30 ways extreme weather affects our food
Weather events—particularly those that are disastrous and extreme—can have massive repercussions on the world and its inhabitants. In 2018, climate disasters cost the world more than $160 billion; over the last three decades, 53,000 people have died yearly on average as a result of these disasters. As of Oct. 8, 2019, 10 weather and climate disasters had been reported in 2019 in the U.S. alone at an estimated cost of $1 billion.
2017 saw the most Category 4 hurricanes in the United States in the last 170 years. Weather events caused sudden losses, also called “shocks,” to crops, fisheries, livestock, and aquaculture 226 times between 1961 and 2013. Conditions and events like these also affect the food we consume in ways that impact production, distribution, consumption, quality, and availability. Some of these effects on our food are less severe, but many come with the potential for harmful consequences: toxins produced by crops in response, record-breaking high temperatures, delays in the transportation of crops and foods, imbalances in supply and demand, and skyrocketing prices for produce.
Scientific research shows a rise in the frequency and severity of climate disasters. The U.S. averaged 6.3 weather and climate disasters each year between 1980 and 2018. From the last five years (2014 to 2018), that average is 12.6. But while most of the effects of climate change and weather events are negative, some areas and industries benefit. British fine wine has become popular, states like North Dakota now have a longer growing season, and some California farmers are now growing coffee.
Stacker has put together a list of 30 ways extreme weather and climate disaster affect our food, using a variety of trusted sources. Read on to find out what might be impacting the food consumed around the globe, and how the food and agriculture industries as a whole are seeing change.
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Poison in the crops
In the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi, as well as other areas suffering record-breaking high temperatures, droughts, and sporadic weather conditions, crops like wheat, maize, barley, soybeans, millet, and sorghum may be producing toxic levels of chemical compounds like nitrate in self-defense. The heightened toxins levels may cause health issues in livestock and people.
Flooding and mudslides in China
China's Yangtze river basin saw devastating flooding in the summer of 2016, resulting in huge losses to rice, cotton, vegetable, and livestock production. At least 11 provinces in China saw 8 to 11 inches of rain in one day, leading to flooding and mudslides that resulted in 40,000 homes destroyed, nearly 4 million acres of crops ruined, and 128 related deaths.
Global warming, rising temps, and rainfall changes
Wheat production in South Asia could decline by 50% over the next three decades due to increasing temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns. Areas around the world may suffer a similar fate, as the agricultural production in developing countries like Pakistan and India is predicted to fall anywhere between 10% and 40% in the upcoming years due to global warming. This impacts food security, crop productivity, and overall food supply.
Malnourishment already in the billions
The world saw a 1.4 degree Fahrenheit increase in its mean surface temperature in the 20th century, resulting in consequences for food availability. More than 2 billion people were found to have micronutrient insufficiency, and 795 million people were reported undernourished between 2012 and 2014. Particularly in China, cereals and legumes are the main sources of iron and zinc. With elevated carbon dioxide levels that only continue to rise, many of these staples' nutrients become compromised, which negatively impacts human health.
Greenhouse emissions and rising global temperatures
In the next 80 years, you may no longer be enjoying corn or meat in the U.S. or around the world. Rising temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions are projected to cut the production of corn in half. A predicted global four-degree upswing would lead to problems raising livestock—as corn is a major source of feed—as well as biofuel production.
Food transportation and security
Transportation of food is also affected by extreme weather and climate disasters. Food can spoil or become contaminated if not stored properly, which can result in problems like increased food-borne illness. In the summer of 2012, severe drought affected the Mississippi River—a major crop transportation route for the Midwest—resulting in major food losses.
Ocean and freshwater species suffering
Both ocean and and freshwater species are suffering from climate change, to the detriment of more than 540 million people whose livelihoods rely on these sources. Ninety percent of the excess heat of greenhouse emissions has been absorbed by our oceans since the 1950s, and fish and shellfish are moving north out of their natural habitats to find cooler waters. Warmer waters lead to higher mercury retention, and a higher likelihood for pathogens and marine diseases to thrive. Lobster, red hake, and black sea bass have moved 119 miles north since the 1960s along the U.S. northeast. In Portugal, 20 new species have migrated up from warmer waters.
Fewer nutrients, more foodborne illnesses
Carbon emissions from cars and electricity continue to result in rising global temperatures. The nutrients in our food are being reduced by rising carbon dioxide levels, and as weeds and pests thrive in these warmer climates, farmers are often forced to use more pesticides and chemicals to protect crops making food much less healthy and toxic to consumers. Rising temperatures also result in a higher likelihood of the presence and spread of foodborne illnesses.
Where's the wheat?
Over the last decade, wheat production has been hit hard in places like Australia, the U.S., the Middle East, and Russia due to widespread drought. Russian wheat production suffered the most loss in a generation, resulting in an export embargo. With rising temperatures and droughts, shortages and declines in staple crops may become more common.
Plants and crops at risk for mold
As temperatures continue to rise and heat waves become more common, plants and crops will be at risk for molds like fusarium, which produce harmful toxins. When crops ravaged by drought then experience heavy rainfall, the plants accumulate hydrogen cyanide, or prussic acid, used in chemical warfare to interfere with respiratory function.2018 All rights reserved.