Editor's Note: John's recent commentary on global warming -- and his response this weekend in our Mailbag segment -- continues to generate great debate on both sides of the issue. We are posting John's comments, followed by viewer reaction.
U.S. Farm Report Mailbag from Feb. 4-5, 2012:
TIME NOW FOR OUR WEEKLY LOOK INSIDE THE FARM REPORT MAILBAG....A VIEWER OBJECTS TO MY STAND ON GLOBAL WARMING BECAUSE IT FAILS A HUMILITY TEST:
"MAYBE HUMANITY IS SIMPLY ARROGANT ENOUGH TO ASSUME THEY HAVE THE INTELLIGENCE AND POWER TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERY GOOD AND BAD THING THAT HAPPENS ON THE PLANET." TOM LINGBLOOM, MINNEAPOLIS
THIS ATTEMPT TO REFRAME A SCIENTIFIC DEBATE AS A PHILOSOPHICAL OR RELIGIOUS DISAGREEMENT IS A FAMILIAR RESPONSE. HOWEVER, FOR ME IT FAILS ON MULTIPLE GROUNDS.
FIRST, BELIEF IN ANTHROPOGENIC GLOBAL WARMING DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MEAN OR EVEN IMPLY I THINK HUMANS CAUSE EVERY GOOD AND BAD THING ON THE PLANET, TO USE YOUR WORDS. NOR DID I SAY THAT.
SECOND, WHILE IT IS EASY TO SEE ONE HUMAN AS PUNY COMPARED TO THE VASTNESS OF OUR ENVIRONMENT, MULITPLYING THAT ONE PERSON BY 7 BILLION AT THE VERY LEAST ADDS SEVERAL ZEROES TO THE RESULTS.
IN FACT, OUR SPECIES CAN POINT TO SIGNIFICANT ENVIROMENTAL IMPACT. WE HAVE ERASED SEVERAL SPECIES, FROM WOOLY MAMMOTHS TO PASSENGER PIGEONS, FROM THE GLOBE. WE HAVE CHANGED THE COURSES OF RIVERS AND CONVERTED VAST SWATHS OF GRASSLANDS IN CENTRAL ASIA AND AFRICA TO DESERT BY OVERGRAZING.
TRIVIALIZING HUMAN ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT UNDERCUTS THE RELENTLESS EFFORTS OF FARMERS AROUND THE WORLD TO CONSERVE PRECIOUS TOPSOIL FARM BY FARM AND MILLIMETER BY MILLIMETER. IT IS NOT ARROGANCE, IN MY OPINION, TO ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT. IN FACT, IT IS JUST THE OPPOSITE.
Viewer Response #1:
Is it possible to get a transcript of this excellent commentary? I would like to send it to our senator (Ron Johnson, R-Wis.) who insists the phenomenon may not exist and certainly has nothing to do with people. Thanks for any help you can give.
Viewer Response #2:
I heard your response and I object to your response on several grounds:
1. Accepting that a small change in the level of a trace gas in the atmosphere will change the climate massively is foolish.
2. Science is supposed to be a search for the truth, but as was proved back when I was in college, even the expectation of a certain result can cause an unconscious altering of the result. When hundreds of billions of dollars or ideology factor in, they are very suspect.
3. Back in the time of the Vikings, the Earth was much warmer than now. Maybe the Roman roads were at fault.
4. The planet's climate history. It has gone from ice ages to extreme warmth many times. No humans were even present.
5. Species have been appearing and going extinct for millions of years without the help of humans.
6. Desertification -- yes, deserts have spread, but before man appeared, the vast Sahara Desert formed where lush forests had been.
In the Great Plains, there were no trees where there are trees now. There are lakes and farms where there was desert before. Just fly over the desert and see all the circles, the great lakes like Lake Meade and the Great Salt Lake where a much larger freshwater lake once was. If you can say that the planet's weather would be any different than it is today if no humans lived on Earth for the past 500 years, you should go into weather forecasting. Even with supercomputers, weathermen can't accurately predict two days in advance, let alone decide what is causing long-term weather trends.
When I was a young man in 1970, these same scientists stated unequivocally that New York City would be under ice by the year 2000. An Amish farmer friend told me in late October we would have no winter this year when the experts were predicting a very bad winter. How did he do it? He said, "Thunder in the fall means no winter at all." Believing in global warming shows you to be a very foolish man!
--By the way, the grass is green and we have had only a few inches of snow that lasted a few days.
Viewer Response #3:
Amen to your views today on the impact of humans on the environment -- and your balanced views on farm subsidies. Please keep up your "voice of reason" as we continue to get inundated by those screaming and calm who seem to disbelieve in reason, demonstrable facts, and the need to take realistic steps to combat the effects of the warming of the planet.
Viewer Response #4:
I listen regularly to USFR on Fort Wayne Channel 21. I appreciate especially the panel's weekly market analysis and comment and the commentaries and responses to mail by Mr. Phipps. In recent weeks I have noted, especially, Mr. Phipps's commentary on the economy, the role of government, and climate change. I think Mr. Phipps's analysis of our situation is correct and on the mark. His are important opinions that need to be heard widely in the agricultural community, and I appreciate USFR's service in that regard.
Thank you - Larry Yoder
Viewer Response #5:
John stated that humans caused the extinction of the wholly mammoth. Actually, they lasted 3,000 years on some Siberian island with no evidence of human habitation. They got smaller, indicating food shortages, so they were a stressed species.
Greg: Fair point. Here is my source for the statement:
Most woolly mammoth populations disappeared during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, likely due to the combined effects of climate change and hunting by humans. A 2008 study by scientists at Spain's Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales estimated that changes in climate shrank suitable mammoth habitat from 7,700,000 km2 (3,000,000 sq mi) 42,000 years ago to 800,000 km2 (310,000 sq mi) 6,000 years ago. Although woolly mammoths survived an even greater loss of habitat at the end of the Saale glaciation 125,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age humans likely hunted remaining populations to extinction, the same fate that befell many other large Pleistocene animals.
A small population of woolly mammoths survived on St. Paul Island, Alaska, until 3,750 BC, while another remained on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean until 1700 BC. These animals were originally considered a dwarf variety, much smaller than the original Pleistocene woolly mammoth.; however after closer investigation, Wrangel mammoths are no longer considered to be dwarfs;
A 2010 study hypothesizes that the decline of the woolly mammoth could have increased temperatures by up to 0.2°C at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere. Mammoths frequently ate birch trees, creating a grassland habitat. With the disappearance of mammoths, birch forests, which absorb more sunlight than grasslands, expanded, leading to regional warming. [More]
Thanks for watching and responding. John