Oil, climate change threaten food supply: B.C. report

PotatoesThe Vancouver Sun (where I once spent a short, unsuccessful internship) is doing yeoman work in the lead-up to Friday’s second report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, anticipating the tangible costs of climate change. For instance, publicizing one of the B.C. government’s own studies on the future of agriculture in the province:

The agricultural industry’s reliance on fossil fuels for irrigation, processing, harvesting, refrigeration, transport and the production of fertilizer means that as the world’s oil supply wanes and fuel prices spike, we should not expect to be eating Chilean grapes and Mexican lettuce in a few years time, according to Vancouver architect and planner Rick Balfour. Balfour, who obtained the ministry report through Freedom of Information legislation, envisions a near-future in which virtually everything we eat will have to be produced locally.

Balfour, who served as chairman of the Vancouver Planning Commission until last week, has organized “war games” sessions for planning and futurist conferences in which people try to work out how societies and economies reorganize as a result of oil price shock. The “re-ruralization” of the suburbs — tearing up low-density neighbourhoods to grow crops — is a typical scenario, he said.

Government agrologist Kim Sutherland says that the Fraser Valley is the most productive agricultural land in North America, but that a large fraction of land that could be used for food production there and in the Okanagan and Vancouver Island is either not being farmed or is being used to grow sod and shrubs.

Land that produces food will be an increasingly precious resource as climate change forces marginal agricultural land out of production in B.C.’s interior and north, Sutherland said. The land crunch and rising food costs will put enormous pressure on non-food agricultural uses like nurseries and horse-rearing.

Real estate in the Lower Mainland is already such a topsy-turvy market it’s hard to say how this’ll play out. Commuting will be more expensive, so people will have more incentive to live downtown, but then again downtown Vancouver is already some of the densest residential area in North America so it’s hard to think where those people would go, or be able to afford to live. So maybe the suburbs would get more distant, not less, if that distance were paired with greater self-reliance — that is, if fewer people living far from downtown hauled themselves down the Fraser River every day. But those people would then be living on that desirable farmland …

Not good, though, and this is among the most fertile territory in the country. So, um, do you like root vegetables?

Photo credit: Flickr/detsugu

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