The Real Reason Why US Farmers Are Sceptical Of Climate Change
By Paul Homewood
A remarkably condescending piece from Fortune Magazine:
Some U.S. farmers are skeptical of climate change, even though they’re among the most affected by it
There’s a strange paradox in the world of agriculture: farmers are perhaps the segment of the population most affected by climate change, and yet a significant number of them don’t believe in it—especially the notion that it’s man-made.
I encountered this phenomenon as I reported a feature for Fortune on how agricultural giant Monsanto is attempting to help farmers both mitigate their impact on the environment and adapt to climate change. All the farmers I talked to readily acknowledged that the weather patterns governing growing seasons had been turned upside down in recent years, but I was on the receiving end of a lot of eye rolls whenever I brought up climate change.
Monsanto MON -0.58% gets a similar response from the growers who buy its seed. The company’s chief technology officer, Robb Fraley, told me he’s received numerous angry emails from farmers asking why the company is supporting what some call “this government effort.”
I don’t want to suggest that all farmers reject the concept of climate change. That’s not the case. But here’s what some of the numbers show: A survey conducted by Iowa State Professor J. Arbuckle and Purdue University professor Linda Prokopy of 5,000 Cornbelt farmers—representing about 60% of U.S. corn production and 80% of farmland in the region—found that only 8% believed climate change is taking place and caused primarily by human activity. That 8% figure is significantly lower than the general population. A poll from January found that 27% of the general public primarily blames human activity.
Meanwhile, 33% of the farmers surveyed said climate change was caused more or less equally by natural changes and human activities, 25% said it was caused by changes in the environment, 31% said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to know if climate change is occurring, and 4% said climate change is not happening.
So, what’s driving this sentiment? “In some quarters of agriculture the term climate change can be politically charged,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told me, “and there is a reluctance to embrace that term while also recognizing weather patterns are changing and that farmers need to adapt.”
The politicization of science is nothing new. Just think of the anti-vaccination movement. But it comes out in full force within the world of agriculture, especially when considering climate change and genetically modified organisms—one of the industry’s hot-button issues. Many farmers who accept the scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified seed reject the consensus on climate change. Meanwhile, many environmental activists reject the science on the safety of genetically modified seed but embrace science that supports their views on climate change. Monsanto gets hit from all sides because it believes in both.
Yale Law School Professor Dan Kahan, who studies science communication, has written that “when people are shown evidence relating to what scientists believe about a culturally disputed, policy-relevant fact … they selectively credit or dismiss that evidence depending on whether it is consistent with or inconsistent with their cultural group’s position.” This leads people to “form polarized perceptions of scientific consensus even when they rely on the same sources of evidence.”
The article continues with the usual nonsense about liberals v conservatives etc.
But has it not occurred to these geniuses that maybe, just maybe, these farmers actually understand their climate and its history much better than they do? Or that climatic patterns change all the time?
Let’s check out what NOAA have to say about the climate of the Corn Belt (and bear in mind that these graphs are based on their already heavily doctored data).
First, annual temperatures.
As we can see, temperatures have risen since the 1970s, but only back to the level of the 1940s.
When we look at summer temperatures, we find that they were much higher back in the 1930s.
Meanwhile, rainfall has been increasing in recent decades, and the long and severe droughts, regularly seen in the past, have become much less common. If this is due to climate change, I am sure farmers will be more than happy about it.
Snotty little academics like Arbuckle and Prokopy actually do themselves a great disservice by ignoring the accumulated knowledge and experience of the farmers who actually till this land.
Many will be aware, and certainly those whose families have farmed there for generations, that climate on the Great Plains runs in cycles, of which the period since 1910 only offers a small window.
The belief that “the rain follows the plough” actually stems from an unusually wet period on the plains in the 1880s, which was then followed by drought in the 1890s, and then another wetter period in the early 20thC. (There is a full analysis of this period here.)
It may, just may, be that global warming has improved rainfall levels in the Mid West. However, to assume that is just as dangerous, and naive, as believing that rain follows the plough.
In any event, whatever impact man is having, it is evident to anybody with a passing knowledge of the climatic history of the Corn Belt that it is small compared to the great natural changes that always take place.
I would like to finish by introducing you to Professors Arbuckle and Prokopy, (although I suspect you’re way ahead of me here!):
As you’ve probably guessed, they’re both sociologists, who know bugger all about climate, or much else for that matter.
Perhaps it is time the pair of them got real jobs, maybe down with the farmers they are so dismissive of!