The Collaborative Institute

Building Connections

Food Security and Climate Change

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At CIOCS we are working to make connections between climate change, human security and the world’s oceans. Recently, there’s been plenty of news about our warming planet and the impact this has on food security, which relates directly to human security. As Justin Gillis shows in this NY Times article from early June, consumption of basic food items is increasing while production is stagnant or even decreasing. This difference leads to higher food prices, which has a direct impact on social conditions and can lead to volatile situations, as seen in recent years. As Gillis articulates, science has helped show that climate change is helping to destabilize the food system. As climate changes, so do weather patterns. Changing “norms” mean that agriculture has to adapt, while extreme weather and natural disasters disrupt production altogether. All of these changes have put an increased strain on water supplies and on the farmers themselves. The article demonstrates how agricultural production has changed in past decades, often in response to changing technology and demands. As agricultural demands and climate change, people worldwide may experience more unstable social conditions, such as poverty, food or water shortages, or even violence.

Thomas Friedman’s recent Op-Ed piece helps put this increased strain in another light. He breaks down a recent book by Paul Gilding, a veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur, called The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World. Gilding’s work shows that currently humans are using about 1.5 earths at the current global growth rates. However, we only have one planet. Essentially, we’re working at 150% of our sustainable capacity. Gilding helps show how changes are connected:

“If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees,” writes Gilding. “If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth’s CO2 blanket, the Earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet Earth behaves, with social, economic, and life support impacts. This is not speculation; this is high school science.”

In a follow-up article, Gillis poses the question, based on all the information given in the first article: “What do we need to do?” He provides a run-down of ongoing research and projects that are helping to determine answers to that very question. Specifically, he mentions the Beddington Report which examines the need for increased intensive agricultural, but with respect to economically and environmentally sustainable practices. Science and agriculture are working to determine how things are changing and what can be done to adapt or possibly turn things around.

As all of these articles demonstrate, the changing climate has a direct impact on human life and security, by impacting food supplies and the ability to sustain life through agriculture. Just as importantly, these changes impact oceans on earth, as well. 53% of the United States population lives in coastal areas, and many of those residents depend directly on the oceans for their livelihood and personal consumption. Even those who do not live near the coast depend on the oceans for food and other needs. The effects of climate change on weather patterns, the oceans, and, subsequently, human life can be seen in recent events. These events have many lessons to offer regarding preparation and adaptation for human and food security.

Author: The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security (CIOCS)

The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security is distinguished by its focus on the intersections of oceans, climate and security, and emerging associated policy and management implications. Founded at UMass Boston in January 2010, the Collaborative Institute exists to develop and communicate high-value intellectual, policy, and technical expertise to help stabilize the health of our atmosphere, coastal communities and marine ecosystems, and human/national security for all. It seeks on a global scale to create new strategic opportunities to bring innovation to science, policy and communications. Visionary, as well as opportunistic and flexible, the Collaborative Institute uses multi-sector engagement as a cornerstone of its work and uses public/private revenue to sustain its mission.

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