Pascual Moreno Torregrosa holds a PhD in Agricultural Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Valencia and a PhD in Economics from the University of Paris I (Sorbonne). He is a founding member of the Cátedra Tierra Ciudadana of the Polytechnic University of Valencia – UPV. He has written several books on agriculture and the rural world, and is a regular contributor to specialised journals..
What was predictable has happened this year. The intense heat has caused a large part of Europe to be in flames, at least a very considerable area of its forests. In Spain, the fires always occurred in June, July and August and even extended into September. They were generally localised, in a particular region, in particular mountains, which allowed our “ineffable” politicians to repeat, whether they were certain or not, that behind the forest fires there were often unbalanced arsonists or arsonists interested in clearing land which, if re-qualified, could be converted into housing estates for second homes.
I think it was the great Forges (or perhaps it was Perich) who coined the phrase: “When a mountain burns something of yours burns … Mr Count”. This was valid until recently. Now it is no longer valid. The great arsonist of this summer, not only in Spain but also in other European countries, has a specific name: climate change, of which the panel of prestigious scientists (IPCC) working for the UN have been warning for some time that what is happening to us could happen.
Burning more than 100,000 hectares in practically all the provinces of Spain would have required coordination, an organisation of arsonists on such a scale that it would have put the state security services in great difficulty. They have not been people with a certain imbalance, they have not been farmers who in a mistake when burning stubble, the flames jumped into the adjoining forest, nor the “Sunday person” who recklessly tries to roast meat next to a bank in 40 degrees in the shade. Everything has been easier, and everything is more understandable. We have reached the limit of what could be expected with an increase in the earth’s temperature of 1.5º (in reference to the pre-industrial period): The unbearable heat (for human beings and nature), the drought, the accumulation of biomass after a rainy spring, ready to form a pyre that spreads at great speed, has meant that the fire-fighting services of the administrations have not been able to stop the fires and have sometimes, overwhelmed, abandoned forests, houses, roads, livestock pens, even entire villages to the flames, powerless.
The IPCC, or some members of this panel of experts, have indicated with great concern that what is happening this summer they had predicted for the year 2050. That was for them the probable date of the disaster we are suffering, of the heat that suffocates us and prevents us from sleeping, of the deaths from heat stroke or the aggravation of chronic illnesses, if we had exceeded the 1.5º limit that various COPs (United Nations Climate Change Conferences), held until now, had established that the consequences of climate change would be much more virulent.
There are many consequences of this excessive increase in summer temperatures. Let us focus only on the repercussions for agriculture and the food system. According to reliable information from the EU itself or from various European governments, the cereal harvest in Europe has been reduced by between 30% and 50%. It is not possible to determine exactly what the drop in yields has been in Africa, Asia or Latin America. In some parts of Asia, for example, rice production has declined due to flooding, such as in Bangladesh, where, in addition to the agricultural disaster caused by the monsoon (the rains have not been so intense for 20 years), four million people have had to be displaced, their villages flooded and their fields turned into a swamp.
IPCC experts have already predicted that as climate change intensifies, extreme weather events will lead to irregular harvests. The abnormality will be that yields will be as high as they were to a greater or lesser extent before the intensification of weather phenomena.
More hunger, greater food needs, greater unrest among the population, riots and political instability, … that is what awaits us. Reversing climate change is already impossible. To deny it is stupid with the images that the press and television show us every day, the only thing left is to try to slow it down and above all to adapt to it with measures that preserve people’s lives and can maintain production levels that allow us to mitigate hunger.
And we must promote solidarity between nations, especially with the most disadvantaged ones, coordinate to adapt to the new situation, abandon militaristic adventures, and spread the understanding that in the very short term we are gambling with the survival of humanity.