Periled planet: Scorching heatwaves put global food security at risk
Researchers warn that human life and the food supply chain are endangered as heatwaves are becoming more frequent and intense.
Researchers are warning that successive heatwaves are posing a severe threat to nature's ability to provide food. The Earth is experiencing record temperatures, resulting in devastating consequences for both land and ocean ecosystems. Human life and the food supply chain are endangered as heatwaves are becoming more frequent and intense.
John Marsham, a professor of atmospheric science, emphasizes as quoted by The Guardian that the global food system is at risk, as simultaneous major crop losses in different regions could significantly impact food availability and prices. Marsham went on to say that natural ecosystems and farmed lands are vulnerable and cannot adapt to extreme heat like humans can with air conditioning.
Europe, the US, and China have all experienced heatwaves that led to crop failures and losses. These events are expected to become 12 times more frequent by 2040 compared to pre-warming levels, leaving nature with insufficient time to recover.
The climate crisis not only increases atmospheric heatwaves but also leads to oceanic heatwaves that harm coastal communities and threaten marine life, another crucial food source for humans. The stress from heatwaves causes massive die-offs, as seen with the 2021 "heat dome" event that killed an estimated 1 billion marine animals off Canada's Pacific coast.
A cluster of factors, which for most countries consists of a combination of #economic shocks, conflict, and insecurity, as well as displacement and natural catastrophes, was identified by the #UN as the cause of severe food insecurity. pic.twitter.com/DrVUk66vGo— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) July 7, 2023
Daniela Schmidt, a professor of earth sciences, expresses concern over the often overlooked impact of marine heatwaves, which can silently cause extensive damage. Vulnerable ecosystems, particularly tropical oceans with stable year-round temperatures, are at risk. For instance, the warming of 2°C is expected to devastate tropical coral reefs, jeopardizing their significant biodiversity and support for millions of people, mostly in impoverished countries.
The implications of extreme heat on land vertebrates are becoming apparent, with up to 41% of them projected to experience extreme thermal events by 2099 under a high-emissions scenario. Hot temperatures induce various problems for species, affecting growth, fertility, immunity, and behavior, and could drive more species toward extinction.
Dr. Nicole Miranda, a senior researcher at the Oxford Martin program on the Future of Cooling, believes that nature itself can play a crucial role in mitigating extreme heat effects. Bodies of water, such as ponds and fountains, can make landscapes more resilient in hot, dry summers, reducing the risk of wildfires and alleviating drought impacts. Vegetation also helps passively cool surroundings through shading and evapotranspiration.
While research is only beginning to uncover the full extent of heat's impact on ecosystems, urgent action is needed to address the consequences of climate change. Preserving natural environments and implementing measures to cool urban areas are essential steps to protect the planet's biodiversity and ensure a sustainable future for humanity.