Op-Ed

Will climate change be the Grinch that steals Thanksgiving?

What foods do you look forward to most each Thanksgiving? Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and, of course, pumpkin pie. Unfortunately, the classic holiday dessert may not be a staple for much longer.

Heavy rains and warmer temperatures have led to a smaller than usual pumpkin crop, meaning a shortage of canned pumpkin this holiday season.

The culprit? Many studies, including a 2014 United Nations’ report, cite global warming as the main cause of increasingly violent weather patterns. If some Americans have to go without homemade pumpkin pie this year, will we accept that global warming is now a part of our daily lives (and our grocery carts) and not just a dilemma for future generations?

The pumpkin patches that supply Libby’s, the brand accounting for 80 percent of the world’s supply of canned baking pumpkin, experienced unprecedented rainfall this summer. Illinois, where all Libby’s crops are grown, received 9.42 inches of rain this past June, more than double the historical average. The summer downpours cut Libby’s pumpkin harvest in half. According to Brad Rippey, a U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist, this year’s weather patterns were “easily an all-time record” for the last 121 years of rainfall and climate data.

Severe weather events are occurring more and more often. This October, historic rainfall flooded South Carolina’s low-lying cities. Twenty-one people lost their lives and thousands more were forced to evacuate. California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in its recorded history. El Niño threatens to bring flash flooding and more agricultural damage in the next few months.

New climate patterns are already affecting global food production, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Increases in heavy rains, flooding, warmer temperatures, drought and an overall more variable climate are making staple crops vulnerable to disaster as well. The rate of increase for food production is slowing, particularly in wheat, one of the most relied-upon crops, which happens to be especially sensitive to heat. With increasingly volatile weather patterns, faltering crop yields and a growing population to feed, the threat of climate change becomes more concrete every year.

It is no longer just icecaps that are disappearing, but our groceries as well. Our food systems are under attack from the forces of global warming, but it is within our power to slow the assault.

Some of the causes of climate change can be addressed at the individual family level. Americans’ consumption habits are responsible for a huge chunk of the carbon emissions wreaking havoc on our atmosphere, climate and crops. By using the Environmental Protection Agency’s online carbon footprint calculator, you can see which areas of your lifestyle use the most fossil fuels: heating, electricity, transportation, waste, etc. Armed with this knowledge, you can consider steps large and small to reduce your energy usage this holiday season.

Long-term investments in weatherizing your home or installing solar panels on your roof can reduce energy consumption. Or you could buy a new EnergyStar appliance on Black Friday. You can also take lower-cost steps, like getting your holiday turkeys, hams and veggies from a local farm or switching to LED lights on your Christmas tree. Every little bit counts (and could save your family some money in the process).

However you choose to save energy, remember what’s at stake. Climate change no longer threatens only grandchildren and polar bears. It inches closer to home every year through storms, droughts and threats to our most basic necessity: food. This year, as you gather to give thanks, show your gratitude for the pumpkin pie. We all may live to see the day when it isn’t there.

Archer Newell of Lexington graduated from Bryan Station High School and is a student at Middlebury College.

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