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Speakers At Washington Forum On Drought And Agriculture Ignore Climate Change

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"Speakers At Washington Forum On Drought And Agriculture Ignore Climate Change"

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by Max Frankel

Yesterday morning, as high temperatures and drought in the Midwest intensified, the Farm Foundation held a forum to discuss the impact of long term drought on agriculture. Remarkably, until I asked a question about it, the topic of climate change did not come up.

The panel was made up of Matthew Rosencrans, a member of the drought monitoring staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; David Anderson, a professor in the Agricultural Economics department at Texas A&M; Jay Armstrong, a farmer and seed salesmen from northern Kansas who sits on the boards of numerous agricultural organizations; and Kitty Smith, an economist and policy expert with the American Farmland Trust. The question and answer period was moderated by former Congressmen Charlie Stenholm (D-TX).

The participants went through their presentations about drought data collection, the effects of drought, and long-term drought planning without once mentioning climate change. When I asked about it, I was not received warmly.

“They call it weather,” said Mr. Armstrong.

Though he admitted to seeing some increased volatility in the weather, he accused the media of overstating the problem, talking “about what used to be a forest and is now a desert” and not putting enough emphasis on “what used to be a desert and is now a forest.” (Mr. Armstrong should talk to Dr. Craig Allen, who thinks that “rising temperature is going to drive our forests off the mountains.”)

Congressman Stenholm didn’t seem too pleased with my question, judging by his disapproving stare.

Mr. Anderson, the economist from Texas, described the devastating effects of last year’s Southwestern drought. Anderson estimated the economic losses in the agriculture sector from that drought to be in the billions; almost $4.5 billion in corn, wheat, hay, and cotton and more than $3 billion in livestock.

And as that drought unfolded, leading climate scientists warned about the influence of anthropogenic climate change on the intensifying crisis.

Texas A&M, climate scientist Andrew Dessler said last August that “there is absolutely no way you can conclude that climate change is not playing a role here. I’m quite surprised that anyone would even suggest that.”  Texas climatologist Katherine Hayhoe also recently explained that “our natural variability is now occurring on top of, and interacting with, background conditions that have already been altered by long-term climate change.”

In addition, NASA climatologists, including James Hansen, released peer-reviewed research concluding that the Texas heat wave was “a consequence of global warming because their likelihood was negligible prior to the recent rapid global warming.” The future is even more worrisome — see “James Hansen Is Correct About Catastrophic Projections For U.S. Drought If We Don’t Act Now.

Today, the Midwest and Great Plains region is entering a severe drought. As temperatures continue to rise and rainfall is nowhere on the horizon, the threat to crops intensifies:

“Yesterday, USDA released its weekly crop condition report and the areas of declining production predictably match the areas of drought.  In particular, Illinois and Indiana, two large Midwest grain producing states that were challenged by poor planting conditions in the early spring, now face increased lack of moisture.”

Ironically, the frequency of extreme rainstorms in the Midwest that damage crops and cause flash flooding have doubled in the last 50 years, according to a survey of rainfall data by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization.

The increasingly dire influence of human-induced climate change on the agricultural sector has encouraged some to speak up. In April, the former president of the American Corn Grower’s Association said that farmers areat the front lines of global warming — it’s a grave threat to rural livelihoods and quality of life. That’s why I support EPA policies to cut global warming pollution from automobiles and power plants.”

In spite of the mounting evidence and concern within the agricultural sector, it is astonishing that no one discussed climate change in a forum called “How Drought Reshapes Agriculture and Food Systems.”

Max Frankel is a senior at Vassar College and an intern at the Center For American Progress.

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18 Responses to Speakers At Washington Forum On Drought And Agriculture Ignore Climate Change

  1. oaw says:

    Did global warming cause this event??

    Did Michael Jordan win the NBA championship??

    Clearly the TEAM won with the aid of MJ.

    Clearly the weather did it with the help of GW!

  2. Lou Grinzo says:

    People with an incentive — financial or ideological — to avoid connecting the dots on climate change, extreme weather events, and the terrifying consequences of impacts on world food production, will do so. And they will do so right up to the moment when they can no longer deny the reality of those connections. That’s when they will run screaming to the government for help, wailing about how those dastardly climate scientists “didn’t make a sufficiently compelling argument” about what was coming.

    • David Goldstein says:

      yes,that is how it is likely to ‘go down’. I suppose the big question is this: Once it gets to that point of undeniability (because that is going to take a lot!)- will we have already begun an unstoppable ride to ‘Mad Max world?’

    • h4x354x0r says:

      I’m predicting 2020 as the “Year of Climate Change Vision” when all the skeptics and deniers finally come crying,

      “Why didn’t you tell us?!?”
      To which we will answer, “We did, idiot.”
      To which they will reply, “No, I mean why didn’t you TELL us?!?” (meaning why were we unable to convince them earlier).

      By then, we will be well above 400ppm CO2, probably about 410ppm. This is gonna get ugly.

  3. Andy Hultgren says:

    I’d like to hear what Matthew Rosencrans of NOAA had to say in response to the climate change question.

  4. Shirley says:

    Lou, you’re right … as Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

    When the reality can no longer be ignored, though, I worry that the deniers’ response won’t be to “run screaming to the government” but to call for the heads of climate scientists and others of their ilk. As we’ve seen too many times throughout history, when circumstances become too bad to ignore, far too many people go looking for scapegoats to blame.

    The attacks on scientists — including death threats — are already far too frequent, as this recent Popsci article discussed.

    • David F. says:

      Shirley, that was an interesting article. Really goes to show what the scientists and climate activists are up against. Joe Bast basically says “we don’t deny man is affecting the climate, but we just don’t think anything should be done about it.” But then Heartland goes on to liken anyone who believes in climate change to “mad men, tyrants, and terrorists.” So I guess Heartland’s own president should be included in that group based on his comments here.

    • Tom L says:

      21st century witch hunting and pan-continental wildfire will give a whole new meaning to ‘The Burning Times’.

  5. john atcheson says:

    This is maddening. It’s like talking about disease without mentioning germs and viruses.

    And the desperation with which these people cling to their ideology in the face of obvious impending catastrophe is stunningly stupid.

  6. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    “… In particular, Illinois and Indiana, two large Midwest grain producing states that were challenged by poor planting conditions in the early spring, now face increased lack of moisture.”
    As an ex farm boy from Illinois I would concur. The local corn crop in Northern IL. is reaching a stage where rain becomes critical in order to support stalk growth and development of the ears. IMHO, we are now in danger of seriously stunted crops.

  7. Paul Magnus says:

    “A Climate of Denial”,
    http://www.elementmagazine.co.nz/people/a-climate-of-denial/

    What gives? Is the problem simply too big? Too hard to accept? Or is it just that denying the problem provides an excuse not to act on it?

  8. Paul Magnus says:

    This shows that people who are GW aware should make the effort to be on these boards and at these meetings and proactive in bringing the issue up where the decisions are made and influence is big.

  9. M Tucker says:

    “The increasingly dire influence of human-induced climate change on the agricultural sector has encouraged some to speak up. In April, the former president of the American Corn Grower’s Association said that farmers are “at the front lines of global warming — it’s a grave threat to rural livelihoods and quality of life. That’s why I support EPA policies to cut global warming pollution from automobiles and power plants.”

    In spite of the mounting evidence and concern within the agricultural sector, it is astonishing that no one discussed climate change in a forum called “How Drought Reshapes Agriculture and Food Systems.”

    What about the dire influence of agriculture on the climate and the environment? CO2, methane, N2O, deforestation, destruction of grassland, loss of topsoil, fertilizer runoff, dead zones in rivers, lakes and oceans…the list goes on.

    THAT is why the best response you can hope for from farmers and ranchers is climate change is natural and man has nothing to do with it. THAT is why almost all farm/agriculture organizations will not discuss climate change. THAT is why almost all agricultural states are red states. THAT is why you got dirty looks. THAT is why Armstrong, the farmer in the group, says it’s just weather. You didn’t mention what Rosecrans, the NOAA representative, had to say. I think it would have been interesting to hear what he might have to say to this group of deniers of climate change and deniers of the dire impact agriculture has on the climate.

    Unless you address agricultures enormous negative impact on the climate and the environment all attempts to solve the problem are doomed.

  10. Doug Bostrom says:

    The rising toll of the goon squad; climate change is concept “too controversial” to discuss in polite company.

  11. “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

    I’d say we’re getting there… even if it is too damn slow.

    Kudos to all of us who go and speak up and make sure that climate change is in the room!

  12. jEREMY says:

    The CEO of EXXON-MOBILE has recently stated it is happenning and we all must adapt…that seems like a good enough plan for me (I’m in the top 1 %)

  13. If only there was some theory, some model, that helped link together the long term changes in temperature and precipitation …