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60-Second Earth

How Will Climate Change Impact Bread?, Part 2

Warming temperatures will exacerbate crop-destructive events, ranging from fires to floods. David Biello reports

Climate change may have begun to hit humans where it hurts—in the stomach. Research has shown how changing temperatures have influenced wheat yields in Montana over the last 60 years. And now catastrophic fires sweeping Russia give a taste of what climate change may bring to that bread basket. 

Millions of hectares of this year's wheat crop have been lost to the heat, drought and fires this summer in Russia—prompting U.S. wheat prices to double in a matter of days. Fears of a shortage led Russian and Ukrainian officials to impose controls on wheat exports. And that means higher costs for staples like bread or cereal. 

Fortunately, global wheat stockpiles are in better shape than during the last food crisis in 2007 and 2008. The supply may allow the world to dodge a repeat.

But climate change means that the risk of such fires—and the catastrophic floods that have affected 20 million people in Pakistan—continues to increase. In fact, the two events were connected by the same weather system, leading some scientists to blame human greenhouse gas emissions. That may or may not be the case with this individual weather event, which generally cannot be tied to global warming. But scientists will likely have to be very clever to assure that vital food crop yields keep pace with the coming climate of change.

—David Biello

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