Looking At Climate Change Like A Farmer



I don’t like to write about climate change because it only inspires bristle talk: bristles to the right, bristles to the left, bristles from the pulpits, bristles from the labs, bristles on social (unsocial) media. It is just a bristly subject that is never going to be solved anyway. But because all sorts of important meetings are taking place at the moment, it occurred to me that approaching the subject from a sustainable farmer’s attitudes about weather change might be helpful. Weather change is not the same as climate change, but the search for defense against weather calamities in farming ought to present some guidelines for dealing with the impossible problem of global climate change.

And if you think the problem is solvable, take a closer look. I’m sure there is serious talk, for instance, about the amount of fossil fuel that all these new highrises require. But it rarely gets in the news. If you look at almost any developing country, not to mention developed countries, there is an enormous new growth of tall buildings that simply can’t function without enormous amounts of fossil fuel. Furthermore, houses keep getting bigger too. Should there not be a law limiting the size of houses? Good luck on that one. Good luck on limiting travel. Look at the irony of our leaders of all countries meeting now to discuss ways to cut carbon pollution, and at the same time calling for more and more bombs. Have you any idea what all those bombs and bullets cost us in carbon pollution?

​Traditional agriculture has learned how to cope with bad weather, not by standing around wringing its hands over possible tragedy a couple thousand years from now, but developing overides to survive it. The good old “can do” attitude ought to be applied to climate change too. Maybe it is not all bad. Maybe there is some good in it if we play it on a more opportunistic agenda. Instead of bristling around about who is right and who is wrong, think practical survival. If some areas are opening up opportunities for increasing food production, start thinking about how to make friends with the mammon of climate change iniquity. This is not the first time we have been threatened both by ice ages and global warmings. I like to think about hay in the Middle Ages, the almost foolproof example of resilience to whatever the weather threw at us especially around the time of the Little Ice Age. Haystacks and grain stacks are wonderful solutions to combat the uncertainties of weather. That is why they were almost adored down through the ages. Once in place, with lots of manual labor and skill, they become fairly secure food for farm animals and then for humans and can supply food for several years. What is required is the willingness to do the work, to make the changes. If corn doesn’t work anymore, try something else. If Kansas turns into a desert, figure out how to make a desert productive. If California is inundated by melting glaciers, it will surely have a positive agricultural effect on the western deserts. ​

​My friend, Bob Evans, farmer and fast food tycoon, has been a model for me. Decades before the bristling clamor over climate change came to the fore, he called me, all excited over the good effects that might come. He was already hard at work developing cattle and forages that could withstand at least some of the bad effects of climate change. He was positively elated by the possibilities of better farming forced on us by global warming because in some instances it would encourage permanent pasture farming in lieu of annual cultivation.

​My thinking is that climate change is not the real problem. Human bullheadedness should get the credit. As an old Egyptian saying puts it, if the bull wants to charge you, lie down.


pgok, Oh I definitely mean to say that we must adapt our lifestyle. I thought that was what I was saying. I guess I was guilty of careless wriiting. Gene

Yes, Ken. This goes right back, at least to Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) . Although he got the timing wrong of his prediction that we would run out of resources, here we are now, heading down the hill to extinction of Hom sap! Oh, and incidentally, a bunch of other species. (Orwell, likewise got his timing wrong suggesting 1984 as the year for total surveillance).
You, in the USA, have had a number of great conservationists Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, to name but two, and at least one import, John Muir. Unless we care for the earth, and stop expecting “growth”, constantly measuring “progress” by economic growth and the extraction of “resources”, without giving back we are toast.
Arne Naess, the great Norwegian deep green philosopher, back in the 60s was warning us that if we failed to minimize our galumphing great “footprint” we were looking down the barrel of a twelve-bore from the wrong end.
While Gene may be right that we have to ‘adapt’, he is wrong not to accept that we need to adapt our LIFESTYLE as well, and, although I am pessimistic that it will happen, as I suspect we passed the ‘tipping point’ years ago, just realize that we consume way too much.
In the world of “Wall Street” there is an acronym, “IBGYBG”, which sellers of dodgy securities were fond of. It stands for “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone”, with the suggestion that the sellers would have made their financial “killing” and would not be around to pick up the pieces. This is precisely the issue here. Do we have a responsibility for generations to come, and to other species on the planet? We are way too anthropocentric. It’s all about “us”. Without the other species, some of whom we have “tamed” – and I don’t just mean animals – what would the planet be like?
I just hope politicians will stop being politicians at COP21, and make a meaningful deal which is enforceable worldwide. otherwise IBGYBG along with Gene and the rest!

Gene, as always, you’re a voice of pragmatic wisdom. Climate change happens, it is as inevitable as the tides, albeit on a much slower scale, according to ice cores and sediment samples. And we’d have just as much luck stopping it as the tide, considering it took 200 years of pumping carbon into the air to get the current greenhouse effect. Melting ice caps will be catastrophic for the poor folks living in low coastal areas(I can’t say I mind the rich folks’ beach houses going). But the last time we had a somewhat warmer planet, the Sahara was lush savanna.

This is a reflection of an old kind of wisdom… It asks how we can integrate into our ever changing environment better, rather than insisting on the one way to live. If you’re really intent on surviving (egocentric), you are going to have focus quite a bit on the cues your environment is giving you (ecocentric) because the fittest die as soon as they lose adaptability.

However, embracing the fact that your rate of survivability eventually drops to zero allows you to give your absolute best because as far as risk is concerned, you’re already “all in.” All your chips are already down. This also keeps you from being paralyzed by the fact that neither Mother Nature nor Gaia nor God cares whether you survive this world or not. All you need to know to live well is that whether you die before your world saving device or idea comes to fruition or after you’ve saved the world from all it’s problems…. Actually it doesn’t matter how it happens. When your survivability dial finally turns to zero you’ve served your eco-system function. Thank-you for your truly innovative contributions. We’ve never seen anybody live like that before. However, we’re going to have to recycle all of those neat innovations since they’ve become rather commonplace.

Thanks, Gene. When the things you say are annoyingly true, I have to wonder if you’ve been hanging out with some of those Amish friends of yours.

It seems to me if the people of the “richer” countries developed an attitude of more frugal behavior as many of our forefathers did there would not be as big a problem. I have been a conservationist all my life. I realized early on what we have on this earth is all we have and we need to take care of it. Little things like growing some of your own food and actually making home cooked meals instead of drive thru or “box” meals would reduce fuel, reduce packaging and make us all much healthier. I guess that requires a little more work and therein lies the problem.

I’m not sure how looking at climate change like a farmer would make things any different. Farmers are being more impacted than any other group because their livelihood is so dependent on the weather. A few years ago we had the worst drought in years and all the farmer’s corn shriveled up and died, and this season it was so wet many farmers couldn’t get their crops in, couldn’t cut hay until mid August because the ground was so wet. In the past, before fossil fuel, these kinds of seasons would mean mass famine. Last year was a perfect season and I grew tons of food for myself. This season for the first time in 25 years or so I grew almost nothing because the soil was unworkable until early August. I planted corn transplants because I couldn’t think of how else to get them in in the heavy rain and they just sat there flooded for the month of July. By the time they started growing it was really too late.

Adapting to climate change is so much more costly an option than just doing something about it now, or 20 years ago. The right wing has prevented anything from happening earlier than now and now it’s probably too late. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to do something about it. I live in a place that is a model for a more sustainable way of living. We’ve pretty much eliminated all direct fossil fuel use. Most of us live in what are considered to be tiny houses. Mine is less than 500 ft.² and is passive solar design so that it requires minimal fuel to heat it. 50 of us share 4 vehicles. We share other facilities so we don’t each have to build them into our houses. We’ve audited our consumption and found we use about a tenth of the resources of the average American. It is this kind of action, along with reducing population, that will turn things around if anything will. To think we can adapt to the dramatic changes happening now that will be far worse in the future is not really understanding the seriousness of the issue.

“there is an enormous new growth of tall buildings that simply can’t function without enormous amounts of fossil fuel”
That’s why we need to talk and act more about climate change, modern housing buildings are incredibly more energy-efficient than individual houses, they can have shared facilities too, fiber to the home, etc. There are now “positive energy” houses that produce more energy than they consume, I am guessing it will be a growing trend in the future years, when the current early adopters have made it cheaper for the next generations.

I am considering 2 electrical vehicles for my chicken farm, a Gator-like quad and a delivery van. At current prices, it will take 3 years to free up the budget for the van, but it’s a no-brainer for me, and not just for climate-change reasons.

“Traditional agriculture has learned how to cope with bad weather”
My way is to work in the greenhouse during bad weather. 😉

Not sure Cali will ever be inundated by melting glaciers, they have been melting for years and it’s been the highest water shortage years too. And now there’s a huge methane leak in SoCal and they relocated hundreds of families. Such accidents cancel out everything we do to conserve water and reduce pollutants, that’s why we need to do much more if we want to see an impact. We can probably see one at short term on pollutants in our food, water and air, but temps will keep increasing for the next centuries. We can just hope to reduce a bit that increase rate, not stabilize or reduce temps to their pre-industrial level. Some of these measures may be costly, but the cost of doing nothing is much higher. And some others actually bring jobs and/or savings too, like more fuel-efficient cars and photovoltaics, with modern solar farms now selling electricity to the utilities at 3.8 cents/kW, and much more jobs in solar than in coal. We really live in a great period of changes for humanity, with challenges that we need to and will address, our survival as a species depends on it.

Have you, Gene, or any of you, the readers, seen the documentary Cowspiracy? The filmmaker’s premise is that the way we raise livestock uses more fossil fuel than any other source–cars, electricity, etc. (Everyone’s silence on this point is the alleged conspiracy.) I wonder if this is true for conventionally raised livestock, but then I’ve heard people say that mob grazing is good for the environment and prevents desertification, with pictures of beautiful pastures to prove it.

Don’t mean to sound bristley, but I think it all boils down to the fact that there are too many of us for as greedy and wasteful as we are.

My mule just dropped a pile of what you just wrote, Gene. Were you drinking? Grin? heee.
Why not just ask people who never learned how to grow their own food to learn to eat the insulation in their attics to cope? Still love ya, buddy, but this wandered pretty far afield. Let’s face it, be glad we’re old. Me? I’m glad I never had kids to meet what is coming, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling bad about the young. I live way in the boonies and most of my neighbors don’t even bother to recycle. Sad. The earth is going to toss us off like the flu. If the weather doesn’t get us, shortage of resources will. Chalk it up to human nature.

By far the most reasoned response I have seen anywhere on the interwebs regarding this highly controversial topic. Well done, Gene.

The farmer i was working for at the time told me that we used to be able to raise good oats in indiana but the climate or weather changed and now the good oat growing region had moved north to wisconsin.He was a died hard republican farm bureau type so i know it wasnt some sky is falling histeria. But he and other old farmers also told me that the weather always evens out.One area will get warmer or wetter while another will get dryer,colder,etc

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