The Looming Reality of Agricultural Alterations Amidst Climate Change
By Lizzie Quinn
Amidst two pandemics, COVID-19 and rampant race-based police brutality, it is relatively easy to shy away from conversations revolving around the anthropogenic causes of a changing climate. Global travel has dramatically dropped since lockdown procedures began around the beginning of 2020, and many climate scientists are concerned with how to keep global fossil fuel emissions at this diminished level. When people from around the world inevitably flock to planes, trains, and automobiles of all kinds to make up for lost time, will the looming threat of a warmed Earth be itching at the backs of their minds? Will returning back to normal be for the best? It will certainly take multiple generations of humanity to adapt to a planet predicted to be warmed nearly 1.5℃ since the pre-industrial era. While there are predictions circling regarding how humans and other mammalian species will survive in the coming years amidst climate change impacts, one thing is certain: we must be ready to adapt.
Even with this six-month dip in fossil fuel emissions in the commercial transportation sector, predictions for the world in 2050 remain less than ideal. Rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and bouts of sporadic weather changes will disproportionately affect low-lying nations and impoverished communities. And while the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu is predicted to be fully submerged by the year 2100, less extreme climate change implications will soon trickle into every aspect of life for even the residents of landlocked states in the U.S. like Montana and Nebraska.
For a slow-moving atrocity that has long-term repercussions, a changing climate will certainly have effects that circle back into the agricultural industry. Agricultural production in the United States alone contributes approximately 10.5% of the 6,677 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted in a single year. The majority of emissions in the agricultural sector arise from deforestation to make way for increased cropping acreage, methane production from livestock, and fertilizer runoff that cycles back into the ozone in the form of nitrogen oxides. Yet, the very same industry that contributes emissions that remain in the Earth’s ozone is also adversely impacted by climate change influences. Sporadic rainfall patterns, temperature extremes, and changes in pest presence will massively alter how our food — both in terms of crops and livestock — is produced. Temperature and drought-resistant crops will gradually wean out their water-heavy counterparts, and the coming years will surely witness a spike in the demand for genetically modified crop variations. And since human beings rely on a rounded diet of carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, fiber, minerals, and vitamins in order to survive, modifications to how and what crops are produced will undoubtedly transform the chemical makeup of the next generations of humanity.