Adaptation called best plan for climate change

Two researchers tell Ottawa conference that mitigation will buy time, but farmers must start reacting to changes now

OTTAWA — Soybeans, grain corn, longer-season cereals, increased canola yields and fewer frost damaged crops: these all point to the reality of climate change and its effects in Western Canada.

“Global warming is happening and it’s caused by humans,” Thomas Homer-Dixon told the Grow Canada Conference audience in Ottawa last week.

The researcher from the Centre for International Governance Innovation of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ont., said the atmosphere is failing to release about a watt per sq. metre of energy when compared to the long-term mean.

It doesn’t sound like much until the math is added up to show that it represents the heat value of 400,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs going off on the planet every day.

He said that sensational statistic puts the issue into perspective.

All that additional energy will result in global average temperatures more than doubling the 1 C increase on which the Paris Accord’s climate change plan is predicated, he added.

“There is a less than 20 percent chance that we will hold it to 2 C.”

Homer-Dixon said the food crops that the world grows evolved and were developed during a time of stable temperatures and weather conditions.

“These are not those times,” he said.

Homer-Dixon said farmers, government and the food industry need to be planning for more extreme weather conditions and far greater food insecurity.

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Kevin Folta, a professor and chair of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, told the conference that many experts are focusing on mitigating climate change, but farmers and the industry need to start reacting to the effects now.

“Mitigation discussions will follow,” he said.

Homer-Dixon said weather effects from the rapidly heating planet are already being experienced, and climate change is still in its early days.

The erosion of the Arctic sea ice is causing more aggressive change in northern latitudes, which has thrown the polar vortex out of its normally abnormal patterns because of the loss of low-pressure troughs that often were appearing in the north.

This is an overly simple description of the climate change event, but the result is the same: very regular, very extreme waves in the counter-clockwise movement of air around the North Pole result in violent, north-south swings in the jet stream. These waves of air movement cause protracted flows of dry and wet, hot and cold conditions.

Homer-Dixon said farmers could expect to see bigger storms, more rain near coasts and a greater chance of extreme droughts in the middle of the continents.

“Just because it is warming in the (Canadian Prairies), extending growing seasons and allowing more cropping choices right now, doesn’t mean it will always work out,” he said.

Mapping of credible weather models to 2080 and beyond shows that drought will likely be the norm for much of the United States in the summer with extreme heat losses to the cereal crops and many oilseeds.

Parts of Western Canada from the Alberta and British Columbia Peace district to southeastern Saskatchewan appear to benefit with additional moisture and warm conditions, but southern Alberta, western Saskatchewan and Manitoba are not projected to be so lucky.

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Folta said farmers need to be acting now to adapt to the change that is currently upon them.

He said it’s important to lobby for more research about pests moving in from southerly regions, but new, adapted crops also need to be developed and farmers and producers must collect and share all the data they can from their farms.

“There is a lot research that needs to take place quickly,” he said about the need to move to precision agriculture.

“I call it the farm to dork movement,” he said about the need to put data to work in plant breeding and environmental research.

“Compared to 1950, you have two more weeks of growing season,” he said.

That advantage, when combined with more extreme temperature swings, is causing fruit production to suffer as trees are prompted to bud earlier, only to have the entire year’s crops destroyed by frosts.

The researchers suggested that farmers should consider drought-proofing water projects and infrastructure changes that might otherwise take time, resources and government lobbying to achieve.

Homer-Dixon said plant breeders have been forced to stretch their genetics to find genes capable of withstanding prolonged mid-season drought or temperature swings during flowering.

Both researchers said mitigation strategies for climate change will buy some time, but the overall plan for agriculture and food needs to be focused on a hotter, more violent environment.

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mike.raine@producer.com

  • Jond01

    Sounds like alot of guesswork to me. My guess is that the climate will be much better all around.

    • Jayson

      It’s predicting the future, it will always be guesswork. The only difference between their guesswork and yours is that their’s is based off of millions of data points run through supercomputers crunching the numbers on various best case/worst case scenarios using advanced climate models all done by people who have studied and worked on climate models for years.

      Whereas your guesswork seems based on a cross-your-fingers and hope for the best. No offense, but I’m going to go with the experts with the supercomputers and millions upon millions of pieces of data who all say climate change is going to make things much worse all around.

      • Harold


        The last ice age ended suddenly 12 to 14 thousand years ago without explanation. 6 million square miles of a 100 thousand year stable ice sheet, 2 miles thick covering northern Europe as far south as London, and another mass covering North America as far south as the Mississippi Delta, suddenly vanished within I or 2 thousand years. The Ocean rose 400 feet. A definite climate changer.
        Lot’s of expert’s and models and prediction’s of climate change back then, I would think. I’m sure it was man made and man stoppable back then too.
        I wonder if they had supercomputers and millions upon millions of pieces of data?

      • Jond01

        It’s amazing hey, all of those data points and they’re still wrong. I’m as amazed as you are.

        • Dayton

          Someone has to justify the sucking of the hind teat.

  • richard

    It always interesting when the “experts” come together to decide that throwing even more technology at a problem that at its roots, is the result of excessive technology….and all its myths…… the biggest one being that 9B 2050 is somehow human “progress”

    • Jond01

      Yes, it is the big elephant in the room. We have all sorts of ways to save people, but no real method of managing population growth. If we manage the population, we can maintain current lifestyles as well as take care of all the other problems humans have caused to our ecosystem. For instance, we eat pretty much anything that moves, we pave the most fertile areas for growing crops, we overfish and we cut down forests. This has nothing to do with climate change, but everything to do with run away population growth. Just sayin!

      • richard

        Its an elephant that most people have yet to even acknowledge…. fear paralyzes critical thinking.,,,,, The result being status quo myth making where human activity is too small to affect global climate on one hand….. ironically big enough to trash global forest and ocean ecosystems on the other, the self same systems on which atmosphere and climate are predicated….. If you believe that population growth is a function of hunger/poverty, then climate change will affect population growth as it affects food production….. The “big” elephant is that climate change denial…..or human involvement in it, condones us to abuse the biosphere in any way necessary to feed our every impulse…….and never have to be held accountable for it…… And we shall call this adaptation.

  • Gallilao

    Adaptation is our only alternative since we humans have no influence on climate, whatsoever.

    • Happy Farmer

      I agree. I also agree with Harold’s earlier comment regarding the ice age. I would like to see all current experts on climate change explain how those past events (which were far bigger than we currently expect to have) happened without man’s involvement.

      I would also like to see us as Canadians pressure our governments to abandon all action towards solving climate change. Why, because we will be forced to spend billions and it will most likely do absolutely nothing for the worlds climate. Just check out what Canada’s amount of greenhouse gas emissions are compared to the world. Check out what Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions are from coal plants are compared to the world.

      • Gallilao

        Right you are!

        But the real science tells us there is no such thing as AGW and that is the reason we should abandon all climate change nonsense! As Canadians that is.

      • Harold

        The real “climate change deniers”, are the ones who believe the “climate change” propaganda without examination. Further, the words climate and change do not belong together. There is only climate. or weather Both in short term or at length. There was a climate age prior to the Major Ice age. What was that climate, and why is that climate not considered normal, and why don’t we believe that we are experiencing the mere turbulence of recovery. Because there is pollution?
        The pollution problems are created by the corporate’s lust for profit and they are not created otherwise, by a collective human desire.
        No corporation is going to vote it’s self out of existence or steer it’s self to that end. Hence, prolonged pollution and an innate opposition to opposing technology. The Automobile, or gas combustion engine, are a fine example. Electric cars, little desire for plastic and petroleum based textiles would place the Oil companies where? Nonetheless, we cannot breathe polluted air or drink polluted water and therefore, they must be cleaned up. but that has nothing to do with climate. Pollution is our health problem due to the environment for which the corporate is the cause. Making humans to blame is a defection from the cause. You pay your Tax and corporate bill’s so that ultimately whom can run free?
        “Real” science is of the past or present as it is at, or in hand, and future is of science fiction. A meteor hitting the planet tomorrow could wipe out any future time fictional model as can meaningful future innovations.