We Simulated How A Modern Dust Bowl Would Impact Global Food Supplies And The Result Is Devastating

impacts A dust storm approaches Stratford, Texas, 1935. George E. Marsh/NOAA

When the southern Great Plains of the US were blighted with a series of droughts in the 1930s, it had an unparalled impact on the whole country. Combined with decades of ill-advised farming policy, the result was the Dust Bowl. Massive dust storms began in 1931 and devastated the country’s major cereal producing areas. US wheat and maize production crashed by 32% in 1933 and continued to fall for the rest of the decade as more droughts hit.

By 1934, 14 million hectares of agricultural land was degraded beyond use, while a further 51 million hectares (roughly three-quarters the size of Texas) was rapidly shedding its topsoil. Millions of people lost their livelihoods. The desperate migration that followed was immortalised in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath.

But what consequences would a disruption like the Dust Bowl have now, when the Great Plains of the US are not just the breadbasket of America, but a major producer of staple cereals that are exported around the world? As part of an international team of researchers, we ran a computer simulation to find out.

We Simulated How A Modern Dust Bowl Would Impact Global Food Supplies And The Result Is Devastating A map of the states and counties most affected by the Dust Bowl, 1935-1938. Soil Conservation Service

More eggs in fewer baskets

Today, the global food system is more connected than ever. Major disruptions to production in one region, like the Dust Bowl caused, could have a ripple effect on global food supply and prices.

Food trade has been increasing rapidly since the mid 1900s, and 80% of the world population now lives in countries that import more food calories than they export. For roughly half of us, dependence on imported calories and protein has increased during the past three decades, while almost two thirds of people increasingly rely on imported fruits and vegetables for essential micronutrients.

Many countries, ranging from relatively small nations like Finland to highly populous China and India, are increasing their reliance on imports while reducing the number of trade links, essentially putting more of their eggs in fewer baskets. At the same time, a few countries are becoming hubs of global food production, such as the US and Brazil who dominate exports of soybean, which is used primarily as animal feed.

Cascading shocks

According to the recent simulation, a decline in US wheat production of the same magnitude as occurred during the Dust Bowl (about 30% over four consecutive years), would deplete nearly all wheat reserves in the US and reduce global stocks by 31%. Since the US is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat and has many trade links, nearly all countries would be affected.

Lower wheat reserves could cause a shortage of products like flour, pasta and bread, making them too expensive for many to buy, especially in poorer countries. Even if a country doesn’t trade wheat with the US directly, the cascading effects of the production shock could be felt through other trading partners. Countries seeking to meet their needs with limited supply from the US would need to increase imports from elsewhere and decrease their exports, passing on the disruption to other trade partners.

We Simulated How A Modern Dust Bowl Would Impact Global Food Supplies And The Result Is Devastating A collapse in US wheat production would have global consequences. Maradon 333/Shutterstock

As global food reserves shrink, it leaves the world even more exposed to future shocks. Without this buffer, wheat products are likely to be rationed, directly raising global food prices.

The dust bowl simulation illustrates how trade can transmit the consequences of production shocks in one part of the world to countries far away. But global trade is a double-edged sword. It can help overcome temporary shortages in local supply and enable a rich and nutritious diet. Globalisation has moved food production to regions where it’s more efficient – whether in terms of economic cost or resources like land and water. This has helped save cropland and water and allowed populations to prosper even where local resources are scarce.

Building resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic has already led to some countries restricting food exports, with the potential for shortages. But the risks of climate change causing shocks in food production are looming too.

The warming climate intensifies extreme weather such as droughts, floods and storms, and increases the risk of simultaneous crop failures around the world. At the start of 2020, unusually wet weather helped breed Kenya’s worst locust outbreak for more than 70 years, which has the potential to consume vast acres of crops.

But even with so much uncertainty and risk, it’s hard to imagine people giving up the benefits of a global food system. Would any of us really want to go back to a time when we couldn’t enjoy food from distant places and different climates at any time of year?

But perhaps we should question the desire for efficiency that has driven the current system and instead aim to build one that can withstand shocks.

Small-scale farmers plant several different crops to ensure the failure of one isn’t a catastrophe. The same principle can be applied on a much larger scale to the global food system. Procuring a diverse range of staple foods and sources for growing them can help to ensure that the failure of one component – whether it’s one protein source or one trading partner growing it – can be compensated by another.

The modern dust bowl simulation can help to illuminate some of the systemic risks in the global food system, but the COVID-19 pandemic is a better demonstration of how fragile our hyperconnected world is. Rather than try to revert to the way things were before the crisis, countries should seize the opportunity to transform this system to something more resilient, so that when the next major disruption hits, we’ll be prepared.The Conversation

About The Author

Miina Porkka, Postdoctoral Researcher in Water and Food System Resilience, Stockholm University; Alison Heslin, Postdoctoral Researcher in Agriculture and Environmental Change, Columbia University, and Matti Kummu, Associate Professor in Global Water Issues, Aalto University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…
White sea ice in blue water with the sun setting reflected in the water
Earth’s frozen areas are shrinking 33K square miles a year
by Texas A&M University
The Earth’s cryosphere is shrinking by 33,000 square miles (87,000 square kilometers) per year.
A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.