Climate Change Slams Food Production: Agricultural Investors To Rake It In

Sometimes you've just got to laugh. Tuesday's Globe and Mail led it's investment section with an article titled “Warming Trend May be Boon to Canada.” The piece focused on a new study, published in Science, which shows that since 1980 rising temperatures have reduced global yields of wheat and maize by 5.5% and 3.8% respectively. The report may be the first to conclusively show that climate change is already taking its toll on global food supplies.

The Globe and Mail's take on the situation: it's a great time to invest in Canadian farmland! If that isn't a perfect example of the situation we are in, then I don't know what is. The title may as well have been “Looming Global Food Instability A Great Opportunity!”

There may be nothing wrong with Globe's investment advice. Both the United States and Canada have been spared the temperature increases that have damaged yields in Russia, India and France (the three countries hardest hit). As prices rise globally, still productive farmland will generate increased profits.

But there is a catch.

Almost all climate models (some covered here) project that North America will be hit by the same warming trend. David Lobell, the lead author on the report and an assistant professor at Stanford University, points out in another interview that so far North American farmers have been lucky. But its unlikely that we will dodge the bullet for long. That's a risk to bear in mind before you plow your savings into farmland. For some reason, the Globe doesn't mention it in their rosy coverage of Lobell's findings.

Beyond that, there's something truly unsettling about the fact that “Warming Trend a Boon” is the only coverage that this report has received in Canada's major national newspaper. In a country with a significant agricultural sector, there are other points for us to learn. As Lobell points out (but not in the Globe), “I think the real take-home message is that climate change is not just about the future, but that it is affecting agriculture now. Accordingly, efforts to adapt agriculture such as by developing more heat- and drought-tolerant crops will have big payoffs, even today.”

Lobell's report also has implications for how we build our cities.  Urban food security is becoming an increasingly hot topic on the international stage, ever since food price riots created instability in cities around the world in 2008.

In the North American context, rising food prices are something cities need to take into account as they plan their development. Protecting local sources of food is an important reason to expand both urban agriculture and the protection of farmland around our country's cities. Building dense, walkable, multi-use urban areas, not sprawling suburban auto-scape is one way to do that. Passing urban growth boundary laws is a great place to start.

Climate proofing both our farms and cities are important national conversations that have yet to happen. I'd say they are at least as important as the profits that investors can reap while turmoil hits the world's food systems.

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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.