If you like a thick, juicy steak, a bowl of creamy guac, or a sprinkle of blueberries on your morning granola, your life is going to get a lot more depressing over the next few decades.
A team of Australian climate scientists is warning that by the middle of the century, the effects of climate change will wreak havoc on a range of foods from almonds to zucchini, altering their flavor, texture, and productivity levels. On Monday, the team, based at the University of Melbourne, released a 38-page report entitled "Appetite for Change." The highly detailed paper concludes with a bulleted list of the 55 foods the scientists say will be most gravely affected by warming temperatures and reduced rainfall. While it focuses on crops and livestock grown in Australia, its conclusions can be applied to other highly productive agricultural regions such as California.
"It's definitely a wakeup call when you hear that the toast and raspberry jam you have for breakfast, for example, might not be as readily available in 50 years' time," Richard Eckard, one of the lead authors of the study, said in a press release. "Or that there may be changes to the cost and taste of food items we love and take for granted, like avocado and Vegemite, spaghetti bolognaise, and even beer, wine, and chocolate. It makes you appreciate that global warming is not a distant phenomenon but a very real occurrence that is already affecting the things we enjoy in our everyday lives, including the most common of foods we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner," he said.
The report predicts higher daily temperatures and an increased number of record-breaking heat waves in Australia in the coming decades. This will affect the country's livestock in a number of ways, according to its authors: dairy cows affected by heat stress will produce up to 40 percent less milk; beef producers will likely switch over to more heat-tolerant breeds of cattle whose meat quality might be lower; and chickens will likely gain less weight, leading to sparser, and drier, meat.
Fruits, vegetables, and grains, too, will suffer the effects of climate change, the scientists say. Reduced rates of rainfall stand to threaten Australia's one-million-tons-per-year rice industry, and to lower the quality of wheat, whose concentrations of zinc and iron could fall by as much as 10 percent by midcentury. Higher temperatures will make carrots both less sweet and mushier, and will cause beets to go to seed prematurely, as well as cause "late blight," or end-of-season rotting, in potatoes. The winter growing season could shorten by up to a month, leading to a shortage of cool-weather crops such as cabbages, and fruit and nut trees, which need a prolonged period of cold in order to get the signal to start producing flowers in the spring, will become less productive. (Maple trees, which don't grow in Australia but in New England, are already producing sap that's less sweet than in years prior.)
It's a trend that farmers on the continent are already well aware of. Last year, peach farmer John Pettigrew wrote an op-ed for The Age explaining his decision to bulldoze his family orchard's 10,000 peach trees due to unmanageable conditions.
"As painful as that decision was for me and the family, it's not an uncommon story as global warming has hit plenty more growers like me," Pettigrew wrote. "The thing is, the frequency and severity of the extreme weather we used to see, were nothing compared to what we've seen in the past decade or so. Everything from hot spells that the irrigation just can't handle, with huge evaporation rates, to relentless frosts and floods."
"We're running into more summer rains that are systematically destroying the growth and production cycle," the farmer continued. "Even aside from the weather conditions, it's the added cost of sun shades on orchards, the workforce not coping with the heat, along with just maintaining the quality of the fruit. Fact is, we no longer have the right patterns for growth."
The cataclysmic changes predicted by the Melbourne scientists are particularly threatening for Australia, which is currently very self-sufficient, producing 93 percent of its own food, according to the report. But by the end of the century, the country is on track to import much more of its food supply.
So over the coming years—especially if you live in Australia—you might want to savor those sweet carrots, crispy french fries, and tender roast chickens as if they were your very last.