Agriculture / Drought / Environment / Food Security

Severe weather events are behind soaring food prices–Paul Krugman

Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman argues in the New York Times recently that it is severe weather events, exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see with climate change, that have disrupted global agricultural food production, causing world food prices to hit a record high in January (2011).

‘We’re in the midst of a global food crisis—the second in three years. . . . These soaring prices . . . [are] having a brutal impact on the world’s poor, who spend much if not most of their income on basic foodstuffs. . . .

‘So what’s behind the price spike? . . .

‘. . . [W]hat really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. . . .

‘It’s true that growth in emerging nations like China leads to rising meat consumption, and hence rising demand for animal feed. It’s also true that agricultural raw materials, especially cotton, compete for land and other resources with food crops—as does the subsidized production of ethanol, which consumes a lot of corn. So both economic growth and bad energy policy have played some role in the food price surge.

‘Still, food prices lagged behind the prices of other commodities until last summer. Then the weather struck. . . .

‘Don’t let the snow fool you: globally, 2010 was tied with 2005 for warmest year on record, even though we were at a solar minimum and La Niña was a cooling factor in the second half of the year. . . [B]oth droughts and floods are natural consequences of a warming world: droughts because it’s hotter, floods because warm oceans release more water vapor.

‘As always, you can’t attribute any one weather event to greenhouse gases. But the pattern we’re seeing, with extreme highs and extreme weather in general becoming much more common, is just what you’d expect from climate change. . . .

‘[T]he evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we’re getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we’ll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come.’

Read the whole article at the New York Times: Droughts, floods and food, 6 February 2011.

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