Scientists and Farmers Cite Food and Water as Major Climate Concerns

Experts on food and climate discuss solutions for food and water crises as well as tips for journalists at a Covering Climate Now press briefing.


Climate experts and a ranch owner shared their perspectives on growing food insecurity Wednesday afternoon during a Covering Climate Now press briefing.

The climate-focused global journalism initiative hosted the press briefing, moderated by their executive director Mark Hertsgaard. The panel discussed soil health, desalination and water supply, with a focus on how climate change and food production are interdependent.

“Just as climate change is affecting food production, the way that we produce food affects climate change,” said Hertsgaard. “The agricultural sector is responsible for roughly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Major contributors to world hunger and food insecurity also include the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

The population of severely food-insecure people has doubled from 135 million before those events to 276 million now, according to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. 

Water scarcity has also worsened due to climate change. Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, noted that 700 to 800 million people globally do not have access to safe drinking water.

“Water scarcity, in one form or another, is increasing around the world as a result of actual water availability, the role of climate change in distributing water, population growth and growing demand for water,” said Gleick, also a climatologist.

The panelists raised possible solutions to water scarcity, food production and climate education.

Gleick expressed the importance of increasing water efficiency and reusing the water we already have. He also proposed finding alternative sources of water — seen in projects in the Great Plains, the Ogallala Aquifer in the Central Valley of California, and across Asia — to avoid over-pumping the ground or over-draining rivers.

Desalination, the process of removing salt and other minerals from water, for “high-value uses” could be a possibility according to Gleick, but it requires much money and energy to undergo. High quality water from desalination could be used for pharmaceutical, semiconductor and hard disk drive manufacturing.

While food production and agriculture can worsen climate change, climate change can worsen food production. This has led some farmers to take the lead in sustainable agricultural practices, including panelist Gabe Brown.

Based in North Dakota, Brown owns a 5000-acre ranch that practices regenerative agriculture: farming that restores organic matter and encourages biodiversity in the soil. His methods result in capturing more carbon, improved water infiltration in the soil and greater crop yield.

“Although agriculture has been part of the problem, and has led to some of the climate change conditions we’re seeing, it can be a greater part of the solution,” said Brown.

Implementing no-tilling, the use of cover crops, and animal integration led Brown’s farm to produce 8.6 bushels of corn per inch of land, five times the conventional 1.6 bushels per inch. 

Brown said these different factors “lowered the cost of production while mitigating climate change.”

The panelists concluded the briefing with ways journalists can report on the climate beat.

Brown focuses on “common ground for common good” by changing his language based on who he is speaking to.

“If I’m out talking to consumers, I talk to them from a human health standpoint. If I’m out talking to farmers, I talk to them about farm profitability,” said Brown. “Even though we might have differences in our focus, we can come together for the common good.”

Water is a topic that many Americans are concerned about, and statistics can drive that point to editors, said Gleick.

“The Gallup poll has done a poll about public opinions for 20 years in the United States, and water is always at the top of people’s concerns,” said Gleick. “People really care about water … you talk about localizing and personalizing, those are key issues.”

Nowadays, solutions-based stories may engage readers more than “disaster” stories. Raj Patel, a member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, suggested that journalists can use pleasure as “rocket fuel.”

“Actually talking about food and food systems can be delicious,” said Patel. “Thinking about what’s going to taste good and what the future’s gonna taste like might be a pitch that’s hopefully perennial.”

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Melina Nguyen


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