Extreme heat waves and drought due to climate change have the potential to shock the global food supply and send prices soaring, according to a new study.
The research, published Friday in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, assesses a worst-case scenario in which extreme weather hits two breadbasket regions in the same year, hammering winter wheat crops in both the U.S. Midwest and northeastern China.
Winter wheat is planted in the fall, goes dormant in winter cold, then gets harvested in early summer. The study found that the extreme weather conditions that would push those wheat crops beyond their physiological tolerances are becoming more likely. If such weather affected multiple regions at once — a scenario possible in today’s climate — it could stress the global food system in dangerous ways.
Erin Coughlan de Perez, the study’s lead author and a climate scientist and associate professor at Tufts University, said the research was meant to show political leaders and disaster responders the degree to which a critical crop is under threat, so that they can prepare accordingly for such a crisis.
“We’re suffering from a failure of imagination in terms of what this could look like,” Coughlan de Perez said. “The whole point of imagining these serious consequences — we could take action to prevent them and build a more resilient system.”
Already, climate change is disrupting food production across the globe. The Horn of Africa, for example, suffered several years of drought beginning in 2020 that killed livestock and wiped out crops. The World Weather Attribution Network determined climate change was responsible for that drought, which left more than 4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. [Continue reading…]