Thursday, August 2, 2012

Homo Sapiens Save Your Earth: The Food File

From Homo Sapiens Save Your Earth

Co-authored by Anthony Marr and Peter Carter

This is the section we had on global climate change and agriculture.

We had sections on Arctic sea and methane but it seems we missed the connection of the loss of Arctic albedo cooling on N. hemisphere, and hence world, food security. 

Anyway, as Anthony reminded me on Facebook about this section in our book written four years ago I dug it out. 

It's quite short. 

13.  Climate Change and Agriculture

"Peak food" will occur before a +2ºC global average temperature increase is reached and we are on course to reach that well before 2050 if nothing is done. In those regions most vulnerable to climate change, agriculture has been damaged by global heating already and will get far worse with time.

Many people don't realize that human civilizations depend totally on agriculture, and that agriculture is dependent on the climate. In fact, there were no human civilizations before the invention of agriculture. So we owe a lot to crop cultivation, and we owe it to ourselves to learn how global heating is affecting what we eat.

Agriculture has only been possible for the last 10,000 years because of an exceptionally stable climate, complete with the right temperature range and the right amount of rain and snow. Our industrial consumer economy is messing all that up. By 2050, most of the world will be dying of disease, thirst and famine – if we don't stop burning fossil fuels and spewing greenhouse gases now.

Our human and sacred duty is to ensure that future generations, in our own nations and around the world, have food security. We have done badly so far in this regard. Our world economy has created crushing permanent debt that enslaves hundreds of millions of people who survive on the edge of genocidal famine. 

There are already 850 million undernourished poor people in the world today. What will happen to them when their subsistence agriculture collapses under global heating? And will the rich nations come to their aid then? I doubt it. They will be concerned with their own food security. These hundreds of millions of the poorest people will be left to starve.

Global Land Temperature Warmest On Record In March 2008
(ScienceDaily, 19 April 2008)
"The average global land temperature last month was the warmest on record."

The land is being heated up and fast – faster than it's ever been heated before. This is going to hurt agriculture. We don't need computer models to figure that out.

But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does not hint at a food crisis from global climate change, nor do they mention escalating deaths from water deprivation or starvation … or mention a global emergency for future food security.

Incredibly, impacts on agriculture are not included in the lists of dangerous climate changes. Even more incredibly, no one is saying it should be – even though when agriculture goes, we all go.

The "all" includes all wildlife. That's because if agriculture goes down, our large urbanized world population will strip the planet bare. Anything that is edible will be eaten.

The Amazon is set to collapse long before 2080 given current rates of GHG emissions. The human population is bound to finish off what little wildlife survives. The great wildlife preserves of Africa are in high climate vulnerable regions and in multi-year drought already. The wildlife that has lived with humans for millions of years will fall due to people who are desperate for food and water.

The western United States is in a multi-year drought that research in 2008 determined was due to global climate change. Australia is in a multi-year drought affecting half its farmland – the worst drought in a thousand years.

The combination of growing human populations with growing water and food scarcity will mean the final end for wildlife. People who care about nature and other animals had better get very active very quickly on the global climate change crisis.


Not only is agriculture going to suffer due to global heating. It is also a major cause of both habitat loss and climate change, with each making the other worse. Obviously, then, we have to give agriculture a lot of attention. But as agriculture is so important, why isn't it at the top the IPCC's list? Why is it not at the top of anyone's list?

The 2007 IPCC report does not recognize global climate change as a risk to world food security, and their computer-modeled assessment doesn't tell us nearly how badly climate change will impact the growing of food. The models and the IPCC assessment that relies on them greatly underestimate the real world impacts to agriculture. This has given rich nations an excuse to do nothing.

On agriculture, the IPCC only tells part of the truth and distorts the most important part of the truth. Remember, the IPCC is first and foremost a government organization to which the scientists report. It's not a public process. The assessments are negotiated and written behind closed doors. But how can the extinction of species (including ours) and the destruction of the planet be negotiated?!

Even by the underestimations of the IPCC's 2007 assessment, the world faces catastrophe in a matter of decades:

By 2020 up to 250 million people will be short of water.
By 2020 regions of African agriculture will be down 50%.
By 2050 more than a billion people in Asia will be short of water.

The models show that by 2050 under climate change 2 billion people will be vulnerable to devastating floods.

The Himalayan snow pack is melting rapidly on which two and a half billion people depend for irrigating their agriculture. By 2085 57% of the world population will have to face life under water stress.

The IPCC is guilty of criminal negligence by failing to tell governments the full extent of the adverse factors, the expected impacts, and the risks. Here's what the IPCC has told our governments about agriculture in The Report for Policy Makers: 

Food, fibre and forest products   
At lower latitudes, especially seasonally dry and tropical regions, crop productivity is projected to decrease for even small local temperature increases (1-2°C), which would increase the risk of hunger. Globally, the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of 1-3°C, but above this it is projected to decrease.

That's it. That's all our governments have to go by in planning for food security under global heating!! And it's wrong. It's wrong because the numbers are derived from computer models that do not yet include a large number of the most important known damaging impacts on crops.

The IPCC's 2007 technical report puts the danger limit for agricultural decline not at +3ºC but +2ºC:

Food crops
• Modelling studies suggest crop yield losses with minimal warming in the tropics.
• Mid- to high-latitude crops benefit from a small amount of warming (about +2°C) but plant health declines with additional warming.

The truth is that what we are now committed to (a temperature increase of +1.4ºC) is close to global "peak food" under global heating. The emergency is desperate. Our children's generation will be hit with peak food. The truth is, this means that agriculture will go into decline globally at a global average temperature increase of +2ºC.

The IPCC's +3ºC is local heating, which is much higher than the global average that everyone is using for assessment and planning. Translating this to a global average is closer to +2ºC as the global temperature increase at which agriculture worldwide goes into failure, according to IPCC data.

And the research shows that a global average temperature increase of +2ºC is the danger threshold for agricultural decline in the US, Canada, the European Union and Australia.

Once agriculture goes into decline from global heating it will stay in decline and totally collapse.

But their figures are arrived at by the IPCC relying on models that omit many of the most important damaging effects on agriculture. These are recorded in the long technical papers that the policy makers don't use. They are:
·   climate variability
·   extremes of precipitation
·   extreme weather events
·   increase and change in weeds
·   increase and change in insect pests
·   increased resistance to pesticides
·   decrease and change in soil nutrients
·   competition for resources
·   water quality
·   air quality
·   stratospheric ozone depletion
·   disruption of ecological integration with plant growth 
·   combined adverse effects on crops due to all the above
·   combined effects of heat, water deprivation, and loss of feed for livestock=
·   effects of a temperature increase over +5ºC
·   effects after 2100

These are not included in the IPCC's 2007 official Report to Policy Makers. But the long IPCC technical report on agriculture – which governments don't use – explains that they are variables their computer models can't compute. The numbers that policy makers are working with are, therefore, wrong. Real world agriculture will be hit earlier and harder than the model numbers say.


Climate Variability
The truth is that the IPCC assessment relies on models that omit all the most important factors that all farmers know about. The models do not include the single most important thing to all farmers – regular climate predictability. Global heating does not just cause a different climate (climate change), it also causes climate variability. Farmers will be guessing at when to sow, etc. This will put entire crops at risk.

Furthermore, models cannot predict the effects of global climate change on essential synchronization of stages in agricultural plant ecology, many of which have to occur with precise timing. Research shows that crop growth, development and yields, for crops such as cereals and fruit trees, can be damaged if their temperature thresholds are surpassed for just a few days during certain crucial stages of their development.

Tropospheric Ozone Increase
It is known that ground level ozone, which is increased by global warming, is toxic to green plants and greatly reduces plant growth. The ozone level has already increased sixfold in some regions of the US. The following is taken from the IPCC's technical report but not included in the all-important report to policy makers: 

...increasing ozone concentrations in future decades, with or without CO2 increases, with or without climate change, will negatively impact plant production, possibly increasing exposure to pest damage.

Stratospheric Ozone Depletion
Increased ultraviolet-B radiation is damaging to plants. This occurs from stratospheric ozone depletion. Ozone depletion, which is as bad as it has ever been, is increased by global heating. This is not included in the IPCC report to policy makers.

Total Impacts are Additive and Synergistic
While clearly the combined effects of all these adverse factors from global climate change have to result in reduced crop production, the models are unable to predict the overall real world effect – so the policy makers are using predictions that are wrong. The effects in the real world on our children's and grandchildren's food security will be far worse.

There is another impact further down the line that comes from sea level rise. It's been found that this will damage crops due to salination miles inland from the coast.

While policy makers only get to work with the incorrect computer-modeled temperature numbers reported in the Summary for Policy Makers, the IPCC's 2007 technical report (which the policy makers don't get to see) says that better computer models are required:

Current risk-assessment tools do not sufficiently consider these key interactions. Improved modelling approaches that link the effects of ozone, climate change, and nutrient and water availability on individual plants, species interactions and ecosystem function are needed.

All of the impacts combined will occur against a background of increased land degradation from intensified agriculture in most regions. The models can't tell us how this will add up:

Natural land resources are being degraded through soil erosion, salinisation of irrigated areas, dryland degradation from overgrazing, over-extraction of ground water, growing susceptibility to disease and build-up of pest resistance favoured by the spread of monocultures and the use of pesticides, and loss of biodiversity and erosion of the genetic resource base when modern varieties displace traditional ones. 

The total effect of these processes on agricultural productivity is not clear. Additionally, multiple stresses, such as forest fires and insect outbreaks, increase overall sensitivity.

These combined impacts will occur on top of severe poverty and disease amongst the most climate change vulnerable populations, which can only be exacerbated by climate change. Global heating will increase and spread all the worst diseases. This will reduce the ability of the poor populations to work the land and produce their food. 

We thus have a very long list of different adverse impacts on agriculture. They have the potential to not only be additive but also – far worse – synergistic in their effects on food supply.


What will be the end result of carrying on emitting GHGs? The total global collapse of agriculture, which with our current rising emissions will be before 2050. By that I mean we'll be started on an inevitable downward trajectory forever.

With a global average temperature increase of +1.5ºC, there will be significant decline on several continents and some decline affecting some crops in North America. What the IPCC said on global average temperature increase is:

For increases in global average temperature exceeding 1.5-2.5°C and in concomitant atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, there are projected to be major changes in ecosystem structure and function, species' ecological interactions, and species' geographical ranges, with predominantly negative consequences for biodiversity, and ecosystem goods and services e.g., water and food supply.

The AGRICULTURAL TIPPING POINT will be a +1.5ºC global average temperature increase. Right now, today, we cannot avoid a +1.4ºC increase. It might be impossible to avoid a +2ºC increase and it certainly will be impossible without an all-out global emergency effort on the scale of a world war.


What about adaptation? Can't that take care of this problem?

Agriculture Canada, for example, says that impacts of global climate change in general will be adverse for Canada but that farmers will adapt as they have in the past. However, it will be impossible for farmers to adapt to all the different changes wrought by global heating. How can they adapt to something that keeps changing? Research shows that the best they will be able to do is put off the inevitable for 10 to 20 years. That is not to be relied on because the models omit many adverse effects (as we've seen).

Mitigating Meat Eating
The very best method for adaptation is not mentioned by the IPCC, but it's simple. Stop producing food from flesh. Nothing is so easy and effective as switching to a vegetarian diet. The livestock industry is a major emitter of GHGs. A healthy change in diet would also reduce destruction of the Amazon, which is being cleared for livestock and for agribusiness to grow food for livestock.

Industrial agriculture is extremely energy intensive but the IPCC says nothing about decarbonizing our agriculture – an essential adaptation measure.

The truth is that industrial agribusiness has produced the most vulnerable form of food production to global climate change. It relies on a small number of monocultures developed to depend on intensive use of energy, chemical fertilizer and pesticides. It can be expected to soon collapse under a changed and variable climate. 

The rich governments are controlled by the mega moneymaking fossil fuel industry and fossil fuel-dependent global agribusiness. That is why the governments are pushing biofuels as the solution to global climate change.

This is a disaster all of its own. From the start, the research said that biofuels would not help air pollution or global heating. Now large regions of food growing land are growing biofuels. The Amazon is being cleared for biofuels. It's what makes the money. The truth is, it's burning food. And it's providing an excuse for manufacturing more cars to spew more GHGs.  

Peak Water
Agriculture consumes by far the greatest amount of water in the world. Industrial agriculture is a huge user and waster of water. Global heating and climate change will be reducing available water just when the requirement for it grows. Plant growth will demand more water as the temperature rises, as will livestock.

The annual depletion of water from aquifers has been estimated at 160 billion cubic meters or 160 billion tons. Overpumping is a new phenomenon, one largely confined to the last half century. Only since the development of powerful diesel and electrically driven pumps have we had the capacity to pull water out of aquifers faster than it is replaced by precipitation.

Some 70 percent of the water consumed worldwide, including both that diverted from rivers and that pumped from underground, is used for irrigation. Global heating will result in aquifers being even more rapidly depleted, ensuring the irreversible global collapse of agriculture. When the aquifers are near empty, that's the end.

The livestock industry consumes and pollutes vast volumes of good water. Livestock will need even more water with global heating.


The consumer culture eats a vast amount of flesh, which is unhealthy for both people and planet. If all the damage of eating flesh were included in a full cost assessment of the livestock industry, it would be the most costly of any industry in the world. Agriculture is a major source of GHGs, especially the livestock industry. And now it turns out to be a bigger contributor to greenhouse gases than the transportation sector:

Livestock's Long Shadow
29 November 2006, Rome - UN Food and Agriculture Organization

Which causes more greenhouse gas emissions, rearing cattle or driving cars? 


According to a report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation. 

The global livestock sector is growing faster than any other agricultural sub-sector. 
Such rapid growth exacts a steep environmental price, according to the FAO report, Livestock's Long Shadow –Environmental Issues and Options. "The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level," it warns. 

When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure. 

And it accounts for respectively 37 percent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 percent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

Livestock now use 30 percent of the earth's entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33 percent of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 percent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing. 

At the same time herds cause wide-scale land degradation, with about 20 percent of pastures considered as degraded through overgrazing, compaction and erosion. This figure is even higher in the drylands where inappropriate policies and inadequate livestock management contribute to advancing desertification.

The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth's increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution, euthropication and the degeneration of coral reefs. The major polluting agents are animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops. Widespread overgrazing disturbs water cycles, reducing replenishment of above and below ground water resources. Significant amounts of water are withdrawn for the production of feed. 

Livestock are estimated to be the main inland source of phosphorous and nitrogen contamination of the South China Sea, contributing to biodiversity loss in marine ecosystems.

Meat and dairy animals now account for about 20 percent of all terrestrial animal biomass. Livestock's presence in vast tracts of land and its demand for feed crops also contribute to biodiversity loss; 15 out of 24 important ecosystem services are assessed as in decline, with livestock identified as a culprit. 

Removing flesh from our diet is rarely mentioned in the lists of things to do about climate change. But it should be high up on every list.


The IPCC never says we are in an emergency situation, nor that we must act now, nor what the number of deaths will be at various levels of planetary heating. It is important to note that once agriculture in any region goes into decline from global climate change, it will be all downhill for the population dependent on that farming from then on. Even without all the above predictable adverse factors, the poor and climate change-innocent Southern populations are now already condemned to large agricultural declines, because we are committed to a +1.4ºC temperature increase. This has started already in the dry regions of southern Africa.

No assistance has been provided to these people even though G8 nations were obliged under the Framework Convention on Climate Change to do so. It is hardly likely that the rich world will come to their rescue. Food is strictly a business now and is utilized to make money. Plus, the rich nations will be in fear for their own food security.

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