Statement from John Piotti, AFT President and CEO: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Sixth Assessment Report
“This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, and the news is frightening if not unexpected. Given my role as the leader of an agricultural organization with a mission to “save the land that sustains us,” I was startled by key facts in the report that seemed to me to portend peril for food production.
“Reading, for instance, that in the century global temperatures in an ‘intermediate emissions scenario’ could rise 2.1°C to 3.5°C over 1850-1900 levels, alongside the fact that the last time global surface temperatures were sustained at or above 2.5°C higher than 1850 – 1900 was over 3 million years ago, made we wonder how challenging it would be for future generations to grow food. A temperature increase of 2.5° Celsius or 4.5° Fahrenheit would force an extreme shift in crop production and be even more challenging for livestock. Our early ancestors were walking the Earth around 3 million years ago, but we have only been farming for 12,000 years. The future brings unprecedented challenges.
“Additionally, the IPCC’s conclusion that each 0.5°C increase in warming will cause ‘clearly discernible increases in intensity of hot extremes, including heatwaves, and heavy precipitation, as well as agriculture and ecological droughts in some regions.’
“Simply put, we are today only witnessing a modest view of what’s to come—and yet today’s impacts are extreme enough. The summer of 2021 has brought American farmers and ranchers face-to-face with the harsh effects of climate change. A mega-drought covers the entire west and extends deep into the midwest. Crops have withered, cattle have been sold off for lack of feed, and, most importantly, farmers and farm workers have suffered dangerous days in the fields under scorching heat. Wildfires are raging in many parts of the west and water supplies are running dry. Farther east, the iconic Michigan tart cherry crop was devastated by wild spring temperatures, while U.S. grain growers grow concerned that the drought in the upper midwest will spread into the central Farm Belt. This devastating growing season, which feels like uncharted territory, is likely to be our new normal.
“Agriculture is, of course, is a key contributor to the problem and 10 percent of U.S. emissions in 2019 can be attributed to crop and livestock production. Proponents of regenerative agriculture are working to solve this problem, but a massive effort to scale up implementation is needed. It really must be all hands-on deck—farmers, citizens, governments and especially philanthropists. Dollars to help implement regenerative agriculture through education, technical assistance and incentives may save humanity. We are now in an adapt or die scenario — even carbon sequestration will not stop the extreme impacts to come, but it can make it better and regenerative agriculture can help sustain food production on the scale needed, while it is doing its job to heal the planet.”
American Farmland Trust is the only national conservation organization dedicated to protecting farmland, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land. Since 1980, AFT’s innovative work has helped to permanently protect more than 6.8 million acres of farmland and ranchland and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more. No Farms, No Food. Learn more at www.farmland.org.