As reported by EPI yesterday, global grain stocks dropped “dangerously low” in 2012, largely as a result of droughts that “devastated several major crops—namely corn in the United States (the world’s largest crop) and wheat in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Australia.” What makes these lows very dangerous is that consumption of grains are significantly outpacing production. Demand is growing, while more and more crops are withering in the sun.
Though this is a very worrying reality, the production declines are not wholly surprising. We highlighted the unprecedented and global scale of droughts over the past few years in a previous piece “When national disasters go global,” pointing out that the droughts in key grain-producing nations, such as the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, was leading to significantly reduced harvest forecasts.
Adding fuel to the fire (literally) are a number of recent studies drawing strong correlations between climate change and these recent droughts. For example, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Met Office, the 2011 drought in Texas was 20 times more likely because of climate change.
The heat wave in 2010, which affected Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and contributed significantly to the aforementioned reduced harvests, has also been strongly linked to climate change by two recent studies, which found that the heat wave had an 80% (Rahmstorf and Coumou) and 70% (Allen et al) likelihood of being attributed to a long-term climatic warming trend.
In short, grain stocks are highly likely to suffer significantly in a world experiencing the twin stresses of climate change and a rapidly-growing population. That is something we need to do more than just worry about.