry:

"Read this report and you can't deny the reality: Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice.

"There are those who say we can't afford to act. But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic.

"... We know the security risks of water scarcity and flooding; widespread land and marine species extinction; and devastated crop yields in some of the poorest nations on earth."

The next section from the IPCC's fifth assessment, on how to mitigate or lessen the impacts of climate change, will be released mid-April, so you'll soon see even more headlines and comments.

This is big stuff, huge stuff, and my best advice is to walk judiciously through the media. This column is full of links to original source material in the online version at, which provide a good start. Also, beware of what's called "false balance" in climate coverage. That is, giving equal weight to scientific facts vs. opinions of climate skeptics and other uninformed people.

To that point, there's no more fact-based disagreement on climate change. Just a bunch of hot air deniers backed, often as not, by oil interests. And as the planet scorches or floods, our food supply will be done in the same way.

To wit, a few points, verbatim, from the IPCC:

• "The effects of climate change on crop and food production are evident in several regions of the world.... Negative impacts of climate trends have been more common than positive ones."

• "Climate trends are affecting the abundance and distribution of harvested aquatic species, both freshwater and marine.... These are expected to continue with negative impacts on nutrition and food security for especially vulnerable people...."

• "Studies have documented a large negative sensitivity of crop yields to extreme daytime temperatures around 30°C."

In other words, PICS's Tom Pedersen gives us this takeaway: "With respect to the whole food security issue (worldwide) what we're looking at is an increasing frequency of extreme events. Those are taking the shape of heat waves at the same time we're seeing more intense deluges — extreme rainfall events. And the combination of those two is really deadly with respect to food production."

Take it whatever way you want, but don't take it sitting down. Business as usual on Spaceship Earth, including farming, is kaput. Rattle some drums. Stomp your feet. We have options — viable green energy sources; a new, smarter generation — but no more time for dithering and failed old-think policies and the people who perpetrate them.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who recommends PICS's report, Strengthening B.C.'s Agriculture Sector in the Face of Climate Change.