Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Eight Foods You're About To Lose To Climate Change


Red wine grapes; click to enlarge (source)

by Gaius Publius

Meanwhile on the climate beat ...

In a piece on the California drought, I added this as an aside:
Note that [Ian Welsh] lists obvious implementable solutions [to alleviate the California drought], like rationing, mandated crop selection — a state-wide ban on almond-growing, for example — and the like. 
Almonds are a very thirsty crop, and almond growers have a lot of state-wide economic power:
Asia’s love of nuts is draining California dry.

Amid one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, farmers are scrambling to find enough water to irrigate lucrative almond trees they planted after abandoning other, less thirsty crops. 

Why’s there such a market for California nuts? As incomes in countries such as China, South Korea, and India have risen, so has demand for nuts that formerly were out of reach for many Asians. Added to the mix are Wall Street firms who, smelling a quick buck, are paying top dollar for vegetable farms and converting them to orchards.
(I hope, as you read, you notice the "free market" working its "solving the climate crisis" magic; or not.)

More about almonds (my emphasis everywhere):
10 Percent of California’s Water Goes to Almond Farming

... This year, farmers have to make important decisions—and it often comes down to money. If given a choice between keeping fruit trees alive (which take years to mature and can bring 10 times more money per acre), or planting rows of vegetables that live only a few months, that’s a no-brainer if you’re trying to maximize profit. This year, farmers are fallowing vegetable fields and scrambling to save high-dollar fruit and nut orchards. The result is counterintuitive: In the midst of the worst drought in half a millennium, the most water-intensive crops are getting priority. ...

Almonds alone use about 10 percent of California’s total water supply each year. That’s nuts. But almonds are also the state’s most lucrative exported agricultural product, with California producing 80 percent of the world’s supply. Alfalfa hay requires even more water, about 15 percent of the state’s supply. About 70 percent of alfalfa grown in California is used in dairies, and a good portion of the rest is exported to land-poor Asian countries like Japan. Yep, that’s right: In the middle of a drought, farmers are shipping fresh hay across the Pacific Ocean. The water that’s locked up in exported hay amounts to about 100 billion gallons per year—enough to supply 1 million families with drinking water for a year. 
Independent of "free market" considerations (and invisible well-funded hands helping politicians make water-allocation decisions), climate change is causing serious food issues. Before I go on, though, two points. These are:
  • U.S. issues, not limited to some faraway dark and foreign place.
  • Current issues, which will worsen each year until we get serious about stabilizing the climate.
We can "win the climate war" by getting serious about climate change — WWII-economy serious, "man on the moon" serious (for what that means, see "An Easter Island Solution" here) — but until we do, this is what awaits our food supply.

Eight Foods You're About To Lose Due To Climate Change

From a Guardian article with the same headline as my subhead above, here's the list of foods, followed by a few of the discussions. Click to read it all. Their list:
  • Corn and the animals that eat it
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Seafood
  • Maple syrup
  • Beans
  • Cherries
  • Wine grapes
And a few of the discussions:
Corn (and the animals that eat it)

Water shortages and warmer temperatures are bad news for corn: in fact, a global rise in temperatures of just 1C (1.8F) would slow the rate of growth by 7%. The impact of a disruption in corn production would extend far beyond the produce section at the supermarket. A great deal of US corn goes to feed livestock, so lower corn yields could mean higher meat prices, and fewer servings of meat per capita.

This isn’t merely speculation: Lobell claims that changes to this $1.7tn industry have already begun. According to a recent study (subscription required) that he co-authored, the world’s farmers have been much less productive in recent years than they would have were it not for climate change. Global corn production, in particular, has already been nearly 4% lower than it would have been if the climate were not warming. ...


In addition to its impacts on land, climate change can also contribute to rising levels of CO2 in the ocean. This, in turn, leads to ocean acidification, which could threaten a whole range of edible ocean creatures. For example, the shells of young oysters and other calcifying organisms are likely to grow less and less sturdy over time, as the oceans’ acidity increases. The UK’s chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport, recently announced that, thanks to man-made CO2, the acidity of the oceans has increased by about 25% since the start of the industrial revolution.

Another problem is that, according to a recent study, most fish are slow to adapt to acidification, leading to a risk of species collapse. Some animals, like tropical fish and lobsters, are moving north in search of cooler habitats, but this migration causes other problems. Tropical fish, for example, are more susceptible to parasites in warmer water, further weakening their species. Meanwhile, lobsters tend to eat everything in sight, so their move puts the native habitats of a host of other species at risk. ...

Wine grapes

Thanks to warmer temperatures, wine grapes will likely soon be in higher demand – making wine more expensive. A 2013 study predicted that “major global geographic shifts” among wine growers – as well as fluctuations in temperature and moisture levels in Europe, Australia, North American, and South Africa – will essentially make the perfect wine grape a moving target. Australia will probably be hit the hardest, as 73% of the land there could be unsuitable for growing grapes by 2050. California’s loss is nearly as high at 70%.

Then there’s the question of “terroir”, or flavor based on geographical location. Wine grapes like heat, but not too much. In extreme temperatures, they can even go into a kind of thermal shock that can severely alter flavor. On the bright side, the grapes also retain more sugar in these circumstances, making the final product higher in alcohol, so the casual sipper won’t need to drink as much to feel the effects.
And don't forget, of course, California almonds, unless the state's growers continue to exercise their political power at the expense of the rest of the residents.

Almonds love their water

Then it's the coastal city-dwellers who might become scarce instead.


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At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the mentioned article:

"Rice exports help bolster Japan's aging farm base and they provide high-paying jobs at California ports, Johnson said."

Those are VERY high paying jobs at the ports.

Would you expect any pushback from the Teamsters, if water rationing affected their cushy jobs?

At 2:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maple syrup, in Canada at least, comes mostly from places with plenty of natural rainfall. Price might go up somewhat, but it won't got away.

The problem is growing goods in a desert which require tons of water.



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