Climate activist Bill McKibben connects climate change and hunger

April 20, 2017

Editor’s note: Today, The Hunger Reports kicks off our coverage of the 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities, with a new video, blog series, and infographics. Blog posts offer glimpses into why hunger persists and what we can do about it.

It may not be common knowledge in the United States, but the world has been making enormous progress against hunger. Since 1990, the rate of chronic hunger has been cut nearly in half. The hard work of hungry people themselves deserves most of the credit, but U.S. advocates’ calls for better policies and funding have helped. 

In 1989, as progress against hunger was gaining momentum, Bill McKibben wrote the first book that warned of the threat of climate change. Since then, U.S. climate activists have been unwavering in their efforts to persuade and pressure government to reduce CO2 emissions—before it’s too late.

Until recently, though, climate change activists and anti-hunger activists didn’t necessarily think of the two problems as connected—not even people working on both issues.

McKibben is an exception, explaining, “Climate change is a sort of amplifier of [the world’s] weaknesses and fractures. It makes it much, much harder to cope with what are already very difficult problems.”

He’s right, of course. Climate change is now a leading cause of hunger. It could undo all the progress of the past decades.

McKibben points out, “If you worry about injustice… [there’s no better example] than changing the very basic fundamentals of where everybody lives and makes their living.” Poor communities, whose livelihoods are already precarious, are the most vulnerable.

Bread for the World Institute works toward policies that will end hunger and malnutrition. That is why our 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities, includes a chapter on how climate change worsens hunger. The effects on agricultural production, access to water, conflict over resources, and more mean that the two problems must be solved together.

When we talked with McKibben recently, he mentioned the hundreds of thousands of farm animals that suffered fatal burns during the March 2017 wildfires in Kansas and Oklahoma. “Now imagine those same kinds of conditions happening in places where people lack all resources,” he said. In Somaliland in the Horn of Africa, “we’ve seen losses to livestock herds of 40, 50, 60, 70 percent as record drought descends.”                 

Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities also illustrates how people already deeply affected by climate change can build resilience. Of course, the industrialized countries that are causing climate change have a responsibility to stop it and to mitigate the damage that’s been done. But while we’re pressing our elected leaders to do the right things, it’s good to know that strategies such as reforestation, improved livestock grazing practices, and fuel-efficient cooking methods are accessible to poor communities.

Watch the video, featuring an interview with McKibben on the links between climate change and global hunger.

Climate change is now a leading cause of hunger.

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