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The 3rd horseman falls off his mount

03 Apr 2019 | Science Notes

Ukraine is the latest place to report a record harvest despite predictions of climate-driven drought, blight, pests and even “toxic crops” devastating our fields and emptying our bellies. Which is especially odd as Ukraine has seen two other horsemen, Conquest and War, show up. As horror movies go, Climate Apocalypse Now is proving quite the disappointment.

Climate and climate change is complicated, as we recall having observed previously. Thus a new study says “A sixth of all emissions resulting from the typical diet of an EU citizen can be directly linked to deforestation of tropical forests.” It is not easy to calculate all the effects of everything we do on everything else; as Leonard Read argued lucidly in “I Pencil” and Friedrich Hayek ponderously in The Road to Serfdom. Which is one reason physicist Freeman Dyson said that when you have a complicated theory that is hard to test, and data that is easy to see, “generally speaking you can believe the observations and you don’t have to believe the theories.”

Part of the evidence we have is that alarmists have been predicting crop failure for decades. In fact they were predicting it before global warming was a “thing”; Paul Ehrlich famously said “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death”. (And, on the first Earth Day in 1970, he warned “[i]n ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.”) Oddly, it didn’t cost him status as a pundit when instead the advanced world underwent an obesity epidemic starting in the 1970s and global population continued to rise due, among other things, to a “greening” effect linked to rising levels of CO2, the famous plant food. (That Nepal too just recorded a record wheat harvest is probably related to the fact that CO2 is especially important to plant growth in arid regions including those at high altitude.)

The Canadian government mailed a pamphlet “Think climate: change” to its citizens in 2001 that warned “Crop yields on the prairies will start declining due to increased droughts”. Instead harvests boomed. (You cannot now find this pamphlet touting “Action Plan 2000” and making embarrassing predictions on the government website although it is still listed in catalogues and there is a description of all the great things the plan will accomplish.) And harvests are booming around the world, with the unhappy exception of places where bad government prevents people from feeding themselves properly as in the Soviet Union for seven decades, or at all as in communist China during the Great Leap Forward.

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