As you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, take a moment to be grateful for the foods you can still put on the table. A slew of recent studies suggest that many of them are under threat from climate change. By the time you’re old enough to mortify your grandkids with your holiday ravings, the meal you ruin may look much different than the one you eat today.
Americans’ ability to bake pumpkin pie is remarkably dependent on the weather in Morton, Illinois, which supplies at least four-fifths of the nation’s canned pumpkin. Morton’s unusually wet autumn in 2009, for example, created such shortages of canned pumpkin that year that 29-ounce cans were selling for nearly $30 on eBay, and heavy rainfall in the area in 2015 cut the country’s canned pumpkin supply in half. That spells trouble in a changing climate. Already, central Illinois gets two more inches of rain during the spring planting season than it did when the Morton cannery was built a century ago. And according to a 2015 paper from University of Illinois economists, average crop yields in the state will drop 15% by 2040 and 73% by 2100 from 2015 levels.
Most of the world’s corn comes from just a few countries, and currently, the probability that the corn crop will fail in all of them is basically zero. But, according to a June study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, if temperatures rise 2°C over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, the likelihood of a global corn failure rises from never-gonna-happen to 7%. If the world warms 4°C, the probability of corn failures rises to a staggering 86%. If humans do nothing to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, scientists expect that average global temperatures will rise 4°C by the end of the century.
Stuffing, pie crusts, etc.
Wheat, the crop that feeds the most humans on Earth, forms the backbone of countless Thanksgiving delicacies—and it, too, is under threat from climate change. For every 1°C over pre-industrial levels the Earth warms, wheat yields will fall 6%, according to a 2015 paper in Nature Climate Change. That’s about 45 million metric tons of wheat at current production levels—or about 185 billion fewer pie crusts for every degree of warming.
Depending on how much humans curb greenhouse-gas emissions, the impact of climate change could be a big deal or small potatoes. But even in the best case, potatoes will take a hit, according to a 2017 paper in the European Journal of Agronomy. By 2055, global potato yields are expected to fall between 2% and 6% from current levels. By 2085, potato production could drop anywhere between 2% and 26%. In the worst case, that amounts to 863 billion half-cup servings of mashed potatoes lost per year. The best case? 66 billion servings lost.
If, like my family in Miami, you prefer Thanksgiving lechón to Thanksgiving turkey, I’ve got bad news for you: Miami will be underwater by 2100, and there will be significantly less pork in the world. Pigs don’t do well in hot weather. A 2015 study found that heat-stressed pigs stored 23% less protein than those kept in cooler environments. And warmer weather is coming: for every degree of warming the earth experiences, the US will see 15 more hot days per year.