A recent story in Time magazine links the world’s current food supply chain crisis to climate change. This is false. Although crop production is down at the present and supplies are constrained, other factors are wholly to blame, not climate change. Data and experiments show climate change has improved crop yields for all the major cereal crops, allowing them to set records multiple times during the last 30 years.

The title of Chad De Guzman’s Time magazine article, “Climate Crisis Is Driving Food Nationalism and Changing Global Trade,” is as misguided as it is misleading. De Guzman begins his article by accurately describing the state of the world’s food supply system and the problems it faces, writing:

We have enough food to feed everyone. Cereal production has slightly dipped, but is still higher than recent years, based on United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization data. We are also producing more meat and dairy products compared to last year. Yet the world is looking at an emerging food crisis. Millions of people are already experiencing poverty because of soaring food prices, and as of July 12, at least 19 countries have imposed export restrictions on agricultural goods in the hope of staving off hunger.

He then proceeds to discuss main reasons for the present crisis.

Supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19 are also partly responsible for pushing up food prices. So is the Russia-Ukraine war. Ukraine is a major producer of some of the world’s most vital crops—wheat, corn, and sunflower—and the conflict has virtually cut off its links to the global food supply.

Soaring food prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have plunged some 71.5 million more people into poverty, according to a July estimate from the United Nations Development Programme.

So far so good, it is only then that Guzman’s article goes off the rails. First he confuses weather with climate. Then he quotes a single scientist as a source for the assertion contained in his title that the “Climate Crisis,” is behind the current food supply problems, and the policies governments have imposed in response to them.

“Weather shocks only exacerbate these problems, says David Laborde, a senior research fellow at Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). ‘We have strong evidence that it’s also linked to climate change and global warming,’ Laborde tells TIME,” writes De Guzman

Had De Guzman followed the science he would understand, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the World Meteorological Organization do, that weather is not climate. Climate Realism has discussed this same fact here, for example.

Having now discussed Time’s mistaken conflation of weather with climate, it’s time to address the magazine’s claim that climate change is contributing to current food supply problems.

Cereal grains are grown in larger quantities and provide more caloric energy globally than any other family of crops or any other food group. As the Congressionally chartered American Chemical Society notes, the top three cereal crops alone, maize (corn), rice, and wheat, provide more than half of all the calories consumed by humans daily. In developing countries. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes that outside of Latin America cereals also provide people with more protein than meat, fish, milk, and eggs combined.

FAO data clearly demonstrate that during the recent period of modest warming, cereal yields and production have increased significantly. Between 1990 and 2020, the FAO reports:

  • Global cereal yields increased by almost 48 percent, setting records 17 times;
  • Global cereal production grew approximately 54 percent, setting records 15 times. (See the figure below)

The FAO’s most recent report on world grain production indicates global grain production set records again in 2021.

As has been discussed in approximately 140 articles on Climate Realism, what is true of global cereal production, is true for most crops, like fruits, legumes, tubers, and vegetables, in most countries around the world. Yields have set records repeatedly during the recent period of climate change, food security has increased, and hunger and malnutrition have fallen.

Agronomy and Botany explain why crop production and yields have increased amidst global warming, and the same sciences explain why the world should likely expect crop production gains to continue. Modest warming has brought slightly higher rainfall totals, and a modestly longer growing season with fewer crop-killing late-season frosts. In addition, crops are benefitting from higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, which any greenhouse operator will tell you is plant fertilizer, contributing to plants growing larger, faster, and using water more efficiently.

Data, not assertions by a few scientists or claims made in a couple of studies, is what should ground any claim De Guzman and Time make about links between global warming and current food supply problems. The data refutes any claim made that climate change is resulting in lower food production or that it has contributed to the current food crisis. Sadly, it seems, for Time, a once generally respected new outlet, facts have no place in its reporting on climate topics.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News. In addition to directing The Heartland Institute's Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, Burett puts Environment & Climate News together, is the editor of Heartland's Climate Change Weekly email, and the host of the Environment & Climate News Podcast.


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