climate change

Well, This Really, Really Doesn’t Sound Good

Photo: Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo/Getty Images

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released another report on the state of things in the Anthropocene, and this one also falls in the category of Really Not Good, subset: We’re Fucked. It’s about the world’s food supply, which, in short, is very much in peril.

Last year, the IPCC delivered stark predictions about what will happen if industrialized countries fail to rapidly curb greenhouse-gas emissions and global temperatures rise over 1.5 degrees. Now the United Nations body has described how our continued wasteful land- and water-use practices are depleting these resources at potentially crisis-inducing rates. Soil is being lost between 10 and 100 times faster than it is forming; places are literally turning into deserts as they dry up.

Agriculture is getting more difficult under climate change, and it’s also making climate change worse. The experts on the panel cited the draining of wetlands, deforestation, and the raising of cattle as practices that contribute untenable amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. What’s more, even some of the innovations devised to combat those gases — planting trees and growing corn to produce ethanol, called bioenergy — will also adversely affect land use, pushing livestock and crops off viable soil.

The bottom line is that drastic changes are needed to mitigate the worst-case scenario, including protecting indigenous populations, aiding farmers in developing countries, and strengthening property rights. The report emphasizes that the world’s most vulnerable populations are already suffering from famine and drought and that migration will only increase as desperate people try to flee their circumstances. The example the authors used is the record numbers of Hondurans, Guatemalans, and El Salvadorans who sought to cross the border between the United States and Mexico between 2010 and 2015, which coincided with an unusual dry period in those countries. There will be climate refugees within our borders too, of course, as rising seas and extreme weather cause mass migration from affected population areas. As one author of the report ominously put it, “People don’t stay and die where they are.”

Well, This Really, Really Doesn’t Sound Good