More Expensive Food
Within the span of a generation, Americans have gone from a seasonal crop cycle to a world where fresh strawberries are available every day of the year, not to mention exotic fruits like pomegranates and goji berries. But that could change quickly. As climate change increases the impact of storms, pests and crop diseases on agricultural production and renders some regions unusable for agriculture, food supplies are expected to decrease and become more expensive. In addition, climate change, combined with overfishing, is dramatically decreasing seafood stocks.
What Happens Next?
According to NASA, as the world consumes more fossil fuel, greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to rise, and Earth’s average surface temperature will rise with them. Based on a range of plausible emission scenarios, average surface temperatures could rise between 2°C and 6°C by the end of the 21st century, dramatically increasing the intensity and frequency of weather events.
As the effects of climate change accumulate, some scientists say we may have reached the point of no return. 2016 was the hottest year on record, and the third year in a row to break consecutive heat records. Of the 17 hottest years on record, 16 of them have occurred since 2000.
A global effort to curb emissions, protect and expand existing forests and switch to low-impact energy sources has the potential to slow the progress of climate change, but such a concerted effort is unlikely. In the hours following the Donald Trump’s inauguration, the U.S. government removed climate change information from its website. In the following days, the administration announced plans to revive the Keystone XL and North Dakota pipelines. Next, Trump is expected to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, in which 196 nations agreed to come together in a last-ditch effort to save the planet from the effects of climate change by limiting carbon emissions. The Earth has already warmed a degree, and the agreement asks countries to take measures to limit further warming to two degrees; without it, the planet is expected to warm by 3.5 degrees by 2100.
However, if short-term financial rewards trump long-term security for future generations, the administration may reconsider. Positioning itself as an isolated nation in a global community means the U.S. will be left out of the profits as well as the costs of participation. The economy and national security could suffer, says Andrew Light, a distinguished senior fellow in the climate program at the World Resources Institute, who was also part of the climate team in the State Department leading up to the agreement.
“I think if the U.S. withdrew, then it would probably make it much harder for [U.S. renewable energy companies] to sell their products around the world, because they’ve got competition,” says Light.
In 2016, China announced plans to invest $361 billion into renewable energy. The initiative is anticipated to create more than 13 million jobs and enable the country to reduce its dependence on polluting fossil fuels, and to lead the world in developing the innovations that could power the next century. China’s recognition of climate change and its embrace of initiatives to solve it could make the country great — while the U.S. clings to dirty 18th century fuels.