2010 was a particularly frustrating year for climate activists, at least in America. It was a year of massive, destructive climate catastrophes, and it barely caused a ripple in American politics. Growing up, I learned a lot about how important rainforests – the Amazon in particular – were for producing oxygen. 2010 marked the second time since we were able to measure it that the Amazon rainforest suffered a drought so severe that it became a net producer of CO2. That particular headline was overshadowed, mostly by the flooding in Pakistan.
Because that was also the year that Pakistan got so much rain that about 20% of the country was under water. But of course that water had to come from somewhere, right? A lot of it came from Russia, which was suffering a heat wave and drought so severe they had to halt grain exports, causing global food prices to rise. The global river of wind called the Jet Stream had changed its pattern, and that held the heat on Russia, sucking up all its water, and carrying it over to the mountains of Pakistan, where a continent’s worth of rain was dumped on one small country. All of that also lost a bit of attention when Nashville flooded over here. Oh, and China had some problems, as did Australia. The whole planet got hit pretty hard all at once, and it caused food prices to spike. And to be clear – when food prices spike, that means that there really is less food. The whole planet got closer to starvation in 2010, and there were, without question, people who did starve to death, because – and it can’t be said enough – a bunch of politicians and fossil fuel executives decided to spent vast amounts of money lying to the whole world.
And the one, consistent refrain from the scientific community was that this was a glimpse of what we can expect normal conditions to be like later on in the 21st century. Almost a decade later, and we’re just as vulnerable. It’s not a question of if we will need food assistance from the rest of the world, but of when we will need it.
So what can we do about this? The first, most urgent thing to do is fight against the current trend towards nationalism and authoritarianism. If we further the divides between our various nations, we will not survive as a species. If the world is made up of self-centered, nationalist regimes who focus only on themselves, then the only “solution” to a nation- or continent-wide crop failure will be war, which will mean more land made infertile, and fewer people able to focus on growing food.
In addition to strengthening international bonds, we should be taking steps to change our own food production. In the long run, if we want a human civilization that can have a long run, multiple-story, enclosed farms may be the only way to both ensure farm production, and allow for natural ecosystems to exist and evolve. I honestly don’t think it would be less resource intensive than current large-scale farming, but the resources needed would be different, and more importantly, available. The primary farming resource for all of human history – predictable annual weather patterns – is now depleted. Our food system is operating on the scraps of stability that remain, but those are going to go away, and it’s going to happen very soon.
Indoor farming is a growing method of food production, but as has been said so often, we need to be mobilizing on the scale of our mobilization in WW2. We could be doing this. We should be doing this. Currently, we’re not.
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