by Vijay Jayaraj
Are we putting ourselves at risk by not weighing the risks of cold weather appropriately? And have we, out of our negligence, rendered the agricultural sector susceptible to disaster in the event of an unexpected cooling?
After an unusually cold spring and summer this year hampered crop growth across the Northern Hemisphere, costing farmers millions of dollars, the answer seems to be yes.
Most people understand that food crops are vulnerable to abnormal weather. However, fewer people understand that that crops are more sensitive to cold than to hot weather.
Most of the present-day focus has been focused on addressing the impact of heat on plants. As a consequence, we hardly address the hyper-sensitivity of food crops to cold weather.
Here is what we can deduct from the historical relationship between food crops and climate.
Cold Spells Death for Food Crops
Different plants need temperature to remain within particular ranges to grow well. It is a matter of utmost importance for farmers, whose livelihood depends on harvest returns. Developments in agricultural technology—such as drip irrigation and genetically edited, drought-resistant crops—has enabled farmers to adapt to extreme hot and drought conditions.
But little to no improvements have been made towards protecting crops from unusually cold temperatures. Before the warming craze took over the news media, cold weather was looked upon as an enemy of plant growth, especially for food crops.
In some temperate countries, this was common sense, as the cold climatic conditions there were and still are never suitable to grow certain economically important food crops. This was also a reality globally when cold climate in the past impacted agriculture worldwide.
The extent of damage that cold weather could have on our food crops was in full display during the Little Ice Age (LIA) that lasted roughly from the 14th through 18th centuries. The LIA brought agriculture to a standstill in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere and proved to be lethal enough to impact the entire human civilization.
The LIA was not the only period when the earth cooled down. Between 550 A.D. and 800 A.D, the relatively cold weather also proved to be a big challenge for empires across the globe.
Today, there few efforts to warn farmers about cold climatic phases (like the ones during the winter of 2017–18 and the frequent cooling events in the past two years).
If climate change is an issue of foremost importance, everybody ought to remember and discuss the most dangerous and destructive climate event of the past 2000 years, the LIA. But we hear nothing about this from our political leaders or our mainstream media.
One of the reasons for their unfathomable silence about the dangers of cooling may be due to the fact that it will force them to reveal the scientifically proven benefits of global warming on the growth of food crops.
Warming is Good, in Fact the Best
In contrast to cooling, global warming (as distinct from brief, local extreme heatwaves—which have not become more numerous or severe during the recent decades of global warming) has always helped plant growth, especially of species that are of importance to human civilization. Warming periods in the past always resulted in higher crop growth rates, decrease in crop failures, and subsequently caused food supplies to surge.
The Medieval Warm period (10th to 12th centuries A.D.) and the post LIA period (19th century A.D. to Present day) are known to be two of the most beneficial climate phases for the growth of human civilization.
Historian Charles Van Doren noted, “The three centuries, from about 1000 to about 1300, became one of the most optimistic, prosperous, and progressive periods in European history.” He was right about the Medieval Warm Period, which saw the farmers in Europe benefit immensely. It allowed cultivation of grapes in England and a thriving wine industry, like what we see in today’s France and Germany.
Climate change expert Dr. James Lovelock, a fellow of The Royal Society and winner of numerous globally acclaimed environmental awards, confirms that the warm climate has been beneficial for the planet.
He went a step further and commented that carbon dioxide emissions from human sources have actually helped us see off cold climate by contributing additional warming to the already active warming phase that began at the end of the LIA.
“It is worth thinking that what we are doing in creating all these carbon emissions, far from being something frightful, is stopping the onset of a new ice age. … If we hadn’t appeared on the earth, it would be due to go through another ice age and we can look at our part as holding that up. … I hate all this business about feeling guilty about what we’re doing”, said Dr. Lovelock soon after the Climategate scandal broke out in 2009.
Carbon Dioxide: An Ally of Warm Climate and Food Crops
Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, in his document on the positive impacts of CO2, echoed the importance of understanding the varied impacts that cold climate and hot climate have on food crops, and the scientifically verified beneficial role played by CO2 alongside warm climate.
“The most dangerous change in climate in the short term would be to one that would not support sufficient food production to feed our own population,” said Moore, referring to the cold climatic phases.
In fact, it is estimated that increased CO2 concentrations, together with the increase in temperature levels, were responsible for a 14 percent increase in green vegetation over the past three decades and translated into an increase in farm incomes by $3 Trillion.
But it appears that our climatic system is in for a change.
A Potential Cooling Threat in Near Future
Climatologists have realized that there has been no significant warming during the past two decades. This led scientists to refocus their attention towards the influence of the sun on the earth’s climate.
The increasing consensus is that the sun’s impact on the earth’s climate is much greater than that from atmospheric greenhouse gas (CO2) concentrations. If this is indeed true, then we must prepare ourselves for crop damage from cold weather, as NASA has predicted the lowest sunspot activity for the next two decades.
If cold climate phases are the real destroyer of our crops and warmer climatic conditions have always aided farming, then our focus ought to be on cold climate. Instead of being obsessed with the warming narrative, those at international governing institutions like the United Nations should be preparing our farmers for cold weather, equipping the local administrative bodies with mechanisms to cope with such bad weather. Precious funds should be diverted towards research on adaptation to cold weather, rather than aimlessly spending on a warming panic among the masses.
Any neutral observer on climate change would readily approve the need to focus on cooling, especially when it has been the only major historically verified climate trend that is capable of destroying food crops at a significant scale.
Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Bangalore, India.