The Planted Row: Are you ready for climate change?

Farm Forum

When people first started talking seriously about global warming in the 1980’s, I can remember thinking, “Well, that will never be my problem. Even if it’s real, the effects won’t show up in my lifetime.” It turns out there’s a decent chance I was wrong.

On Tuesday the U.S. Global Change Program, mandated by Congress in 1990, released the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA). The 840-page report, written by hundreds of authors, summarizes the impact of climate change in the U.S. and makes predictions about what we can expect in the future. You can view the report at

Basically, the NCA says that climate change is, in fact, happening right now and that it’s going to profoundly affect our lives in the future. It also says that while we can’t stop it from happening, we can greatly reduce its intensity in the future. Average temperatures have increased by 1.3 to 1.9 °F since 1895, with most of that happening since 1970. The report says if we substantially reduce our emissions now, we will be looking at a 3-5 °F increase in average temps by 2100. If we don’t do anything, we’ll be looking at a 5-10 °F increase in temps by 2100.

The climate change is going to affect our growing seasons and will make us more susceptible to droughts and heat waves, but the experts tell us we will feel the effects the most during severe weather events. Basically, we can expect more these, and we can expect them to be more intense. Remember reading about that a town in Florida last week that got two feet of rain from a single storm? Welcome to climate change.

Remember the drought we faced in 2012? The report says that year was the hottest year on record for the contiguous U.S. Can you imagine growing your corn crop in a similar drought year but with temperatures higher by 9 degrees on average? Well, according to the NCA, that’s what our grandchildren will be facing if we don’t do something now.

Within hours of the assessment’s release, various interest groups sent responses via press releases.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson stated, “The National Climate Assessment only confirms what family farmers and ranchers have been experiencing: global climate change is increasing the occurrence and severity of volatile weather events, which then directly impact agricultural risk, farmers’ bottom lines and the entire rural economy.”

On the other side of the coin, James M. Taylor, Senior Fellow for Environmental Policy at The Heartland Institute, wrote in response to the assessment, “This laughably misleading report is the predictable result when hard-core environmental activists are chosen to write up a climate assessment for, and subject to the approval and revisions of, the Obama administration.”

So how do we decide whom to believe? I don’t know enough about climate science to be able to read the raw data from the report and draw my own conclusions. Climate change deniers would tell me that I can’t trust the report because it was written by people with a political agenda. People who believe climate change is happening would tell me that we can’t argue with what science is telling us. So how am I to create an informed opinion on this subject?

I’m just a simple country boy, but I remember what corn looked like in southeast S.D. in 2012, and today I’m hearing reports that many places in Oklahoma and Texas are expecting only 10-15 bu. per acre winter wheat yields due to drought and a late spring frost. Even though I really hope that Mr. Taylor from The Heartland Institute is right, I have to ask myself, “Can we afford to do nothing about this problem right now if it turns out he’s wrong?”