Pests and climate breakdown

Emerald Ash Borer
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Climate breakdown provides a more habitable environment for many types of insects - resulting in pests, crop damage and increased diseases.

Although pests continue to multiply faster due to climate change, the initial way to fight back causes the second problem — environmental pollution from pesticides.

Climate breakdown presents many unique challenges. While people once thought the warming climate was a problem for another day, now it’s clear that it affects every aspect of modern society.

Pests and climate change have significantly exacerbated problems within the food industry.

There are several ways plant pests have disrupted worldwide food production. If not dealt with through prompt, specific actions, the number of people suffering from food insecurity will skyrocket over the coming decades.

Disease

Here I discuss the key ways that pests and climate change negatively impact global crop yields. Solutions are within humanity’s reach if this issue becomes a serious worldwide focus and receives adequate funding.

Pests thrive in geographical locations with hotter temperatures and increased precipitation. The warming atmosphere speeds water evaporation and results in extreme weather, like more powerful hurricanes and rainstorms.

When pests reproduce, they carry disease to new areas as they spread out searching for food.

Populations that once thrived only in tropical regions now migrate outside of their traditional environments.

It’s why tar spot, a fungal disease originating in Latin America, appeared in North America in 2015 for the first time in recorded history.

Pest

Aphids are another pest that can now thrive in new places because the weather is warmer more consistently.

Swarms of aphids can carry a virus on their mouths known as the Potato virus Y (PVY). After transmission to a healthy potato plant, it infects all connected crops and causes a massive loss for farmers.

People must have access to essential crops with quick turnaround times like wheat and potatoes. Without these staple foods, many parts of the world would go without the nutrients individuals need to stay healthy.

Although pests continue to multiply faster due to climate change, the initial way to fight back causes the second problem — environmental pollution from pesticides.

Industrial agriculture corporations use pesticides and fertilizers to control pest populations while staying on track for production.

Harm

Fertilizers can contain small amounts of insecticides, while other products target pests specifically. These have been in use for many years, resulting in a booming industry that pushes for more product use through marketing campaigns.

Nearly halfway through 2020, experts expected the agricultural chemical market to grow to $86.7 billion in profit by the end of the year. The 2.6 percent increase in growth was smaller than in previous years due to the pandemic, but still part of the increasing pesticide use trend. 

These products are easy for mass production fields and small farmers to access, making them the first resource for fighting pests. After soaking into the soil and draining, the chemical sprays harm natural habitats and the environment by destroying biodiversity, polluting marine environments and reducing bee reproduction. 

Traditional pesticides increasingly harm the environment due to the longer, more intense waves of pests each year, but green alternatives are available. Organic pest control solutions come from naturally occurring sources, so they’re biodegradable and not chemically based.

All-natural pesticides are the wave of the future. They tackle the issue presented by pests and climate change without doing more harm to the planet.

Fungi

Countries like Germany and France pledged to ban all glyphosate use by 2023 and 2021, promoting effective, innovative solutions for current agricultural problems.

Global warming exists because of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. Atmospheric CO2 has always fluctuated, but it reached an all-time high of 409.8 ppm in 2019.

Although this gas cloud circulates many miles above the Earth’s surface, it directly affects pests and how they carry disease.

When it’s warm enough for bacteria to thrive, pests can carry it further than if the climate stabilized at a normal temperature.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a recent report stating that rising CO2 and temperatures provide a more favorable environment for persistent fungi and other pathogens that could wipe out crops.

Threatening

In response to global warming's farming challenges, many industries have found ways to alter their products into genetically engineered (GE) crops.

With the upgraded genes, the plants can thrive in warmer weather and withstand more pests, but 39 percent of Americans believe GE crops will harm them and spend money on organic alternatives.

Even though research revealed no differences between the two types of crops and their health effects, consumer spending influences production. Corporations will lean toward the cheaper pesticides and non-GE crops if that’s what their consumers demand.

More attention is needed to combat pests and climate change. Figuring out how to feed the world’s growing population requires finding solutions that work for both consumers and corporations. The effort will ensure a greener future with fewer pests threatening the global food supply.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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