By Tito Sasaki
Whether you like it or not, climate change is a political reality. We already live under many regulations intended to reduce greenhouse gases that are thought to be the major cause of global warming.
The predominant greenhouse gas (GHG) is water molecules in the atmosphere and clouds. They usually contribute to over a half of the greenhouse effects. Others are trace components of air, notably carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. These gases absorb and release infrared radiation. The major components of air, i.e., nitrogen, oxygen, and argon, do not contribute to the greenhouse effects.
GHGs have always existed. Without them, the average surface temperature of the earth would be that of North Pole, AK, in February (-19°C), rather than comfy 14°C, which is the annual average temperature of San Francisco. Keeping just the right amount of greenhouse effects is what people want. Global warming is the tipping of this delicate balance, and anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane are being blamed as the main culprits.
Actions to cope with global warming are generally classified into “mitigation” and “adaptation.” There is a third category called geoengineering, but we will skip this one as it has not gained much public acceptance.
Mitigation is the measures to reduce GHGs, while adaptation is to prepare for the warming and its effects such as sea level rise.
Mitigation can be achieved by reducing the emissions of GHGs at the source and by increasing the sequestration of the airborne GHGs. What matters is the net amount of GHGs added to the atmosphere. Farming and farm animals generate some GHGs, but we offset them by sequestering tons of carbon dioxide by growing plants and by the use of biochar or by converting wastes to bio-fuel.
Government, however, favors regulating the amounts of GHGs emitted by industries including agriculture. This is because it’s simple to do and costs them little, even if such an approach is not overall the most cost-effective solution for global warming. Here lies the cause for a yellow alert. We have to be vigilant in guiding the government in the right direction, not the easiest way out.
The political yellow alert aside, we may have a real yellow alert if global warming accelerates. Compared with other industries, agriculture is much more susceptible to climate change and to its effects such as unreliable water supply. Although the global average temperature rise in this century is predicted to be about 2°C, it can be more at a regional level. A vineyard that was best suited for Pinot Noir may have to be replanted with Cabernet, or in the worst case, with sugar canes. (Russian River Rum, anyone?) More worrisome is the potential outbreak of new diseases. This is extremely difficult to predict. We only have to stay watchful and react fast.
If everything fails, we should take comfort in remembering that the past drastic climate changes were always marked with good events: the birth of every major genus including Homo sapiens, every major Stone Age technology, and even the Renaissance in the Little Ice Age. Maybe we can get a vastly better government this time.