For all the warnings about climate change leaving our country a hellish, apocalyptic mess, most Australians will first notice its effects in our food. A new report from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute showed that extreme weather, rising temperatures, and warming oceans will impact the production, quality, and cost of Australian food. They warn we could be expecting shitty carrots, bad pizza dough, gross steak, more expensive Vegemite, and less beer and wine.
Although we hear about the dire implications of climate change on an almost daily basis, scientists are concerned we're not taking it seriously. With this in mind climate scientists David Karoly and Richard Eckard decided to explore a more direct way to get the message to the public. They undertook the study to make the tangible, everyday impacts of climate change clear by highlighting their threat to the things we love. And what do Australians love more than food and booze?
"There's a growing disconnect from an increasingly urbanised population in Australia, a disconnect from where their food comes from," Eckard, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne, told VICE. Australian farms produce 93 percent of the food we eat, and are already dealing with challenges presented by extreme weather. But with 89 percent of the population living in urban areas the only way you're going to feel the sting is at the supermarket.
We're already seeing our banana crop impacted by extreme weather in northern Australia, and it appears that fruits, nuts, carrots, potatoes, and scallops are next. The taste, texture and shape of carrots will be adversely affected and our potatoes will be more likely to contract "late blight", a factor in the Irish potato famine. Plus, brace yourself, we'll be getting poorer quality cheese because of heat stress on cows.
Australia's fruit and nuts are also "very vulnerable" to the impacts of climate change, Eckard explained, as they need a "chilling period" of cooler weather during winter. "If they don't get that, then the plant just doesn't reproduce, and you don't get a crop" he continued. Climate change will also hit our seafood hard and could lead scallops to "effectively disappear from our plate" because of warming seas. Creatures like squids, oysters, and mussels will also struggle to form their shells and skeletons in the more acidic ocean. "That's a fairly major issue," Eckard explained. "There's no simple adaptation for that."
Grape crops will feel the brunt force of climate change, with up to 70 percent of Australia's wine growing regions becoming less suitable for grape growing by 2050. This coupled with a scarcity of cheese, nut, and fruit could mean the end of cheese and wine nights as we know it.
The report also found that the price of Aussie staples like Vegemite and avocados could drastically increase as supply is reduced. "It's definitely a wake up call when you hear that the toast and raspberry jam you have for breakfast, for example, might not be readily available in 50 years time," Eckard said.
In preparation for the changes, Eckard and other scientists are urging farmers to adapt their practices now to combat these consequences. But this may require many to move their operations. "We have no bloody future if we don't," a farmer quoted in the report said. "I worry very much about my children. I just wonder what their future is."
"If we as a community do not slow down climate change, our access to a variety of nutritious, affordable foods will disappear," another farmer said. "This is the reality."
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