Federal climate change report says food, ag production could be in jeopardy

(Updated, May 12, at 12:27)

SALEM, Ohio —  A large group of scientists and 13 federal government agencies warned of the dire consequences of climate change in a new report released May 6 by the National Climate Assessment.

The report, pieced together by a team of more than 300 experts and a 60-member federal advisory committee, warns that agriculture and human health in general will all suffer from climate change by about 2050 and beyond, if global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are not brought into check.

“Some areas are already experiencing climate-related disruptions, particularly due to extreme weather events,” according to the report.

While some U.S. regions and some types of agricultural production will be resilient to climate change over the next 25 years or so, others will “increasingly suffer from stresses due to extreme heat, drought, disease, and heavy downpours,” the report says.

“From mid-century on, climate change is projected to have more negative impacts on crops and livestock across the country — a trend that could diminish the security of our food supply,” the report continues.

Heating up

The average temperature for the United States has increased by 1.3-1.9 degrees since 1895, with most of the increase occurring since 1970. The most recent decade was the hottest on record, and 2012 was the nation’s hottest year on record.

Along with warmer weather, scientists are also documenting stronger weather events — like heavy downpours, droughts and wind damage.

From 1958 to 2012, Ohio and the Midwest have experienced a 37 percent increase in heavy precipitation events, and Pennsylvania and the northeastern states have experienced a 71 percent increase.

“The National Climate Assessment confirms that climate change is affecting every region of the country and critical sectors of the economy like agriculture,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in a prepared statement. “This assessment provides an unprecedented look at how the changing climate and extreme weather impact rural America.”

Each region

For the Midwest, which includes Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, the report warns of extreme heat, heavy downpours and flooding.

In the short-term, longer growing seasons and higher levels of carbon dioxide may increase yields of some crops, although the long-term effects are expected “to decrease agricultural productivity.”

5.15 Climate hot nightsThe Great Lakes will also suffer, with changes in “the range and distribution of certain fish species, increased invasive species and harmful blooms of algae and declining beach health,” according to the report.

The Northeast, which includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York, will suffer similar consequences, as well as a rising sea level. Coastal and river flooding are expected to increase.

Some 64 million people are estimated to live in the northeastern states. The report says they may adapt at first, but eventually, their ability to adapt “could be overwhelmed” by changes to the climate.

Declining production

The agriculture chapter of the report says that in addition to higher temperatures and downpours, “climate disruptions” will also cause declines in crop and livestock production due to weeds, diseases, insect pests and other consequences of climate change.

The ag chapter also says that climate change may jeopardize the future of food security in the United States and globally, and the ability to feed the 9 billion people estimated to inhabit the earth by 2050.

The complete report is more than 800 pages long, and has brought renewed attention to the issue of climate change.
Taking action. But the biggest question, arguably, is what should be done.

The report calls for “aggressive and sustained” greenhouse gas reductions, along with a “substantial decarbonization” of the global economy, that would include a “fundamental transformation of the global energy system.”

That “transformation,” according to the report, could include “putting a price (tax) on emissions, setting regulations and standards for activities that cause emissions,” including cap-and-trade programs that establish markets for trading emissions permits.

Farm response

Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for American Farm Bureau, said “a lot of (the report) is based on science and a lot of it is an important document for the administration to use,” to justify regulations — both current and new regulations that will soon be proposed.

If another cap-and-trade bill is introduced, it will not be the first. The American Farm Bureau Federation rallied against cap-and-trade bills in 2009 and 2010, warning lawmakers not to “cap the future” of American agriculture with what the organization considered burdensome regulations and taxes on emissions.

Walmsley said in his opinion, “you’d be foolhearted to say that the climate isn’t changing.”

But at the same time, he said rural America depends on having the tools it needs to produce food and energy.

“Having tools to innovate is much more important and useful than being straddled with regulations that merely regulate carbon emissions without really having a global impact,” he said.

The National Corn Growers Association used the climate report to urge President Obama to renew his support for the Renewable Fuel Standard for corn-based ethanol. The Obama Administration has recently proposed a reduction in the mandatory amount of ethanol blended into gasoline.

According to NCGA, the ethanol reduction would lead to greater dependency on oil and “increase carbon pollution” by an estimated 28.2 million metric tons in 2014.

Political points

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, whose district encompasses a large agricultural region in southwestern Ohio, told

Washington media that he did not want to get into a debate over the science.

However, he warned against proposals to address climate change, that would “kill jobs in America.”

It is unclear what policy actions the climate report may be used for, but it has already added some fire to what many are calling the “war on coal” against coal producing states.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried unsuccessfully May 7 to push for legislation he said would protect coal miners and their families from the “anti-coal jobs carbon regulations” of the U.S. EPA.

In a released statement, McConnell said his proposal would have halted the Obama Administration from moving forward with new regulations on coal-fired power plants, until the technology required to comply with the regulations is commercially available.

His proposal was blocked by Senate Democrats, who control the majority in the Senate.
 

Climate change facts and figures:

• The U.S. average temperature has increased by 1.3-1.9 degrees since 1895, and most of this increase has occurred since 1970. The most recent decade was the nation’s and the world’s hottest on record, and 2012 was the hottest year on record in the continental United States.

• Temperatures are projected to rise another 2-4 degrees in most areas of the United States over the next few decades.

• The frost-free season is projected to lengthen across much of the nation. This could lengthen the growing season for farmers and allow more crop rotations, one of the advantages of a warmer climate.

• The annual maximum number of consecutive dry days (less than 0.01 inches of rain) is projected to increase, especially in the western and southern parts of the nation, negatively affecting crop and animal production. Dryer days will increase evaporation and add stress to limited water resources, affecting irrigation and other water uses.

• “Hot nights” are projected to increase throughout the nation. These are defined as nights with a minimum temperature higher than 98 percent of the minimum temperatures between 1971 and 2000. High nighttime temperatures can reduce grain yields and increase stress on animals, resulting in reduced rates of meat, milk and egg production.

• Carbon dioxide accounted for 84 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2011. In the same year, 41 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions were attributable to liquid fuels (petroleum), followed closely by solid fuels (principally coal in electric generation), and to a lesser extent by natural gas. Electric power generation (coal and gas) and transportation (petroleum) are the sectors predominantly responsible.

(Source: National Climate Assessment, May 2014)

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

13 Comments

  1. Tom Pflasterer says:

    I am surprised and a bit disappointed that Farm and Dairy would publish an article verbatim as dictated by the Feds. Every ‘fact’ sited has been thoroughly debunked. This is the worst of junk science.
    Farmers are the soldiers in the field that deal with the reality of weather. This kind of ‘science’ reduces the reliability of any prediction that might be made and reduces the confidence of farmers in general to the predictive sciences.

    • Catzmaw says:

      So, you’re saying that over 97% of the world’s climate scientists are endorsing “junk science”? Do you even understand what junk science is or do you say it because it has such a nice ring to it?

      Please identify what about this report is “junk science”. What scientific method are they not using? Where are the flaws in their analysis? State your reasons for calling this junk science.

      Maybe then you can explain why thousands of scientists around the world would endorse this “junk science” and the people whose job it is to understand and react to the practical realities of agriculture and food production are embracing it, too.

  2. Seasoned_Citizen says:

    Farm groups have been slow to respond to the report….

    right!

    HERE WE GO AGAIN FOLKS–’RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS OBEY OUR FEDERAL COMMANDS, FORFEIT ALL YOUR PROPERTY, AND GIVE US YOUR BANK ACCOUNTS…”

    Oooh–fancy and colorful charts and graphs to boot. Gee willikers–this must all be true, then. NOT!

    Global warming, global cooling, climate change are all “code words” for a monumental HOAX. Manipulated data and a gullible uninformed public.

    RUBBISH!

    Climate is the climate. Weather changes–duh!

    What about all those global climate catastrophes well BEFORE this nasty, unfair, inequitable and unequal modern industrial carbon-using age we all enjoy? These phony gloom-n-doomers never explain those! Just read some history doggone it.

    One bit of advice all farmers know–keep your eye on the sky, barometer, thermometer, wet or dry soil, time of year and such. Been doing this for eons.

    BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY–keep a sharp eye out for “THE FEDS.” They are NOT here to help you, other than to help themselves to YOUR PRODUCTIVITY, BOUNTY, and if you let them, even your own LIFE, LIBERTY, and HAPPINESS.

    • Catzmaw says:

      If it’s such an easy report to refute, with lots of scientists and farmers who disagree, you should be able to produce them. Where are they? Name the respected scientist who disagrees with this report. Show facts which negate its facts.

      • Transylvanian says:

        I agree. Scientific observations are NOT to be ignored when done on a long term basis. Statistics dictate that as sample size (n) increases so is the accuracy of the trend. There are always gonna be outlaying data points and less educated people will grab onto them to support their own conclusions, but ultimately “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”

    • Frunobulax718 says:

      &&&”HERE WE GO AGAIN FOLKS–’RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS OBEY OUR FEDERAL COMMANDS, FORFEIT ALL YOUR PROPERTY, AND GIVE US YOUR BANK ACCOUNTS…”&&&

      Is that the only solution that you can come up with regarding climate change? No wonder that you so desperately want it not to be real.

      &&&Oooh–fancy and colorful charts and graphs to boot. Gee willikers–this must all be true, then. NOT!&&&

      There’s obviously more to it than that. This is willful ignorance, and nothing more.

      &&&Global warming, global cooling, climate change are all “code words” for a monumental HOAX. Manipulated data and a gullible uninformed public. RUBBISH!&&&

      Evidence, please.

      Tens of thousands of climatologists are on one side of the argument, and a few billionaires and oil company executives are on the other. [Along with you and Fox News.]

      Who’s providing the hoax here? Who is manipulating the data? Who is the gullible one here, Seasoned Citizen?

  3. Chris Kick says:

    Thanks Tom for your feedback. We don’t endorse the report, but felt with the 13 federal agencies involved, and the 300 scientists and national weather and climate officials, that the report had some weight.

    We looked, and are still looking for, responses from the ag industry about how they interpret the report. I would expect a wide range of response.

    • FED-UP & POd FARMER says:

      There are MANY SCIENTISTS who refute this report. Perhaps you may want to get their input. Aside from that, MANY of these scientists who contributed to this report were EXTREMELY biased towards the “green” movement. Our entire educational system just happens to be a fantastic “brainwashing” tool for shadow groups to use to further their agenda…and sadlly, if a student passes grades, they are given a degree-no matter what their ethics are…which leads to MANY fields that have been infiltrated by indoctrinated individuals that are subtly passing secret agendas, which makes it ever so important to get ALL sides to EVERY story.

      • Chris Kick says:

        Do you have any suggestions of credible scientists who refute the report? I welcome their own findings but I had a difficult time finding them. It seemed like everyone I wanted to interview was part of the report, including land-grant researchers, state climate officials, etc.

      • FED UP & POd FARMER says:

        John Coleman will is supposedly attending the 9th International Conference on Climate Change in Las Vegas July 7-9. He would be a good start .

      • FED UP & POd FARMER says:

        Just had a computor glitch, but if you didnt get my last comment, John Coleman is planning on attending the 9th International Conference on Climate Change July 7-9 in Las Vegas, and would be a good start. Many other scientists are supposedly attending also who also have opposing viewpoints from the ones issuing this report.

    • Catzmaw says:

      It’s too bad that the first responses you get are from people who attack the government and the scientists who have been telling us of this problem for years. Now the problem has arrived and the meteorological data is irrefutable, yet you are still seeing people who have bought a falsehood perpetrated by politically interested pundits and naysayers which comforts them with the idea that someone just made up all of this for the heck of it.

      It’s SCIENCE, everyone. It’s a matter of collecting and interpreting data. These numbers don’t lie. The methods of measuring things such as temperatures and rainfall haven’t changed, have they? So what is there to dispute about these facts and figures? You can’t attack the science based on your desire not to believe bad news or because some political party sold you the idea that this is some sort of government plot in tandem with almost all of the world’s climatologists. WHY would you believe such a ridiculous idea, anyway? What would be the point of pushing a false theory of human caused climate change?

  4. Lynn. Goldfarb says:

    The skeptical commenters on this site have been “astroturffed.” The fossil fuel industry secretly funds a billion-dollar climate denial operation based directly on the tobacco
    Industry’s old denial that smoking causes lung cancer. ( Scientific American -”Dark Money”) They’ve even hired one of the same crooked PR firms that used to deny science for big tobacco and two of their old “scientists.” The MO is the same and so is the motive: confuse and misinform the public and keep their profits rolling in. Cast doubt on the science, even though the proof is overwhelming. It worked for decades for tobacco and it’s worked well for two decades for fossil fuels. ( Google ” AstroTurf Wars” and “How to Spot an Astroturffer” ) They’ve bought their own politicans and have online pseudo-scientific ” institutes and most people can’t distinguish between peer-reviewed ( real) science and the pseudo-science that that only gets published in right-wing media or appears on Fox News. Last year, 10833 peer-reviewed climate science papers were published and every one of them agreed that climate change is manmade. It’s a phemenon that’s been well-known and accepted in the world of science for over a century. (you can find this on Wikioedia) it only became the subject of a phony “debate” when fossil fuels found their profits threatened.

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