Monday, August 06, 2012

The state of play...  

Climate change remains the forbidden topic for farmers. Even as new reports buttress anthropogenic global warming, few producers buy into it. Consider Chris Clayton's experience recently.
I spent much of the past week on a bus with about 50 members of No-Till on the Plains. The bus was filled with farmers from Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. We picked up others from the Dakotas and Canada who also joined parts of the tour.
They were skeptical about the impacts of climate change due to carbon emissions amounting to a mere 392 parts per million. But these farmers do believe in the value of putting carbon back into the soil. Farmers on the tour and the farmers we visited see a critical need to reduce soil erosion, increase organic matter on the soil and reduce the export of nutrients off the land. [More]
There is no reason to support carbon sequestration unless it causes heat-trapping GHGs. So how can producers hold illogical positions with such ferocity? (Note the comments on the above post)

The answer may be in in what Jonathon Haidt described as the moral foundations, because we are not making a scientific decision here - we are making a moral (right/wrong) choice. For social conservatives he found that preserving the institutions that support a moral community is their highest value. [Good summary here]

For example, when choices are presented that violate loyalty to our [conservative] group, it is wrong to do so. Period. Evidence/science/reason be damned. This devotion to this moral foundation yields wonderful social capital: cohesiveness, strong ties, discipline, predictability, etc. But it has the effect of making such groups susceptible to falling off cliffs, as they cannot change direction easily or with any speed in the face of even severe challenges.

Consequently the cognitive dissonance of holding mutually exclusive logical positions is somehow seen as less important than honoring our allegiances. But being reminded of it is upsetting because we can only answer in moral, not scientific terms.

The report in question is sobering.
Before 1980, excessively hot summers were practically non-existent. More recently, found a new study, summers that averaged 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than normal have become common – covering about 10 percent of land area around the globe each year – up from an average of just a few tenths of a percent in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. In some recent years, super-hot summers have struck as much as 20 percent of the Northern Hemisphere.
Statistically, the pattern is too extreme to be considered a result of chance, found a new study, which pointed a finger directly at global warming as the underlying cause of the recent spike in extra-hot summers.
With projected warming over the next 50 years, the study predicted that summers averaging 5.5 Fahrenheit above normal will happen regularly. In a decade, nearly 17 percent of the globe will likely be experiencing scorching summers each year.
“The problem is that there’s always this caveat when people say, ‘Well, you can’t blame any individual event on global warming,’” said James Hansen, a climate scientist at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.
“But what we show is that you can blame this strong change in the bell curve (of temperature distributions) on global warming. And that change has really made a remarkable impact on the chance of the likelihood of extreme weather events.”[More]
 While the time period of the report is relatively short, the math is persuasive. But math is not where it's at for many of us. So powerful are affiliations on the far right, that any position that even hints of agreement with Obama (who seems to be the focal point) is betrayal.

This is also, I think, why compromise is simply not in the cards any time soon in Washington. In fact, that's what I'm planning on. If Obama is defeated (which is the object - conservatives are less focused on electing Romney), it may be more flexibility to negotiate will emerge. Another possibility is that social conservatism will fall prey to its own demographics and simply constitute a diminishing fraction of the political spectrum, allowing them to vote no and have less effect.

The farm bill is in deep trouble, regardless. [Note: other observers disagree] The far right doesn't like anything about it and will throw ag under the bus to cut off food stamp "spongers". For that part, almost no economist of any stripe likes ag subsidies, and the far right (AEI, Heritage, Cato) positively despises them.

Crop insurance is very vulnerable and the timing could not be worse. Just as climate change has me rethinking the odds on crop insurance, actually having to pay more if not all the premium complicates the matter. This could be the last year of a well-cushioned safety net, at least one paid for by other taxpayers.


Dave in VA said...

State of Play
John the problem with the Gobl Warming advocates is that they refuse to even look at the climate (temperature) pattern of the past. I, for one, am not ready to accept gobal warming until that assessment is done. After that then it's time to logically discuss the long term solution to the issue and it is not to only curtail using energy. If we're going to have that discussion then it HAS to include population control.
On the subject of crop insurance I do agree the current national situation and the solutions have me rethinking purchase of insurance. Over the last several years, and i do not have as many as you do in farming, insurance has twice allowed me to continue on for another year to recover from a disastous weather event; one was a hurricane and another was drought. I do not have to farm to provide sufficent income to live, the farm only has to pay for itself. With your outside income I suspect you are in the same situation.

John Phipps said...


I'm trying to avoid being defensive here, but I get this "your outside income" disclaimer all the time.

I farmed for 35 years without crop insurance or considerable outside income.

While nobody questions the man whose wife brings in the family living expenses and health coverage, somehow those of us who find a way to market unused time are using "unfair competitive advantage" or something. Jan and I decided the best solution was for me to work two jobs and her take on extra farm duties. It has not been easy for her either to manage with me gone so much, especially before Aaron returned.

I do make considerable outside income, but it is damn hard work, and nobody pays me because I'm cute. In fact, most of my customers are repeats, which I am proud of.


Ahem...I seem to have unloaded excessively here, but for all those farmers running bulldozers or selling seed or adjusting insurance claims, being dismissed as special cases whose farms don't really have to make money really rankles.

From Virginia said...


We tend to look only at our lifetime. For someone to say: "Before 1980, excessively hot summers were practically non-existent." makes it obvious they did not live through the 1930s. But, I think our world and atmosphere are sufficiently complex that we need to take a very long view rather than basing conclusions on a brief half century.

John Phipps said...


I thought that assertion unfounded as well, but it may refer to the fact that even though 34 & 36 had remarkably hot periods, the more recent above-normal events are running longer and over a wider area. The top four hottest 12-month periods have been those ending in April, May, June and July 2012. With a warm fall, we could set all the top ten warmest 12-mo period records.


Regardless, I thought the statement odd, even inaccurate.

My takeaway is an affirmation of what ISU climatologist Gene Takle said about 5 years ago: for the Corn Belt, AGW means longer and more frequent droughts; larger and more frequent rain events.