Wouldn’t it be great if you could go to the beach in the winter? What if it meant you could never eat almonds again? Or potatoes? Or cherries? Sure, it’s nice that it’s sunny and warm in the winter now, but global climate change is negatively affecting agriculture around the world, which means it will most likely negatively affect you.
Most people are aware by now that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (think cars and industrial production) and methane (think oil, coal and landfills) are causing the globe to heat up and change in destructive ways. But how do these greenhouse gases affect the foods we eat?
For starters, warmer climates mean more pests and insects are invading crops throughout the year. Before, most pests only harmed crops during the summer months. But now, because of warmer temperatures, pests are able to survive in the winter. This has a number of negative consequences. One is that farmers are losing crops and money. This affects us as consumers because it means price increases in our food — in other words, producers have to make money somehow, so fewer crops means higher prices. It also means that farmers are using more pesticides on their crops because there are more pests they need to get rid of. Pesticides, which can stay on food even once they have reached the grocery store, may cause people to become sick.
Do you like cherries? Well, get ready to kiss their juicy deliciousness goodbye. You see, cherries need time to chill in order to grow. And to chill, they of course need cold weather. Since temperatures have grown warmer, there has been less chill time for cherries. This means that cherries have not been growing as well. If this continues, it could severely deplete the cherry
supply. And no cherries to grow means no cherries for us to eat. But these plump little spheres of succulent goodness are only the tip of the (melting) iceberg.
In California alone, the amount of almonds, walnuts, grapes and avocados are predicted to decrease significantly because of climate change. And not only that, scientists say that the crop yield for almost every single crop grown in California’s Central Valley will plummet nearly 30 percent in the near future. For almonds, that would be like taking 377 Olympic-sized swimming pools full of almonds off the market.
Even in cases in which higher levels of carbon dioxide could benefit a crop’s growth in theory, it could actually hurt its growth in reality. This is because crops, which need different nutrients to grow, can only grow as much as their most limited nutrients will let them. So even if there is more carbon dioxide, if there aren’t enough of the other nutrients, the crop’s growth may be hindered.
Now raise your hand if you can survive without water. Well, it turns out crops can’t either. With the increase in droughts, many crops are not getting the water they need to grow. And, you guessed it, this means more crop failure, less food and higher prices for us consumers.
I’d like to say this story has a simple solution. I’d like to tell you that if you buy fair trade bananas or consume meat fewer times per week or don’t eat blueberries in January — then voila! — we can stop hugging those trees and be on our merry way. But the truth is, while supporting local farmers, cutting down meat consumption and buying seasonal foods may be helpful, the problems causing climate change have roots that go much deeper than the crops themselves. And to dig up those roots, we’re going to need shovels a lot bigger than your average garden hoe. The kinds of shovels I’m talking about are getting involved in your local climate change organization, educating yourself on agricultural policies, voting for change and emailing your congressional representative to let them know you care about our food.
All of this is not to discourage you from making more sustainable food choices in your daily life because change can come at all levels. So if you decide to cut back on meat or turn the other way when you pass those vine-ripe tomatoes from Mexico in the grocery store, that’s a start.
I know it can be easy to feel plowed over by the magnitude of these issues, but take this as encouragement that we can do something — we just have to work a little harder than we thought. So whether you decide to take baby steps or pick up your over-sized shovel and start digging, at the very least, I hope I have planted some seeds.
Cody Dunitz is a senior at UC Berkeley.