Crop Failures

Here’s a research report linking climate change to crop failures. I recall a discussion I once had with a neighbor about some fish species, such as Orange Roughie, going extinct, and the potential loss of fish as a widespread food source. Her reply: “I was at the market yesterday and they had plenty of fish.” She could be right. But she’s only looking at current conditions. If the research is right and we begin having shortages, food production can not be accelerated by flipping a switch.  Suggestions for personal action afterwards.

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Scientists Raise Alarm Over Risk of

‘Synchronized’ Global Crop Failures


New research exposes an underestimated risk of simultaneous

global food supply shocks due to climate change.


Becky Ferreira

July 6, 2023


Scientists are raising alarms about the risk of simultaneous crop failures occurring in multiple regions across the globe as a result of human-driven climate change, a catastrophe that poses an underestimated threat to the global food supply, reports a new study.

Using sophisticated climate models, researchers zeroed in on the effects of the jet stream, a system of rapidly flowing winds in the atmosphere, on heat extremes around the world. The results revealed that “meandering” jet stream patterns can produce weather anomalies in some of the most important crop-producing lands on Earth, an ominous signal that “synchronized” harvest collapses could occur in the future.

Climate change, which is driven by human consumption of fossil fuels, is placing enormous new pressures on humans and other lifeforms on the planet. In particular, rising temperatures are fueling more intense extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, wildfires, and storms, all of which have adverse effects on food production worldwide. Given that disruptions to the global food supply can be deadly, especially for import-reliant nations, scientists have been galvanized to better understand the complex risks that climate change poses to global crop yields.

To that end, scientists led by climate scientist Kai Kornhuber from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory set out to study meandering jet streams, which are especially wavy wind patterns in the sky that have remained a wild card in climate and crop models.

By analyzing climate data collected from 1960 and 2014, the team discovered “an increased likelihood of concurrent low yields during summers featuring meandering jets in observations and models” which expose “high-risk blind spots” in climate models, according to a study published on Tuesday in Nature Communications.

Kornhuber and his colleagues in the study, said …


“Concurrent crop failures in major crop-

producing regions constitute a systemic

risk as associated spikes in food prices

can lead to conflict and undernutrition

in countries that rely on imports.


“Thus, understanding the likelihood of

concurrent crop failures and the degree

to which models are able to reproduce

observed relationships is important for

increasing the resilience of the global

food system and mitigating climate risks.


“While climate models have been excel-

lent in projecting the mean response to

continued anthropogenic greenhouse gas

emissions, our analysis suggests that they

might provide a conservative estimate of

how concurrent extreme weather events

driven by specific circulation regimes might

evolve in future and how they might affect re-

gional crop yield & coverability across regions.”


Climate models and projections have become extremely sophisticated in recent years, but it’s still challenging to account for all of the effects caused by the collision of natural climate cycles with human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels.

For instance, Kornhuber and his colleagues note that the intricate relationship between jet stream patterns, extreme weather events, and crop yield anomalies has only been quantified on a regional basis, rather than a global level. Up until now, there has also been a lack of clarity about how shifts in these atmospheric wind patterns could affect crop yields in the future.

The team’s 54-year dataset showed that meandering jet streams have the potential to trigger far more devastating heat extremes than previously realized. The researchers also generated projections for the latter half of the 21st century that show an elevated risk of simultaneous crop failures that could cripple the global food supply chain by triggering crop failures in key breadbasket regions such as India, the United States, and Eastern Europe.

In other words, the new study offers a frightening glimpse of a world roiled by food shortages brought on by meandering winds. As with all other warnings about climate change, the only chance at avoiding this fate is to drastically reduce humanity’s consumption of fossil fuels within the coming years.

The researchers said …


“Our study points towards potential

high-impact blind spots in current

climate risk assessments, highlighting

the urgent need for more empirical

and process-based research to support

model improvements in the climate and

agriculture domains, supplemented by

expert elicitation, qualitative storylines,

and decision-centric approaches.”


They concluded …


“Evidence for high-risk blind spots,

such as an underestimation of synch-

ronized harvest failures as identified

here, manifests the urgency of rapid

emission reductions, lest climate ex-

tremes and their complex interactions

might increasingly become unmanageable.”


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In our little Garden Atrium community, we do have a small greenhouse.  The use of such facilities expands the growing season. And some major food producers have built vast numbers of greenhouses for exactly that reason. Some have also invested in rainwater retention systems, to avoid losing crops to drought. However, I’m neither an agricultural expert nor can I change the jet streams to solve the problems the researchers cited.  When I read this report, I asked “What can I personally do?”  D’s response …


“Some options are to prepare for the worst. Some examples are to keep extra amounts of food – such as rice, beans, oats and wheat – which can keep for long periods of time in sealed containers. Also, canned goods can be kept for years. Think about what items you use on a regular basis, and then each time you purchase, buy extra, just as a safeguard, in case.”


D’s comments remind me of the “net zero” definition we used in designing Garden Atriums.  It means “100% plus storage.” Solar panels only produce power during daylight, so we design for excess and store the extra either in batteries or by sending power into the grid. When it rains, we get far more water than we need, so each home has a cistern, which provides water when it’s not raining. Our refrigerators and freezers have the same function, don’t they?

Almost twenty years ago, after Hurricane Isabell, D had us buy five-gallon hermetically-sealed containers of soy beans, wheat, and other grains. They’re still in fine condition, should remain that way for many more years, and they don’t take up much storage space. If a food emergency never happens, that’s great.  But if it does, we’re prepared.

Meanwhile, transitioning to no fossil fuel use – both in our homes and cars – helps.  We live that way now, and find it’s actually less expensive to do so.

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