The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last week warned human-caused global warming is harming land-based ecosystems and threatening our food supply. If warming increases even a few more tenths of a degree, the panel said food will become scarcer, more expensive, and less nutritious.
“I’ve lost a lot of sleep about what the science is saying,” Koko Warner, a manager in the UN Climate Change secretariat, said in a statement. “As a person, it’s pretty scary.”
But her insomnia may be unnecessary. Like other reports, it uses scare tactics to shift power from private persons and corporations to governments and UN bureaucracy, Calvin Beisner, founder of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, told me.
Other scientists believe the doomsday rhetoric overlooks the benefits of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. John Christy, a climate scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, told me the data just doesn’t show slightly warmer temperatures hurting the Earth. He explained the catastrophic predictions result from faulty computer climate models that overestimate the effects of increased carbon dioxide. Instead of devastation, Christy said scientists have observed the greening of the planet, greater crop yields, and falling poverty rates as food production outpaces population growth.
Even though higher carbon dioxide levels do produce more plant growth, the UN report points to new studies indicating they also reduce protein and nutrients in crops. Beisner said only a few food crops become slightly less nutritious at elevated carbon dioxide levels. The nutritional value of most crops remains unchanged, he said, and the greater yield-per-acre from extra carbon dioxide provides a more abundant crop supply and drives down the price of food.
The report also warned that Earth’s landmasses are warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Beisner said nearly 50 percent of the warming likely results from the urban heat island effect. Big cities often experience much warmer temperatures than rural areas because surfaces like cement, asphalt, brick, glass, and steel tend to hold heat.
The IPCC recommends people worldwide decrease their consumption of red meat in favor of fruits, vegetables, and seeds to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from meat production.
But the scientific data does not support a significant connection between carbon dioxide emissions and global warming, wrote Vijay Jayaraj, a research associate for developing countries for the Cornwall Alliance. Although carbon dioxide levels did rise alongside global temperatures between 1970 and 1999, they also rose rapidly from 1940 to 1969 when the Earth underwent significant cooling—many scientists even thought we were headed into a mini ice age, he wrote for The Stream. The Earth cooled during the first 30 years and warmed in the second, but in both cases, carbon dioxide levels rose, suggesting carbon dioxide does not significantly affect global temperatures. If carbon dioxide isn’t contributing much to global warming, then “all the meatless, planet-saving, super-diet propaganda is nothing more than fancy folklore,” Jayaraj said.
On the other hand, “the health benefits of eating meat, the best source of protein, would benefit the world’s poor far more than the next-to-zero reduction in global temperature that might come from reduced meat consumption,” Beisner noted.