Soybeans and beavers ring an alarm bell for food security
Rising temperatures threaten to cause instability in agriculture — and politics
(A native of England, Matthew Diebel is a veteran journalist who has worked at NBC News, Time, USA Today and News Corp., among other organizations. Having spent his childhood next to one of the world's fastest bodies of water, he is particularly interested in tidal energy.)
Here’s a headline in recent days that seems like a shameless attempt for clicks: “Beavers Have Been Moving to the Arctic.”
But the story behind it is true, as NPR just reported, and details how the cute critters — fleeing north from habitats made too hot by climate change — are making things even worse by building their dams and ponds in tundra areas, thus introducing warmer waters and further heating the region.
The more alarming headlines, though — courtesy of Yale Climate Connections — come from below the Equator, where record-breaking heat waves have been roasting Australia and southern South America, with the Land Down Under recording the temps of 123°F., a record for the Southern Hemisphere.
Why alarming? Because these areas, which are now in the middle of summer, are home to some of the world’s most productive grain- and meat-growing tracts. Argentina, for example — parts of which, along with southwest Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, has been consistently experiencing temperatures above 110F — produces 41% of the world’s soybeans, by far the most of any nation, according to the USDA. It also grows nearly 20% of the world’s corn, trailing only the U.S. and Brazil.
Add that to global food prices that are currently at a 46-year high, and you have a recipe for economic hardship and political shockwaves. For instance, though largely caused by other factors, such as supply chain difficulties, rising food prices in the U.S. are a large contributor to the falling popularity of the Biden administration, something that could have a large impact at the 2022 and 2021 elections. Other nations, especially in the developing world, are even more susceptible to similar forces.
In Australia, meanwhile, a recent report from the country’s Academy of Science, paints a grim picture for the nation’s farms, saying that overall profitability has decreased by 22% since 2000 due to drought and heat, which then leads to farmers being less incentivized to continue their work, a process that has considerable knock-on effects throughout the economy.
The beavers headline is both alarming and amusing, but the more mundane ones from Argentina and Australia are truly frightening.