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Proc Biol Sci. 1990 Sep 22;241(1302):232-44.

An exploratory model of the impact of rapid climate change on the world food situation.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, California 94305-2020.


A simple, globally aggregated, stochastic-simulation model was constructed to examine the effects of rapid climatic change on agriculture and the human population. The model calculates population size and the production, consumption and storage of grain under different climate scenarios over a 20-year projection time. In most scenarios, either an optimistic baseline annual increase of agricultural output of 1.7% or a more pessimistic appraisal of 0.9% was used. The rate of natural increase of the human population exclusive of excess hunger-related deaths was set as 1.7% per year and climatic changes with both negative and positive impacts on agriculture were assessed. Analysis of the model suggests that the number of hunger-related deaths could double (with reference to an estimated 200 million deaths in the past two decades) if grain production keeps pace with population growth but climatic conditions are unfavourable. If the rate of increase in grain production is about half that of population growth, the number of hunger-related deaths could increase about fivefold (over past levels); the impact of climatic change is relatively small under this imbalance. Even favourable climatic changes that enhance agricultural production may not prevent a fourfold increase in deaths (over past levels) under scenarios where population growth outpaces production by about 0.8% per annum. These results may foreshadow a fundamental change where, for the first time, absolute global food deficits compound inequities in food production and distribution in causing famine. The model also highlights the effectiveness of reducing population growth rates as a strategy for minimizing the impact of global climate change and maintaining food supplies for everyone.

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