The infant formula shortage is a preview of a food crisis to come

As a new mom, I’ve been terrified for the last few weeks about running out of food for my 2 month old baby who was born 6 weeks premature and was having trouble breastfeeding. But what scares me just as much as the prospect of the formula running out is knowing that this shortage is a preview of what’s to come if governments don’t switch to fossil fuels and limit global warming.

Most of the dialogue about climate impacts focuses on the weather: extreme heat, storms and fires. But the climate crisis is also a food and water crisis that has already disrupted global food systems and caused devastating famines. And it’s getting worse: UNICEF estimates that by 2040, 1 in 4 children worldwide will suffer from water and related food shortages.

Americans have very little understanding of where most of our food comes from. This makes it harder to connect the dots between extreme heat, drought, the “insect apocalypse” and our food system. But without dramatic action to limit both warming and corporate power over our food supply, food shortages and famine are imminent.

Put simply, the plants we eat—and the animals that eat plants—need water, a predictable climate, and beneficial insects like pollinators to grow. Climate change is ruining all of that while also setting the stage for agricultural disasters: fires, floods, heat waves, frost, and new diseases that could wipe out entire varieties of staple crops. Extreme heat and drought are already reducing the yields of America’s soybean, corn and wheat crops.

The formula crisis is in many ways a climate preview. While the Biden administration rightfully used the Defense Production Act (DPA) to get new formulas on store shelves, Republicans used the shortage to incite fears about immigration, going so far as to demand that babies milk formula is taken from imprisoned asylum seekers. Climate-related food and water shortages affecting hundreds of millions of people will only fuel more violent nativism and cruelty.

Another parallel: The corporate consolidation that triggered the lack of formulas is also a feature of our agricultural system – and is already making food more expensive. And with increasingly oligarchic government, the prospect of frequent food and water shortages becomes even worse. During the Irish Potato Famine, the British continued to export grain from Ireland to England while millions of Irishmen starved to death. Faced with food and water shortages and little government regulation, corporations and the ultra-rich are likely to prioritize profits over the survival of working people. That Wall Street companies are buying up the world’s water supplies should terrify us.

Hopefully baby food will be back on the shelves soon. But if we are to prevent babies, children and adults from starving for years to come, we must both end our dependence on fossil fuels and limit corporate power in our democracy before it’s too late.

First, President Biden must treat the climate crisis with the urgency that a catastrophic, crop-destroying, hunger-inducing phenomenon deserves: He should immediately declare a climate emergency and use his executive powers — including the DPA — to curb emissions, ramp up renewable energy, and protect those Food and the water our babies need to thrive.

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