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Experts are worried that our groceries are being affected by 'heatflation' — here's what that means

"Heatflation" could cause global food prices to increase by around 3% by 2035.

"Heatflation" could cause global food prices to increase by around 3% by 2035.

Photo Credit: iStock

A new study estimates that "heatflation" won't be going away. Rather, extreme heat may continue causing our grocery bills to rise. 

What's happening?

As detailed by Grist, an analysis published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment found that "heatflation" — a term coined by the media organization — could cause global food prices to increase by around 3% by 2035. North America could see prices grow by 2%. 

The study estimates that carbon pollution generation would impact the yearly increase, with extreme weather projected to cause anywhere from a 0.3 to 1.2% rise annually. 

Columbia Business School climate economist Gernot Wagner explained that those tiny numbers are more significant than they initially seem since the Federal Reserve tries to limit long-term inflation to 2%.

"That's half of the Fed's overall goal for inflation," he told Grist. 

Why is this concerning?

Many people worldwide are already having trouble getting enough nutrition. Factors other than weather do impact access to food, including poverty, conflicts, and the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The coronavirus pandemic demonstrated how sensitive supply changes are to disruption and how that disruption can awaken inflation," Georgetown University Law Center professor of law and economics David A. Super told Grist in an email. 

However, warmer global temperatures have caused extreme conditions to become more frequent and severe. Super pointed out that the "disruptive effects" of a changing climate will be "orders of magnitude greater" than pandemic-related issues. 

In southern Africa, the natural weather pattern El Niño resulted in a crop-devastating drought that appears to have been supercharged by human-generated planet-warming pollution. Now, World Vision is warning that millions are at risk of hunger and starvation. 

In the United States, which experienced a record number of billion-dollar weather disasters in 2023, people have felt the squeeze even without the study's projected heatflation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that food prices increased by 25% from 2019 to 2023. According to Feeding America, more than 44 million people in the country are struggling with hunger. 

What can be done to protect our food supply?

Breakthroughs are providing insight into how to grow more climate-resilient crops. Earlier this year, scientists at the University of Southern California revealed that a discovery regarding the circadian rhythm of plants could lead to more drought-resistant crops. This could help alleviate a major factor contributing to food insecurity. 

Meanwhile, experts overwhelmingly agree that reducing pollution from dirty fuels like gas, oil, and coal is the best way to bring our planet back into balance. 

Nations around the world are working to do just that. Last year, for example, Greece generated more than half of its power from clean sources, including wind, solar, and hydroelectric. American Clean Power also reported that the U.S. set a record for renewable projects.  

Easy ways to contribute to these efforts (and save some money, too) include unplugging appliances that aren't in use and switching to LED light bulbs, which also give off less heat. 

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