The impact on our food system is just one of many ways in which climate change is affecting the lives of Canadians.

By Ryan Kadowaki, Senior Science and Policy Coordinator

We have an intimate connection to food. To paraphrase David Suzuki, "When we consume food we are incorporating the environment into our very being." Food is tradition, comfort, celebration, privilege and often a reliable indicator of environmental health.

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One of the key messages of the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading scientific body on the issue, is that our food systems in North America face significant challenges as a consequence of climate change — caused by build-up of heat-trapping carbon emissions in the atmosphere. This is really hitting home in California, one of the continent's primary agriculture belts. The past winter was the driest in California since record-keeping began in the 1800s and possibly the most severe drought in the past 500 years.

Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. declared a state of emergency. California's agriculture and livestock producers have been especially hard-hit. This has had pronounced effects on the regional economy and individual livelihoods, but it has also had a more far flung impact here in Canada when we consider how interconnected our food systems have become.

Canada imports nearly $4 billion worth of agricultural products like fruits, vegetables and nuts from California (10 per cent of total food imports) every year. This means when California's water resources are under threat, Canadians can feel the pinch in the form of higher grocery bills. This affects us all and is especially burdensome for lower-income households that spend a greater share of income on basic needs.

Of course, a big part of the solution is to build up more robust local food systems that are heartier in a more variable climate and help buffer our communities against future impacts. But we must also push for changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are at the root of the problem. According to a joint poll by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Environics Institute, a majority of Canadians believe such changes are possible. Rather than accept intensifying drought conditions as the new normal, we need to demand from our leaders more ambitious solutions like prioritizing clean energy, phasing out subsidies to fossil fuel companies and expanding transit networks.

April 30, 2014

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