Why you should care
Plants and insects are already responding to changes in global temperatures — if we act fast, we may be able to make lemonade out of some really scary lemons.
The weight of scientific evidence, scholarly research and observed experience all appear to be pointing in the same direction: The world is getting warmer, and the question now is not so much if but when temperature increases will occur, and how dramatic they will be. And while extreme weather events, the loss of biodiversity and droves of environmental refugees pose seriously negative consequences for us all, the hard-nosed pragmatists among us have also pointed out that the impacts of rising temperatures will vary from location to location — and that some regions may even stand to gain from a few degrees’ rise in temperature.
Such climate-change “winners” would include parts of southern England, particularly along the coast near Dover, which are already being scouted by Champagne producers who like its chalky soil composition and are attracted by the possibility of milder weather. Grape vineyards are extremely sensitive to even slight changes in temperature, rain and sunshine, sending wine producers to scout new territories in Tasmania, the wilderness of Yellowstone Park and the hills of central China.
Shifting wine regions
Other kinds of agricultural products would also shift, making parts of Northern Europe — especially the Scandinavian countries — resource rich in staples like wheat and corn, owing to a productivity increase of as much as 25 percent by 2050. And as agriculture moves, so does the infrastructure required to support it: Food processing, storage and transportation industries will also be disrupted.
Percentage of England’s grape crop now devoted to varietals from the Champagne region
How much less a vineyard owner would pay for chalky-soiled land in Dover, England vs. Champagne, France (for now…)
Projected decline in wine production from Bordeaux, Rhone and Tuscany by 2050
70% and 74%
Projected decline in Californian and Australian wine production by 2050, respectively
Consider, for example, Arctic shipping routes that currently remain closed for much of the year because of icy conditions; as weather warms, they remain open longer, creating opportunities for cheaper shipping and shifting the power dynamics amongst the eight nations that claim territory in the region. While most of them consider these international waters, in a poll, about half of Canadians said their government should assert national sovereignty over the Arctic waterway; compared to only 10 percent of Americans lending their political will to the cause.
It’s not just wine…
With so much of its territory in the Great White North, climate change holds additional changes for Canada: Immigration to its increasingly accessible and habitable lands could give it one of the world’s highest population growth rates by 2050. Of course it’s not only human populations that move into newly de-iced regions. Receding ice has made room for an 84-percent increase in the population of Adélie penguins in Beaufort (an island just south of New Zealand) since 1983.
Percentage change in the amount of land that will become hospitable to corn crops in Sweden and Finland by 2080
Percentage change in the amount by which wheat production may rise in Northern Europe by 2080
Percentage change of crop yield in California corn, wheat, rice and cotton over the next several decades
The further flourishing of some animal species, however, may not be exactly welcome. Mosquitoes, for instance, are set to greatly expand their numbers and could be present in every city along the United States’ Eastern seaboard by the end of the century. Such a development would pose not just a nuisance but also a public health risk, given the number of tropical diseases that are also traveling northward with mosquitoes. Other roving pests pose a further threat to crops in some of the world’s most productive farmland.
More hospitable agricultural conditions in some areas will mean contracted growing seasons and fragile weather in other areas: Champagne producers have been shopping for fields in England not because they want to but because their existing vineyards may not be able to produce quality grapes under changed weather conditions. The agricultural losses facing other countries — for example, the severe droughts predicted for parts of the Sahel and Southern Africa — are far more serious; will Sweden and Norway be ready and willing to export their new grain reserves to Mali or Mozambique?
The consequences of rising temperatures are potentially devastating; no one should consider them desirable. But if climate change is inevitable, then we would do well to heed the small head start we have, and learn how to use new resources to mitigate the loss of old ones.