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Climate Hustle

2017 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #34

Posted on 26 August 2017 by John Hartz

A chronological listing of news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook page during the past week. 

Editor's Pick

Climate change threatens agricultural trade in Pacific Rim economies, UN agency warns 

Harvesting rice in Viet Nam 

Harvesting rice in Viet Nam. Global rice consumption trends are rising. Photo: FAO/Hoang Dinh Nam

With global warming expected to significantly impact future yields in countries located closer to the equator, the United Nations agriculture agency is calling on Asia-Pacific economies to take a leading role in adaptation and mitigation.

“Many APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation] economies have already felt the full force of agricultural losses from natural disasters in recent years, with the vast majority of these being climate related,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific.

Geographically, the negative impact of climate change on agricultural output could result in lower yields of rice, wheat, corn and soybeans in countries with tropical climates, compared with the impacts experienced by those in higher latitudes. Fisheries could also be affected by changes to water temperature, warned the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today.

“The annual tally runs into the billions and billions of dollars in losses. So, the time to act is now. Policy makers need to prepare for changes in supply, shifting trade patterns and a need for greater investment in agriculture, fisheries, land and water management, that will benefit smallholder farmers and others that produce our food,” Mr. Kadiresan added.

Many vital agricultural regions in Asia are at risk of crossing key climate thresholds that would cause plant and animal productivity to decline, according to a meeting in Viet Nam of Agriculture Ministers of APEC member economies.

Based on the findings of the global research community, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) anticipates that these trends are expected to worsen in the future with the projected impacts of anthropogenic climate change.

Much can be done to increase the efficiency of agriculture and land-use activities in Asia, according to Mr. Kadiresan. 

Climate change threatens agricultural trade in Pacific Rim economies, UN agency warns, UN News Center, Aug 25, 2017


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Comments 1 to 32:

  1. Reading the Aug 18th 'Moyers and Company' interview with Katherine Hayhoe about the National Climate Assessment report, she's talking about the dangers to parts of America posed by climate change and made this remark: "In Texas, we’re at risk of hurricanes, which are getting stronger as we’ve got the warmer ocean water".  She can say that last week, but such is the politics of the situation that if she said it this week she'd be accused of grandstanding.

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  2. From the article above:


    Geographically, the negative impact of climate change on agricultural output could result in lower yields of rice, wheat, corn and soybeans in countries with tropical climates, compared with the impacts experienced by those in higher latitudes. Fisheries could also be affected by changes to water temperature, warned the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today.

    Based on the findings of the global research community, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) anticipates that these trends are expected to worsen in the future with the projected impacts of anthropogenic climate change.


    Yet the actual trend over the centuries have been increases in crop yields with an acelleration since the 1970's.  Better farming techniches, improved grain varieties, etc all contributing to better & higher yields, all contrary to the typical doomsday predictions of the Paul Ehrlich types.  

    Do the authors of this report realy believe the technological progress, innovation will come to a halt because of global warming.  

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Sloganeering snipped. Please carefully reread the paragraphs that you have quoted.

  3. ourworldindata.org/yields-and-land-use-in-agriculture/

    ourworldindata.org/yields-and-land-use-in-agriculture/

    Moderator - The historical trend for most all crops has been positive - 

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] The first sentence of the the two paragraphs that you quote is (my bolds):

    Geographically, the negative impact of climate change on agricultural output could result in lower yields of rice, wheat, corn and soybeans in countries with tropical climates, compared with the impacts experienced by those in higher latitudes.

  4. @Tom13,

    Yes it is true that the historical trends in agriculture yields are up. This is mostly due to scientific advancement in genetics and breeding and to a lessor extent methodology. At the same time the hisorical trends in agricultural land degradation are up as well. We are increasing yields at the same time we are increasing the destruction to the environment that agriculture causes.

    Land degradation: An overview

    This is where the flaw in yield stats lies. Land that has been degraded so significantly it is no longer arable is not counted in that statistic. Roughly there is about as much land that used to be productive but is now abandoned as is currently in production. Those statistics do not count that land in their yields figures. It makes it seem as if everything is improving, when actually we will quickly run out of new virgin ground to use up. From a global agriculture perspective, those yield numbers need halved to reflect the land now so degraded it can no longer be used for farming.

    Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues

    You asked if the authors believed innovation would halt. Well I am not an author of that article, so I can't speak for them. But I do know that innovation will continue, and the innovation is part of an AGW mitigation strategy. Just one example can be found for rice:

    The System of Rice Intensification (SRI)…
    … is climate-smart rice production

    It's not a doomsday prediction. It's a projection based on the world continuing "as is" instead of progressing with innovation like the above SRI and of course solar, wind, hydro etc.... as a AGW mitigation strategy.

    The difference between a prediction and a projection is that projection have contingencies. We get to chose the outcome of the future by our actions now.

    More information on how innovation in agriculture can be part of an AGW mitigation strategy can be found here:

    Can we reverse global warming?

    Executive summary:

    Yes we can reverse Global Warming.

    It does not require huge tax increases or expensive untested risky technologies.

    It will require a three pronged approach worldwide.


    1. Reduce fossil fuel use by replacing energy needs with as many feasible renewables as current technology allows.

    2. Change Agricultural methods to high yielding regenerative models of production made possible by recent biological & agricultural science advancements.

    3. Large scale ecosystem recovery projects similar to the Loess Plateau project, National Parks like Yellowstone etc. where appropriate and applicable.


    If we fail to take these steps, then exactly what the authors suggest will happen, surely will indeed happen just as they claim.

    The choice is ours though. We get to chose our future.

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  5. Moderator - the article makes the statement that the trend are expected to worsen which implies that the current trend is negative, yet as my cites point out, the crop yield trends are positive and have been positive for quite a long period.  

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] With respect to crops, the two paragraphs you have quoted are geographic specific. In  addition, crops are not the only foodstuff addressed. 

  6. Tom13@5: I'm sure the wizards of crop productivity would appreciate it if we didn't give them a moving target.  Yes, they can adapt to a changing climate.  So can Houston.  But, with all the great work we could be doing (colonizing Mars, anyone?), is that really the highest expression of human ingenuity you can come up with (ie. to bail us out of our own blindness)?

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  7. Regarding crop yields:

    www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160620112504.htm

    "Crop yields will fall within the next decade due to climate change unless immediate action is taken to speed up the introduction of new and improved varieties, experts have warned.

    journal Nature Climate Change, focusses on maize in Africa but the underlying processes affect crops across the tropics.

    Study lead author Professor Andy Challinor, from the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, said: "In Africa, gradually rising temperatures and more droughts and heatwaves caused by climate change will have an impact on maize.

    The researchers found that crop duration will become significantly shorter by as early as 2018 in some locations and by 2031 in the majority of maize-growing regions in Africa. Only the most optimistic assessment — in which farming, policy, markets and technology all combine to make new varieties in 10 years — showed crops staying matched to temperatures between now and 2050."

    In my view,even if output does increase, global warming makes this more difficult, and at the very least is likely to reduce the gains that would occur without global warming.   Given population increase this is a concern.

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  8. nigelj@7,

    What you refer to regarding maize in Africa has been a problem that climate change is making into a bigger problem because of increased drought frequency and severity.

    Africans in the drought prone areas should have always been encouraged to grow a more drought tolerant crop like sorghum. But the perception that corn means "Winning" (it is American's 'success crop at the core of so much economic activity') makes many Africans want to grow/buy corn, encouraged by a few Good crop years and marketing by developers/sellers of Supposed Super Corns (companies that create and market new varieties but never themselves gamble on the success of trying to grow the products).

    Each farmer (in African and America) would probably be better off planting both maize and sorghum (more sorghum than maize in areas more prone to drought).

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  9. #7 nigel - from the 6th paragraph of the article you cited.

    "The researchers found that crop duration will become significantly shorter by as early as 2018 in some locations and by 2031 in the majority of maize-growing regions in Africa. Only the most optimistic assessment — in which farming, policy, markets and technology all combine to make new varieties in 10 years — showed crops staying matched to temperatures between now and 2050.

    Both studies, The one you cited and the study of this article are basing the switch from positive gains in crop yield to a reduction in crop yields are based on innovation and technological improvements stopping.  That is contrary to historical trends.  Agriculture experts/ farmers have been adapting for centuries.  Can you provide an explanation why man's ingenuity and invovation will stop?

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  10. @Tom13,

    You said, " Can you provide an explanation why man's ingenuity and invovation will stop?" 

    That's easy really. There is a multibillion dollar "merchant of doubt" campaign to prevent it. 

    FARMING A CLIMATE CHANGE SOLUTION

     

    "If all farmland was a net sink rather than a net source for CO2, atmospheric CO2 levels would fall at the same time as farm productivity and watershed function improved. This would solve the vast majority of our food production, environmental and human health ‘problems’." Dr. Christine Jones, CSIRO ag scientist

    The case studies Dr Jones used to show this hypothesis are 10 year studies that were completed almost 10 years ago. And yet we still march on with agriculture that is an emissions source helping to cause AGW and continues to degrade the land.

    In fact many of the CSIRO scientists had their budgets cut and/or lost their jobs! Here they were the cutting edge of ingenuity and innovation, best in the World,  and all it got them was the unemployment line.

    There is a huge Neo-Luddite backlash against any solutions to our unsustainable energy and food systems. 

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  11. Tom @13

    With respect do you not read articles and what people post? 

    To repeat "Only the most optimistic assessment — in which farming, policy, markets and technology all combine to make new varieties in 10 years — showed crops staying matched to temperatures between now and 2050."

    In other words innovation is likely to struggle to make enough difference. The researchers will have looked at the most plausible innovation pathways, given we can predict innovation to some extent in these sorts of areas. 

    However although I obviously agree with you there has been crop innovation in the past you cannot ever assume it must automatically continue or be particularly strong.  One can only make a reasonable intelligent guess, and the study would have considered the most likely pathways.

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  12. Tom13,

    It is important to separate the 'benefits obtained by new developments' from the 'harm done by other activity'.

    The benefits from truly sustainable new farming development (including returning to old actually sustainable practices) is hampered/harmed/lessened by the harm done by increased amounts of climate change.

    Curtailing the damaging magnitude of human impacts will limit the undeniable global net-negative climate changes. And unsustainable pursuits of perceptions of farming prosperity will eventually stop being perceived as benefiticial or helpful.

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  13. Nigel

    - "However although I obviously agree with you there has been crop innovation in the past you cannot ever assume it must automatically continue or be particularly strong."

    In other words - you are saying that progress and improvements which have been the norm through human history will suddenly stop - And therefore the study becomes valid because you assume something that is not likely to happen - 

    Another way of stating the studies conclusion is that it is highly likely that crop yields will drop based on the highly unlikely assumption that innovation, improvements, historical trends etc will cease.

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  14. @ Tom,

    You said, "highly likely that crop yields will drop based on the highly unlikely assumption that innovation, improvements, historical trends etc will cease." 

    Again you have come to the incorrect solution. The innovation, improvements, etc have not ceased, but there is a huge campaign to prevent their deployment.

    It's not like we don't already have plenty of innovation out there in solar wind and other renewable energy sources. And in agriculture we already know how how for example to make ethanol 5 times more efficiently with grass instead of corn. 

    Grass Makes Better Ethanol than Corn Does

    Soil Carbon Storage by Switchgrass Grown for Bioenergy

    But as stated before multiple billions and billions spent on subsidizing the over production of corn and soy. You can easily see how ag subsidies are used to manipulate farmers into growing certain crops a certain way:

    2017 Crop Budgets

    In this case above the government has decided to promote soy production over corn. Most likely to increase biodiesel production. If ethanol were the goal, the floor price for corn would rise and soy floor price drop. Many many billions of dollars in crop subsidies are spent this way, but NOT spent on the types of sustainable ag that improves yields and mitigate AGW simultaneously.

    So rather that grass as part of a AGW mitigation strategy that actually increases dramatically yields by 5X! We spend billions makeing sure that ag fails as scheduled in approx 50-60 years? Insanity. 

    Same thing is happening in the energy sectors. Massive subsidies  to preventing AGW adaptation and mitigation.

    Fossil Fuel Consumption Subsidies

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  15. Tom @13 no I did not say progess with crop improvements will stop. It will likely continue, but I said you cannot expect the same rate of improvements or some miracle. Sigh.

    The article clearly assesses what is most plausible and thinks theres a problem. Just quoting the past record doesn't actually change that.

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  16. Nigel -

    Tom @13 no I did not say progess with crop improvements will stop. It will likely continue, but I said you cannot expect the same rate of improvements or some miracle. .

    If something is likely to continue, why would you base you conclusion as if it is not likely to happen - kinda invalidates the study.

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  17. Tom @13

    But I never drew any conclusion that its not likely to happen. I'm sick of you shoving words in my mouth. This is why we dislike you people, you twist absolutely everything. 

    All I said was don't assume very optimistic rates of progress with crop improvements, and that the quoted study has evaluated projected progress and said only extremely "optmistic" estimates would be enough to offset the effects of climate change. 

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  18. But I never drew any conclusion that its not likely to happen.

    All I said was don't assume very optimistic rates of progress with crop improvements, and that the quoted study has evaluated projected progress and said only extremely "optmistic" estimates would be enough to offset the effects of climate change.

    Nigel - I prefer to keep the limited to the merits - The study overweighted factors which are least likely to occur to reach a conclusion as to what is most likely to occur.  

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  19. Tom @19

    "The study overweighted factors which are least likely to occur to reach a conclusion as to what is most likely to occur."

    Nonsense. You provide no evidence. And until you publish your own study on the issue your credibility is severely limited. Have a nice day.

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  20. Nigelj the first hint regarding the quality of the article is the statement in the 6th paragraph of the article where it states "anticipates that these trends are expected to worsen".  which implies that the current trend is negative and the negative trend will worsen.  On the contrary, the current trend is positive.  See the attached  link.

    www.pecad.fas.usda.gov/highlights/2015/06/Southeast_Asia/Index.htm

    Secondly, as you stated "All I said was don't assume very optimistic rates of progress with crop improvements, and that the quoted study has evaluated projected progress and said only extremely "optmistic" estimates would be enough to offset the effects of climate change."

    You certainly couldnt argue that renewable energy will never be cost effective because you have to ignore the likely technological improvements and inovations.  Of course not, renewables will have technological improvements and inovations, similar to the long term trend in agriculture.  So let the argument be intellectually consistent.

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  21. Tom @13,

    I didn't  interpret "trends to worsen" as meaning existing trends are already negative. I just took it to mean "things will worsen" in general. Perhaps their wording was not the clearest, and I can see its open to interpretation.

    However you are picking on one issue. They have considered the most likely increases in crop productivity from breeding and genetics etc and think things would have to be exceptionally good to offset the negative impacts of climate change. I think this is the more important conclusion because we cannot assume  technology will be at the top end of whats possible. That would be imprudent.

    By analogy its like hoping some fantastic geoengineering would solve the climate issue. Im more of a realist on technological predictions.

    Regarding renewable energy, I understand your point. I have never thought we should  rush ahead with renewable energy assuming prices would drop massively. I have assumed prices will drop only moderatly at most and thats the safest assumption. I take the same view of crop productivity increases, be cautious and assume moderate improvements at most. This is perhaps why the article also concluded not enough improvements would be made to offset climate impacts. Obviously they have done detailed assessments beyond what one can say here.

    I think renewable energy is quite compelling on current prices alone. If it drops more thats a bonus.

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  22. Tom @13

    Just another comment to add to above. Putting it another way, the writers of the research and the article would certainly have been aware past trends are positive. 

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  23. Nigel @23


    Just another comment to add to above. Putting it another way, the writers of the research and the article would certainly have been aware past trends are positive.


    Then why did the authors of the article write the sentence with the implication that the current trend was negative - were they trying to be accurate or were they pushing an agenda.  By now, I think you know the answer - 

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] The seventh paragraph of the OP reads as follows:

    Much can be done to increase the efficiency of agriculture and land-use activities in Asia, according to Mr. Kadiresan. 

    Why do you object this agenda?

  24. Tom13 @24

    Perhaps they just made a mistake or picked the wrong words.  People do actually do that sometimes you know.The researchers would definitely have been aware of past trends with crops, its common knowledge we learn at school that crop productivity has generally increased. 

    Or perhaps their statement on current trends was meant as just the last five years, where some crops have had slightly negative trends. 

    You are making an issue out of nothing, or one little statement,  while ignoring the detail in the rest research. You haven't proven the study wrong, because it doesn't rely on this opening summary statement. 

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  25. Nigelj,

    Tom13 made an assumption based on a false premise not in evidence. The projections are based on good data and the models are skillful. Tom has made the mistake of reductionism on a holistic system by only looking at the net yields trends but ignoring many other dangerous trends.

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  26. Red Baron @26

    Yes absolutely agree. Increasing yields are one thing but the whole agricultural system is under strain in various ways. Climate change adds to these problems.

    However I was just making the point increasing yields are certainly likely to some extent, but will struggle against various climate impacts and may not be as large as assumed. The following article discusses this and has a ton of sources of research. It also discusses some of the  dangerous trends in modern agriculture, but by no means all.

    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2613695/

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  27. [JH] The seventh paragraph of the OP reads as follows:

    Much can be done to increase the efficiency of agriculture and land-use activities in Asia, according to Mr. Kadiresan.

    Why do you object this agenda?


    I havent objected to that agenda - which raises the question as to why changed the subject instead of directly addressing the point[s] that I actually raised.

    A) that the general trend for crop yields is positive - see the citation below,

    B) the sentence is written in a manner that implies the the current trend is negative and will get worse when the trend is positive (adjusted for weather)

    An additional note, which has received scant comment in this article is that fluctuations in  weather have had a far larger impact on annual fluctuations in crop yields that any other single factor and will likely continue to be the largest single factor by a wide margin (absent a return to another mini ice age similar to the 1500-1800's). 

    www.pecad.fas.usda.gov/highlights/2015/06/Southeast_Asia/Index.htm

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Your words...

    Then why did the authors of the article write the sentence with the implication that the current trend was negative - were they trying to be accurate or were they pushing an agenda.  By now, I think you know the answer - 

    You, not I, raised the "agenda" issue.


  28. [JH] Your words...

    Then why did the authors of the article write the sentence with the implication that the current trend was negative - were they trying to be accurate or were they pushing an agenda. By now, I think you know the answer -

    You, not I, raised the "agenda" issue.


    JH - two separate and unrelated topics - The agenda of increasing agriculture efficiency is a worthwhile goal and as my previous comments noted, the study discounted the long term trend in improvements in technology, farming techniques that are improving crop yields.

    The agenda I was refering to was A) why the authors wrote the previously cited misleading sentence and B) why the authors so heavily discounted the long term trend in order to reach the conclusions they reached.  

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Which "study" are you referring to?

  29. Tom @29 and 30

    "A) that the general trend for crop yields is positive - see the citation below,"

    Yes you have said that about 5 times now, and nobody has disputed that the 50 year trend is positive, and I have accepted it, so with respect its becoming very tedious reading what you write

    As I pointed out its also possible they were referring to a short five year trend or the like but you have ignored this possibility. If it all  bothers you do much, I suggest contact the writers of the study and stop speculating.

    "B) the sentence is written in a manner that implies the the current trend is negative and will get worse when the trend is positive (adjusted for weather)"

    That is you opinion, and you are entiled to it. You can stay fixated on it forever getting nowehere if you insist. You have not in any way demonstrated they were misleading.

    And please note that the quote in study from John Hartz above acknowledged that they saw furture crop improvements as desirable, this tends to suggest there is no great conspiracy to downplay crop yields in the past. I think that might have been his point but you missed it.

    "The agenda I was refering to was why the authors so heavily discounted the long term trend in order to reach the conclusions they reached."

    To call this an agenda is simply your  opinion. Why is it an agenda to do science and reach a conclusion? You have provided no detailed proof, evidence, or research source material relating to their methods and conclusions, just empty assertions, accusations and slogans.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] It is quite possible that the orginal version of the article posted in the OP was written in French since it summarizes a meeting in Viet Nam of the Agriculture Ministers of APEC, The sentence that gives Tom 13 heartburn may just be a mistranslation.

  30. Tom @28

    "An additional note, which has received scant comment in this article is that fluctuations in weather have had a far larger impact on annual fluctuations in crop yields that any other single factor and will likely continue to be the largest single factor by a wide margin (absent a return to another mini ice age similar to the 1500-1800's)."

    Yes clearly weather fluctuations affect annual crop yields. But these are short term one year cycle issues. Gradually increasing temperatures can potentially reduce crop yields longer term regardless of yearly weather, more droughts will have an effect, and changes in weather could have an effect. In other words annual cycles is not actually the point.

    Why do you think only an ice age would effect crop yields? Higher temperatures could equally have an effect. So could more intense droughts.

    Obviously its complex so for example more rain could be good for some crops and not others or may lead to changing land use. But there's plenty of research on all these things that suggests the net effects of climate change globally are not good for food production on the whole, particularly after 2050. The guardian article below makes the point I  was making, that one study has already found past crop yeilds for maize would have improved more if not for climate change we are already experiencing.

    www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/sep/19/climate-change-affect-food-production

    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2613695/

     

    Theres too much debate these days, and not enough open honest discussion. Call me old fashioned if you want.

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  31. Why do you think only an ice age would effect crop yields? Higher temperatures could equally have an effect. So could more intense droughts.


    I am basing that on the historical record ( the old adage cant know where you are going if you dont know where youve been).  Crop yields were much higher during the mwp than the little ice age, post emergence of the little ice age, crop yields quickly improved.  The improvements in crop yields post little ice age have been helped considerably by improvements in technology, innovations, improvements in farming methods, etc, along with a warming planet,  That trend is most likely to continue.

    On a second note - the ncbi article you cited further supports the comments I have made and provides a good basis which undercuts the general premise of the UN agency report.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Which "UN Agency report"?

  32. Tom13

    I have also read that crop yields were higher in Europe during the mwp and fell during the little ice age then rose a bit after that. Im not sure about much higher, as you give no source for your claim.

    But those were modest temperature fluctuations of about 0.5 - 1.0 degrees. It also reflects a narrow range of crop varieties.

    You are assuming that because crops improved with a moderate increase in temperature this process will continue indefinitely with much greater global increases that could well exceed 4 degree or more in some places. Thats not science its pure assumption, and also lacks commonsense as we know heat eventually becomes stressful for living organisms as a general rule.

    Basic biology tells us crops have a band of environmental conditions in which they perform well. The various studies indicate that climate change pushes increasing numbers of crops out of their optimal band and you have not shown in detail where you think their research is wrong.

    In terms of "past history" research has found extreme heat has already reduced crop yields as below:

    "Researchers for the study, published in the journal Nature, found that drought and extreme heat reduced crop yields by as much as 10% between 1964 and 2007. Extreme cold and floods did not result in a significant reduction in crop production, according to the study."

    time.com/4170029/crop-production-extreme-heat-climate-change/

    We are pushing the world more and more in this direction. Some crops are of course better at higher temperatures, but a warming climate pushes us into a narrower band of crops, until those themselves become stressed.

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