Last month, the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the government agency that collects data dealing with climate change, featured an article in their Climatewatch report called “The New Climate Normals: Gardeners Expect Warmer Nights.” Each decade, NOAA issues a report documenting the 30-year average for temperatures, to compare against current ones. The report found that, while daytime temperatures have risen, nighttime temperatures have gone up even more.
This has meant that, in the US, the danger for wildfires and the prevalence of pest insects has increased. The soil’s ability to absorb water decreased during protracted, dry periods, when top soil cakes and crusts. This is an enormous problem for farmers. In the industrial agricultural model, more pests are controlled with more pesticides. Lack of rainfall means more irrigation, which takes aquifers and water tables. The problem is not only isolated to the US. Climate change is a global problem. And agriculture, which depends on the maintenance of natural systems to produce food, is a huge plank in the platform of the increasing dangers of climate change.
Climate change can be understood in terms of long-term effects: weather patterns and cycles. With the retention of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, many natural systems have been thrown out of place. Summer and winter months have become more intense, storms and flooding more severe. So have droughts. Ironically, it’s not only burning fossil fuels that has affected farming. Speculative investment in oil prices have driven up global staple food prices, which have led to riots. Industrial agriculture is a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.
How can agriculture meet these challenges? One the macro level, grassroots groups of farmers have banded together to advocate a global response to climate change. And, at a smaller, scale, organic, biodynamic and Permacultural farmers are bucking the industrial agriculture model and doing without the ecologically-intense inputs that large-scale farming requires. Consumers have become savvy about the distance that their food took from the farm to their table and have supported models such as Community Supported Agriculture, which works in concert with local farmers. Some farmers are even adapting crops specifically for projected changes in climate, selecting for varieties that are more drought- and pest-resistant. Seed saving has come back into greater practice and some farms have focused on planting crops that their indigenous predecessors used to cultivate in their specific landbase.
Taken together, these steps are significant, but addressing large industries and the energy use of global populations are the only things that can halt the most severe effects of climate change. To that end, an international treaty on sharply reducing carbon emissions would do more than every organic farmer combined. Climate change is something that effects us all. We can imagine it most viscerally in a scenario where farms are unable to operate. We wouldn’t be able to eat.