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Climate Change Hits the Grocery Store and Dinner Plate

Frances Beinecke

Posted May 8, 2014

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Click here to take actionYou might start seeing some changes at the grocery store this spring. The price of lettuce is expected to jump 34 percent. The cost of an avocado is likely to increase from 35 cents to $1.60 each, and meat prices are also likely to climb as well, since wholesale beef prices have hit record highs this year.

Many of these price spikes can be traced back to the record-breaking drought in California. But California farmers aren’t the only ones struggling in the face of extreme weather.

According to the National Climate Assessment released on Tuesday, many crops are expected to decline as a result of the drought, heavy rains, and pests made worse by climate change. That means higher prices at the store, but also greater challenges for the farmers producing our food.

Matt Russell, a fifth-generation farmer in Lacona, Iowa, says, “Scientists have been telling us what climate change looks like. As farmers, we’re living it.”

In Iowa, for instance, hazardous weather between 2010 and 2012 caused losses totaling $4.34 billion mainly in crop damage. And an unusually early and warm warm spring spurred rapid plant growth at Michigan fruit farms in 2012, but then a return to normal spring weather resulted in a series of freezes that destroyed the cherry crop and at least 90 percent of the apple, peach, and juice grape crops.

“We don’t know what normal is anymore,” says corn and soybean farmer Arlyn Schipper in this video by my NRDC colleague Rocky Kistner.

Arlyn Schipper is a corn and soybean farmer in Conrad, Iowa. Credit: NRDC

The stakes are high for all of us. As Russell explains, “We are already experiencing the effects of climate change. It’s going to be very difficult for us to continue to feed a growing population if the agriculture systems we have in place now are no longer viable with the climate that’s changed.”

Many farmers are concerned about what it will take to farm in these altered conditions. Extreme weather may require expensive new machines to handle rain-drenched fields or a shift in crops and planting cycles. NRDC is calling on the USDA to support farmers who are trying to become more resilient in the face of extreme weather. But our nation must also tackle this crisis at its root: we must reduce the pollution that causes climate change.

Power plants are the largest source of US carbon pollution. The United States limits mercury, arsenic, and soot from power plants, yet astonishingly there are no national limits on how much carbon these plants can dump into our atmosphere.

This June, the Environmental Protection Agency will propose the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. NRDC analysis shows that strong carbon limits would yield up to $60 billion in health and environmental benefits by 2020. NRDC also found that energy efficiency provides the cheapest way for utilities to meet carbon limits—and utility investments efficiency also help reduce household electric bills. Click here to tell the EPA you support strong limits on dangerous carbon pollution.

If America acts now to reduce carbon pollution, we can help protect our communities from unchecked climate change. And we can ensure our nation’s farms and food remain secure long into the future.


Editor’s Note: The original version of this post mentioned a drought in Ohio. Our source material erroneously said the drought was in 2009. When we realized the mistake, we removed the reference.

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Susan C. HarrisMay 9 2014 04:48 PM

Climate change doesn’t just mean record heat. It leads to more extreme storms and droughts, rising sea levels, and threats to our economy and our health.

A Proud CanadianMay 9 2014 09:20 PM

Hi Frances,

I like the thought of these standards driving investment in cost-effective energy efficiency, substantially lowering the cost of compliance, lowering electricity bills, and creating thousands of jobs across the country. But I don’t understand a key item even after reading the article(s) so please help me out……

So, from what I can see however, the methodology of the approach is:
-Limit coal plants to 1,000-1400 pounds of CO2/MWh
-Limit gas fired plants to 700 pounds of CO2/MWh

And to do this:
"-First, a plant could reduce its own CO2 emission rate by retrofitting a more efficient boiler or installing CO2 capture systems, for instance, or it could burn a mixture of coal and cleaner fuels such as gas or certain types of biomass.
They could retire coal plants and build new natural gas and renewable capacity, if needed, creating a cleaner overall electricity-generating fleet
-Second, the owners of multiple power plants could average the emissions rates of their plants, meeting the required emission rate on average by running coal plants less often, ramping up generation from natural gas plants or renewable sources instead."

So to me this sounds like a huge amount of capital investment.
Also for the cost of carbon sequestration. I checked the internet and found
- CCS technology is expected to use between 10 and 40 percent of the energy produced by a power station. To produce the same power output to customers it will take between 10 and 40 percent more fuel (along with its production and combustion emissions of CO2)
- Greenpeace claims that CCS could lead to a doubling of coal plant costs. It is also claimed by opponents to CCS that money spent on CCS will divert investments away from other solutions to climate change. On the other hand, CCS is pointed out as economically attractive in comparison to other forms of low carbon electricity generation and seen by the IPCC and others as a critical component for meeting mitigation targets such as 450 ppm and 350 ppm. (So in other words…… CCS doubles the cost of power when compared to coal ….. and that is still cheaper than other renewables cost)

This is not very comforting and markedly inconsistent with the NRDC claim....... Except for the jobs argument, although temporary construction jobs (and I assume very few permanent jobs) …. Jobs are jobs and building things does create jobs

So, Can you explain how this converts into lower electricity bills?

A Proud Canadian

I-C Levenberg-EngelMay 11 2014 01:23 PM

"... The cost of an avocado is likely to increase from 35 cents to $1.60 each..." Here in our Riverdale The Bronx neighborhood, the price of an Avocado is already close to $2 each.

Greg FeczkoMay 15 2014 09:21 AM

I'm the editor's note above, you say you dropped the reference to the drought in Ohio because the year was incorrectly listed as 2009. If the only problem was the incorrect year, why not just make that correction? Or was there some other problem with the citation that you didn't mention?

Frances BeineckeMay 15 2014 02:54 PM

Thanks for your question, Greg. The year was incorrect in the source material for Ohio. I couldn't be certain if changing the year would alter the related information about crop yields, so I removed the reference all together.

Enviro Equipment, Inc.May 16 2014 03:00 PM

Sadly, we've probably past the point of no return and instead of wasting our time convincing global warming denialists that climate change is real, we should simply focus our attention on the best ways to deal with it rather than trying to drastically cut carbon emissions overnight. Realistically, this approach may be our planet's best hope.

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