I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.
By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 4:32 AM GMT on July 12, 2013
More From the Heartland: Farmers (3)
In the entry before President Obama’s speech, I wrote about farmers and climate change. I referred to a survey of farmer’s opinions on climate change performed by Iowa State University professor, J. Gordon Arbuckle and colleagues. In a 2013 paper in Climatic Change, Arbuckle and colleagues reported that 68% of farmers he surveyed in Iowa believed that the climate was changing. 28% were uncertain and only 5% believed that the climate was not changing. With regard to attribution, 10% felt that climate change was caused by humans, 23% felt it was natural, and about 35% felt it was caused by both human and natural causes. (Summary Article and Press Coverage )
In this blog I want to explore the results of the poll of the farmer’s some more.
Arbuckle’s work is in the standard protocol of social science studies focused on the acceptance and use of science-based knowledge by society. It utilizes the basic framework of how the responses to climate change are organized, specifically, mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps, coupled with enhancement of processes that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, such as storage of carbon dioxide in forests and soils. Adaptation is modification of how we do and build things in response to climate change.
First a little about social science research – In the past 5 years I have worked with several social scientists. The practice of social science has strict protocols. Interview-based research, such as discussed here, poses questions to be explored and answered by input from a set of interviewees. As in natural science, it is required that the research questions can be tested and evaluated. Not only does this require careful design of the research questions, but it also requires design, review and testing of the questions to be asked in the interview. The design of a robust experiment to disentangle questions where there is a strong element of human preference and decision is exceedingly difficult. This includes picking the group of people who are asked to respond to the interview.
The design of Arbuckle’s research had two research questions: “(1) do Iowa farmers support actions aimed at climate change adaptation and mitigation; and, (2) are beliefs and concerns about climate change associated with support for or opposition to those activities."
The interview questions that were designed to unravel the issues of the two research questions focused first on precipitation. As I wrote in the earlier blog, there is already a perceived change in precipitation, especially in the springtime during planting. There is too much water. It is worth noting that this part of the country is a part of the country that has seen less warming than the regions surrounding it – the Midwest warming hole (excellent paper by Kunkel et al. and Rood blog with unfilled promises). Therefore climate change is felt more in this region by changes in precipitation than by warming.
The interview questions were anchored around protecting the land, draining the land, and whether or not there should be mitigation to counter the climate change that is causing the increased precipitation. There was strong support for protecting the land through conservation practices. The support for draining the land was less strong, with more people uncertain about this option. An interesting aside, much of the Midwest corn land has extensive drainage infrastructure, which made what was historically a too wet environment into viable and excellent corn and soybean land. There was far less support for mitigation. However, looking at the mitigation numbers it was about equally split between opposing mitigation, uncertain about mitigation and supporting mitigation. Those opposing was about 3 percentage points higher than those supporting. This suggests that many recognize the changing climate and believe that more resiliency should be built into their land and practices – that is, they are interested in adaptation. They are less convinced of mitigation, which makes sense from many perspectives – but I assert because it is far less easy to see the benefit of mitigation whether or not there is acceptance that greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause of the warming planet.
Arbuckle’s research then uses a set of questions to investigate farmer’s perception of vulnerability to farming due to climate change and extreme weather. As in the mitigation question those unsure, concerned and unconcerned were split, but in this case the largest group was always in the concerned group with numbers of about 40 percent to 20 percent. About a third of the farmers were uncertain in each category. The largest difference was in the group concerned about the impact of more extreme weather, with 45 percent expressing concern. The farmers were split on whether or not we would find technological or other methods to address climate change.
When all of these questions were put together and analyzed a set of conclusions, some surprising, emerge. Farmers interested in more protection of the land in anticipation of climate change had a high level of concern of increased risk and were older. Farmers interested in improved drainage had a high level of concern, large farms, higher education and felt that climate change was not a major issue because farmers would develop innovative solutions. Interestingly, support for taking adaptive measures did not correlate with whether or not the farmers perceived climate change was attributable to humans. Finally farmers interested in mitigation felt that the climate change was real and had an important contribution from humans, a high level of concern and did not feel that we would innovate our way to solutions.
One of the more robust conclusions from this research is that perceptions of vulnerability due to weather and increased vulnerability due to changes in precipitation and severe weather were a major motivation to take steps to prepare for climate change. This was true whether or not farmers “believed” in climate change. This recognition of vulnerability and increased risk is consistent with my (our) experience in the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Applications Center – people engage when they perceive vulnerability. Surprisingly, older farmers were more concerned than younger farmers about adaptation. With regard to mitigation, those who accepted a human contribution to the changing climate were more supportive of mitigation – makes sense. And worth a mention the combination of those who think that climate change has a human component or is primarily caused by humans is almost 45 percent, and that’s not as low as one might take away from the political and public record.
Some good references:
One Gardner’s Struggle
Gardeners Expect Warmer Nights
Climate and Farming
Farming Success in an Uncertain Future (Cornell)
USDA Warns Farmers about Climate Change (and announces plans to set up climate change centers)
Reinventing Farming for a Changing Climate (NPR)
Farm Level Adjustments to Climate Change (USDA)
Climate Change More Expensive to Farmers than Climate Bill
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.