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Feeding a warming world


Climate change pessimists frequently assume that farmers will not adapt to warmer weather and changes in rainfall. But according to a new Reason Foundation report, agricultural history suggests otherwise.

By shifting to high-yield Green Revolution crops and technologies, note Reason Foundation Vice President for Research Julian Morris and Ohio State University natural resources economist Douglas Southgate, farmers around the globe have boosted grain production by more than 150 percent since the 1950s. Grain prices have fallen nearly 80 percent in the same period. The upshot: Even assuming that the warming projections of the computer climate models turn out to be correct, farmers will be able to adapt and feed the world's burgeoning population.

After a 2008 spike, food prices have settled back to their earlier downward trend, and the World Bank projects that food prices in 2050 will be even lower than they are today. To give farmers the tools they need to cope with climate change, say Morris and Southgate, irrigation water must be privatized and market priced, agricultural subsidies and trade barriers must be eliminated, and farmers must be allowed to adopt new crop varieties, including those developed through biotechnology. "If agriculture suffers because of climate change," they conclude, "the fault will lie not with underlying environmental scarcity but rather [with] the absence of reforms."