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Salon: Climate Change and Capitalism Causing Supply Chain Disruptions

by Eric Worrall

According to History graduate Matthew Rosa, climate change and capitalism are behind the supply chain disruption the USA is currently experiencing.

Climate change is driving supply chain shortages — and your supermarkets are not prepared

The problem with our supply chains can be explained by climate change — and America is in no way ready for it



Before the days of antiseptic supermarkets, with their fluorescent lights and linoleum floors, food was sold in very different types of markets, most of which would not pass muster to a modern health inspector. Take Medieval Europe: Even the sturdiest contemporary carnivore might have felt a bit queasy at the sight of animals being slaughtered, which would happen not far from where the cuts of meat were ultimately sold (if they were cut up at all). Farmers would wheel in their produce from plots of land within walking distance of their homes, or at most a short horse ride away. By contrast, citizens of the early 21st century are used to their food coming to them in the same way as their cars, their clothes and their household appliances — through sprawling international supply chains.

Unfortunately, just like a chain is only as strong as its weakest leak, a supply chain can become inefficient or fall apart if there is even a slight hiccup. This is especially so when the supply chains overlap in so many ways that it’s more of a “supply labyrinth” or “supply knot” than a supply chain.

When it comes to food-based supply chains, climate change is another major culprit, albeit one that is very difficult to quantify. Unlike other economic sectors, where there can disruptions from the demand end as well as the supply end, people never decide they have had enough of food. (They may, of course, alter their dietary preferences.) When there are supply chain issues, it is usually because some unwanted outside variable has made it more difficult for those who produce food to do their job. Climate change causes many of those unwanted outside variables: Warming temperatures harmed American corn yields in 2010 and 2012, as well as $220 million in losses for Michigan cherries in 2012. As weather continues to warm, crops that depend on precise temperatures at specific times will be thrown off kilter or possibly wiped out. While moderate warming and carbon dioxide increases will help some plants grow faster, even they will ultimately be harmed by the droughts and floods that will harm so many other crops.

“A major drought in California or freezing temperatures in Florida can throw a wrench into this market,” Dr. Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, an associate professor of applied economics at Cornell University, told Salon in August. “Those events can drastically reduce the supply of oranges from those regions. While oranges can be produced in other areas (e.g. Brazil), acquiring them is much more expensive especially if the supply chains are not already established and prepared to larger volumes.”

In addition to climate change, there is also the built-in structural problem of capitalism itself: Concentration of power, and the fact that supply chain disruptions also exist because the global economic system is built around what individual powerful corporations have decided will maximize their profits. A system that prioritizes profitability over everything else will make choices about who gets what first based on how they can make the most money, not on who needs it most or what will be most efficient. That means that supply chain disruptions, though not ideal, are also not viewed as a company’s absolute worst case scenario.


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Climate change has nothing to do with the USA’s supply chain problems. The problem is very obviously that something has gone very wrong with the offloading and land transport of goods. The hint is that there are goods waiting to be offloaded and shipped. If climate change was disrupting production, there would be nothing to ship and offload.

As for the problems caused by Capitalism, I prefer those problems to the problems faced by say people in Venezuela.