No Such Thing as Wheat

I noticed a couple of secondary media sources talking about this study today.

It’s interesting in part because non-linear temperature responses and threshold temperatures are a really cool thing in biology. More importantly it is interesting because a lot of people eat wheat.

On the occasions when I am willing to get into discussions of climate change, one of the points that I hear frequently is that climate change could have unknown benefits; there is no reason to assume that the status quo is optimal. Besides, carbon dioxide was totally higher in the past.

The most important counterpoint I try to raise to that has always been this: the last time CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were this high, there was no such thing as wheat.

Wheat is a domesticated plant. We (humans) tamed and bred it to suit our needs over thousands of years. Recently we have been able to do this faster, but it still takes time. And over those generations (or, recently, years) we have optimized wheat for the local conditions to the best of our abilities. That is why we think that the status quo is optimal for wheat in the areas where we grow it now; we made it that way. And it was hard to do.

Now there are certainly areas of the world which do not currently produce crops that might open up to wheat cultivation as a result of climate change. If you fancy other places (Russia?) as the world’s new breadbasket, that could be a thing. I can’t really deny that moving agriculture around is possibility. Not a sure thing, but it could maybe happen.

But one thing we can say now- wheat, in the places and ways that we have optimized it to grow over the many millenia of human civilization, will probably suffer in a warmer world. The best light that we can honestly cast this in is taking a gamble with thousands of years of the labor of our ancestors.

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One Response to No Such Thing as Wheat

  1. a coward says:

    To paraphrase Jurassic Park, the planet is not in danger of dying, we are. This enlightening post about wheat mostly serves me another reason that it’s true.

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