The scientists who predicted that climate change “would be relatively manageable for agriculture” and “…that rising carbon dioxide levels” ( the primary contributing factor to global warming) “…..would act as a powerful plant fertilizer and offset many of the ill effects of climate change” were calculating these predictions through a very narrow scope of determination and either knew very little about or were ignoring the complex interaction of soil life. They certainly were not farmers or anyone who has any sense of the necessary balance between the state of the environment and the yield of crops.
Others who propose– “Well, in our zone it will be warmer so more will be produced”– as a solution, have not thought far enough ahead or broad enough in considering the effects of global warming on the interactive dependencies of nature. The wave of change does not just stop and stay static. It will continue to move from region to region creating drastic influences on the behaviors of the pollinators, beneficial insects, fungi, and bacteria that are necessary to the long range production of food. It is not just what we see pop out of the ground that is the measurement of maintaining a sustainable supply of food. It is both the subtle and complex interaction of what creates a healthy soil food web which determines the nutritional content and abundance of the edible product.
We need to embrace not just one supposed “fix” to the dwindling food supply but to encourage and support various approaches to apply depending on the weather and soil conditions of the farm location. To make all farms dependent on the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides which are manufactured by using a rapidly depleting source of fossil fuel creates a price structure that fluctuates with the inevitable rise in the price of these fuels as they become less and less available.
World wide massive use of pesticides and herbicides and the intensely narrow make up of synthetic fertilizers kills off the natural and necessary interactive balance which supplies a rich soil, and, because of the lack of organic matter replenishment to hold onto and to store moisture–erosion becomes a major factor in the loss of topsoil. This obviously affects the quantity of land able to be farmed. Short term thinking will only lead to further catastrophes. What was hailed as “a solution”, the Green Revolution of high yield wheat and corn was only a temporary stop gap and was dependent on high subsidies to farmers to buy the commercially produced fertilizers and pesticides and specialty seeds necessary to the program. These seeds were not viable to reproduce and use for the next planting so that everything had to be purchased every season. When the subsidies were cut the farmers could no longer afford to buy the products. The result of these practices was a soil that had been depleted and starved of its natural balance and thus became barren. Water had become scarce because of overuse and the lack of the soil’s ability to retain it. Lack of crop rotation and the practice of monoculture planting had led to high susceptibility to plant disease and pest wipeout.
What will lead to ameliorating this challenge to our food supply? The situation has to creatively approached–jettisoning narrow minded thinking and then choosing to include the best applicable methods from both the older traditions and the new advances. To consider the complete process rather than just a piece of it. As examples:
soil depletion and rejuvenation, resource conservation, farm size and management, the training of new farmers, the real cost of production and transportation, methods of farming including crop rotation and use of cover crops, the best of sustainability practices, and the education of the public in healthier eating habits.
We must involve participation at all levels and especially listen to the farmers of all size farms as they are the ones who are already experiencing the impact of the changes from global warming. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change downplayed the effects of climate changes by proposing that though the Southern Hemisphere would suffer from the heating up, the Northern Hemisphere would benefit. This is such a simplistic and ill considered conclusion. Number one–what happens to the people in the Southern Hemisphere suffering from these drastic effects? Two–this conclusion totally ignores the distortion of balance that will result, for instance, in the predator/pest habits. The natural controls will no longer be in play. What happens then? More and stronger pesticides will be needed resulting in more and more resistant pests. This is just one aspect of the impact.
Jonathan A. Foley from the University of Minnesota states:
“We’ve doubled the world’s food production several times before in history and now we have to do it one more time—the last doubling is the hardest.”
I think that this is a dangerous statement. First — it is concentrating totally on volume and ignores the issue of nutritional quality of the food being produced. The studies done by the USDA have shown a significant drop in the nutritional value of much of the food presently being mass produced. Second — If one thinks in terms of “the last doubling” it is assuming that the problem will be solved and remain solved—ignoring all the variations that could decrease that “doubling” such as population growth that would only then demand MORE production.
Creativity in sustainable methods of food production, conservation practices, population leveling, and truly being concerned about how we leave this earth to our coming generations is essential to moving forward in discovering our solutions.