Charles W. Elliott
A global pre-eminent insurance market is waving red flags about the risk of climate-change shocks to our world food system that could quadruple the price of basic food commodities, cause widespread famine and social instability, and bring down governments. Are world capitals paying attention?
Adding to the chorus of voices warning of threats to the global food system caused by climate change is global insurer Lloyds, which recently issued its report, “Food System Shock: The insurance impacts of acute disruption to global food supply“. Food System Shock is one in a series of Lloyd “emerging risk” reports that address risks that are “perceived to be potentially significant but which may not be fully understood or allowed for in insurance terms and conditions, pricing, reserving or capital setting.” This is not the first risk report on climate change issued by Lloyds (see, Lloyds’ Catastrophe Modelling and Climate Change (2014)), nor the first to address global food security (see, Lloyds’ Feast or Famine (2013)). But it is the first by Lloyds to connect these two, explicitly addressing the impacts of climate change on food production and follow-on effects to society in a globalized economy.
Ven. Santussika Bhikkhuni
A couple of weeks ago, the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a report intended to dispel the fog of disinformation about the reality of climate change and to impress on us the urgency of taking action. What we need to know is what we ourselves can do about it.
One day, when I was talking about the importance of taking immediate action on climate change, a good friend of mine said, “I just wish the scientists would get together and tell us whether they think climate change is happening.” Well, my friend, there is a paper I want you to see.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, points out that earlier civilizations often collapsed because of food shortages brought on by unsound agricultural practices. The Sumerian civilization sank because their soil was ruined by rising salt levels, the result of a design flaw in their irrigation system. The Mayan empire fell due to soil erosion, caused by excessive land clearance to feed their population. We now stand in a similar position, facing an acute threat to our own food system, and the immediate danger comes from a changing climate. But there is a major difference between our civilization and earlier ones: we have a clear scientific understanding of the roots of the crisis and are thus in a better position to respond to it. Collapse is not inevitable. The big question we face is not a “why” but a “whether”: whether we will act effectively before it’s too late.
Brown also says, in the same context, that economic and social collapse was almost always preceded by a period of environmental decline. This indicates that there is generally a margin of time in which we can pull back from the brink. We’re now in that phase of decline, and the need to act promptly and decisively to preserve the world’s food system cannot be overemphasized. We’ve already delayed too long. At present close to a billion people suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. If the food system fails to produce enough food to feed the planet, millions more, mostly children, will be consigned to a life of perpetual want, even to death by starvation. In countries stricken with food shortages social chaos will erupt and food riots break out. Migration will increase from poor countries to more affluent ones, triggering a backlash of resentment. States in the poorest regions will totter and fail, perhaps unleashing more waves of violent terrorism. Continue reading
Moved by the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the ongoing conflict in Syria, Buddhist Global Relief has made an emergency donation of $10,000 to the World Food Programme (“WFP”) to help feed families forced from their homes.
According to the WFP, over 1.2 million people are displaced inside Syria and some 250,000 people have fled the country and become refugees in neighboring countries. Many fled the conflict zones with their families under shelling and gunfire from both government and rebel forces, often able to bring along only the clothes that they were wearing. Harsh conditions in refugee camps—including plummeting temperatures and flooding—are making for a life of intense suffering. Many families living in tents lack heaters and winter clothing.
Food for these families is the most critical need. It takes only $72 to provide a month’s worth of food for a Syrian refugee family. BGR’s donation will feed 138 families for an entire month during the difficult winter season.
The WFP is the food assistance branch of the United Nations, and it is the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing global hunger. It is funded entirely by voluntary donations. To read more about the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and to make a personal donation, go here.
We are thankful to BGR’s generous donors who are making this emergency food donation possible.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
Last month, the international relief agency Oxfam issued a briefing entitled Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices, which deals with the impact of extreme weather events on global food prices. The briefing, a summary of a longer research report, makes an important distinction between two kinds of effects that climate change will have on food production as our planet grows ever warmer. The first, the one with which agronomists and climate scientists have primarily been concerned, is the incremental decline in average crop yields caused by gradual increases in global temperature and changes in precipitation patterns.
As temperature rises to a certain optimal range, crop yields rise proportionally until a peak is reached, at which point, with further increases in temperature, they start to decline. Studies of rice harvests in the Philippines, for example, show that for each degree Celsius rise in temperature above the optimum during the growing season, yields of rice decrease by 10%. A similar pattern has been noted for other staples. Drops in production inevitably cause food prices to escalate. Research suggests that the average price of staples such as corn could more than double over the next twenty years, with up to half the increase due to changes in average temperatures and rainfall patterns.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
The drought currently besetting the U.S. is said to be the worst in fifty years. Engulfing some 60% of the country, it has struck deep in the midwest and plains states, a region known as the nation’s grain basket, the heart of the global food supply. The harshest blow has fallen on the corn crop, which is pivotal to the task of feeding the world. According to the Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin, as of July 31st, 48% of the corn crop was rated poor and only 24% good or excellent. This is extremely disheartening when compared with last year’s rating of 14% poor and 62% good or excellent. Moreover, at this late point in the summer there is no chance left for a change of fortune, and farmers’ hopes and worries have now moved on to next year’s crop.
To grasp the full significance of the drought, it’s necessary to note that the U.S. corn harvest is the most abundant source of grain in the world. According to global systems expert Lester Brown, corn accounts for four-fifths of U.S. grain production. The U.S. leads the world as an exporter of corn, and many countries depend for sustenance on a healthy American corn harvest. A disruption in our corn stocks thus sends shock waves far and wide, portending increased hunger not only this year but in years to come. Continue reading