Things are heating up in the American Heartland, and not in a good way. The region that produces much of the nation’s commodity crops is set to be severely affected by climate change in the coming decades, challenging communities that depend on agriculture.
That’s according to a new report from the Risky Business Project, a group founded by ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate-change campaigner.
By 2100, Missouri is set to become as warm as Arizona is now, with double the number of plus-95 degree days compared to today. Wisconsin summers will be hotter than Washington D.C.’s summers are currently. Chicago will feel like Texas.
The Midwest produces two-thirds of U.S. corn and soybeans, and the report forecasts steep falls in output over the next five to 25 years. Some counties in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana are likely to see average crop losses of 18% to 24% because of warmer temperatures. Across the region, the report forecasts drops in corn and wheat output of 11% to 69% by the end of the century.
From the report: “Without action, climate change will lock in extreme temperature increases across the Midwest, bringing severe risks to the southern states’ economies.”
Some counties in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan could benefit from warmer temperatures, as farmers extend their growing seasons. But most of the impacts are likely to be negative. Rising temperatures could increase energy demand (because of the need for more air conditioning), decrease productivity (because outdoor workers tend to toil less hard in hotter weather), and drive up mortality rates (because older people are affected by hotter temperatures).
Of course, nothing is set in stone. We could see a fall in emissions and a weakening in climate effects. We could see new types of seeds and plants that need less water and grow in hotter climates. We could see more automation of farming to offset for the effect on farm-worker productivity. But then none of these things are here today. As things stand, the Midwest will look a lot less like “the Midwest” in the coming years.