talking about the weather

Extreme Weather Causes Food Prices to Increase, Nation to Fall Apart

PALESTINE, IL - JULY 25: A field of dead corn sits next to the Lincolnland Agri-Energy ethanol plant July 25, 2012 in Palestine, Illinois. This summer's extended drought, which has scorched corn and soybean crops across the Midwest, is expected to impact the price of gasoline which, in most states, contains at least 10 percent ethanol. The price of ethanol on the Chicago Board of Trade has risen nearly 25% this year. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Palestine, Illinois. City dwellers, this is not what a corn field is supposed to look like. Photo: Scott Olson/2012 Getty Images

In the movies, the consequences of extreme weather usually involve trying to outrun a CGI storm and desperately clinging to loved ones as they dangle from a cliff. Apparently we’re living out that scenario right now, and a more accurate natural disaster movie would portray Jake Gyllenhaal paying slightly more for hamburger meat. With record-high temperatures and drought covering two-thirds of the contiguous United States, the government announced on Wednesday that it expects food prices to increase significantly. And as annoying as that is for the average consumer, there’s an even more concerning weather-related issue: Our infrastructure isn’t built for these temperatures, so it’s likely that we’ll see even more transportation problems, blackouts, and storm damage.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said that it expects the price of milk, eggs, beef, poultry, and pork to shoot up in 2013. Owing to inflation, food prices usually increase about 2.8 percent a year, but according to the Associated Press, the government forecasts that the price of beef will increase 4 percent to 5 percent, while dairy prices will rise as much as 4.5 percent, poultry and egg prices will increase about 3 percent to 4 percent, and pork prices will climb 2.5 to 3.5 percent.

2012 is the hottest year ever recorded in the United States, and the accompanying drought has devastated crops. Prices of animal products will be affected the most because of their higher feed prices. Those costs make up a smaller percentage of the cost of processed foods, and fruit and vegetables won’t be affected since they’re irrigated in the same way regardless of the weather.

While the drought is already creating significant problems for farmers and ranchers, as well as the global food market, lower gasoline prices could help balance the costs for most Americans. However, there’s probably no escaping our infrastructure problems. Recently we’ve seen more reports of planes and vehicles stuck in asphalt softened during heat waves, severe highway damage caused by dry soil shrinking under roads, trains disrupted because of kinks in overheated metal rails, and inadequate drainage during heavy storms, and the New York Times reports that this could become the new normal across the nation. These structures were built to withstand a certain range of weather conditions, and we’ve been regularly exceeding those limits.

While scientists are hesitant to officially declare that these are the consequences of global warming, many are predicting that the recent weird weather isn’t just an anomaly. You can try to ride this one out by going vegan and leaving your apartment as little as possible, but it’s probably going to catch up with you eventually.

Food Prices to Increase Following Drought