The meek shall inherit the… turtles


Climate change is affecting the quality and quantity of the food systems and, consequently, impacting all aspects of food security. At the same time, the increasing intensity and length of heatwaves and drought periods are expected to further enhance the negative impacts. These IPCC’s conclusions are beyond any doubt. They are supported by the scrutiny behind the evidence gathered through a systematic review of the peer-revived research, published globally during the last decade.

Engaging in further debate about their accuracy would lead to a similar outcome as the one Bertrand Russell encountered during one of his lectures on astronomy. At one point, while the famous mathematician and philosopher was describing the Earth’s rotation within the solar system, an elderly lady stood up from the audience to protest. She argued that it was a ‘nonsense’ because everyone knew that ‘the Earth is a flat board standing on the back of a huge turtle’. After Russel kindly replied with a follow-up question: ‘What is the turtle standing on?’, the lady contested in a manner similar to those who today are denying the scientific evidence behind the climate change: ‘It’s turtles all the way down!’, she concluded[1].

The findings from the last IPCC Assessment Report published in 2014, the special report on climate change and land use published in 2019 and the systematic literature review update of the most recent research conducted by my colleagues and me at LUMES, all reach the same conclusion stated at the beginning of this lines.

There’s no point in arguing because they clearly show how, in our quest to obtain food, as well as energy, wood, animal feed and fiber, we are today using close to 1/3 of the land’s total productive capacity. While the human population gets larger and climate change increases in intensity, the pressure on Earth’s productive capacity is expected to grow. This will additionally alter the food access, utilization, price stability and other aspects of food security.

There’s no time for arguing because we need to face a challenge from meeting the nutritional requirements of world population, without losing sight from the inequalities between the climate-change driving dietary changes among the growing number of global middle-class citizens and nearly one billion of people that don’t count with the minimum amount of daily nutrition intake needed. There’s no time because the yield of all the major crops (maize, wheat, rice and soybean) will decline globally due to the climate change; the increasing global urbanization will transform much of the land currently used in agriculture into urban centers, and the rising temperature will lead to more severe weather events.

Our response needs to acknowledge that the future food security relies upon innovation, direct mitigation and adaptation approaches. But at the same time, it also relies on our ability to assess the risks and take decisions, because the way we approach the risks (understood by IPCC as a function of probability and consequence) today, will determine future generations’ prospects to have guaranteed (at least) the same levels of welfare as we do.

It often seems that we are living as if there was no tomorrow. There is no other way for me to understand the lack of responsibility. We are aware of the risks, but still, refuse to commit to the mitigation of the probabilities which may lead to catastrophic consequences that the future generations will have to deal with. We don’t need more evidence. We need more bold action and resolute determination that will force us to make sacrifices that are needed today so the future generations can thrive.

If we wish to guarantee the future food security, there’s no time for meekness, because, as Bob Hunter once said, “If we wait for the meek to inherit the Earth, there won’t be anything left to inherit”.

[1] Anecdote used by Stephen Hawking in “A Brief History of Time”

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