“The frequency of these disasters, I can’t say we’ve experienced anything like this since I’ve been working in agriculture,” John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, told the Washington Post (paywall).

The stories across the Midwest are wrenching. Scrolling through the #NoPlant19  hashtag turns up dozens of posts about farmers staring out at soggy fields or farm equipment foundering in deep mud. It’s likely many will see their harvests devastated this year, and global grain prices could spike.


If this sounds like part of the climate crisis, it is. As the planet warms, extremes in heavy rain and drought are becoming the new normal, says Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Matters. It’s not that every weather event is the result of global warming. But the probability of extreme disaster rises as humans increase the levels of carbon dioxide, now at their highest point in the planet’s atmosphere in 3 million years. Greenhouse gases trap heat and destabilize the climate system. Higher temperatures “supercharge” evaporation, leading to droughts and desertification. Water is dumped back on arid soil in torrential rains, creating flooding.

This year’s crop trouble is a preview. A study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this year predicted widespread crop failures as temperatures rise, including US corn production falling by almost half if temperatures rise by 4°C. That’s the world’s current trajectory without swift action, according to a World Bank study calling the scenario “cataclysmic.” Were the world to act to keep temperature increases below 2°C, crop reductions would be about 18% lower.

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