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Highlights: “Hunger in the Age of Climate Change”
The cost, availability, and nutritional content of foods are factors that affect hungry and poor people more than anyone else – and climate change is already changing these for the worse. That was the message of a May 14 panel hosted by Bread for the World Institute and the Alliance to End Hunger.
At the panel discussion, one of the report’s lead authors, climate scientist and evangelical Christian Katharine Hayhoe, explained the science of climate change briefly and noted that the world’s poorest countries and people, who are already suffering the most, will continue to be most vulnerable even as climate change begins to affect everyone.
Two scientists from USDA presented their findings. William Hohenstein (whose father John was a Bread for the World board member in the 1980s!) explained that food availability, access, utilization, and stability are all challenged by rising temperatures and by more frequent droughts and other extreme weather. Lewis Ziska described how rising C02 levels could lead to more food spoilage and contamination; for example, he said, pesticides could become less effective. However, both scientists expressed some hope for the future, with Hohenstein describing new agricultural technologies and Ziska emphasizing the potential benefits of better educating and empowering women and girls (the focus of the Institute’s next Hunger Report, to be released in November 2014).
Sam Myers of Harvard University discussed his research team’s findings that many crops have less protein, zinc, and iron when they are grown in air with higher CO2 concentrations. This may mean that as CO2 rises in Earth’s atmosphere, people will need different amounts and types of food to maintain good health. Finally, Margaret Wilder of the University of Arizona described her work discussing climate change with low-income people in Arizona. Climate change is already making life harder for many Americans struggling to pay higher utility bills, facing a greater risk of asthma and heat-related illness, and noticing that farmers are donating less of their surplus crops to food pantries. As one person interviewed put it, “If it's a matter of feeding my kids and my health, then climate becomes a real issue instead of being an abstract, out-there concept.”
You can listen to the whole discussion and see the slides online here. Bread for the World continues to work to draw attention to the disproportionate effect of climate change on hungry and poor people. This very well-attended event is a gauge of advocates’ increasing awareness that as the global community seeks ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change, we must ensure that the special needs of developing countries and low-income Americans are kept high on the agenda.
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