Tuesday's release of a major climate report - "Global Climate Change Impact in the United States" was a multi-agency roundup of the latest information on worries over what's happening to future weather trends. The report, which includes the most recent data available, is a peer-reviewed effort that also includes a section on potential agricultural impacts of climate change.
During a conference call Wednesday, Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and Undersecretary for Commerce, talked about the agriculture portion of the report. She notes that the over-arching conclusion of this latest report is that "human-induced climate change is a reality" and not only in remote regions but here in "our own backyards." She explains that the report is written in plain language so decision-makers at both the state and federal level can use the information.
However, this document is not a policy document with suggestions for ways to curb the problem, even though the conference call mentioned the value of reducing heat-trapping gas emissions. That goes beyond carbon dioxide to include methane and nitrous oxide - both major issues for livestock producers.
According to the report, the average temperature has risen 1.5 degrees F in 50 years, and some areas have seen higher increases. The result has been more heavy rains in the Midwest and in the New England area, and more winter precipitation is falling as rain, which reduces snow pack. That will reduce water available for farming in the West. In the report, the expected temperature rise ranges from a low of 2 degrees F if emissions are reduced relatively quickly to a high of 11.5 degrees F if nothing is done.
But Tom Karl, with NOAA and co-writer of the report, notes that the 11.5 number could be optimistic. "Recent emissions seen are higher than the highest scenario," he notes.
Bill Hohenstein, director, global change program office, USDA, notes that ag interaction from rising greenhouse gases and temperatures is complicated. Some will benefit, but others will suffer. The rising number of extreme events - whether as droughts or downpours - can each reduce crop yields.
The conference call, sponsored by the Center for American Progress, included Tom Kenworthy, who writes about ag issues for the organization. He notes that last year, federal crop insurance payments topped $8 billion due to floods in the Midwest, and that the annual average for insurance payouts has doubled since the 1990s. "That iis a growing financial cost of climate change," he reports.
Concludes NOAA's Lubchenco: "Much of the inaction [on this issue] is a result of the fact that many Americans and policymakers believe that the issue is...way far in the future or affects others." This report provides a clarion call for action."