Americans eat a lot of sugar. According to a 2012 infographic from www.OnlineNursingPrograms.com, we consume about 130 pounds of sugar each year. And when I say sugar, I don’t just mean sugar from sugar cane. I am referring to corn syrup, which is used to sweeten our favorite soft drinks, of which the average American drinks 53 gallons per year. That sounds bad, and it is, but brain scans show that sugar is addictive as cocaine. Well, our national addiction is in major trouble from climate change.
Corn is the biggest agricultural crop in the U.S. It’s a $65-billion-a-year industry and global warming is putting it at a significant risk. A report released this week by Ceres, a coalition of investor and environmental groups, says that corn is at risk because its water demands are growing at a time when the threat of drought is increasing. Ceres said corn production particularly is in danger due to its tapping stressed aquifers as a water source. A couple that are especially relied upon are the High Plains aquifer, which covers eight Great Plains states, and the Central Valley aquifer in California.
Report author Brooke Barton, Water Program Director at Ceres, says, “Escalating corn production for our food, livestock and energy industries has put the corn sector on an unsustainable path.” The Midwest drought of 2012 pushed corn prices to record-level highs of $8 per bushel and according to the report are "a taste of what is predicted to become the new normal in many parts of the Corn Belt thanks to climate change.”
Rising corn prices also impact more than just the food industry. The transportation industry may also take a hit as corn production is affected by climate change. The crop is used to make ethanol, which is a fuel additive, and accounts for roughly 10% of the country’s fuel.
However, the largest use of corn in the U.S. is still for human consumption one way or another. Even if we’re not directly drinking it in soft drinks, it is still used a livestock feed. Soda manufacturers, such as leading beverage company Coca-Cola Co., could make a significant difference in sustainable corn production. Ceres says they could seek out suppliers of their agricultural ingredients who use less water and fertilizers.
Although, the good news to our waistlines is that U.S. consumption of carbonated soft drinks has been declining for a decade. Maybe we are starting to wean ourselves off of our sugar addiction after all. Either way, it is part of a group of addictions that our country needs to overcome. Using less is the best way to control carbon emissions.