Climate change is triggering “extreme geological events”, like the Nepal earthquake

26 April 2015 for Newsweek: The untold – and terrifying – story behind the earthquake that devastated Nepal last Saturday morning begins with something that sounds quite benign. It’s the ebb and flow of rainwater in the great river deltas of India and Bangladesh, and the pindian-and-eurasian-platesressure that puts on the grinding plates that make up the surface of the planet.

Recently discovered, that causal factor is seen by a growing body of scientists as further proof that climate change can affect the underlying structure of the Earth.

Because of this understanding, a series of life-threatening “extreme geological events” – earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis – is predicted by a group of eminent geologists and geophysicists including University College London’s Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards.

Read the story in this week’s Newsweek magazine or here

Coffee under threat: how climate and the global market combine to create a crisis

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 Broadcast by BBC World Service, From Our Own Correspondent, 27 May 2014: Audio http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01zdr28

Published in the Observer, 30 March 2014: Under the coffee bushes, Rosibel and Benjamín Fijardo are on their knees, scraping carefully through a litter of dead leaves and dried mud. They are scavenging for stray coffee berries, fallen when the harvesters went through the plantation last week. After 20 minutes, Benjamín has a plastic cup half full. The beans look grey and mouldy, but he says they can be dried and sold. He returns to the work: “This is how we will feed our family for the next two months. By pecking like chickens!”

Nicaragua coffee picker

Benjamin Fijardo, coffee picker in Nicaragua (Oxfam)

For two million or more coffee workers and small farmers across Central America, the “hungry season” is beginning. It’s always a thin time before crops ripen, but with this winter’s coffee harvest down 50% or more on normal, for the second year running, hunger, malnutrition and debt are new curses for hundreds of thousands. Candida Rosa Piñeda, who owns this little plantation in the village of Atuna Uno, says she has not earned enough this year to buy a new pair of shoes. And she needs to replace most of her disease-damaged coffee bushes.

The disease that has brought these calamities to the pretty hills of Jinotega, in Nicaragua‘s central highlands, is new to most of the farmers I meet. They call it roya, rust. It is ugly. First, parts of the arabica bush’s glossy green leaves turn a dirty orange. Then dark dead patches appear and become holes. The infection spreads to the ripening berries, turning them from bright red to a zombie-skin grey. Trees can be saved, but they need to be carefully pruned and, just as carefully, treated with chemicals. The chemicals can be toxic to humans, and the trees will take years to come back to their normal production.

Hemileia vastatrix, the coffee rust fungus, is a known hazard of growing arabica, which is 70% of the world’s production and all of a cup of coffee’s taste. It has been a curse of coffee planters ever since it appeared in east Africa 150 years ago. However, the rust cannot survive temperatures below 10C. In this region of Nicaragua it usually occurred only below 1,300 metres. Up in the hills, cold nights and drier weather kept the disease at bay. And so that’s where the coffee farms are.

Most of the people I met said they had never seen it until three years ago: some believed it had been deliberately sprayed from the skies by aircraft. Some thought it had spread from the banana trees that shade the coffee plants and provide crucial food for farmers. But most agree that in recent years the weather has become hotter, wetter and less predictable.

Science is in no doubt that the changing climate is behind the rust and other problems affecting coffee production worldwide – and that things are likely to deteriorate. “In many cases, the area suitable for [coffee] production would decrease considerably with increases of temperature of only 2-2.5C,” said a leaked draft of a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, officially published on Monday. The panel predicts falling coffee production in a range of countries, largely because of warmer weather. In late February, markets scared by drought in Brazil saw futures prices in coffee rise by 70%. All the coffee-producing countries of Central America have seen drops in production of 30% or more in each of the past two years. Some, such as Guatemala, report rising cases of chronic malnutrition in coffee workers’ children.

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How will climate change affect Britain’s crops?

11th October 2009, The Observer

Olives, kiwi fruit, almonds – as the climate gets hotter in the UK, we may well be producing our own exotic crops

Far from the failed harvests, droughts and floods of Asia, Mark Diacono is expecting some good to come of climate change. On his 17-hectare farm beside the Otter river in north Devon, he is experimenting with the crops that might provide a living for farmers in the warmer, wetter Britain of the near future. So far the only thing he has really harvested is TV coverage – it only takes British agriculture, “food security” and climate change to be mentioned together for television news to be on the phone asking if they can send a crew to his orchards.

Nearly five years since he started his “climate change farm”, Diacono says results have been mixed. “Two olive species did well and two not. The almonds have not worked: there were two bad summers in a row. You have to take it on the chin if you’re going to try this stuff.”

Read the rest here at Guardian Online

Food, famine and climate change: India’s scorched earth

Farmer's widow Sugali Nagamma, 41, with her daughter Devi, 18. Her husband committed suicide three months ago

11th October 2009 The Observer

Suicide is the latest epidemic among farming communities as climate change parches the heart of India, destroying agriculture and plunging the poorest families into crippling debt.

In Andhra Pradesh, everyone we met had lost faith in the weather. “It is,” said one woman, a groundnut farmer and a mother of five, “like a bad husband. You cannot understand his behaviour.” Across the state and much of India the July monsoon had gone missing: it finally turned up 45 days late, and inadequate. “Scanty rain,” we were told. “Maybe just five minutes one day. Raining on one field but not the next.” No one had much idea why this had happened, and not many have heard the term “climate change“. What they do know is that it is getting hotter, and that you can’t rely on the rains any more.

By the end of September, when we arrived, a drought had been officially declared in Andhra Pradesh. Food prices were rising – rice up 20%, sugar 45%, most vegetables by even more. In Anantapur, the driest district of this dry state in the centre of the subcontinent, the farming families – some of the poorest people in India – were in crisis. Adults were going without meals to save money, children were being taken out of school, the older ones sent off to the city of Bangalore to look for work. The farmers were selling animals, registering for the government’s rural employment scheme, doing anything they could to stave off the moneylenders. Then early this month, massive storms brought floods that drove nearly half a million people in Andhra Pradesh from their homes.

Read on at the Guardian website