Discover more from Planet Earth & Beyond
We Have Underestimated The Impact Of Climate Change
And it could leave you high and dry.
By now, we all know the drill when it comes to climate change. The global is going to get warmer and destabilise weather systems, making extreme weather more ferocious, more prolonged and more frequent. One of the worrying side effects of these weather events is just how hard they impact our food supply, reducing yields or wiping out an entire crop. As such, experts have been predicting for years that in the near future, even developed nations will see food shortages and massive price spikes, driving rampant malnutrition and poverty worldwide. However, this grim vision of the future recently got far worse. A recent study has found that our climate models underestimate climate change’s impact on food security, as they don’t accurately model compound extreme weather events. But what are compound extreme weather events? How do these models fall short? And what can we do to solve this looming cataclysm?
So, let’s start at the beginning. How does climate change damage our food supply? Well, right now, our crop yields are boosted by our wonderfully stable weather systems, which are kept stable by the Gulf Stream and the Jet Stream. This gives these crops the right environmental conditions for an entire season, letting them grow exceptionally well. But, the Jet Stream and the Gulf Stream will weaken as the globe heats. This will lead to failing rains, extensive frosts and too much heat, which will, in turn, limit how well the crops will grow, dropping the yields and reducing the overall output of global agriculture.
But global warming doesn’t just weaken our stable weather systems; it also drives more potent, longer-lasting and more frequent extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, hurricanes and snowstorms. These events have the potential to decimate or even wipe out entire harvests. As such, they will lower global average crop yields significantly and put extreme pressure on food reserves to see us through the more brutal years.
To help us prepare for this, climate scientists have been using vastly complex climate and agricultural models to determine just how bad this will be. They found that for every degree Celsius of global warming, we will see an average drop in copy yields by 8%. Now, that might not sound like a lot, but we are predicted to reach 3 degrees Celsius of global warming, meaning crop yields will go down by 24%! Such a shrinkage in agricultural output would mean that even well-developed nations like the US would struggle to feed their own population. Needless to say, food poverty, malnutrition and fatalities will ensue.
But a recent study has cast doubt on the climate models used to calculate these crop yield reductions. You see, it turns out they don’t take into account Rossby Waves and how they can cause compound extreme weather events. Let me explain.
It all starts with the Jet Stream. The Jet Stream is a high-altitude, high-speed wind that sits above and in between the lower-altitude trade winds. You can think of it as a river in the sky that winds its way around the world over the central US, UK, Europe and Asia. But, as the planet warms up, the forces which drive the Jet Stream weaken, and it slows down. In much the same way a river starts to meander as its speed reduces, so does the Jet Stream as it slows, creating giant snaking curves in its path which can stay put for months on end. These kinks are called Rossby Waves.
Rossby waves can act as a trap for weather systems and keep them locked in one place for far longer than they should be. These stationary weather systems can create incredibly extreme weather events. In fact, the recent heat dome and the deadly snowstorm earlier this year in Texas were both caused by Rossby waves.
It is incredibly hard to model Rossby waves. Countless interlinked forces go into their creation, meaning long-term climate models simply struggle to take them into account.
According to this new study, this means that these models underpredict how often extreme weather events will happen, as they aren’t modelling one of the drivers for extreme weather. In fact, they found that Rossby Waves can actually make extreme weather compound together, like drought and a heatwave happening simultaneously, or one right after the other.
These compound extreme weather events have a far more significant impact on agriculture than two separate extreme weather events. This is because the crops are already stressed from one of them, so they have no capacity to cope with the other.
To make matters worse, the researchers behind this study also found that Rossby waves, and the compound extreme weather events they can cause, are more likely to occur in so-called “breadbasket” areas. These breadbasket locations, such as Texas, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, grow the vast majority of the world’s food.
As such, the researchers found that climate change will have a far more enormous impact on agriculture than we previously thought, which is catastrophic news!
So, the question has to be asked, can we solve this problem?
Well, yes, if we actually put the work in to transition to net-zero quicker, we can avoid all of this; people won’t die, our economies will be intact, and everything will be hunky-dory. But let’s face it, that isn’t going to happen; we have waited far too long to take climate action and are already playing catch up.
So, rather than stopping these events, can we mitigate the damages?
We do have some options, such as:
Invest in food storage systems that can survive extreme weather
Diversify food sources and production techniques to reduce risk
Adopt water management systems that reduce crop damage from floods or droughts
Implement sustainable farming practices such as no-till agriculture, agroforestry, and cover crops, which helps make crops more resilient
Support smallholder farmers with access to credit and other services to bolster overall agricultural production
Increase public awareness of food security challenges caused by climate change, which can help change buying practices and put pressure on governments
Increase organic carbon in the soil to increase water retention in soil, which can be done with Biochar (read more here) and makes crops resilient to drought
Develop early warning systems for extreme weather events and enable food production adaptation with widespread data analytics and predictive AI
Invest in research and development for climate-resilient food crops, both GM and non-GM
Can all of these changes offset the impact of climate change? Well, that’s where things get scary, as we don’t know. We haven’t implemented and studied these techniques enough to know if they have the potential to cope with the levels of climate change.
We are woefully prepared for climate change and are miles behind where we need to be if we want to see it through unscathed. Research like this study needs to be taken very seriously; they are our way out of a biblical climate disaster, illuminating the path we have to take. But time is running out; we must take massive, decisive action as soon as possible; otherwise, our climate crimes will affect even the food on our plates.
Thanks for reading! Content like this doesn’t happen without your support. So, if you want to see more like this, don’t forget to Subscribe and follow us on Google News, Flipboard, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, or hit the share button below.