CHURCHVLLE, VA—Paul Krugman is a big deal: Princeton professor, New York Times columnist and Nobel laureate (2008). Krugman wrote last week about the “food crisis, the second one to hit the world in the last three years.” His key statement: “what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate—which means that the current food prices surge may be just beginning.”
What warming? The puny 0.2 degrees C we’ve had since 1940?
On food, we’re currently diverting a huge proportion of the world’s crops to biofuels. We’ve created an artificial shortage of the world’s already-scarce cropland. Two years ago, the high food prices were driven by a very high price for oil, so our corn ethanol plants were running full-tilt. World food prices nearly doubled. This year, the high food prices are driven by a combination of high fuel prices and diverse bad weather in the U.S., Russia, Australia and China, to name a few weather-challenged regions.
The farming gods are always fickle. They bring drought, floods, bitter winters, heatstroke summers, hailstorms and untimely frosts—at their whim. When humans started to farm, their most important gods were always the “earth mother” who watches over the crops, and a consort god in charge of rainfall. The farming villages held festivals in their honor, made sacrifices, and pleaded for good crops. Often they pled in vain.
Talking about severe weather, how about Cahokia, the only city ever built by the American Indians? It was founded on corn, in Illinois, the heart of today’s Corn Belt. And it grew to perhaps as large as 50,000 people. After 1200 AD, Cahokia suffered two 30-year droughts in 60 years. The city disappeared. The people who could walked away.
In 2200 B.C., a “little ice age” hit the whole world. A belt of irrigated agricultures around the world failed simultaneously—and didn’t recover for about 300 years! Southern Greece, the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, and what’s now Iraq and Syria all collapsed. Many thousands died. Nomad shepherds took over the parched land. The first Chinese dynasty collapsed then in the Yellow River Valley due to drought—and “little ice ages” have since brought down five more-recent Chinese dynasties. The last to fall was the fabled Kublai Khan during the Little Ice Age.
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, the Little Ice Age brought three massive sea floods within a few decades, each of which drowned 100,000 people. The coasts of Europe are lined with huge sand dunes created by hurricanes. Most of these dunes date from the Little Ice Age, not from the Medieval Warming.
The peer-reviewed journal Natural Hazards in June, 2005, published a special issue on extreme weather events over the last century. It found there is less severe weather as the world warms, with no increase in thunderstorms, hailstorms, tornados, blizzards, Asian monsoons, heat waves or floods. Blogger Jo Nova reports that a recent re-examination of global tropical storms and hurricanes found no trend in the past 30 years. Russia frequently has droughts and Australia has a cycle of flooding.
Krugman is trying to frighten us about what’s very likely the finest weather humanity has ever seen. Obviously, we’re still getting heat waves, blizzards and some hurricanes—but fewer of them. Nevertheless, you are three times as likely to read about the severe weather we do get—because the media are seeking it out.
Our Nobel Prize Winner strikes out on both food and climate change.