In recent decades, worrisome rises in drought, heat waves, and air pollution have stressed agriculture.

Crops don’t like drought, extreme heat, extreme cold, flooding, and air pollution. While reducing the ill effects of extreme cold on agriculture in recent decades, the warming climate is increasing impacts of drought, extreme heat, and air pollution. These increased impacts are greatly concerning as the world envisions feeding an additional two billion people by 2050. Of particular concern are changes in the atmospheric circulation – which may have both natural and human-caused components – that have led to an increase in concurrent heat waves and droughts, such as occurred in the summer of 2022.

A 2019 report by the Global Commission on Adaptation indicates that without adaptation, climate change may depress global agriculture yields by 5 to 30% by 2050, at the same time that an expanding population and increased meat consumption causes a 50% increase in global food demand. This first part of a two-part series examines observations of how climate change has already affected crops. Part two is, The future of agriculture: Increased drought and heat from climate change pose huge challenges.

An observed concerning increase in drought

Drought is the great enemy of human civilization, depriving people of the two essentials of life – food and water. When the rains stop and the soil dries up, cities can die and civilizations collapse, as people abandon lands no longer able to sustain them. Drought has been identified as the primary or significant contributing factor in the collapse of a surprising number of great civilizations in the past. So no reasons for complacency about threats drought poses to modern civilization: particularly since a hotter planet is producing longer-lasting and more intense droughts, and “stuck” jet stream patterns producing intense droughts globally, as reported below, are on the increase.


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