Often times it is all to easy to take comfort in the thought that climate change will affect someone else or someplace other than our own communities. It is hard to picture our own quality of life changing, especially for the worse.
Yet an authoritative new study, published last week, challenges any complacency we might have sitting comfortably in the rich world. The new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, says that climate change in already having visible impacts in the United States.
The report - Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States - warns that climate change impacts are expected to become increasingly severe for more people and places as the amount of warming increases.
The report, first commissioned in 2007, offers an objective scientific consensus about how climate change might further affect the United States and confirms previous evidence that global temperature increases in recent decades have been primarily human-induced. The report shows how climate change in the U.S. is already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health.
So what does the report say about our ability to produce food. Well the experts conclude that U.S. crops and livestock production will be increasingly challenged. While many crops show positive responses to elevated carbon dioxide and low levels of warming, higher levels of warming often negatively affect both growth and yields. There is the potential of increased pests, diseases and extreme weather all impacting agriculture, which means lower yields and some key crops not performing as well in certain regions as they have in the past. Particularly problematic will be the stresses caused by climate change on livestock production.
In addition, impacting both agriculture and livestock production, will be climate change stress on water resources in the United States. While water is an issue in every region of the U.S., it will hit some harder than others, especially in the West (also the heart of the country's horticultural industry).
The report does not set out to offer policy solutions, but to highlight the need for early and what the NOAA calls 'aggressive' action.
The most striking lesson for me, from reading the section of the report on agriculture, is the urgent need for food business to assess and detail the business 'risks' climate change poses to their operations, particularly in relation to their supply chains, and their exposure to the agricultural and livestock value chains most likely to be impacted by climate change.
A further area, already undertaken by some food and beverage businesses, is for food businesses to explain the short- and long-term actions being taken or developed to adapt or mitigate against these 'risks'. The sooner the better, if this report is anything to go by.