Monday, August 1, 2011, Heartland... JamesTaylor's censored discussion "global warming is good for food crops." Say what?

Recently the media has gone all a twitter with the latest global warming hype. This time the headline reads Roy Spencer: “New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism.”

In marketing Roy Spencer's paper Heartland's senior fellow for environment policy and managing editor of Environment & Climate News has been given the podium where he has made some very myopic comments regarding the robust condition of world agriculture...

Since my series of thoughtful questions posted to the discussion forum - the one concerned with Heartland Institute’s James Taylor’s marketing of Roy Spencer’s latest study - have been languishing for an inordinate amount of hours, days in the Forbes/Taylor moderator limbo, I’ve decided to post them over here.

{For the the record, I have corrected typos and added a couple additional comments.}

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Mr. Taylor,
You invited thoughtful science based critique and I hope you continue to allow me to present my case.

You made the following claims supported by links:

“4. I am surprised that the improvement in global soil moisture and the record recent crop production requires citation. It should be common knowledge by now. Oh wait, that’s right, the media is told they have to ignore “skeptical” scientists and studies. So, here you are:
Re. soil moisture: (A)" and
(B) and
(C) (all peer-reviewed, mind you, except for the NOAA data – please let me know if you don’t consider knowable an acceptable source).

Re. crop production: During the past decade record per-acre yields have been recorded for nearly every important U.S. crop. During the past five years alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, record per-acre yields have been registered for barley, beans, canola, corn, cotton, flaxseed, oats, peanuts, potatoes, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugarbeets, sunflowers, and wheat.

Global crop yields have also registered spectacular growth as global temperatures have warmed. Global grain harvests have nearly tripled since 1961. As is the case in the U.S., nearly every important global crop has attained record productivity during the past five years, including the Big Three corn, rice, and wheat crops.
It’s all available here:
(D) and
(E) and
(F) and
(G) and


Mr. Taylor, I’m glad you inspired me to look at those links and become better informed on this aspect of global warming. I should also admit I was surprised by the vigor of recent grain production numbers. Though a closer reading of your links does clearly show that past success is no guarantor to future resilience.

For instance, (link A) was an abstract from 2004 reporting decreased “pan evaporation” in many parts USA and Australia. Considering the increased levels of atmospheric humidity and the flood events these past years I wouldn’t be surprising to see another such report.

But considering the droughts happening in the Horn of Africa, Texas, France, UK, China and other locations it should be admitted there are also drying areas, with their local impacts, which also deserve to be acknowledged. Here’s a map

also this

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quoting (link B): “Data are often incomplete in spatial and temporal domains and regional analyses are variable and sometimes contradictory; however, the weight of evidence indicates an ongoing intensification of the water cycle. In contrast to these trends, the empirical evidence to date does not consistently support an increase in the frequency or intensity of tropical storms and floods.”

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James, I have no clue what (link C) is doing on your list because it is one scary review of drought history.

There is this:
“A number of climate model simulations for doubled CO2 conditions suggest an increased frequency of drought in midcontinental regions (e.g. Gregory et al, 1997 , Mearns et al, 2000) whereas other model simulations and recent decadal trends in the instrumental record suggest wetter conditions, at least in the short term, due to an intensification of the hydrologic cycle associated with warmer sea surface temperatures.

"Better constrained answers to the question of the severity of future droughts requires improved understanding and modeling of the processes underlying the drought behavior exhibited in both the instrumental and the paleoclimate records.”
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This article seemed little on comfort and big on BEWARE warnings. So why does Heartland remain so glib about this concern?
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quoting (link D): “Major findings of the data include: Agricultural output growth slowed during the 1999-2001 period and contracted -1.93 percent in 2002 due to a severe drought throughout most of the western United States.

"Accordingly, measured productivity growth dropped to -1.45% in 2002. But the return of favorable weather in 2003 and 2004 led to sharp increases in output and productivity, with productivity growing by 4.0 percent in 2003 and 5.7 percent in 2004. On average, productivity slowed for the 2000-2007 period, by 0.72 percent per year, and bounced back to 5.89 percent in 2008 (see table).”
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James, notice how central weather is in this report? When the weather works right, crops are great, but when struck with weather extremes losses are immediate.
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One thing that struck me is how you proclaim: “Global crop yields have also registered spectacular growth as global temperatures have warmed. Global grain harvests have nearly tripled since 1961.”

What an example of beautiful spin. You strategically leave the taste on the palette of “global warming betters harvest yields.” But, make no mention of the actual drivers: fertilizer, irrigation, transportation and genetics. These are the factors that revolutionized agriculture production and outputs during the past century and decades. Why is that ignored?
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Mr. Taylor,
Seems to me you are working very hard on an assumption that weather patterns will be what they’ve always been ~ this in the face of overwhelming evidence pointing at qualitative changes in global climate patterns. Quite different from what society has become accustomed to over these past few millennia.

Sure, sure it is more comforting relating to a past we know, but it’s monstrously dangerous to ignore an impending future just because we may not want to know it.
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quoting (link F): “Wheat harvests increased modestly {...} with near perfect weather nurturing strong harvests in India, the EU, and the United States. Australia, however, normally the source of one third of world exports, faced lower crop prospects and depleted exportable supplies. And unfavorable weather meant a reduced harvest in China, the world’s second largest producer.
“Important wheat exporters like Ukraine and Russia have imposed export restrictions to ensure a sufficient domestic supply .”
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Yes, some numbers are good but again, notice how crucial benign weather was to the success of crops? To say nothing of the ominous closing of that article. Why does Heartland and JT turn away from those facts?
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(link G) was from last year, but looks like rice is rockin these days, so that’s great.

However, the news isn’t near as upbeat as JT would lead us to believe:

UK, 22nd July 2011, by
"Dryness cuts prospects for New South Wales wheat"

"Australia's top producing state last season may face a slump of one-third in its wheat harvest this year after dry and cold weather held back early development, leaving crops backward and "thin"."
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and this
UK, 14th June 2011, by
"Wet leaves Canada wheat hopes below even 2010's"

Canadian farmers are, for a second successive season, to suffer a "very substantial" loss of acres to wet weather, with the wheat harvest on course to fall below last year's weak crop.
"The Canadian Wheat Board, in its first forecast for Canada's Prairies, responsible for the great majority of the country's crop production, said that 6m-8m acres would be lost thanks to rains which in some parts have left farmers with less than 10% of crops planted."
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and this
UK, 18th March 2011, by
"Russia follows Canada and cuts grain harvest hopes"

"Russia has followed Canada in cutting hopes for this year's grains harvest even before spring crops have been sown, after warnings of a squeeze on credit and over the quality of seed.
"Viktor Zubkov, the Russian deputy prime minister with responsibility for farming, said the grains crop in what was one of the world's biggest exporting countries until drought struck last year would come in at 84m-85m tonnes."
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In looking up Heartland JT’s links I found some frightfully fascinating information that he had ignored. For example:

Climate change curbs crops
Warming has already lowered yields of wheat and corn.”
Published online 5 May 2011 | Nature ~

by Nicola Jones
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Global Crop Damage Timeline
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Farmers face losses during record-breaking drought season (7/30/11)
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China drought raises questions about climate change
By Chris Buckley
LAKE HONGHU, China | Fri Jun 3, 2011

(Reuters) - China's drought along its biggest river, the Yangtze, is for some scientists a demonstration of how global warming could increasingly disrupt the complex dance of air flows, rains and waterways that feeds dams and farming heartlands.
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France on drought alert after hottest spring since 1900 (June 1, 2011)

By RFI: “France is now on heatwave alert after the hottest spring since 1900 has left water tables down and farmers struggling to feed their livestock. The Health Ministry has put into effect level one of an anti-drought plan that was drawn up after 15,000 people died in the long-hot summer of 2003.”
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U.S. Cotton Crop Projection Reduced Despite Larger 2011 Area

The U.S. cotton production forecast for 2011 was reduced once again this month and is now projected at 16 million bales, 1 million bales below the June projection and 2.1 million below the 2010 crop. Despite increased planted area as indicated in the June Acreage report, "exceptional" drought conditions in Texas--where most of the increase was noted--are expected to lead to a record U.S. abandonment rate and reduced production in 2011.
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Here’s an interesting mixed bag that further underscores our dependence upon benign weather patterns

Argentine Soy Survives Drought ~ July 31, 2011
Argentine soybeans withstood a 2010-2011 season of erratic rainfall to register respectable yields for the first crop.
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For a look at global conditions

The take away message from all this is that Mr. Taylor of Heartland Institute deliberately portrays an unrealistically rosy picture, cherry picking the good news and willfully ignoring that which doesn't fit his debate needs.

I myself find it a sin that folks like that have put their agenda driven debate points above the desire to learn and understand about our planet's climate dynamics.

1 comment:

John said...

Thanks, Peter. Truth is so absolutely critical to this whole issue - and the damage done by the 'James Taylors' out there does not need to stand unchallenged. Good for you!

I, too, tried to get a rebuttal through the 'Forbes Filter' and it didn't make it. Interesting that a follow-up comment (considerably smaller and with no direct data presented in rebuttal) made it through. Sad. Really sad.

-- john.