Anthropocene Magazine discusses how most climate and agriculture research has focused on crops, not the people who pick them. At 2 degrees warming, the entire growing season will be considered unsafe for agricultural work in some places.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of people who grow, pick, and process food as essential workers. These agricultural workers will also be on the front lines of climate change, a new study makes clear.
In principle, this isn’t so surprising – agricultural workers labor outside, and temperatures are rising. But until now, most research on climate change and agriculture has focused on crops, not the people who pick them.
Researchers gathered data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on the number of agricultural workers employed in each county. They used climate data from a government database covering 1979-2013 to calculate agricultural workers’ historical exposure to extreme heat. They also projected extreme heat exposure in the future based on computer climate models.
Under current agricultural labor practices, healthy workers can tolerate regular exposure to a heat index (which includes the effect of both temperature and humidity) up to 83.4 °F without suffering heat stress.
Source: Tichgelaar M. et al. “Work adaptations insufficient to address growing heat risk for U.S. agricultural workers.” Environmental Research Letters 2020.