Climate change: Doing nothing does nothing

The March 31 front page of almost every daily newspaper in the world featured dire headlines for a story made public the night before by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Climate change already affecting food supply,” announced The Guardian in England. “Worst is Yet to Come,” noted that day’s New York Times. “UN panel: Warming worsen food, hunger problems,” headlined the Associated Press story sent to member news organizations.

Indeed, the U.N. climate change report  was big news for everyone everywhere except, it seems, U.S. farm and ranch groups and their members.

Yet to acknowledge. In fact, more than 24 hours after the report and its grim forecasts ricocheted the world over, most major American farm groups had yet to even acknowledge the report and the impacts its 72 authors predict climate change will have on the world’s farms, farmers and food production.

Golly, climate change and its affect on farms and ranch production and lives will just go away if no one at the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Wheat Growers Association mentions it?

Not even the climate-change denying, Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal went that far. It at least covered the report; OK, on page A8 of its April Fool’s Day edition.

Few see the latest U.N. climate report as foolish because, for the first time, it uses hard data to project the world we’ll leave our children and grandchildren if we continue our climate-changing carbon burning binge.

According to the report. It’s not a pretty picture. According to the report:

  • “In dry regions, drought frequency will likely increase… [and] climate change is likely to reduce raw water quality and post risks to drinking water quality…”
  • Rising ocean levels and super storms (like Sandy that caused $65 billion in damage to New Jersey, New York and other East Coast states in 2012) will “increase significantly” and, increasingly, expose “population and assets to coastal risks.”
  • “…by the mid-21st century and beyond, global marine-species redistribution and marine-biodiversity reduction in sensitive regions will challenge the sustained provision of fisheries productivity and other ecosystem services…” and
  • “For the major crops (wheat, rice and maize) in tropical and temperate regions, climate change without adaptation is projected to negatively impact production…Projected impacts vary… with about 10 percent of projections for the period 2030-2049 showing yield gains of more than 10 percent, and about 10 percent of projections showing yield losses of more than 25 percent…”

All this, continues the report, “combined with increasing food demand, would pose large risks to food security globally and regionally…”

Not news

This should not be news to anyone in American agriculture. Wild climate swings have hammered the cattle, corn, vegetable and fruit sectors in the last decade and sustained drought continues to devastate huge ag areas from the High Plains to California.

It certainly isn’t news to the Land Grant universities which research global warming. At the forefront is Eugene Takle, a professor of agronomy and director of Iowa State University’s Climate Science Program.

Currently, Takle and ISU colleague Jerry Hatfield, director of the National Lab for Agriculture and Environment, are lead authors of the ag chapter of the mandated 2014 National Climate Assessment. The report, due later this month, “will paint a sobering picture of climate change globally and its impacts on the U.S.,” Takle related when interviewed last fall for a campus publication.

“One of the key messages of the report,” Takle said “is that the incidence of weather extremes will continue and will have increasingly negative effects on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded.”

At least someone at a respected American agricultural institution believes climate change will be the 21st century farm and ranch game changer. Too bad it’s not an actual farm or ranch group.

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

2 Comments

  1. Thank you, Alan Guebert! While you don’t come out and say American farmers need to scale way back animal farming, you do caution fellow farmers at least to wake up and quit denying the very real impact of climate change on food production. The best way to ease the strain on this planet, and to lessen the impact of climate change, is for all animal farmers to transition to vegetable farming. NOW! Animal agriculture is unsustainable in any form.

  2. Lynn. Goldfarb says:

    See Alan Savory’s TED talk online about sustainable or managed grazing as way to reverse climate change. This technique, also called ” mob grazing” has had amazing results, turning the land into a carbon sink much more effectively than organic farming does. It’s being practiced in the U.S. on a small scale, but this has been practiced successfully in South Africa (where Savory is from, though he’s now in Boulder, CO)) for decades.

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