House Agriculture Committee chair Collin Peterson (D-MN), who has been blocking the passage of comprehensive climate legislation, dismissed a White House report on the damaging effect of global warming on U.S. agriculture. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the chief of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association and one of the top scientists in the Obama administration, called the climate impacts report released yesterday a “clarion call for action” for a problem that “is happening now, and in our own backyards.” However, the Wall Street Journal reports that Peterson, “when asked by reporters Tuesday about the report’s findings, said they run counter to what many in his region are experiencing”:
We’ve just had the biggest floods and coldest winters we’ve ever had. They’re saying to us [that climate change is] going to be a big problem because it’s going to be warmer than it usually is; my farmers are going to say that’s a good thing since they’ll be able to grow more corn.
It is not apparent what farmers Peterson is talking about. As the report explains in its section on the agricultural impacts of climate change, global warming brings not only warmer temperatures but also heavier floods. Despite the relatively cold winter of 2008, over the past thirty years winter temperatures in Peterson’s Minnesota have risen more than 7°F. In fact, floods and higher temperatures associated with global warming have already damaged America’s corn crops, with worse to come:
Analysis of crop responses suggests that even moderate increases in temperature will decrease yields of corn, wheat, sorghum, bean, rice, cotton, and peanut crops.
Responding to Peterson’s argument on a telephone briefing organized by the Center for American Progress, USDA Global Change Program director Bill Hohenstein explained that scientists have estimated that “the effects on the corn yield in the Midwest” from observed changes in temperature and carbon dioxide levels “are a decrease of about 3 percent, not accounting for changes in water availability.” Hohenstein was citing an earlier U.S. Global Change Program report, The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States:
The scientific studies discussed in the report found that very 2°F (1.2°C) increase in temperature caused by global warming reduces corn yields by four percent, offset by the increased productivity from higher carbon dioxide levels for a net decrease of three percent. That’s an annual U.S. corn crop loss of $1.4 billion, $135 million from Peterson’s state of Minnesota alone. Without action, the report warns that U.S. temperatures could rise fivefold by the end of the century. If the damages to corn yields remain consistent, that would lead to a 15 percent reduction in the corn crop, or annual losses of $7 billion in today’s dollars.
This estimate does not take into account the damage to crop yields from extreme precipitation, such as the floods of 2008 that caused around $8 billion in total damage to U.S. farmers. The report Peterson dismissed as being good news for farmers also shows that if no action is taken to halt global warming, the U.S. grain belt could see one to two months of heat waves over 100°F and two to three months of heat waves over 90°F by the end of the century. Corn, by the way, “will fail to reproduce at temperatures above 95°F.”
The report further details the rise in poison ivy and other noxious weeds due to higher carbon dioxide levels and warmer temperatures, the near-certain elimination of regional crops like maple and cranberries by mid-century without action, and the acute threats to America’s livestock production.
Peterson has similarly discounted scientific analyses of the effects of biofuel production while demanding the House leadership make concessions to industrial agriculture in the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454).
“American agriculture faces profound and painful changes,” Center for American Progress senior fellow Tom Kenworthy warned in the briefing. “If Peterson wants to gamble with the farmers’ livelihoods in his district, that’s his prerogative,” CAP senior fellow Jake Caldwell tells the Wonk Room. “But the odds don’t look too good.”