Year 4, Month 12, Day 29: Stately, Plump, Buck Mulligan…

The Port Huron Times-Herald reports on Michigan’s farmers, who are getting smacked upside the head by climate change:

Tim Boring knew it wasn’t a normal drought when the fields on his Stockbridge farm started to dry up during the summer of 2012.

Nobody escaped the magnitude of heat and dryness that year. Certainly not farmers.

“That drought impacted everyone,” said Boring, who produces corn, soybeans and wheat at his family-owned O’Brien Farms when he isn’t working his job as Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee research director. “It was certainly one of our biggest cases of severe weather lately.”

The drought wiped out a variety of crops, from corn to soybeans, and sent crop prices surging. Pictures of dried up, fractured grounds, stained corn leaves and livestock agonizing under the extreme heat were inescapable.

The dry conditions finally faded away, but not before earning the mark of the worst drought in a nearly a quarter-century, according to the Michigan State University Extension.

Severe weather events such as these, some experts and farmers worry, are on the rise.

I’ve used this letter many times in many different guises: epistodiversity! December 15:

Michigan’s farmers aren’t the only ones coming face to face with climate change’s troublesome realities. Extreme and unpredictable weather is disrupting planting schedules, making for increasingly uncertain harvests everywhere on Earth.

Coping with the accelerating climate crisis will require growers to change many of their ways. The era of massive monocropping is coming to an end; the potential for catastrophic crop failures from environmental disruptions or invasive pests is all too real, and highlights the importance of diversity in our agricultural system. A world-wide re-enactment of the Irish potato famine is a nightmarish thing to to contemplate.

There are countless viewpoints about the best strategies to prepare for a climatically-transformed future, but one thing’s absolutely certain: we’ll never successfully address the problem if we cannot admit its existence. Just like farmers in Michigan, our media figures and elected representatives must realize that the time for climate-change denial is long past.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 16: It’s As Plain As The Face Underneath Your Nose

The Capital Press (WA) talks to farmers, who are worried about water, not the bigger picture.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Water worries carry more weight than climate change for two Western Washington farmers.

Dairy farmer Jay Gordon sees too much water, and he doesn’t know whether to blame coal-burning in China or a warming Earth, but “for a bunch of us in the Chehalis, the question is over: It’s raining more.”

Gordon and his wife own a 600-acre dairy on the Chehalis River that his family homesteaded in 1872. The river has flooded many times during that span. The most recent major floods, in 2007 and 2009, left vast areas of farmland and a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 underwater.

“The river gauge shows earlier floods, more floods and higher levels,” he said. “We’ve had four 100-year floods in 23 years’ time; 75 percent of the highest floods were in the past 23 years.”

He said fellow dairy farmers have told him, “I can’t handle one more of these. This is getting old.”

Gordon, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, spoke during a recent symposium on “Climate Change and the Future of Food.” Symposium sponsors and coordinators included Washington State University, the University of Washington, government agencies, conservation districts, researchers and a shellfish producer.

Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, said he doesn’t see climate change as a high priority.

“Everyone in ag knows about adapting to change,” he said. “It’s down on the list of worries.”

Uh-huh. November 6:

To worry about water while dismissing climate change is to obsess over symptoms while ignoring the sickness that causes them. A transforming climate cannot be separated from the state of water resources, whether they’re in the American West, the steppes of Central Asia, or the heart of the Amazon. A hotter atmosphere evaporates more water, creating higher humidity conditions while adding energy to the system as a whole. The result: more precipitation, less predictability — both conditions which make agriculture more difficult.

The phrase “climate change”, while an accurate description of a global phenomenon, doesn’t adequately convey the local and regional consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect. Some areas will experience devastating droughts — while elsewhere on the globe, that missing water will be flooding villagers and drowning fields. Extreme and unseasonal storms, wilder temperature swings, and significant loss of necessary biodiversity are just some of the symptoms we can expect in the coming decades as our increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2 make their impacts felt.

The future of water is inextricably linked to the future of our planet’s climate; to dismiss or downplay the connection is like fixating on birthday parties — while ignoring the processes of aging.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 3: They Asked Me For Some Collateral, So I Pulled Down My Pants

Popular Science notes the existence of Iowa:

At the Iowa Climate Science Educators’ Forum last week, a group of more than 150 scientists representing 36 colleges and universities around Iowa released a statement of action concerning future climate change. Calling climate change a “rising challenge to Iowa agriculture,” this year’s Iowa Climate Statement says that changing weather patterns and an increase in extreme events has put the state’s ability to grow food at risk.

The researchers, who gathered at Drake University in Des Moines, note that Iowa has vacillated between two weather extremes over the past few years. The state went from widespread drought in 2011 and 2012 to the wettest spring on record in 2013 and back to drought this summer. Last year, the group’s report focused mainly on how climate change makes extreme drought more likely.

Iowa is the nation’s top corn and soybean producer, so this state’s problems are really every state’s problems. Combined, Iowa and Illinois grow about a third of the corn in the U.S. The scientists are calling for individual farms and the USDA to work to make the land more resilient in the face of climate change. They wrote:

Iowa’s soils and agriculture remain our most important economic resources, but these resources are threatened by climate change. It is time for all Iowans to work together to limit future climate change and make Iowa more resilient to extreme weather. Doing so will allow us to pass on to future generations our proud tradition of helping to feed the world.

I keep recycling this letter. It’s fast and easy. October 24:

It’s small comfort for Iowa’s farmers to know they’re not alone in facing the troublesome consequences of global climate change. Agriculturists everywhere — midwestern factory farmers and Bangladeshi peasants alike — are reluctantly confronting a future of unpredictable and extreme weather, disrupted planting timetables, and ever-more uncertain harvests.

There are many lessons to take away from this. Obviously, it is essential that the world’s industrialized civilizations begin drastic reductions in greenhouse emissions; there’s no sense in making a disaster even worse. In addition, we need to relearn that diversity is essential to the preservation of our food systems. As the Irish potato famine demonstrated, monocropped agriculture will always eventually fall prey to ecological and environmental disruptions, with disastrous consequences.

There may be differences of opinion about the best way to prepare for the rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect — but one thing is absolutely certain: the first step to addressing any problem is to recognize its existence. Politicians and media figures who deny these new climatic realities are nurturing the seeds of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 28: We’re Paying For You Like An Adult!

The Des Moines Register, on food and farming:

Farmers already see climate change: While a debate rages over the causes of climate change, farmers in South America and Africa are dealing with the realities of climate change.

The consequences of rising temperatures are more extreme weather events, including drought and floods, and changing growing conditions. Scientists and farmers there are struggling to deal with both.

On the science, some experts credit improved plant genetics, in large part, for the ability of farmers in the United States to harvest the eighth-largest corn crop last year, even in a year of record drought. Monsanto has developed a new drought-resistant variety of maize that is being tested in Africa, and it is working with private organizations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to introduce it to farmers in Africa.

Of course, no debate actually rages, unless you count all the rage on one side. October 18:

While farmers all over the planet are facing increasingly unpredictable harvests due to the complex consequences of climate change, most of their customers continue to live in a state of denial. It’s easy and tempting to attribute this to the irresponsibility of our mass media and its near-pathological inability to address issues of major importance, but there is another factor: the overwhelming success of our large-scale agricultural system, which allows millions of people to eat well every day without putting in hours of work growing their own food. Paradoxically, industrialized farming may well turn out to be one of the first casualties of the accelerating greenhouse effect, as increasingly variable weather and fluctuating extremes make monocropping ever more vulnerable to catastrophic failures.

We cannot solve the problems of climate change without recognizing the reality of the crisis, which demands accurate environmental journalism and an end to “false equivalence” — and we will not last long as a species without a diverse and resilient food supply. For humanity to survive this slowly-unfolding crisis, both our minds and bodies need sustainable nourishment.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 23: Use It Up, Wear It Out

The Sierra Vista Herald (AZ) announces a talk on regional impacts by a local climatologist:

A University of Arizona climate expert will discuss how increasing climate instability will affect the residents and landscapes of the U.S. Southwest during the Huachuca Audubon Society meeting on Oct. 15. The meeting is free and open to the public.

Gregg Garfin, deputy director for science translation and outreach at the UA Institute of the Environment, will outline regional climate change issues and challenges, from strained water resources, to more tree-killing pests, to threats to agriculture, energy, and human health, during his 7 p.m. talk in Room 702 on the Sierra Vista campus of Cochise College.

Garfin’s presentation highlights findings presented in a new book, “Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States,” which details current and projected regional climate impacts and offers information that can help ensure the wellbeing of the region’s inhabitants in the decades to come.

This is a pretty generic letter. I’ve got stuff to do today. October 13:

Arizona and its neighbors in the Southwest aren’t alone in coming face to face with the troublesome facts of change. Everywhere on Earth, people are discovering that the bill for a century-long carbon binge is coming due. Scientists have important predictions for agriculturists — whether they’re monocropping factory farmers in the corn belt or peasants in the world’s poorest nations — and those predictions are unanimously anticipating that unpredictable and extreme weather is going to bring increasingly uncertain harvests. That translates into a humanitarian disaster just around the corner.

There’s may be arguments about the best ways to get ready for the impacts of an onrushing greenhouse effect — but we are absolutely certain to fail if we cannot accept the existence, causes, and harmful potentials of climate change. Corporations who fund climate-denying media figures and politicians are acting in the worst interests of our species, sacrificing the prosperity of our posterity for a few extra points of profit or a flash of fame on the boob tube. Denial is no longer an option.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 11: Roya Garden Blues

More on coffee, from the Burlington Free Press:

The president of Apecafe in El Salvador, a cooperative formed in 1997 to represent more than 400 coffee farmers, Puente has had a front-row seat to “la roya,” the fungus that is devastating coffee plantations across Central America.

“We think outbreaks of violence and famine can occur in some cooperatives as a result of this situation,” Puente said in a recent interview from San Salvador, where Apecafe is headquartered. “The other issue is migration. People are going to want to move to the United States and other countries where they can find food. We place a great deal of importance on treating roya to end all the negative effects of the disease. They are catastrophic. People suffer a great deal.”

Puente says la roya, also known as coffee rust, has affected more than 74 percent of the coffee plantations in El Salvador. He says the country will lose 1 million of the 1.7 million quintals of coffee beans it normally produces. One quintal is equal to about 100 pounds.

“The reality is we have been hit by something very powerful,” Puente said.

The price of coffee has yet to go up in the United States, but Lindsey Bolger, senior director of coffee for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Waterbury, said that could change next year.

This is just the beginning. June 24:

Like a lot of Americans, I’ve always thought of coffee as a staple food. And like a lot of Americans, I’m dreading a future where it’s turned into a costly luxury. Coffee rust is just one of a host of complex consequences of the intensifying greenhouse effect that are going to make all our mornings that much harder.

In coming years, we won’t be drinking the best-tasting coffee, but that which is most resistant to extreme weather, unpredictable rains, droughts, devastated biodiversity, and fungal pests like La Roya. And it won’t just be coffee, but virtually everything else we put on the table.

How much more news of this sort can we absorb before our politicians stop being terrified of offending their corporate paymasters and start taking immediate steps to protect the world’s agriculture from the consequences of climate change? Each passing day makes action less effective and more expensive.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 7: Straining Conditions.

The Merced Sun-Star (CA) reports on the problems farmers are facing:

Ten miles outside of Modesto, in the farming town of Hughson off Highway 99, the Duarte Nursery is at the front line of dramatic changes under way in California’s immense agriculture industry.

The family-run nursery, founded in 1976, is one of the largest in the United States, and there’s a good chance the berries, nuts and citrus fruits eaten across the West began their journey to market as seedlings in Duarte’s 30 acres of greenhouses, labs and breeding stations.

The nursery’s owners have built a thriving business using state-of-the-art techniques to develop varieties adapted to the particular conditions and pests that California farmers face.

These days, according to John Duarte, president of the nursery, that means breeding for elevated levels of heat and salt, which researchers say are symptoms of climate change, even if Duarte doesn’t necessarily see it that way.

“Whether it’s carbon built up in the atmosphere or just friggin’ bad luck,” he said, “the conditions are straining us.”

That friggin’ bad luck will get you every time. Sent September 30:

As growing seasons shift by weeks or months, as weather extremes endanger crops, as droughts yield vast acreages of dessicated stubble, far too many farmers are reluctant to recognize the reality of global warming. Why? When it comes to climate change and its effects on agriculture, there’s only one reason growers in America are still unpersuaded: our irresponsible news and opinion media.

When reporting on medicine, TV news doesn’t include an alternative viewpoint on the medieval theory of “humours.” When discussing the space program, talking heads correctly ignore conspiracy theorists who maintain the moon landing happened on a Hollywood soundstage. But when it’s time to discuss climate issues, our print and broadcast outlets bend over backward to ensure equal representation for the fossil fuel industry.

This is accomplished with “false equivalence,” where a genuine scientist (whose genuine data show a genuine problem) is “balanced” by a petroleum-funded spokesperson (whose spurious data don’t show a thing). By confusing the conversation, they redirect the political pressure for climate solutions, preserving the (highly profitable) status quo.

But any farmer knows Mother Nature can’t be fooled forever. By sowing misinformation and confusion, our media and their corporate sponsors ensure a harvest of disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 5: The Reaper Will Reap

The Fresno Bee (CA) notes the likely impact of a transformed climate on regional agriculture:

New science and research has San Joaquin Valley farmers taking a harder look at the effect that climate change may have on their industry.

If researcher’s predictions hold true, the Valley’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry will be hit with longer stretches of hot temperatures, fewer colder days and shrinking water supplies.

What that means for agriculture is potentially lower yields, a loss of revenue and fewer acres being farmed.

Farmers and industry leaders say that while there is still skepticism among their ranks, they are doing what they can to stay ahead of the issue, including educating themselves, testing new fruit varieties or investing in water-saving technologies.

“You know, this is sort of like Y2K,” said Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, a citrus trade group. “You better figure out if it is going to affect you or not and what are the possible scenarios.”

One of those scenarios is not good news for farmers. Researchers predict that rising temperatures over the next several decades could pinch the yields of some Valley crops, including an 18% drop in citrus, 6% in grapes and 9% among cherries and other orchard crops.

Nelsen said he was one of the early naysayers. The early debates about climate change were often mired in politics, or seen by farmers as an agenda pushed by the environmental community. But more credible research has caused many to take the issue more seriously.

“I am not completely buying into it,” Nelsen said. “But as an industry, it behooves us to be out in front of an issue that could affect the production of citrus in the state.”

Nelsen wants to know how hotter temperatures will affect the flavor of citrus fruit and how oranges will develop their vibrant color with fewer colder days.

One of these days the “if it had an Arabic name the Republicans would be lining up to denounce it” idea will see print. Sent September 27:

If a terrorist group threatened our farmlands, Congress would react. If a terrorist group threatened our water supply, Congress would react. If a terrorist group threatened our infrastructure, our power grid, or our communications systems, you can bet your bottom dollar you’d see our legislators sounding the alarm. Why, then, have they been so reluctant to acknowledge the threat of global climate change, which endangers all aspects of our society from top to bottom?

It’s too bad that the greenhouse effect doesn’t come with a scary Arabic-sounding name; that might persuade the Islamophobic Republican Party to pay attention to something that puts more Americans at risk than any jihadist nightmare scenario. Seriously, when we contemplate the effect of climate change on agriculture, it’s absolutely clear that we’re facing a world of hurt, with spiking food prices and diminished production heralding a future in which hunger affects more of our nation’s population than at any time in the past century.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 1, Day 24: The Farmer Is The Man Who Feeds Us All

The Montreal Gazette reports on a new study by the Universal Ecological Fund (sounds like hippie tree-huggers to me) that predicts higher food costs as a consequence of climate change. Damn. Jeez, that’s counterintuitive, all right.

One wonders how many warnings can be ignored by climate-change deniers. The Universal Ecological Fund report simply applies common sense to the relationship of agriculture and weather patterns; while alarming, its analysis is hardly surprising. If the weather is more unusual and extreme, crop failures will be more likely. Climatologists’ predictions have been repeatedly vindicated over the past several decades; any errors are almost invariably ones of underestimation. At this point ignoring climate science requires a readiness to embrace a bewilderingly complex conspiracy theory in which scientists all over the globe are attempting to “usher in a socialist world order” or some similar farrago of nonsense. The facts are in: climate change is here; it’s real; humans (especially industrialized humans) are causing it; it will make our lives enormously more complex, inconvenient and expensive in the coming centuries — and the costs of action are dwarfed by those of inaction.

Warren Senders