SECONDARY IMPACTS OF A CHANGING CLIMATE
As if floods, storms, fires and lack of fresh water weren't enough of a
problem! What makes climate change such a massive threat to life on Earth
are the innumerable ways the effects of a greenhouse-warmed atmosphere
ripple out and cause trouble everywhere.
The 20th century was not kind to plant and animal life on Earth. During that
time the human population has exploded, and increased lifestyle
expectations worldwide have increased the pressure on rare and unique
ecosystems. Though a great amount of land has been put into parkland and
national trust, countries that face great pressures have been known to relax
the rules to such an extent that the lands are far less than ideally protected
from human pressures on wildlife.
While some species continue to be hunted for their flesh, fur and feathers,
most run the risk of extinction through habitat destruction. It is predicted
that Mount Kilimanjaro will loose its snowy cap by 2020 as a result of climate
change induced low precipitation and warmer temperatures. What is less
well known is that the unique habitat that exists at the top of that mountain
will likely disappear forever, too.
Insects and other invertebrates breed faster when temperatures are higher.
As a result, climate change will favor these highly adaptable creatures, likely
resulting in major pest outbreaks in all major agricultural areas. Places
where pest populations have been reliably killed from one year to another
are beginning to see mild winter seasons that leave pest populations
The potential for these secondary effects of climate change to wreck havoc
on food production is enormous. Given that most of the world's caloric needs
are met with just five food crops (maize, wheat, rice, cassava, potato), the
likelihood of one of these crops developing a pathogen such as Southern
Corn Blight in the 1970s or the soft rot bacteria that caused the Irish Potato
Famine is great.
A great many of the pests that threaten agricultural production as well as
human and animal health are insects. These creatures have the ability to
reproduce out of control without predators of their own. Exotic insect pests
without natural enemies are also a concern, especially in area dominated by
agricultural production, such as California that has been protected by
agricultural inspection for many years, now.
Perhaps more importantly, many of the insecticides that are on the market
today for commercial food production are made from oil or with a lot of help
from it. In a carbon-neutral future, these petrochemical inputs are liable to
be saved as a course of last resort when organic methods don't work in a
cost-effective manner for as long as they're available.
FUNGUS AND BACTERIA
Also prone to exponential growth when conditions are right, most fungus and
bacteria thrive in warm and moist conditions. They are also more likely to
invade crops that are stressed from poor mineral nutrition and the low vigor
conditions that arise in drought conditions. When conditions do turn wet
again, the fungus and bacteria are ready to go, faster than most crop plants.
A lack of biodiversity in the plant world can puts crop plants at higher risk
because there are fewer unique plants to breed useful characteristics from.
Though biotechnology and GMO use traits from organisms that would
otherwise be unable to breed, these mutated organisms can get in the pollen
supply of wild varieties, contaminating the wild types with a genotype that
could prove problematic in the future.
FOOD SUPPLY PANICS
The pressures on agriculture due to climate change are intense. Land is
becoming less available as population pressures, especially on inland areas
are due to increase dramatically. Water chaos makes it very hard to rely
upon rainfall without irrigation, increasing the cost of production. Annual
systems are harder to tend under these and increased pest pressures.
Add to this the increased cost of transport from rural to urban areas.
Transport fuel is the most prone to price inflation, and as crops are now
being used to fuel transport, even more food is taken out of the human
supply. During the 2007-2008 spike in the global price of oil, many areas
began to feel the pressure of rising food costs, including North America.
Other countries have experienced actual food riots for the first time (outside
of wartime) in generations.
Simply put, hungry people are not happy people, especially if they're not
accustomed to shortages of any kind. In such circumstances, people tend to
either seek extreme changes or move on.