Agriculture and Climate Risk

by Mark Edwards

Farmers have to make a full investment in their crop and pray that severe weather events, drought or pest invasions do not destroy it. A single storm, such as hurricane Harvey or Irma, a temperature spike or pest invasion can devastate crops. Modern Industrial Agriculture (MIA) ignores biodiversity and grows only a relative few different crops, often chosen because the plants are immune to Monsanto’s Round-Up.

Crop failure that results from climate change and diminishing non-renewable resources can cause food wars. Bad weather for crops causes price spikes, fear, food riots and war. The French Revolution in 1784 ignited due to escalating food prices. “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” (Let them eat cake) unfortunately uttered by Marie Antoinette, was in response to the poor demonstrating for bread to eat. Crops across Europe failed due to extreme weather from El Niño, amplified by the 1783 volcanic activity at Laki and Grímsvötn, Iceland.

The 2011 Arab Spring parallels the revolutions across Europe in 1848. The “Spring of Nations” experienced a year of food riots that escalated to revolutions throughout Europe following a decade of weather that caused failed harvests. Climate chaos threatens to destroy many harvests in the near future.

Devastation from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

A United Nations Development Program report estimates that failure to address climate change by limiting global warming from CO2 and other GHG pollution would cause the world’s gross domestic product to fall $33 trillion. The report says that addressing global warming will save $12 trillion (about £9.6 trillion), which represents about 10% of global GDP.

Climate Chaos Impacts

  • Warmer lows
  • Heat spikes
  • Cold spikes
  • Hot dry winds
  • Heat stress
  • Earlier spring
  • Later fall
  • Unpredictable weather
  • Water scarcity
  • Drought
  • Faster evaporation
  • Irrigation salt invasion
  • Seawater salt invasion
  • More water conflicts
  • Drier air and wind
  • Higher temperatures
  • More thunderstorms
  • More & fiercer storms
  • New rain patterns
  • Massive dust erosion
  • Devastating floods
  • Hot land surface
  • Energetic atmosphere
  • Snow pack, glacier loss
  • Rivers run dry
  • Amplified sea surge
  • Sea salt invasion
  • Aquifer crashes
  • Severe subsidence
Pope Francis said that political leaders and others who denied climate change reminded him of a passage from the psalms about man’s stubbornness. The Pope was flying over the Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma when he said to journalists: “Man is stupid, the Bible said. It’s like that, when you don’t want to see, you don’t see.”

Pope Francis urged those who denied climate change, such as United States President Donald Trump, to consult scientists who had clearly determined anthropogenic climate change was real. The Pope warned that humanity would “go down,” if global warming was not recognized and addressed. Pope Francis said about President Trump: “Decide and history will judge your decision.”

During Mr. Trump’s May 2017 visit to the Vatican, the Pope gave President Trump a copy of his 2015 encyclical letter, “Laudato Si,” which called for a human response to global warming. Top Vatican officials appealed to the president not to withdraw from the landmark Paris Climate Accord.

The 2017-18 severe hurricanes and wildfires did not motivate the President or Congress to address anthropogenic climate change. Yet by more than 5 to 1, voters said the US should participate in the Paris agreement.

Farmers are both the cause and the victims of climate chaos. Farmers want to expand production. They convert huge tracks of carbon-rich rain forests and savannah grasslands with biodiverse natural ecosystems to cropland. Forest-to-field conversion provides short-term crop yields, which quickly drop. It accentuates anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and climate forcing. MIA production, including indirect emissions associated with land-use change, accounts for about 25% of the total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Poor land management contributes to land degradation, further reducing soil and water productivity. Globally, the land used, abused and abandoned is about equal to the land in use for MIA today.

Systemic food crop cultivation, nutrient extraction, chemical fertilizers and pesticides extract, degrade and eventually destroy cropland humus and nutrients from the soil, seriously diminishing cropland over multiple harvests.

The International Food Policy Research Institute reports that each year an estimated 20 million hectares, (50 million acres) of cropland worldwide are abandoned due to soil erosion, irrigation salts and exhausted soil. The USDA estimates 5 million cropland acres must be abandoned and go fallow in the US each year due to exhausted soil. Abandoned land is referred to as dead because it lacks the rich microbial communities and humus. Algae biofertilizers can perform a miracle by restoring fertility and bringing dead soil back to life.