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Foods We Could Lose in the Climate Crisis

A world where crops risk disappearing offers an opportunity for climate tech.
Abigail Bassett
Feb 13, 2024 9 min read
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A few weeks ago, the former White House Chief of Staff Sam Cass held a “Last Supper,” in Minneapolis to highlight the foods that could change or completely disappear from the planet in the next few years thanks to the warming globe and climate change. Foods like chocolate, coffee, champagne, oysters, salmon, and more could be deeply affected by the warming planet.

According to The Guardian, the menu featured these and other foods, put together by Marque Collins, the chef at Minneapolis's Tullibee, where the dinner took place. The menu helped underline a very tangible risk of climate change: the loss of foods we rely on and enjoy daily.

As dire as the possibility of losing some of our favorite and most nutrient-rich foods to the impact of climate change is, climate tech entrepreneurs remain positive and see the opportunity for innovation, change, and even spiritual connection.

Which Crops Are Most at Risk?

Climate change poses a significant threat to global agriculture, affecting a wide range of crops critical for food security and economic stability worldwide. Core foods like corn, wheat, soy, rice, and potatoes are at risk due to the global rise in temperature, with some estimates showing that global production could be substantially reduced by 2050, according to Action on Hunger. It's not just warming that's impacting these crops either, but growing regions, rainfall, and storm strength, too.

Additionally, climate change is pushing more high-end and sensitive crops like cocoa, champagne, and coffee to the brink.

Wiley Webb, the CEO and co-founder of Permanent, a Washington-based, local foods aggregator and technology company that helps people and companies eliminate the overhead of local sourcing, says the problem is more than just a warming globe.

"The fresh foods industry is always moving. You'll read about a weather event here causing issues, in say, the supply of limes, but the backup region where we normally pull limes from this time of year is also having a major weather event, and the crop from another region, even farther away, isn't just ready yet," Webb said in an interview with Climatebase.

"As farming and food distribution has gotten bigger and more consolidated as an industry, growers very logically have to invest more resources in fewer things to reach the economies of scale and drive down prices that all consumers and buyers demand. That means every year, there's a shrinking set of seeds that farmers are growing and planting and a shrinking set of harvest techniques and weather conditions that are compatible with those crops. Larger farming corporations reduce their risk by very cleverly operating in multiple regions throughout the year to provide consistent production and reduce risk to bigger weather events," he continued. "When a consumer sees higher prices at a grocery store than they're used to for blueberries, that might be because a brokerage firm needed to find a very creative solution to get a precious customer."

Enzo Lo Presti, Unslpash

An Opportunity for Climate Tech and Creative Solutions to Crop Disappearance

Jett Metcalf, principal recruiter at Regrow, a climate-tech company that offers data insights for agricultural supply chain resilience, MRV tools, and carbon offset tools for farmers and growers, calls himself a climate optimist despite the data that indicates the globe has already passed its 1.5C warming point.

“I consider myself a positivist because I think that's really the only way to feel comfortable moving into space. I think oftentimes, climate doomerism is very real and I think it can be a coping mechanism in many ways,” Metcalf said, pointing out that what gives him real hope is the wide variety of passionate talent that he sees every day, as well as the number of investors moving into the climate tech space.

Webb says that he, too, is optimistic about the potential for innovation and change in the food space as we collectively face the threat of food loss thanks to climate change. Webb sees it through the lens of educating both consumers and food service buyers on how to be better stewards of both our climate and our food production.

"Focusing on regional products grown seasonally to help make markets and grow markets for that, is important." Webb says. "That's typically a mixture of educating buyers, providing useful marketing materials for growers, so they can educate and inspire their eaters, and more communication and empathy from everyone. To have a food culture that is tolerant of change and embraces diversification, not as a problem that increases industrial production costs, but as a solution to reduce the risk of total wipeout, is key."

Data around sustainability is also crucial, as Metcalf from Regrow points out. "Huge strides need to be made to improve greenhouse gas emissions, among other sustainability factors across agriculture, but we're not nihilistic about it because we have the data. Now is the only time that we'll be able to make those decisions or change, and we're trying to provide as much context to these decision-makers about improving those practices as possible."

The Clock is Ticking

While solutions to the possible disappearance of our most valuable crops may yet come from the climate tech space, Metcalf continues to underline that time is of the essence when finding ways to prevent it.

“We now have seven growing seasons left, before we hit the 1.5 degrees centigrade threshold,” Metcalf told Climatebase. “And while agriculture is still one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, it's also very much one of the largest pressure points for climate change.”

As the clock ticks, we may collectively have to deal with everything from price increases to reduced supplies of those foods we crave the most, be they bananas, champagne, coffee, chocolate, or others. We’ll continue to cover this topic going forward, so stay tuned for a deeper dive into the effects that climate change is having on crops like bananas and cacao in a future newsletter.

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The Author

Abigail Bassett