28 Apr 2014
Climate change seems to be in the press pretty much all the time these days. There are stories about the UN reports on climate change (see also here); the President has a two-pronged plan (attack causes of climate change and harden systems against climate events) and, recently, the President requested $1 Billion in the 2015 Budget to support developing climate-resilient infrastructure.
A couple of years ago, a report prepared for the United Nations suggested that as the climate changed, three of the world’s biggest staple crops — corn, rice and wheat — would decrease in many developing countries, and the potato, which grows best in cooler climates, could also be affected by warmer temperatures and changing weather patterns. The report suggested that bananas could replace potatoes in a warming world as a critical food source.
Unfortunately, now there are reports that the Cavendish banana that most of us buy at the grocery store is under threat of a seemingly unstoppable fungus. You might say that this is alarmist non-sense and an entire fruit couldn’t be wiped out. However, you’d be wrong – it happened with an earlier variety of banana called the Gros Michel which virtually no American under the age of 50 has ever eaten. These bananas were reportedly in every way superior to the ones we eat today but were largely wiped out by a fungus similar to the one that is now ravaging the Cavendish variety. This is an example of the risk of cultivating only one type of fruit or vegetable – the same sort of mass production technique that led to the potato blight and famine in Ireland.
Of course, the best method to adapt and become resilient to climate change (although not the most economical) is to diversify – something we Americans have become less inclined to do when it comes to our desire for predictable and consistent groceries. Will the fruit companies win the fight against the fungus? Will we replace the Cavendish with a new single type of banana (there are still hundreds of varieties mostly unknown to the United States)? Will we find something else to grow instead of corn, wheat, rice and potatoes? Perhaps the much touted but less well known superfoods of quinoa, freekeh, or teff? Time will tell, but one thing seems certain, greater diversity leads to greater resilience. This is something that no environmental law or regulation is likely to fully address.