A renewed sense of urgency

Posted on May 11, 2011 by David Creech

Two studies caught my interest last week.  The first, from the UN, estimates that in October of this year, the world’s population will exceed 7 billion. If the current trends continue, in 12 short years (before my daughter is in high school!) there will be 8 billion human beings on our island home.  It is now estimated we will surpass 9 billion sometime in 2041.  Rather than plateauing, the UN estimates that human population will continue to increase past 10 billion sometime in 2081.  Most of the population increases will be in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania.

The second, in the journal Science (for a quick overview, here is the NYT article that grabbed my attention), interpreted data to demonstrate that we are experiencing decreased yields of corn and wheat in some regions of the world.  (Other staples appear to be more or less unaffected.)  The authors attribute the lower yields to higher temperature, suggesting that as the world gets warmer yields of these basic staples will continue to decrease.  The authors note that in some ways the increased carbon in the atmosphere is helping plants grow more food, thus offsetting some of the impacts of climate change.  The authors do suggest that as the temperature continues to increase the yields may decline a a more rapid rate.

In other posts I have noted how climate change presents problems to subsistence farmers: since the rains are less predictable, small subsistence farmers are increasingly unsure when to plant.  If they plant too soon and rains do not come, they lose their crop.  If they plant just prior to a heavy rain they risk losing their crop as the seeds are washed away.

In a world with decreasing food yields and more mouths to feed, effective and decisive responses to hunger and the environment are desperately needed.  In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus famously said, “… do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  In light of these two reports, I’m feeling like tomorrow’s problems are actually today’s.

-David Creech