Russia's Agony a "Wake-Up Call" to the World

Published on
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Inter Press Service

Russia's Agony a "Wake-Up Call" to the World

by
Stephen Leahy

Fires rage in Russia as 2010 experiences hottest summer on record. The global climate is warming and most food crops are both heat and drought sensitive. Rice yields have already fallen by 10-20 percent over the last 25 years in parts of Thailand, Vietnam, India and China due to global warming, new research has shown. (Photo: EPA)

VIENNA - A wind turbine on an acre of northern Iowa farmland could
generate 300,000 dollars worth of greenhouse-gas-free
electricity a year. Instead, the U.S. government pays out
billions of dollars to subsidise grain for ethanol fuel that
has little if any impact on global warming, according to
Lester Brown.

"The smartest thing the U.S. could do is phase out ethanol
subsidies," says Brown, the founder of the Washington-based
Earth Policy Institute, in reference to rising food prices
resulting from the unprecedented heat wave in western Russia
that has decimated crops and killed at least 15,000 people.

"The lesson here is that we must take climate change far
more seriously, make major cuts in emissions and fast before
climate change is out of control," Brown, one of the world's
leading experts on agriculture and food, told IPS.

Average temperatures during the month of July were eight
degrees Celsius above normal in Moscow, he said, noting that
"such a huge increase in temperature over an entire month is
just unheard of."

On Monday, Moscow reached 37 C when the normal temperature
for August is 21 C. It was the 28th day in a row that
temperatures exceeded 30 C.

Soil moisture has fallen to levels seen only once in 500
years, says Brown. Wheat and other grain yields are expected
to decline by 40 percent or more in Russia, Kazakhstan, and
Ukraine - regions that provide 25 percent of the world's
wheat exports. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
announced a few days ago that Russia would ban all grain
exports.

Food prices will rise but how much is not known at this
point, says Brown. "What we do know, however, is that the
prices of wheat, corn, and soybeans are actually somewhat
higher in early August 2010 than they were in early August
2007, when the record-breaking 2007-08 run-up in grain
prices began."

Emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2 from burning fossil
fuels trap more of the sun's energy. Climate experts
expected the number and intensity of heat waves and droughts
to increase as a result. In 2009, heat and fire killed
hundreds in Australia during the worst drought in more than
century, which devastated the country's agriculture sector.
In 2003, a European heat wave killed 53,000 people but as it
occurred late in the summer crop, yields were not badly
affected.

If a heat wave like Russia's were centred around the grain-
producing regions near Chicago or Beijing, the impacts could
be many times worse because each of these regions produce
five times the amount of grain as Russia does, says Brown.
Such an event could result in the loss of 100 to 200 million
tonnes of grain with unimaginable affects on the world's
food supply.

"Russia's heat wave is a wake-up call to the world regarding
the vulnerability of the global food supply," he said.

The global climate is warming and most food crops are both
heat and drought sensitive. Rice yields have already fallen
by 10-20 percent over the last 25 years in parts of
Thailand, Vietnam, India and China due to global warming,
new research has shown. Data from 227 fully-irrigated farms
that grow "green revolution" crops are suffering significant
yield declines due to warming temperatures at night,
researchers found.

"As nights get hotter, rice yields drop," reported Jarrod
Welch of the University of California at San Diego and
colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences (PNAS) Aug. 9. Previous studies have shown this
result in experimental plots, but this is the first under
widespread, real-world conditions.

With such pressures on the world's food supply it is simply
wrong-headed to use 25 percent of U.S. grain for ethanol as
a fuel for cars, said Brown.

"Ethanol subsidies must be phased out and real cuts in
carbon emissions made and urgently," he said.

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