Super hurricanes pummeling coastal regions and wildfires burning out west. Devastated olive crops and ever-shrinking supplies of cocoa. The hottest temperatures in recorded history. Mussels cooking in their shells because it’s so hot. This is climate change, and it’s happening now, manifesting in intense weather patterns and negative changes to the food chain. And it’s happening regardless of whether or not we believe in it — and whether or not we know what to expect.
We do know what to expect, of course, thanks to a network of scientists and researchers who study climate change and its outsized impact on practically every facet of life. It’s how we know that U.S. meat and dairy producers are some of the biggest contributors to climate change. It’s how we know that the 57 percent drop in Italy’s olive production — which will have devastating consequences for Italy’s economy and the world olive oil supply — is due to climate change. It’s how we know our future might be free of chocolate and coffee, that the food supply chain could break down irreparably, leading to the malnutrition and even starvation of millions of people.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, loathes this information and wants to limit our access to it — according to a bombshell investigation by Politico. The outlet claims that the Trump administration has “a persistent pattern” of refusing to “draw attention to findings that show the potential dangers and consequences of climate change, covering dozens of separate studies.” In other words, the Trump administration is purposefully trying to bury studies from the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service which reveal just how dangerous climate change is.
Per Politico, “The Trump administration, researchers say, is not directly censoring scientific findings or black-balling research on climate change. Instead, they say, officials are essentially choosing to ignore or downplay findings that don’t line up with the administration’s agenda.”
In fact, since Trump took office in January 2017 and his Head of Agriculture, fellow climate denialist Sonny Perdue, took over the USDA in April 2017, the ARS has only put out press releases for two climate change-related studies, both of which were “favorable to the politically powerful meat industry.” One stated that “beef production makes a relatively small contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.” The other raised concerns about the potential for “widespread nutritional problems” stemming from removing animal products from one’s diet.
Perhaps a lack of press releases doesn’t sound like much, but the damage it is doing to climate research is marked. At least 45 studies — though likely more — on climate change haven’t received the public attention required to turn them into practical knowledge.
Here’s what the administration doesn’t want you to know.
Rice — a staple food for 2 billion people — is being severely damaged.
In perhaps one of the most groundbreaking studies on climate change and food supplies, scientists from the U.S., Australia, Japan, and China worked together to determine how rising carbon dioxide levels would affect rice — a staple food for upwards of 2 billion people. And what they found is devastating: while research previously showed that rising CO2 levels might hurt protein levels in cereals like rice, this May 2018 study confirmed the loss of protein and found that CO2 levels will also damage vitamins and micronutrients (such as iron, zinc, and B vitamins) found in 18 genetically diverse kinds of rice.
What this means: because “rice supplies approximately 25% of all global calories, with the percentage of rice consumed varying by socioeconomic status, particularly in Asia” the damage done to global rice crops will disproportionately affect people living in poverty—who already suffer from food insecurity. The researchers believe that climate change-induced deficiencies will directly, negatively impact “a global population of approximately 600 million” people who consume more than 50 percent of their daily calories via rice.
Some consequences of malnutrition? Lack of sufficient micronutrients, vitamins, and protein can impair “cognitive development, metabolism, and immune system” and is a leading cause of death among young children.