Look at this graphic and try not to be worried about drought, the future of food, climate change, California as a whole, and, well, the United States


What am I looking at, you may have just asked. Well, hopefully you realize that’s California pictured above and there are three distinct time periods shown: 1950 (The Great Move West!), 2000 (a little after San Francisco became the new American epicenter of excellence), and 2050 (we’re not there yet). 1950 appears to be far more green than 2050 — but what does that all mean? It refers to “chilling hours” — periods between 32 degrees and 50 degrees that vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc. need to grow. On these maps, more green means more chilling periods (as measured in hours) during a winter. By 2050, the total number of chilling hours may decline 60 percent from right now (that’s a large drop for just about 36 years), and may drop 80 percent by 2100.

Alright, so why does that matter? Well… 

California produces a sizable majority of many American fruits, vegetables, and nuts: 99 percent of artichokes, 99 percent of walnuts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, and 69 percent of carrots (and the list goes on and on). Some of this is due to climate and soil. No other state, or even a combination of states, can match California’s output per acre. Lemon yields in California, for example, are more than 50 percent higher than in Arizona. California spinach yield per acre is 60 percent higher than the national average. Without California, supply of all these products in the United States and abroad would dip, and in the first few years, a few might be nearly impossible to find. Orchard-based products in particular, such as nuts and some fruits, would take many years to spring back.

Hmmm. Doesn’t seem good.

Now, we’re talking about data relative to 35 or so years from now. If I was 50-60 at this moment, would I care? Yes, but honestly probably not tremendously. But if I was 20-40 right now (as I am), would I care? Yes, yes and yes. 

There are a couple of ways to look at all this:

1. This isn’t science. This is an attempt at fear.

2. What do I really care? I’ll be dead.

3. I want to do more, but I’m one person. What can I do?

4. Most studies say the world can handle about 3-4 billion people. We’re close to 8-9 billion. So again, what can one person do?

5. Science and medicine will figure out new approaches to food production in three decades. I mean, c’mon. Did anyone see the iPhone coming? We just need some visionaries in that space.

6. I’m all in. What can I do?

See, the most interesting thing about reactions to climate change is this — it’s really the essential look at how humans make choices and prioritize the elements in their life. It’s the living, breathing, every-second definition of psychology and choice. Most people are raised to focus on themselves and their immediate loved ones — and this is logical, because the human brain can’t really embrace every single person in the world in any kind of meaningful way — but with that attitude also can often come an inability to look at things more broadly (higher education might call this “critical thinking/evaluation”), and that’s part of the issue here. It takes committing to something for the future, even if you don’t know your specific connection to that future.

What can you do? Start here, here and here as examples.

Ted Bauer