Failure to act on climate change will be catastrophic for food production

The recent national climate assessment paints a grim picture for society and for the future of the planet. In particular, food and agriculture are strongly affected by climate change. The assessment states that climate change “has the potential to adversely impact agriculture productivity” from local to regional to continental levels. It is time to face reality that the impact on farm income and global food security, especially in the developing world, will be significant. As an agricultural power, the bread basket of the world, the United States cannot ignore the challenge.

What exactly will happen to American agriculture as a result of climate change? Crop and livestock production in certain regions will be reduced or threatened by the direct effects of climate change on temperatures and rainfall, which could cause more flooding and droughts. The secondary effects are nearly as bad, like increased weed, pest and disease pressures, reduced crop production and quality, and damage to infrastructure. The report says that some of these negative effects can be mitigated by farmers adapting new techniques, altering planting decisions, farming practices, and using new agricultural technology. But only if we act now.


The impact will be very significant on irrigated agriculture. American farming productivity relies heavily on irrigation systems. Agriculture is responsible for about 70 percent of all water consumed in the United States. But climate change threatens the availability of water resources through increased drought and rainfall unpredictability. While water scarcity will be most noticeable in row crops such as corn and rice, it will also affect specialty crops like almonds and certain fruits. This case is especially true in the western region of the United States and other arid areas where adequate water availability is critical to food production.

Farmers and ranchers are very innovative, and with adequate help from both public and private agriculture and food research institutions, farmers can prevent the most destructive threats from climate change. Farmers need to adapt through better water management and modern plant breeding techniques. More attention must also be given to food waste and crop and livestock loss, including a respect for diet and nutrition challenges among consumers. The key is to give the agricultural research community enough resources to develop new technologies, through government and private sector budgets that prioritize these issues.

While many parts of the global economy are impacted by climate change and extreme weather variability, food production is the most vulnerable of all sectors and one of the most important to humanity. Addressing the challenges of agriculture producers must be an integral part of the solution to climate change. Similarly, climate change denial must be understood as a true dagger in the heart of international food security.

Perhaps by making climate change about food production, we can unlock some action from our government to do something about this critical and dangerous issue. President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE and many Republican lawmakers are heavily supported by the agricultural community. Farmers who vote for Republican lawmakers should tell their elected representatives that this is not an argument about plastic straws, but rather about their livelihoods and their ability to feed Americans at home and people around the world.

I believe that human behavior is a major cause of climate change, but in some sense it does not matter who or what is causing it, as the impacts of our failure to act will be catastrophic for believers and nonbelievers. We know what needs to be done, so now it is time to take action. The light at the end of this tunnel is that the United States has the capability to weather this crisis and in the process preserve the agricultural economy, enhance farm income, preserve the global ecosystem, and ensure that consumers here and around the world have a secure supply of food.

Dan Glickman served as United States secretary of agriculture under President Clinton and represented Kansas in Congress for 18 years. He is now a vice president of the Aspen Institute and a senior fellow with the Bipartisan Policy Center. You can follow him on Twitter @DanRGlickman.