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Home » Complex Models Now Gauge the Impact of Climate Change on Global Food Production. The Results Are ‘Alarming’ – Inside Climate New…

Complex Models Now Gauge the Impact of Climate Change on Global Food Production. The Results Are ‘Alarming’ – Inside Climate New…

Complex Models Now Gauge the Impact of Climate Change on Global Food Production. The Results Are ‘Alarming’

Climate change is a "threat multiplier," making hunger emergencies worse. Advanced modeling shows that crop yields could plummet, faster than expected.

Inside dozens of bankers boxes, stacked high in a storage locker in New York City, Cynthia Rosenzweig has stashed the work of decades: Legal pads covered in blue-inked cursive with doodles in the margins, file folders marked “potato,” graph paper with notations of rainfall in Nebraska and Kansas.

Rosenzweig has worked at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) at Columbia University since the 1980s, when researchers were delving deeper into the growing science demonstrating that human activity is warming the planet. But as her colleagues were focused on fossil fuel use or the impact of global warming on sea level rise, Rosenzweig, an agronomist by training, started to wonder what the changing climate would do to crops.

Among those thousands of stashed pages are copies of her first published work, a seemingly esoteric paper showing that higher levels of carbon dioxide would push wheat growing regions in North America farther north. The paper made Rosenzweig a pioneer, one of the first researchers to use simulation models to look at the specific impacts of climate change on agriculture.

At the time, the idea of climate change was just emerging in the public consciousness. Rosenzweig’s boss at NASA, James Hansen, was about to tell Congress, in seminal testimony, about the looming perils of the warming planet. With characteristic pluck, Rosenzweig sent Hansen a note before the hearing, telling him that scientists were overlooking a big potential threat.

“We needed to model CO2 and precipitation,” she recalled in a recent interview. “We needed to understand the full impact of climate change on food.”


Inside dozens of bankers boxes, stacked high in a storage locker in New York City, Cynthia Rosenzweig has stashed the work of decades: Legal pads covered in blue-inked cursive with doodles in the margins, file folders marked “potato,” graph paper with notations of rainfall in Nebraska and Kansas...
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