Global Warming May Make Half the World Hungry by 2100

By Nina Bai | January 9, 2009 5:01 pm

cropsBy 2100, climate change could mire half the world’s population in a food crisis, according to a new report. The analysis is based on data from 23 climate change models gathered in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It predicts a 6 degree Fahrenheit rise in average growing-season temperatures in many areas and a 20 to 40 percent drop in crop yields. The hardest hit will be the tropics and subtropics, home to some of the world’s poorest populations. “You are talking about hundreds of millions of additional people looking for food because they won’t be able to find it where they find it now” [Reuters], said study co-author David Battisti.

According to the report in Science [subscription required], if the buildup of greenhouse-gas emissions isn’t halted or slowed, the odds are higher than 90 percent that average growing-season temperatures will be higher than in recorded history across a big swath of the planet by the end of the century [The Seattle Times]. Rising temperatures may initially speed crop growth, but will ultimately reduce plant fertility and grain production. Beyond the rising temperatures, the danger to agriculture will be aggravated by drought.

The tropics and subtropics–including Africa, the southern United States, and much of India, China, and South America–will be the first to feel the effects. By the end of the century, however, temperate regions will also suffer. The authors cite recent crop failures in temperate regions as cautionary tales: During Western Europe’s record heat wave of 2003, maize production fell by 30% in Italy and France, with wheat and fruit harvests declining by one-quarter. Three decades earlier, record heat in the Soviet Union disrupted the wheat harvest, causing a worldwide tripling of wheat prices — an early foreshadowing of how local problems can ripple through a globalized agricultural economy [Wired News]. A worldwide food crisis, unlike regional shortages, would mean that affected countries would have few resources to turn to for help.

“We don’t know where the tipping points are – they could come quite quickly,” [BBC News] says Geoff Hawtin, director of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture. Beside mitigating the factors contributing to global warming—“We’re not doing a very good job of that,” [BBC News] says Battisti—experts recommend maintaining genetic diversity in crops and seed banks to allow for breeding of heat- and drought-resistant crops. Study co-author Rosamond Naylow says, “This is a compelling reason for us to invest in adaptation, because it is clear that this is the direction we are going in terms of temperature and it will take decades to develop new food crop varieties that can better withstand a warmer climate” [BBC News].

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Image: flickr / Bethany L King

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • Roberto Ruth

    I just really can’t understand how money can be valued more than the PLANET????? I’ll think twice about the world I’d be handing over when I decide to have children or not.

  • Scott

    The IPCC’s job is to “prove global warming exists” how can they be taken as objective. You don’t get grant money if you say that global warmng has stopped. I agree since humans cause less than 3% of CO2 and decaying plant matter causes the rest we should immediately burn down the rainforest to save our climate!

  • Bryan

    I used to read discover magazine before I understood they’re like the fox news of the science world. Just once I’d like to see some critical examination of CO2 theory. How can it be the driver we’re told it is, yet natural cycles manage to stave off the warming of continued increases in CO2 concentration? The radiative effect of further increases of CO2 concentration just do not have the magnitude to drive the climate. Do they add some warming? Of course. And then the water vapor warms land through teleconnections, but it’s the water vapor that does the warming. We’d be better off to construct giant dehumidifiers rather than try to affect climate with CO2.

  • Jim

    Oh, come on! So lets get this straight–if the climate in New York becomes more like the climate in Virginia, then we’re all going to starve? Give me a break! Give me one example in history where increasing the growing season resulted in less crop production.

    To continue to regurgitate this junk science without balance from other scientific viewpoints makes you partially responsible for our limited resources being misallocated. THIS HURTS PEOPLE! Why don’t you put a little bit of science and economics in your publications and calculate how many people will starve for each increase of dollar per kw or btu that our CO2 policies will create! If you don’t start doing some Googleing your publications will become as marginal as newspapers.

  • stew

    Most of the planet will die soon. Many will die from the ice age.

  • David Masten

    Actually reading the report in Science, it appears that the real culprit in any future global food crisis will be political missteps based on economic ignorance. The shortened version of the article is:

    Based on current climate projections, growing seasons will be much warmer introducing agricultural stresses. These stresses will spook politicians into formulating bad policy that will disrupt global agricultural trade and increase instances of famine worldwide.

  • modernrocko

    I’m really amazed.

    This (Discover Magazine) is the last place I would expect to hear people discussing the idea that global warming is not happening.


    Who cares how it is happening? It could be carbon emissions. It could be the earth’s natural cycle. Hell, for all I know it could be some supernatural religious force pushing us toward a “day of reckoning,” I don’t know. But one thing is for certain: IT IS HAPPENING. Let’s stop arguing about what caused it and start talking about what we can do to deal with it.

    If you see a bus screaming toward you at 80 miles per hour, are you going to turn to the guy next to you and start arguing with him about why this bus is coming, or are you going to get the hell out of the way?

    Why can’t we just get past the why’s and start dealing with the problem??

  • Adam

    Nice point David.

    As for the rest, we’d be idiots to still try to use fossil fuels in a 100 years, because of their increasing scarcity and the ever increasing demand for energy. Do we really want to try to burnup seabed clathrates? All the coal? Just how much do people imagine we can burn AND provide economic abundance for the 9 billion people we’ll have by 2100?

  • http://yahoo Gordon

    Scott is so correct, Bryan is also except comparing
    Fox News to this story. Of all the news programs,
    Fox is the only one that’s fair and balanced.

  • Shawn S

    The “evidence” of crop failures used to support this report is not about increased world temperatures as it purports but lack of rainfall and rain clouds that allowed the temperatures to get so high.
    Much of history is not addressed, such as crop failures caused by early and extended winters throughout history, as well as, the times of supposed low world temperatures when certain regions had anomolously high temperatures that contributed to poor crop yeild.
    Perfect climate and regional weather is not, in my view, at all the nuture of the world we live in.
    With that said, I am inclined to believe that the pulbishers of Science, Discovery, and the reports scientists themselves must have biased view of this issue or are not persons of scientific thought as all.

  • John Doe

    GLOBAL WARMING IS FAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • John Doe


  • Cameron Willis

    Curious. Is this a normal number of climate change denialists posting on Discover? Was this article linked or mentioned by a prominent clearing house of such views? Aside from, say, Shawn’s or David Masten’s points, if this is the intellectual tenor and ability of those who deny global warming, or question the scientific evidence, than no wonder their voices, despite the money of oil companies and cigarette companies, are so marginalized.

    This report is hardly news: the US Army has admitted openly that climate change will cause severe problems for food, water and other resources and have factored it into their long term operational plans, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see why changes in climate could upset global food supplies; one of the first things I learnt about climate change, man-made or not, was that its effects were unpredictable and uneven. Some regions will see more rain, others less, as global weather patterns shift; ideal agricultural weather will shift northwards or southwards, but in the case of Canada and Siberia, this new suitable land will still be marginal, acidic soil; the Prairies may see more rain, and indeed droughts might become more severe even as rainfall increases. Of course, given the way food is traded on the market and the nature of trading on futures, it wouldn’t take severe climate change to throw the whole global food economy into chaos, as we’ve already seen with the food riots of the last year in much of the developing world. Of course, this climate change may very well benefit Europe and North America, increasing growing seasons in colder northern climes (an argument Jim regurgitates), but it also might be a disaster for much of the equatorial world, where the majority of the human population lives. But as they are mostly brown, I guess that doesn’t bother us who may benefit from climate change.

  • modernrocko

    Sometimes I think we’re like Lady Lobster in her pot of water. The water is heating up so gradually that she doesn’t notice until it’s far too late for her to do anything about it. She’s cooked.

    The water is starting to simmer…

  • Nick

    These scientists are starting to be more focused on adaptation rather than prevention
    What a depressing situation. It’s almost too late now to turn the corner and prevent the worst effects global warming. We’re… screwed. Why couldn’t we just lower CO2 emissions and build a green economy? It would likely benefit the economy, not hurt it. Damn governments.

  • roy

    This is a very tragic situation, not just the warming, but also the denial. Of course, we’ve were terrible at preventing famine before GCC was even on the radar.

    That being said, now that even Shrub has admitted the reality, there is lots of reason for hope. The rest of the world is ahead of us, but the US will soon be in the forefront, because reality-based politics have returned to DC! yay

  • Jayson o.

    i think this article makes alot of since about the temputures rising and JOHN DOE is a moron

  • codylicious

    i believe global warming is a massive over reaction. its a scam to push gullable people to go green, (which is not such a bad thing).

  • robert s


  • Fantestiny M

    i think that people should leave the climate alone and let it be as it is. what is the fun of tring to mess up the climate ??????

  • Fantestiny M

    just eave the climate alone!!

  • Maria P

    I thnk everyone just needs to keep this climate in good conditions!!!

  • Kari M.

    i do not believe that we will have to worry about that right now beacuse that is a long long time from now….but i think that it might happen and we will have no food but it just might be certain places…. some people might not be effected! Great article! lots of infomation!

  • Jasmine R

    I think that people should leave the climate the way it is and why are they trying to destroy the climate and make people hungry in the year of 2100.

  • byron t

    i think people should keep the climate the same way it is.

  • anna.b

    i think that people should just leave the climate the way it is! i mean why owuld you want to destroy the climate? but if you think about it, 2100 is along ways from now and maybe we shouldnt worry about it so much! but then again we should think about the future and our climate!

  • chris g.

    its not global warming
    Chuck Norris just turned the heat up

  • Chandler brown

    its cold out side why they saying global warming it isnt hot

  • http://discovermagazine Jeremy

    Global warming is fake, everyone is just worried over nothing, its a bunch of CRAP!!!!

  • Jacob H.

    I agree with chris, just messing. This is just a prime example of earth’s repeative cycles of green house and ice house effects

  • SRB

    Build nukes, desalinate ocean water, replenish ground water, make fertile arid soil, grow crops, feed people.

    The needs of the few, who have the power to feed their needs, will kill the many with real needs – hunger.

    F the corporate world, beeautch!


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