Skip Navigation

Era of Great Famines Over as Global Food Production Sets Records

August 25, 2017

Climate Change #260

Proving Malthusian climate alarmists wrong again, India is reporting record crop yields in the 2016–17 crop year. Alarmist Paul R. Ehrlich repeatedly warned of India’s demise. In his 1968 jeremiad, The Population Bomb, he wrote with smug confidence, “India couldn’t possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980.” In 1975’s The End of Affluence, he wrote, “[w]ith luck, India might stagger on to the end of the century, but … the dissolution of India as a viable nation is already in motion.” Despite Ehrlich’s predictions, India is doing just fine.

India’s estimated food grain production for the 2016–17 crop-year was 275.68 million tons, 4 percent higher than the previous record production achieved in the country during the 2013–14 crop year. India’s staple grain production rose more than 500 percent since 1951.

Ehrlich was just as wrong about the world as he was about India. In 1968 Ehrlich opined, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Yet in August 2017, Brazil reported new record grain, corn, and soybean yields, and reports world cereal production broke records in 2016, for the third straight year, exceeding 2015’s previous record yield by 1.2 percent and 2014’s then-record yield by 1.5 percent.

The fact is, despite adding 3.2 billion people to the planet since 1968, global hunger has fallen faster than at any time in human history. The number of people considered hungry by the United Nations fell by 2 billion since 1990. The U.N. says there is 17 percent more food available per person now than there was 30 years ago.

This relative food abundance has taken place even as the amount of land devoted to agriculture declined, with former farm fields being reclaimed by forests and pastures.

This progress occurred largely due to two factors: the widespread application of modern technologies to agriculture; and the growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The world’s farmers have increasingly adopted advanced farming practices, dramatically increasing yields per acre. They have replaced oxen and horses with fossil-fuel-powered tractors and trucks, and replaced manure with fertilizers and pesticides (which require fossil fuels in their manufacture or as components). In addition, using traditional cross-breeding techniques and genetic engineering, agronomists have developed new hardier, disease-resistant, pest-resistant, vitamin-fortified crop varieties that use water more efficiently.

Experience and laboratory research show crops are growing better in part due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Most of the world’s plant life arose when carbon dioxide levels were much higher than today. Over time, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere declined; during the last ice age, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had fallen to just 180 parts per million (ppm). Plants begin to die when carbon dioxide reaches 150 ppm because they are unable to use sunlight to synthesize food or energy from carbon dioxide and water. And let’s be clear: Iif plants die, then humans and almost all other living beings on Earth will die as well.

After we came out of the last ice age, carbon dioxide levels rose to approximately 280 ppm, still far below the levels that existed when most plants developed.

Humans have added approximately 120 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere through fossil fuel use, agriculture, and various other activities, helping plants grow stronger, more quickly, and more abundantly, and improving the efficiency with which they use water. Study after study reported at shows grains, fruits, and vegetables all do better as carbon dioxide levels rise.

I write here not to bury carbon dioxide, but to praise it. Humanity’s additions to atmospheric carbon dioxide have been a boon for plant life, greening the Earth, transforming some former desert regions into verdant oases of greenery, and contributing to record crop yields that have reduced global hunger and malnutrition.

— H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: The New York Times; Times of India; India Spend; Prensa Latina; World; and CO2


Cold temperatures, not higher carbon dioxide or heat, threaten healthStudy: Current climate change largely naturalOcean temperatures declineFederal court strikes Obama climate rule


Two recent studies summarized by CO2 Science provide good news for people concerned about the human health effects of higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels: Warmer is better for health than colder, and health does not suffer under even considerably higher carbon dioxide levels.

A study in the European Heart Journal compared the rates of heart attacks related to cold versus hot weather, confirming what previous studies have shown: Far more people experience heart attacks and die during weather that is colder than average than during weather that is warmer than average. Heart attacks are the leading cause of death worldwide. This study found “the majority of the temperature-related mortality has been shown to be attributable much more to cold, when compared with extreme hot weather.” A modest continued global warming could be a blessing in disguise, from a heart health perspective.

The second study, in Building and Environment. examines the effect on performance, and any acute physiological responses, of varying levels of carbon dioxide in humans.

At its present atmospheric concentration of 405 ppm, carbon dioxide poses no direct health threat to human or animal life. The team of scientists studied the physiological responses of humans exposed to ambient and significantly elevated carbon dioxide levels—3,025 ppm—for three hours at a temperature of 95°F. They tracked skin temperatures at various locations on the body, heart rate, blood pressure, arterial blood oxygen, and respiration. In addition, the human subjects were also surveyed concerning their thermal comfort level, acceptability of air quality, sleepiness, work performance, various aches and pains, and dry and/or itchy eyes and throats, and they were tested for their ability to concentrate and think clearly, their mood, and feelings of fatigue or dizziness.

The authors report, “increasing CO2 concentration to 3000 ppm at 35°C did not cause [statistically significant] changes in any of the measured responses.” If concentrations of carbon dioxide at more than 3,000 ppm pose no direct risk to human health compared to present levels, certainly the much lower projections of possible carbon dioxide levels due to continued human greenhouse gas emissions pose no threat to human health.

SOURCES: CO2 Science August 4, 2017 and CO2 Science August 1, 2017


In a new study by Australian scientists John Abbot and Jennifer Marohasy published in GeoResJ, the researchers ran a variety of temperature proxy data covering the past 2,000 years from six geographically dispersed regions through “big data” analysis techniques and concluded Earth was approximately a degree warmer during the Medieval Warming Period than it is at present. They also conclude there is nothing unnatural or unprecedented about warming of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. According to their analysis, a doubling of carbon dioxide from preindustrial levels should produce approximately 0.6°C of warming, considerably less than the 2°C warming projected by most climate models and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In an interview, Marohasy said they found global temperature has moved up and down quite naturally over the past 2,000 years.

We began by deconstructing the six-proxy series from different geographic regions – series already published in the mainstream climate science literature. ... Typical of most such temperature series, it zigzags up and down while showing two rising trends: the first peaks about 1200 AD and corresponds with a period known as the Medieval Warm Period, while the second peaks in 1980 and then shows decline. In between, is the Little Ice Age, which according to the Northern Hemisphere composite bottomed-out in 1650 AD.

To be clear, while mainstream climate science is replete with published proxy temperature studies showing that temperatures have cycled up and down over the last 2,000 years – spiking during the Medieval Warm Period and then again recently to about 1980 – the official IPCC reconstructions (which underpin the Paris Accord) deny such cycles. Through this denial, leaders from within this much-revered community can claim that there is something unusual about current temperatures: that we have catastrophic global warming from industrialization.

SOURCES: Breitbart and GeoResJ


Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are plunging according to records from Hadley Center (Had) in the UK’s Met office. HadSST, widely regarded as one of the best data sets of global sea surface temperatures, shows global SSTs are continuing a relatively steady decline over the past 12 months, with the exception of a spike in April. Tropical regions of the ocean have led the decline. The tropics and Southern Hemisphere both experienced sharp temperature drops in July, while Northern Hemisphere SSTs peaked as they normally do in July, but at levels well below July 2016.

The much-hyped higher temperatures in 2015 and 2016 were largely due to a sharp rise in tropical SSTs, primarily a result of an unusually strong El Niño. As the El Niño faded, SSTs are falling as would be expected if nature, not human greenhouse gas emissions, drives surface temperatures.

SOURCE: Science Matters


A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act by requiring companies to replace hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) with other substances in an effort to fight climate change.

EPA’s 2015 rule effectively banned 38 HFC compounds from uses in aerosol spray cans, new automobile air conditioning systems, foam blowing machines, vending machines, and retail refrigerators beginning in 2020.

Two HFC manufacturers sued to overturn the ban, arguing EPA was not authorized to institute it. A portion of the 1990 amendments to the 1973 Clean Air Act required manufacturers to replace substances that deplete stratospheric ozone with substitutes that don’t deplete ozone. “[T]he fundamental problem for EPA is that HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances,” the court ruled on August 8.

“EPA’s well-intentioned policy objectives with respect to climate change do not on their own authorize the agency to regulate,” the court ruled. “Under the Constitution, congressional inaction does not license an agency to take matters into its own hands, even to solve a pressing policy issue such as climate change. … EPA may act only within the boundaries of its statutory authority. Here, EPA exceeded that authority.”

SOURCES: Science Magazine and United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Article Tags
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland research fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.