Global temperatures increasing steadily at their fastest rates in millions of years? Very scary. Glaciers calving and collapsing into the sea? Hard to miss. The Atlantic Ocean lapping down the streets of Miami? Front page news almost everywhere.
Others — like declining soil health — may be a little less immediately dramatic, but they can be equally impactful and even more far-reaching. It’s not the sort of thing that inspires a telethon, but over time the toll of erosion, pollution, losses in organic matter, and other soil impacts of the climate crisis imperil a very basic human need — to eat.
The health and vitality of soil everywhere, from the smallest backyard garden to the largest Midwestern farm, plays an integral role in food production — and it’s threatened by climate change.
“I think a big problem that people have when they talk about climate change is they don’t emphasize enough the risks to food production, and I think that really shortchanges some of the arguments and the concerns down the road,” says journalist and author Chris Clayton. “The idea that you could have millions of migrants moving all over the world because they can’t eat, and the disruption and instability that creates doesn’t get enough appreciation in the world.”
Clayton is the agriculture policy director of DTN/The Progressive Farmer and the author of The Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change, which examines the conflict in rural American farming communities over climate change.
He puts the stakes of the climate crisis on agriculture and food production into stark relief. “[E]verybody has to eat. You know? And if our population is growing as everybody says it’s going to be growing – 9.6 billion people by 2050. That’s two-and-a-half billion more people than now,” Clayton goes on to explain. “How are you going to feed them in a more volatile weather climate? Every single year, every single day. And when that year hits where food production in two or three bread baskets around the world is short a little bit – 10 percent here, 15 percent there – the risk of political instability becomes huge.”