Friday, May 6, 2011

Is global warming affecting food prices?

A new study published in the journal Science today explores the effect of global warming on the agriculture of the world and whether or not it is affecting the price of food worldwide. The researchers found that in many parts of the world the warming of the earth is already having a profound effect on agriculture. For example, wheat yields in Russia are down by about 10% in recent years while also declining by a few percentage points in places like India, France and China. Likewise, corn yields are down in many of these places.

On the positive side of the ledger, the researchers noted that the excessive carbon dioxide that we are pumping into our atmosphere does act as a fertilizer to encourage plant growth and this offsets some of the losses from higher temperatures. Plants can only adjust to higher temperatures to a certain extent, though, and may quickly reach the point of diminishing returns, or even the point of no return. Indeed, as temperature increases are expected to accelerate in coming decades, the likelihood is that such a point may be reached fairly quickly.

A very interesting finding of the study was that so far the effect of global warming has been negligible in North America and researchers point out that this may be one of the reasons why many here deny that such change is taking place. If it's not happening to them, it doesn't exist, they believe. But all over Europe, in large parts of Asia, and in some parts of Africa and South America, the detrimental effects are already being felt, causing crop losses and accounting for price increases of about 6 percent in food prices. Moreover, this is happening in some of the poorest parts of the world where people are least able to afford the increases.

Although we haven't been affected that much yet, we cannot expect our luck to hold out. In fact, the current state of weather in this country - including the drought here in Texas - argue that our luck may have already run out.

But even if our good luck continues, don't we owe something to the rest of the world that is suffering from our unwillingness to do anything about our massive amounts of greenhouse gases that we are sending into the atmosphere? Ethically, morally, the answer is clear to me. We don't have a leg to stand on and we would be convicted by a jury of our peers.

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