Food price volatility and production due to climate change is upon us already, and you’ve probably noticed it at your local grocer through increase costs. Farmers are grappling with climate change’s impact on predictable weather, meaning crops are have a harder time growing and farmers have a hard time planning.
Historians provide a solution. By looking into how agrarian societies survived (and failed) in the past we can better see what our future holds. There are techniques, policies, and trading routes that we may need to revive from hundreds of years ago to ensure we can feed all on Earth.
Such policies and community projects, some of which I have had the privilege to be involved with, deal mostly with the present and the future. Yet for decades, climate historians have also looked to the past to more fully understand the relationship between human history and the Earthâ€™s climate systems. Agriculture has been at the center of many of these studies, as many pre-industrial societies relied largely on arable crop outputs whose success was contingent on specific meteorological and ecological conditions. All methods of food production, from farming to hunting, fishing, and foraging, were intimately linked to seasonal, annual, and decadal variations in weather and climate. For agrarian societies who relied on arable staple crops such as wheat or rice, the success or failure of a harvest had multifold ramifications for individuals, communities, and economic systems.