Vice President Al Gore has not yet presented the Senate with the global- warming treaty he negotiated last December in Kyoto, Japan, but it's a ticking time bomb for farmers in the United States and the rest of the First World.
The Kyoto treaty would require ratifying countries to cut their greenhouse- gas emissions by 45 percent per capita by the year 2012. Such a drastic emissions reduction would probably cut First World economic output by at least 3 percent, eliminate millions of jobs and throw the affluent nations into a steep recession. (The treaty would put no constraints on the Third World.)
For farmers in the First World, the Kyoto treaty could mean a 75 percent surge in energy prices, leading to radically higher prices for such energy- expensive inputs as machinery, pesticides and fertilizer. Natural gas, for example, is about 75 percent of the cost of anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer.
In addition, the treaty would mean ceilings on crop yields, to further discourage the use of fertilizer. It would mean limits on livestock production, especially cattle, to reduce the production of methane. And it would mean restrictions on food processing and transport, forcing food to be grown closer to the consumer, often at lower yields and often with more soil erosion.
Terry Francl, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, estimates that the higher cash costs for an acre of corn would cut net profit by 25 percent to 50 percent. Wheat and dairy profits would also fall by about 25 percent to 50 percent, and hog profits by 40 percent to 80 percent. Soybeans might end up being the only crop U.S. farmers could profitably grow. Because soybeans don't take as many off-farm inputs, soybean profits would fall only about 20 percent.
The first world's farm incomes would fall even as its food prices rose. Feed costs would increase, and bids for feeder pigs and cattle would drop. Farmland rents and land values would plummet all over the First World. Countries like Argentina and Brazil, not bound by the treaty, would expand their farm output and see their farmland prices rise.
Environmentalists would be thrilled. Modern farmers would be forced out of their tractor cabs and dragooned into low-input, low-yield farming.
Meanwhile, the world's farm-export demand would shrink.
Instead of importing food, Asia would try to produce four times as much food at home. There would be no Kyoto-treaty restrictions on its farmers.
Unfortunately, expanding farm output in Asia is exactly what the environment doesn't need. Compared with the First World, Asia has six times as many people per acre of arable land, and its farmers already use perhaps six times as much nitrogen fertilizer per acre.
The only land on which Asian farming can logically expand is currently tropical forest, home to millions of wild species. The Kyoto treaty seems wonderfully designed to trigger the massive loss in wildlife that biologists fear. In other words, Mr. Gore is volunteering his own farmers for bankruptcy and a major percentage of the world's wildlife for destruction.
The excuse is that he's doing it to avoid the disaster of a parboiled planet - which drives us back to the key question: Is global warming real, and how bad will it be?
The vice president has been holding press conferences all summer long at which he declaims that our temperatures in the aftermath of El Nino have been ""the highest on record.'' But the records only go back 100 years, and the 19th century was the coldest in 10 centuries.
Equally important, the big computer models of global weather patterns have cut their projections of warming from about 5 degrees Celsius to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine recently circulated a petition among scientists that says: ""There is no convincing evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing or will in the foreseeable future cause catastrophic heating of the earth's atmosphere.'' More than 15,000 scientists have signed the institute's petition.
Signers include more than 6,000 climatologists, geophysicists, meteorologists, experts on plant life and animal life and others qualified to speak on global warming. The institute is independent and receives no funding from industry.
A competing petition circulated by Washington-based Ozone Action has gathered 2,600 signatures, and only about 250 of the signers are qualified to speak on global warming.
When global-warming activists are confronted with their lack of evidence and the weight of scientific opinion, their fallback position is: ""What if we're right? What if catastrophic global warming is on the way, and you prevent us from stopping it?''
The mild global warming now projected by computer models that the environmentalists say we should believe would simply return us to the best weather in history. The projected warming of 2 degrees Celsius would recreate the Medieval Climate Optimum of A.D. 950-1300.
Farmers would get milder winters, fewer storms, only a slight increase in daytime summer temperatures and more carbon dioxide to fertilize crops and pastures.
The alternative laid out by the Kyoto treaty is so awful, for both people and the environment, that we should require a very high degree of proof from Mr. Gore and his global-warming activists.
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