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For years, scientists have been warning that higher temperatures will reduce the bounty of farms around the globe: The National Climate Assessment forecasts smaller harvests in the United States. One model suggests that world corn yields could fall 24 percent by 2050. And a study that came out in April suggests that climate change has already slashed agricultural yields by 21 percent.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that as many as 183 million additional people will be at risk of going hungry by 2050 if carbon dioxide levels keep rising.
These findings conjure apocalyptic visions of famine and hunger wars. But scientists say the body of research into the impacts of climate change on the world’s food systems also has another major takeaway: that we have a tremendous capacity to adapt. One critical way, they say, would be to figure out exactly what makes plants susceptible to heat, so breeders know what to look for as they develop hardier crops for the future.