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Wonder how climate is impacting agriculture? Watch insects eat, breed

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There’s a lot more to climate change than has yet hit public awareness, to the point where exploring peer-reviewed journal papers can lead straight to worrying for the mental health of scientists: for they have a far clearer sight of how bad this is.

And it’s bad.

Setting aside the headlines from the recently concluded COP27, the last two weeks have seen us surpass the eight billion mark in our global population and brought a predictive computer model claiming the Earth will no longer be able to support human life by 2040 to 2050.

The evidence of that forecast’s veracity is sketchy – with one journalist suggesting it is credible because the same model predicted falling living standards from the mid-1980s, which I would definitely dispute.

Yet the critical gap in the reporting of this claim was around the mechanisms the computer included in its modelling — which got it from here to the end of humanity that fast.

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Yet those mechanisms are there, making only the precise timeline, and how long we have left, the matter for debate.

For this is about far more than worsening droughts and extra floods.

Just recently, I began digging deeper into the impact on agriculture, which got me quickly to insects and viruses.

For, it turns out, climate change is a dream ticket for many pests.

Sadly, the ones we need and love like bees to pollinate everything, do badly as the heat turns up.

But leaf-munching bugs, bark and plant borers, caterpillars, some kinds of worms, beetles and grasshoppers: all get a very major boost.

Hence, the recent locust plague. First off, insects grow (very much) faster in the heat, and the roughly 1.5 degrees that temperatures have already risen in parts of Kenya has moved many pest populations into overdrive.

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As a result, some of our common pests that used to take more than one agricultural season to breed a new generation are now breeding five or more generations in a single season.

And that’s quantum: because where before an adult female laid around 40 eggs a year, that has taken the eggs at the end of the season from one starting-point female to 100.4 million.

If it stopped there, it would be grim. But it doesn’t.

These bugs are also growing larger, producing more eggs per insect, and in addition to all the damage they do themselves to crops, many carry viruses and other infections to plants, which are also growing exponentially as the insect population grows.

Not that we are discussing this. But it’s there. And the scientists just keep mapping it, as the bugs keep eating more of our food, and our own populations keep on growing.