Researchers Illustrate Effects of Climate on Food

Assistant Professor of the UCSD School of International Relations and Pacific Studies Jennifer Burney researches the effects of food production and consumption, as well as the climate’s impact on agriculture. 

The goals of her studies coincide with those of the University of California’s Global Food Initiative launched by the UC Office of the President  in 2014. 

One of Burney’s recent studies has shown that the effects of short-lived climate pollutants can affect agriculture for varying reasons. 

The paper, which was cowritten with Scripps climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in November 2014. 

The study focuses on the science, technology and policy of SLCPs and the ways in which these can affect agricultural sustainability and food security goals.

The continued emission of pollutants can have both direct and indirect damaging effects, Burney told the UCSD Guardian.

“The interesting thing about some of the SLCPs is that they have direct impacts on crop yields beyond just through changes in temperature and precipitation,” Burney said. “So increasing pollution will not only exacerbate warming trends, which harms crops, but can also directly harm crops itself.”

According to Burney, not only can increasing pollution harm crops themselves, but ozone, which is immediately toxic to plants, and other particulates like black carbon, organic carbon and sulfates change the quantity and nature of the sunlight that reaches these crops.

Burney is further interested in studying emission inventories, or where emissions are coming from and when they are being emitted, in order to develop a better understanding of how enforced regulation can promote sustainability. 

UCOP media specialist Brooke Converse discussed the UC system’s hope to use research throughout the UC campuses and with outside organizations in an attempt to reduce food insecurity overall. 

“The goal is to build on existing efforts and create new collaborations among the UC system’s 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources,” Converse told the Guardian. “The initiative aims to put the UC system, the state and the world on a pathway to sustainably and nutritiously feeding themselves.”

Members of the UCSD community have recently worked toward providing food security on campus, as well, with the opening of the campus’ Triton Food Pantry on Jan. 5. 

The goal of the food pantry, which receives goods at a reduced cost by the San Diego Food Bank, is to provide free snacks or meals to UCSD students experiencing food insecurity.

Manager of the Triton Food Pantry Colin King told the Guardian that nutrition is an issue on a global as well as a local scale. 

“Global food insecurity is an issue due to the lack of food availability, access and use worldwide,” King stated. “These basic pillars, as defined by the World Health Organization, also affect students.”

King argues that students should not consider food a flexible expense. 

“From the student perspective, food is a flexible expense, and students skip meals to pay for mandatory expenses, such as tuition and housing,” King said. “This, along with the negative stigma for those who are food insecure, makes people, including students on our campus, hesitant to get help.”

According to Burney, UCSD continues to provide her with opportunities to work near other researchers interested in varying dimensions of related study.

“UCSD is a great place to do this kind of research because we have people working on all parts of the problem, from the cloud microphysics of how aerosols change cloud formation to the health and economic impacts of pollution to how countries do or do not agree on emissions reductions,” Burney said. “It’s a very vibrant and interdisciplinary group.”