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Reporting on Corn Shortage Does Our Future a Disservice by Overlooking Climate Change Link

  For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Farm Issues page and our Environment and Climate Resource Center page.


The January 2009 issue of the prestigious journal Science included an article entitled "Historical Warnings of Future Food Insecurity with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat." Using 23 global climate models, the investigators calculated a 90 percent probability that the growing season temperatures by the end of the 21st century will exceed the most extreme seasonal temperatures on record from 1900 to 2006. That is to say, in less than a century, the average summer temperature will most likely exceed the hottest summer we've ever experienced. The study was framed within the context of the 2007 global food crisis and used historical examples to emphasize the deleterious consequences of extreme seasonal heat on global food markets. It made no explicit reference to anthropogenic warming, but ominously concluded with, "Ignoring climate projections at this stage will only result in the worst form of triage."


Yet it continues. Big news this week highlights the sharp decrease in US corn production due to the worst drought in 50 years. Corn output has particularly broad implications given its uses in ethanol production and livestock feed. Furthermore, the United States is the world's leader in corn production, and as such, the toll will be felt globally.


Lower corn production translates to higher prices for US fuel companies, which are required to ensure that 9 percent of their gasoline pools come from ethanol under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) implemented under Bush II . This ultimately comes out to the biofuel conversion of 40 percent of the domestic corn crop. The pressure of rising corn costs is also felt by meat/poultry companies such as Tyson, and will translate to higher prices for livestock-based products such as cheese and milk .


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