The rise in climate-related costs of living heralds future crises

Climatic conditions are putting pressure on world food prices to rise as people all over the world struggle with levels of inflation not recorded in decades. A protracted drought this fall dries up the Mississippi River basin, raising the cost of producing a key crop in the agricultural heartland of the United States.

Not only does the lack of rain hinder agricultural production, it also causes the Mississippi to slow down to run down parts of a huge waterway, which strains global supply chains, significantly slowing down barge traffic critical to the global food system, a US government report warned last week.

“The level of the rivers is usually lower in the fall, but this year it is even lower than normal, which causes serious problems since [the] the autumn harvest is underway ”- noted in the survey of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS).

In recent years, the Mississippi River basin has been responsible for producing 92 percent of US agricultural exports, including 60 percent of annual US grain exports that are shipped downstream through the port of New Orleans. The river typically also carries 78% of livestock feed exports to world markets.

However, according to a NIDIS report, the volume of goods currently moving to the Mississippi has dropped by 45 percent. Barges are subject to stricter restrictions on the amount of goods they can carry when the water level is low, as there is a greater risk of stranding in shallow water when they are over a certain weight.

As a result of increased farming and transportation costs, people all over the world are losing the price of the food they desperately need. Since the beginning of last year, the countries of the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia have been facing a cost of living crisis triggered by problems in the global supply chain that developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in the US, the inflation rate in May exceeded 8%. for the first time since 1981.

Earlier this year, the crisis was exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the geopolitical consequences of this invasion. The cereal markets were particularly hard hit, as in peacetime both Russia and Ukraine were the main exporters of wheat. US agricultural commodities were therefore in relatively high demand around the world before the drought hit the Midwest and the Great Plains.

Some data suggests that poor people living in countries ruled by right-wing politicians will suffer the most, and global increases in the cost of living seem to be driven by laissez-faire Economic policy. For example, Bolivia was able to keep inflation low thanks to the management of the economy by the socialist government. The state-led energy and retail operations keep consumer prices stable in this South American country, releasing supply reserves to the market when excessive demand persists. Meanwhile, in countries ruled by governments that have adopted a neo-liberal approach to deregulation in recent decades – such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada – price levels have risen along with record corporate profits.

Profit provides an incentive to increase industrial production only when markets are competitive and monopoly power has grown over the past two decades in higher-income countries. Corporations that dominate the food markets were among U.S. firms that were able to pass the recent cost increases to consumers while making a healthy profit for themselves, according to a report published on Nov.1 by New York Times detailed.

Whatever the cause, the trend of rising prices is exacerbated by the planet’s warming, which creates conditions for extreme weather events, such as the ongoing drought causing the wilt of vegetation dependent on the Mississippi basin. Worse, the full extent of drought damage in the Midwest is unknown. AccuWeather predicted rainfall would not restore normal river traffic by January, and logistical disruptions had already added $ 20 billion to commercial transportation costs. Low rainfall in the coming months could also threaten crops that have not yet been sown, warns NIDIS.

“If autumn moisture is not replenished, the risk of a continuation of drought increases in the next growing season as soil moisture improvement is limited during the winter, especially in the north where the soil is mostly frozen,” the agency said. Dry conditions have already damaged the wheat, corn and soybean yields.

While the Mississippi basin goes through regular drought cycles, scientists say climate change is making such cycles more frequent and intense. Warmer conditions are also fueling historic droughts around the world, including in the western United States, which has struggled with a two-decade long “megadic drought” that has worsened since early 2020. Europe, China and India are also plagued by record low levels of rainfall, contributing to lower supplies and higher prices for staples such as rice in world markets.

“The cereal and soybean index is almost 40% above the five-year average, and the surge in crop prices has been a major contributor to global inflation.” Bloomberg warned in late August. “Already food shortages contributed to the collapse of the Sri Lankan government earlier this year when the country ran out of the hard currency to pay for imports.”

Recently published research has enriched a growing pile of evidence showing that global warming could make food production a challenge in the future. Study published in Nature On October 29, he stated that vegetable crops can be “very sensitive to environmental changes” and that temperatures higher than 30 degrees Celsius or 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 ° C / 86 ° F) are “detrimental to yields.” Another report published on October 19 by the Environmental Defense Fund showed that in the coming decades, days with “death degree” heat that start at about 84 ° F will increase significantly across the US farming center.

In other words, people in the US and around the world can expect more events to put pressure on rising food prices, such as the ongoing drought in the Midwest. Only if the carbon emissions causing climate change are reduced, the likelihood of their occurrence will be reduced, and the damage to people around the world will be minimized only if governments limit corporate power.

“With every fraction of the degree of warming, tens of millions of people around the world would be exposed to life-threatening heat waves, food and water shortages, and coastal flooding, while millions more mammals, insects, birds and plants would disappear.” The New York Times noted in its report on the UN alert. The world is now getting a preview of what some of them will look like along the Mississippi River.

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