2080: Global warming leads to floods, droughts, agricultural disasters, hunger

An article in The Washington Post describes studies predicting the effects of global warming on agriculture, in the 2080s:

Several recent analyses have concluded that the higher temperatures expected in coming years — along with salt seepage into groundwater as sea levels rise and anticipated increases in flooding and droughts — will disproportionately affect agriculture in the planet’s lower latitudes, where most of the world’s poor live.

India could experience a 40% decline in agricultural productivity as “record heat waves bake its wheat-growing region, placing hundreds of millions of people at the brink of chronic hunger.”

Africa … could experience agricultural downturns of 30%, forcing farmers to abandon traditional crops in favor of more heat-resistant and flood-tolerant ones, such as rice.” Senegal and war-torn Sudan could have a “complete agricultural collapse.”

Scenarios like these — and the recognition that even less-affected countries such as the United States will experience significant regional shifts in growing seasons, forcing new and sometimes disruptive changes in crop choices — are providing the impetus for a new “green revolution.” It is aimed not simply at boosting production, as the first revolution did with fertilizers, but at creating crops that can handle the heat, suck up the salt, not desiccate in a drought and even grow swimmingly while submerged.

Fortunately, research on the new crops is underway, but it’s a race against time.

Continue reading “2080: Global warming leads to floods, droughts, agricultural disasters, hunger”

We’re good at complying with the Law of Unintended Consequences

Four examples of how good intentions can produce unexpected results:

Worldwide demand for ethanol biofuel is causing massive deforestation in Brazil to to grow sugarcane, the raw material for Brazilian ethanol. Brazil’s Cerrado region is being deforested at 7.4 million acres per year, a higher rate of clearing than in the Amazon. All of the remaining vegetation in Cerrado could be lost by 2030. — “Losing Forests to Fuel Cars,” The Washington Post (31 July 2007, registration required)

Clinical information technology systems — especially those known in the health care industry as computerized provider order entry (CPOE) systems — promise to improve health outcomes, reduce medical errors and increase cost efficiency. But a study found that hospitals adopting them must plan for “immense” workflow issues and a host of other unanticipated consequences. Doctors, for example, spent much more time at the computer inputting prescriptions and other orders. And system over-dependence created havoc during system failures. — Oregon Health & Science University / Science Daily (2 Aug. 2007)

Credit-card disclosure information intended to discourage consumers from overspending may have the opposite effect. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 requires credit-card companies to provide scary details about high interest rates and long pay-off periods. But a study found that, for many shoppers, knowledge of mounting debt can be so depressing that it spurs them to binge shopping to alleviate the gloom. — The Wall Street Journal (18 July 2007, subscription required)

The new Massachusetts health care reform, which aims to rescue 550,000 residents from the ranks of the uninsured, has run into a snag: a shortage of doctors willing to take on new patients. — The Wall Street Journal (25 July 2007, subscription required)