Will climate change ruin Thanksgiving?

The supply of one of Thanksgiving's most iconic foods could be threatened as the result of bad weather earlier this year.

Larry Crowe/AP
A piece of pumpkin pie is seen in this 2008 photo.

Everything from rising sea levels in Vanuatu to worsening air quality in India to the endangerment of polar bears, sea turtles, and giant pandas around the world has been attributed to climate change.

But this Thanksgiving, climate change may hit a little closer to home.

Libby's Pumpkin, which supplies more than 85 percent of the world's canned pumpkin, says an unusually rainy spring and summer will slash annual pumpkin yields by half this year.

Morton, Illinois, which grows most of the pumpkins prepared and canned by Libby's, has been experiencing increased rainfall for decades – 10 percent more, in fact. The rainfall has been especially severe during spring planting season, a critical time in pumpkin growing.

This past June, Illinois got more than 9 inches of rain, more than 5 inches above average, according to Jim Angel, Illinois’s state climatologist. Between May and July – critical growing months for processing pumpkins like those used in Libby's cans – almost 2 feet of rain fell in Illinois, more than 10 inches above average.

“This year’s harvest was reduced because rains came early in the season during a critical growth period,” Roz O’Hearn, corporate and brand affairs director for Nestle USA, which owns Libby's, told ThinkProgress. “The result: not as many pumpkins formed from the flowers.”

“We originally reported our yield could be off by as much as a third, but updated crop reports indicate yields will be reduced by half this year,” O’Hearn added.

For Illinois, that upward trend in precipitation is consistent with the sort of weather experts at the National Climate Assessment and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipate due to climate change.

While that's bad news for pumpkin pie fans, it may come with an inadvertent side effect: If it hits them on their dining tables, climate change may be perceived as more real, or more of a threat.

When climate change hits close to home – in the form of warmer temperatures or changes in precipitation patterns, for example – people are more likely to perceive climate change as a serious risk, according to a study published in July in the journal Nature Climate Change.

According to the study, which studied populations around the world, Americans are more likely to rate climate change as more serious if they felt local temperatures were getting warmer. In China, people were more likely to see climate change as a greater risk if they felt air quality was getting worse.

And tellingly, people who were aware of climate change in developing nations – which scientists have long warned would be hardest hit by the effects of climate change – perceived its risk to be higher than those in developed nations. Even those who hadn't been educated about climate change said they noticed local changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, according to the study.

That's a trend Leo Ondrovic, a Saint Leo University science faculty member who tracks global climate change research noticed in an April 2015 Saint Leo study on climate change.

A majority of respondents in that survey felt strongly that climate change is responsible for certain environmental changes like warmer temperatures (69 percent), severe storms (67 percent), worsened drought conditions (66 percent), rising oceans (65 percent), and beach erosion (62 percent).

“The majority of respondents have noticed some changes,” Dr. Ondrovic said. “So the general public sees effects of the climate changing, although a majority did not attribute any single effect to climate change, even though all of these can be tied to climate change. So while this is encouraging, it seems there is more work to be done in explaining these connections to the general public.” 

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