Climate change impacts all aspects of the food system through increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and extreme weather events. In the Midwest, extreme precipitation has resulted in erosion, flooding events, and reductions in agricultural productivity levels. While climate change affects all food systems, vulnerable populations are disproportionally burdened by the consequences. Additionally, climate change may negatively impact the food security of these households.
As floods, fires, storms, and droughts intensify, food crops are destroyed, and food supply chains are disrupted more frequently. Consequently, there is an increasing strain on the ability to produce enough food to sustain a growing population in the United States and around the globe. Climate change therefore increases the risk of food deserts. Food deserts are areas where it is difficult to find and purchase fresh and affordable fruits, vegetables, and other nourishing foods, particularly prevalent in low-income communities. In addition to limiting the availability of fresh food, lower agricultural yields and supply chain challenges can increase their prices, further exacerbating food insecurity.
A household is considered food insecure when it lacks consistent access to enough food to comprise an adequate diet. In 2020, approximately 10.7 percent of people in the U.S. lived in food-insecure households; in Indiana, 13.5 percent of households were considered food insecure. Although the rate of food insecurity fluctuates over time depending on economic conditions, a persistent trend is its disproportionate presence among people of color. The US Department of Agriculture reports that food insecurity rates for non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic households are at least twice that of non-Hispanic, white households. These disparities worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, as food prices and availability interacted with high unemployment rates, demonstrating how disasters and public health crises hit vulnerable populations especially hard
Food Production and Pollution
An indirect, yet prominent way in which agricultural systems contribute to environmental degradation is through air and water contamination, which most harm low-income neighborhoods, rural communities, and communities of color. For example, concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, are disproportionately located near these communities, causing adverse health impacts. CAFOs are industrial agricultural facilities where animals—mostly cows, pigs, and chickens—are raised in extreme proximity to one another. These production methods lead to concentrations of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia in the air that exceed US EPA recommendations. As a result, nearby communities experience excessive respiratory problems compared to other low-density livestock-producing areas. Additionally, 25 percent of CAFO workers suffer from respiratory diseases including bronchitis, mucus membrane irritation, asthma-like syndrome, and acute respiratory distress syndrome.