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Farmers and Ag advisors not convinced by climatologists

Just another survey that takes useful results, interprets with false assumptions, and produces mostly meaningless conclusions. Vale academia.

Farmers are a skeptical bunch, who watch the weather very closely– only 8% buy the whole article-of-faith that man-made climate is the dominant factor, compared to 50 – 66% of climate scientists.

Prokopy et al start from the unspoken assumption that climate scientists know what they are talking about (even though their models are abjectly failing) and try to figure out why farmers aren’t worried about climate change. At no point do they question that inbuilt paradigm and ask the opposite question — are climate scientists failing to convince farmers because the climate scientists are doing bad work? So they miss the obvious recommendation that climate scientists need to figure out the climate before they start the communications cycle. It’s a lesson in how important it is for all scientists to define their terms and state all their assumptions.

When Prokopyu et al manage to come up with a useful suggestion it’s largely by accident. They recommend two-way dialogues between stakeholders and climate scientists (what a wild idea). Can I suggest that climate scientists start by using English, instead of namecalling —   “climate deniers”.

Their assumption is that the climate experts need to send their wisdom across the table from left to right (from computer modelers to farmers). My hypothesis is that the closer people are to reality and the further they are from government monopolistic funding, the better their scientific judgement is. The wisdom needs to flow from the right hand side of this table.

Instead of worrying about threatening the “world view” of farmers, Prokopyu could notice how threatening skepticism is to the “world view” of climate believers.

Survey Question: There is increasing discussion about climate change and its potential impacts. Please select the statement that best reflects your beliefs about climate change. CSCAP 2011 team survey (n=121) 86% response rate 2012 U2U team survey (n=33) 56% response rate Climatologist survey (n=19) 2012 100% response rate 2012 U2U Extension educators survey across 12 Corn Belt States (n=239) 35% response rate 2012 U2U Ag advisors Survey (n=1605) 26% overall response rate Farmer survey m(n=4778) 2012 26% response rate
Climate change is occurring, and it is caused mostly by human activities 50.40% 66.70% 53% 19.20% 12.30% 8%
Climate change is occurring, and it is caused more or less equally by natural changes in the environment and human activities 30.60% 30.30% 37% 31.40% 37.80% 33%
Climate change is occurring, and it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment 10.70% 3% 5% 23.40% 24.90% 25%
There is not sufficient evidence to know with certainty whether climate change is occurring or not 8.30% 0% 5% 24.70% 22.40% 31%
Climate change is not occurring 0% 0% 0% 1.30% 2.60% 3.50%

There is no discussion in the paper of the qualifications of agricultural advisors or of farmers. In the UK, to be an agricultural advisor requires a degree in horticulture or soils or biology. In the US about 30% of farmers have attended college. In Australia more than 30% of farmers have a diploma or bachelors degree. So this survey probably just reflects the big divide between the tiny club of certified climate scientists and the rest of the scientific profession. Which scientist would have more influence on a farmer — a city-based climate scientist who produces bad forecasts, or a farm-based science trained colleague who produces real food?

(See also the Big Myth About The Worlds Scientists — which explains why more scientists are probably skeptics, though no one has surveyed them en masse. The media misreports a consensus among a few climate specialists as if it was a “scientific consensus” when climate scientists are failing to convince other professional scientists because they don’t have the evidence).

The disconnect between scientists’ and other stakeholders’ beliefs about climate change and its causes that this research identified suggests that climate information needs to be packaged in ways that have little to do with anthropogenic causation.

 A good question indeed:

If indeed agriculture is “self-adjusting,” will the divergent beliefs between scientists and farmers eventually converge as environmental conditions change?

 A better question is whether climate science is “self-adjusting”. If the climate continues to not-warm, will climate scientists views eventually converge with skeptics who were right all along? I suspect not until the government stops funding people to be alarmed.

Two “Conclusions”. The first inane, and the second accidentally correct.

Climate scientists can do at least two things to increase farmers and their advisors’ willingness to learn, better understand global and local climate patterns, and increase willingness to adapt or transform their landscapes: (1) reduce the threat to individual worldviews of believing in climate change, and (2) increase opportunities for dialogue among scientists, intermediaries, farmers, and the voluntary organizations to which farmers belong.

 They identify agricultural advisors as important agents of influence, but not the scientifically trained farmers who are probably key to the whole information flow. If climate scientists can’t convince agricultural scientists who work the land, it’s no wonder they have little influence over other farmers.

However, our identification of a breach between understandings of climate change and its causes among scientists/climatologists and farmers/advisors is important because advisors are the change agents who communicate science to farmers. If their beliefs about climate change are more similar to farmers than to scientists, and at odds with the scientific consensus, this has major implications for outreach and engagement on climate change adaptation and mitigation in agriculture

 Here’s that radical idea, why not have a two-way dialogue?

Relatedly, long-term relationships between climate scientists and stakeholders, as well as open-minded dialogue are essential for impacting decision-making (Changnon 2004; Morss et al. 2005). This will require a change in mindset for some scientists. For example, some climate scientists in the North Central Region perceive their role in communicating information to agricultural stakeholders as primarily supplying available data and are less comfortable engaging in a two-way dialogues regarding relevance of science to a farm enterprise (Wilke & Morton, 2014).

Notice that while universities are terrible at teaching logic and reason, the one thing they are successful at training into graduates is arrogance.  Do survivors of dull lectures and predictable exams hold the secret key to information and knowledge? Should they aim to rain their wisdom down on the peasants, or do those who successfully harness nature and unpredictable events to produce actual essential goods have some insight worth listening too?


Prokopy et al (2014) Agricultural stakeholder views on climate change: Implications for conducting research and outreach, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 2014 ; e-View  doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-13-00172.1

UPDATE: Only 43% of certified climate scientists agree with the IPCC “consensus” that man-made CO2 is the main driver of climate change. 

h/t to Rick.

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