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The vulnerability of the US food system to climate change


  • Laura Lengnick



The climate change vulnerability of a food system is a function of the exposure of the system to specific climate effects, the sensitivity of the system to those effects, and the capacity of the system adapt to those effects in order to maintain system integrity. A synthesis of recent literature conducted to explore the vulnerability of the US food system to climate change suggests that the interaction between regional climate change effects and the geographic specialization and concentration of agricultural production in the USA increases the vulnerability of the US food system to climate change. Vegetable and fruit production in the Pacific states are particularly sensitive to reduced water supplies, warmer winters, and more variable spring weather. Grain production in the Great Plains and the Midwest is sensitive to more variable weather, warmer winters, heat wave, and hot summer nights and flooding caused by more frequent heavy rains. The concentration of beef, pork, and poultry production in confined animal feeding operations located in the southern Great Plains and the Southeast is particularly sensitive to increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather and interruptions in feed, water, and power supplies associated with interactions between land, water, and energy use that amplify climate change effects. There is evidence that climate change is already causing disruptions throughout the US food system. Farmers and ranchers in the US report that increased weather variability and more frequent and intense weather extremes have increased the costs and complexity of food production. Businesses operating in the US agricultural supply, processing, distribution, and retailing sectors are actively managing supply networks to reduce disruptions associated with climate change effects. Food systems that rely on external or distant resources and specialized production, supply, and marketing chains appear to be particularly vulnerable to global environmental change. These characteristics, widely recognized as critical challenges to the sustainability of the US food system, take on new importance as barriers to climate resilience. Copyright AESS 2015

Suggested Citation

  • Laura Lengnick, 2015. "The vulnerability of the US food system to climate change," Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Springer;Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences, vol. 5(3), pages 348-361, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:jenvss:v:5:y:2015:i:3:p:348-361
    DOI: 10.1007/s13412-015-0290-4

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Goerner, Sally J. & Lietaer, Bernard & Ulanowicz, Robert E., 2009. "Quantifying economic sustainability: Implications for free-enterprise theory, policy and practice," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(1), pages 76-81, November.
    2. J. Arbuckle & Linda Prokopy & Tonya Haigh & Jon Hobbs & Tricia Knoot & Cody Knutson & Adam Loy & Amber Mase & Jean McGuire & Lois Morton & John Tyndall & Melissa Widhalm, 2013. "Climate change beliefs, concerns, and attitudes toward adaptation and mitigation among farmers in the Midwestern United States," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 117(4), pages 943-950, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gerald Marten & Nurcan Atalan-Helicke, 2015. "Introduction to the Symposium on American Food Resilience (Part 2)," Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Springer;Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences, vol. 5(4), pages 537-542, December.
    2. Nurcan Helicke, 2015. "Seed exchange networks and food system resilience in the United States," Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Springer;Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences, vol. 5(4), pages 636-649, December.


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