Climate Denial Smokescreen Now Extends to South Asian Food Challenges

BangladeshThe Heritage Foundation-backed National Center for Policy Analysis pumps out a steady stream of misinformation about climate change, continuously reinforcing the smokescreen behind which billions of dollars in fossil fuel profits continue to be made. Generally speaking, it’s best to ignore them, figuring that giving them attention only helps them do their job. But this latest item is so egregious, that someone needs to call them out on it.

Numerous international aid agencies, as well as ratings services like Standard & Poors, have stated that the areas of South Asia and Southeast Asia are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.

Yet this article, entitled “Calming Fears of Climate Change in South and Southeast Asia,” assures its readers that not only is there nothing to worry about, but things are going to get far better, since the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing a boom in food production.

Their source is none other than Craig Idso, a former executive of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company. Idso reports that South Asian food productivity has increased 7.5-fold in the past years, and attributes that, without evidence, to the increased presence of carbon dioxide in the air.

The increase in agricultural productivity is real enough. It is sometimes referred to as the Green Revolution. Most scholars attribute the Asian increase to four things: fertilizers, technology, labor and livestock. Irrigation has also played a major role in other regions. Indeed, just as in the period from 1980 to 2007, the utilization of fertilizers and tractors increased more than three-fold in places like Vietnam and Thailand recently, which is in line with the increase in productivity. None of them attribute it to the presence of increased CO2 in the air. Attempting to make this connection sounds a lot like what Idso has previously written about climate science, saying, “A weak short-term correlation between CO2 and temperature proves nothing about causation.” So where is the cause-and-effect linkage here?

Indeed, there have been some laboratory studies, which this brief fails to mention, showing increased plant growth — under controlled conditions — in a CO2-rich environment. The effect, which has been small, seems to favor arid conditions. But what happens when you take those conditions out to the field seems to be quite different. The enhancing effect of the extra carbon seems to preferentially affect indigenous, local species — otherwise known as weeds.

But that’s okay. After all, there are folks who are happy to sell you more herbicides. But, unfortunately, there are other issues that come into play.

For one thing, increasing the amount of CO2 in the air also increases the plants’ need for water and fertilizer. Fossil records show that in earlier times, increased CO2 led to sharply increased insect predation of plants. For some reason, plants grown under these conditions attract more insects. Hmmm. This is starting to sound like an agricultural chemical company’s dream come true. But it’s not so good for the rest of us. Then, of course, there are the climate-related impacts: heat, drought, shifting growing seasons, migration of both defender and pest species.

The World Bank has also studied the issue, and they are extremely concerned about these vulnerable regions. In particular, they cite concerns over food security in sub-Saharan Africa, devastation of coastal areas in Southeast Asia, and food production impacts due to fluctuating rain patterns in South Asia.

Perhaps, instead of trying to sweep the issue under the rug and convince people to ignore any pangs of conscience about people starving overseas, it would be better to consider what can be done to avoid this. Initiatives like the U.N. FAO’s Climate Smart Agriculture program offer much in the way of helpful information for dealing with the challenges that are already being felt. Just ask any of the 870 million people in the world — that’s 1 in 8 — who are chronically undernourished.

Our world is in transition. Our agricultural system needs to respond to the three simultaneous challenges of ensuring food security for a growing population, while adapting to the changes resulting from an increasingly unstable climate, and, wherever possible, contributing whatever it can to climate change mitigation. That will require food systems to become more innovative, more efficient in their use of water and other inputs, and more resilient to whatever changes and surprises an unstable climate might send their way.

Image credit: sandy ford: Flickr Creative Commons

RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand.

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RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His publications include business and technical articles as well as books. His third, co-authored with Roger Saillant, is Vapor Trails, an adventure novel about sustainability. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. He is also active in his community of Rochester, NY. A regular contributor to Mechanical Engineering magazine, RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner to the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.. Follow @RPSiegel on Twitter. Contact: