Global Warming/Climate Change

Climate Change and the Challenge to All Forms of Agriculture

We´ve all heard of climate change and probably understand the basics of how excess greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide produced by our society´s burning of fossil fuels is causing the earth´s temperature to rise. We´ve most likely seen maps of what the world will look like when the glaciers and icebergs melt causing the ocean to rise and most of us probably accept that it is a danger to our civilization.

For most people, however, we suffer from a cognitive dissonance that doesn´t allow us to make meaningful changes to our way of life-based on the knowledge that we have. Though the reports and predictions by climate scientists are certainly frightening, they seem like far away and distant possibilities. The 1-2 degrees of temperature change sure don´t feel that extreme, especially as we relax in our air-conditioned homes or drive to work in our air-conditioned cars.

In case you haven´t heard enough of the doomsday facts and figures, here are a few more figures from NASA to put into perspective how far climate change has advanced:

– The loss of ice in Greenland has doubled between 1996 and 2005.
– The ice cover in the Arctic decreases by 13.4% every decade.
– 9 of the 10 warmest years have occurred since the year 2000.
– Carbon dioxide levels in the air are at their highest level in 650,000 years.
– The sea will rise between 7 and 23 inches by the end of this century.

Over 100 million people who live in coastal areas will purportedly be affected by the rising sea levels caused by global warming leading to a serious demographic crisis of climate refugees.

Despite this wealth of harrowing information, very few people have been inspired to act. Dozens of international climate change conferences have resulted in mediocre, toothless agreements that do nothing to force countries to cut back on fossil fuel consumption. The health of the industrial growth economy trumps all other concerns, even that of our long-term survival.

Feedback loops

One of the scariest things about climate change are the feedback loops that will spur on more climate change even if humanity were to get its act together and put real limits on carbon emissions. Simply put, we can´t avoid the effects of climate change anymore, but rather need to find ways to adapt to the effects that are already occurring (Hurricane Irma, for example) while radically minimizing our carbon emissions to limit (as much as possible) the feedback loops that are put into action.

The carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases that we´ve released into the air will stay there for years on end. Even if we were to miraculously cut out using all fossil fuels tomorrow, the effects of climate change will still be felt in the coming decades.

One positive feedback loop related to climate change has to do with the loss of ice. Ice is white and when the sun entering the earth´s atmosphere hits the ice, the white color reflects the light instead of absorbing it. As the ice melts, it reveals the darker colored land or ocean water below it and that same light is now absorbed instead of reflected thus causing the temperature to rise and more ice to melt.

Similarly, the rising temperatures that are causing the Arctic ice and permafrost to melt will eventually unlock billions of tons of methane gas that is stored under the ice in the Arctic regions of our world. Methane causes more global warming than carbon dioxide and as that gas is released it will only speed up the process of climate change in a vicious cycle.

Rising Temperatures and the Uncertainty of Agriculture

Billions of small farmers around the world depend on the constancy of the seasons to grow the crops that feed their families. Traditional, ecological knowledge of indigenous and peasant cultures is often tied to this historic, ancestral observation of the cycles of nature and how humans can adapt to that cycle in order to survive and thrive.

Global warming, however, causes vast changes not only in the temperature but also in the constancy of the seasons. Billions of farmers can no longer plan to plant their seed during a certain time of year as they´ve done for generations because the beginning of the rainy season is impossible to predict nowadays. Prolonged droughts and more serious monsoons and heavy rains also cause huge losses in agriculture thus threatening the livelihoods of billions of people. Even industrial agriculture depends on the rain, and huge crop losses are today considered to be a normal part of the profession.

Similarly, the rising temperatures across the earth´s surface also threaten to increase problems with pests, bugs, malignant fungi, and other problems to farmers. Warmer temperatures could lead to a wider range of habitat for several different types of pests that in theory could lead to a loss of crop yields. Rising temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns coupled with a growing world population is not exactly a recipe for success for feeding the world.

Nonetheless, the excess amount of carbon in our atmosphere also provides a unique opportunity for the transformation of our agricultural system. Plants “eat” carbon dioxide, and by planting perennial species across our landscapes, we could help to draw down the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and store in the increasingly fertile layer of biomass and humus-rich soil. This, of course, depends on us changing from an annual-based agriculture that depends on yearly tilling of the soil, to a perennial, no-till form of agriculture.

Tobias Roberts

After working in the development industry for over a decade, Tobias decided it was time to stop advising Central American farmers how to do things if he didn´t have a piece of land to live coherently with what he taught. Together with his family he runs a small agro-forestry farm, tourism cooperative, and natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador.


  1. Excellent post. I somehow ended up here (searching for information on cultivating figs) and I was surprised (yet glad) to see someone who clearly understands and truly perceives the great dangers we are facing with (immediate) climate change. My personal thoughts have been that we (as a species) will starve well before we drown — there’s just not enough understanding that these (giant) changes we’re making in our weather systems are bound to have some catastrophic effect on agriculture well before we have to worry about our cities being flooded. Also, thanks for the astute observation on the “cognitive dissonance” we are now facing due to air conditioned houses and cars — I tell the folks who will listen that we humans have essentially built our own, self-contained climate bubbles, going from the modern equivalent of a climate controlled cave (home), to a mobile climate controlled cave (the car), to the other climate controlled cave (work), with stops at other climate controlled caves (shopping, the mall, etc.) along the way — all the time cutting us off from connecting with what’s really going on with the global climate . Anyway, thanks!!!

  2. Thanks Ben for the encouragement. I agree, we need to get out of the caves that define our lives and find ways to interact with the real world in order to discover what really is going on in the world we live in.

  3. Feedback loop? I live in northeastern France, in a region which is particularly prone to late frost in spring. This year was a very delicate one for all orchardists. Production was cut by half if the orchard couldn’t be protected from severe late frosts on fruit trees in full bloom. Quite a few orchard growers (even organic) have been burning cords of wood or piles of straw bales to prevent most flowers from suffering frost damage during one or two critical nights. The yields of many fruit trees, including nuts and chestnuts, have been cut by half…even in southern France. Including more useful and edible perennials within ever more functional ecosystems is definitely the way forward but by no means a guarantee of survival for exponential population growth. So far there’s more than enough food, it’s just either mostly wasted or not evenly or fairly distributed. Our current success (and survival) is all done thanks to good old petroleum. Take out good old diesel fuel and not many people will have enough to eat, let alone survive. The real emergency now is training people from a very early age for a wide range of real, first-hand, applied combination of survival, perma skills and hope for the Best!! Tipping point is very near! Yep;-)

  4. As a climate change activist (who lives with a climate change researcher), I’ve got to say that some mornings, permaculture is the only thing, the only thought, that gets me out of bed in the morning.

    But we’ve got to get spreading its principles farther and wider. Do you know why permaculture wasn’t mentioned in Paul Hawken’s Drawdown, even though Eric Toensmeier was on the team? I asked. Here’s their answer: “Permaculture itself is not a solution on our list, as it is not currently viable on scale we can consider globally.” Folks, permaculture has got to stop being “boutique”!

    For example, global fire maps often show huge deliberately set fires in Africa, where many farmers still burn rather than mulch. (Not all “traditional” practices are worth hanging on to.) How are permaculturalistis responding, I wonder.

    Another issue with rising temperatures is that some crops simply can’t withstand high heat (corn comes to mind). It’s the opposite problem to the one described by the commenter here of late frosts. Can permaculturalists find the solution in the problem? What inventive solutions can we come up with?

    I think, for example, that food growing is going to need a lot more people involved (to erect shade mats for corn? to install solar-heated water boards for orchards?). But also a lot more imagination! From the Drawdown folks (after I suggested to them that the climate change emergency is a crisis of imagination): “There is room to add more solutions. We are not in the business of imagination, however. We are collecting and presenting data on already existing solutions that can be quantified. We do not push any solutions, but instead present data on solutions.” Blinkin’ left-brainers! Okay, where are the permaculture artists, dreamers, designers, inventors?

    If we’re going to survive the biggest threat ever to human survival (and that of most other animals), we need all creative brains (and dyslexics — they’re the people who can see in three dimensions), all strong hands, and all compassionate hearts on deck, pronto!

  5. I live in the west of Scotland and have noticed a difference in my fields. They are designated less favoured areas, so are not prime farm land but we graze cattle and sheep and take a cut of silage. There are now rushes growing in amongst the grass which shows how wet and poor the soil has become. Our rainfall has increased and in winter the ground is saturated for longer and lately the summers have been poor , again wet, with not as much sun as we used to get. This year hay has been impossible and some farmers have not even got one cut of silage. I have been here for over 40 years and we are going to have to rethink our land management. Global warming is happening and it’s not going to be pretty.

  6. I’m am concerned that even permaculturists who question many things about environmental, agricultural and energy things in this world remain nonetheless, or so it seems, less informed about geopolitics which includes the corporations and powers that really run the show behind the curtain. Most people blindly jump to the ‘climate change’ thing without knowing more about it than what they learn from mainstream media & the politicians who push a specific agenda. I believe that we have to question everything. For instance, consider these few things that concern the climate change agenda:

    1. Mainstream media does NOT present us with independent, free, honest journalism nor opinion. Most if not all mainstream media is either funded (owned) by governments or by a handful of billionaires whose interests lie elsewhere, not with the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants. MSM, for example, completely misled us on WMDs in Iraq, reflecting the dishonest voices of the politicians in power, allowing the US/UK to illegally wage a war against a sovereign country, destroy it, kill millions & get away with huge profits & zero come-back on what happened. Ditto Libya, Afghanistan, while they tried & failed in Syria. MSM does NOT inform us about the debates concerning vaccines nor GMOs. Etc. So how can we trust MSM or our politicians about climate change?

    2. The corporations & their political mouthpieces do NOT care about the well-being of this planet nor its inhabitants, plant, animal or other. All they care about is increasing their wealth & power. So why would they care about ‘climate change’? Answer: they don’t. It’s simply a way to increase their wealth & power.

    3. This planet’s environment is being destroyed by numerous things due to an insatiable desire for increased consumption instead of conservation, including  plastic pollution, mining, the agricultural business, GMOs, the pharmaceutical business (including pesticides & herbicides), geoengineering (chem trails & more – how many people know anything about this?!), factory farming of beef (methane gas) and many more things. A few scientists argue that nuclear war is far more an immediate threat than climate change at this stage, yet almost nobody talks about nuclear war (with the honourable exceptions of journalists like John Pilger, Chris Hedges and a few others). Climate change constantly appears at the top of the list of immediate dangers to this planet and we are taught to be scared and to be amenable to taxation to prevent this and accept huge financing of climate change programmes…
    (It is reported that Al Gore made millions out of his climate change agenda. Just a thought.)

    4. That the levels of CO2 are too high is hugely debatable. More CO2 is needed for vegetation not less, plus it is a minimal greenhouse gas, with others being much more important.

    That humans are affecting the climate is undoubtable. That climate is changing goes without question: it always changes, always has, always will.

    The question is how much effect humans are having, through what causes, whether all of it is harmful, and what we ought to do about this.

    Most people simply accept the ‘climate change’ stuff that is pushed onto us by MSM and policitians without question. Anyone who doubts it is called a ‘skeptic’ akin to a ‘heretic’. There is something wrong here…

    Just because Trump & his pals in mining, etc, are opposed to the climate change agenda as it stands doesn’t mean that we ought to go the opposite way & blindly accept what we’re told because Trump is despicable. Let’s not forget that ALL politicians are puppets for the powers behind them, they themselves have little say, nor control.

    We need to question EVERYTHING & double-check as much as we can from a variety of sources. Be open-minded & mistrust much! As the saying goes, cui bono (who benefits)? Or, follow the money…

    It will require a bit of reading, video-watching to understand all of this perhaps but there it is, something to consider!

    This is an interesting interview with a very knowledgeable scientist who presents a view rarely seen.

    This is an excellent start to who really runs the world, how & why, & how we’re being duped

  7. I’m a biologist and a Agro-Biotechnician, of course I can subscribe tot the fact that Climate Change is the biggest elephant in the room. But as our French correspondent illustrates, if I understand his point correctly, is that permaculture still has a way to go to feed the world.
    It’s not so much that the principles, techniques or basis of diverse and integrated perennial plants is wrong. It is the fact that we need to find ways to implement it on a bigger scale, professionalisation will play a big part in that.

    Not by implementing fossil fuel driven mechanisation, but by creating business plans and evolving expertise that can be applied to or implemented by existing ‘conventional’ farmers on a suitable scale. And yes, sometimes this will mean we have to make compromises by designing halfway solutions like simple agroforestry as seen already today.

    In Belgium we are always late to the party so the largest scale permaculture business is about 2,5 hectares, which will not cut it on a global scale unless you have lots of them. Myself and a bio-engineer student are looking to implement permaculture on a 10 hectare plot right now, but at this scale permaculture isn’t about self-sufficiency and economy factors in, even on a local scale.

    The premise of permaculture, agro-ecology and the likes are very promising avenues, but the point is if we want to save and feed the world we will need to look beyond homesteading. I also see a disregard for existing science with certain permaculturists, this is a very big mistake. It’s not because some research was done to accommodate industrial farming that this knowledge is useless, knowledge is neutral and always interesting.

    I’m sure expansion is possible without neglecting the basic principles of permaculture and still feeding a substantial local population like a small town. I’m sorry to say but I don’t believe self-sufficiency is going to cut it for much of the world as not all of them want or will ever farm.

  8. Regarding this climate change thing, I think it’s about time we start ignoring what our peers may think of us and address a Real issue that is and has been happening for some time – Weather Modification.

    PS: keep in mind that Monsanto have now created A-biotic stress resistant GMO seed, so drought and wet tolerant crops.

    There is an online searchable USAF (united states air-force) document aptly titled ”Owning the Weather by 2025”.

    Just a ”Conspiracy Theory” ? HA! Sorry but this time around there is a heap of information that many researchers have been gathering for quite a few years now which includes a few good documentaries on the subject, again, all searchable online with probably the best / most informative one being Frankenskies:

    The first form of weather manipulation is as far back as the Napoleonic wars when they noted that it always rained more after battles where many cannons were used / fired, someone decided to experiment and it was beneficial to fire off cannons before a battle where the enemy had a good cavalry advantage, this caused a boggy battlefield and the enemy had to revert to foot troops / reduced cavalry.

    Around 1915/6 a town in the US had a drought, they hired a scientist to see if he could help it rain, he sprayed a (may have been sulfur if my memory is correct?) based solution from the top of a tower and it rained heavily for about a week, this caused floods and much damage, the town council tried to put blame on the scientist.

    China has an official Weather Bureau which was tasked with providing good weather during their Olympics a few years ago, again, info you can find if you research yourself.

    The US used weather manipulation during the Vietnam conflict and caused heavy rainfall to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh supply trail, this is well known and in fact, a few years later the UN convened to write anti weather manipulation laws, they slipped in the loophole that as long as it was not used in war against another nation, that it CAN be used on one’s own soil!!! Remember, as permaculturists you ALL know that what affects the system in one area will Definitely affect another area even thousands of kilometers away … why? because preventing clouds from harvesting or even dropping it’s rain in one area will either cause Drought or Flood in another area which nature would have intended to have dropped the rain or kept dry. The so called ”Geo-engineers” who are designing and implementing weather modification mostly in Nato member countries have admitted that unfortunately their experiments will have a negative effect on the continents of Africa and Asia mainly in the form of Droughts and Storms such as Typhoons … how convenient that it will not have such severe effects on their own lands namely Most of Europe, Continental North US / Canada, Australia etc.
    Africa and Asia fall on the scopes of many population control / Eugenics advocates such as henry kissinger and other suchlike scum.

    PS: to conclude, I wonder how many of you know that H20 is actually the biggest Greenhouse gas, not Carbon (look up pie chart images online, most all say Carbon is at 0.03% !!) … the climate change agendists would not like you to know this, it’s time to ignore the fear mongering and for a Paradigm shift people. :)

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