California’s tree crops are screwed, says new report

Things heat up in the nation's produce basket: Tree crops like apples, cherries, pears, walnuts and almonds rely on a chilly winter to set the stage for a productive spring and summer. But in a study released today, UC Davis scientists report that climate change is chipping away at the number of winter chill days available to tree crops in California's Central Valley, jeopardizing the future of orchards that feed consumers around the country.

In 1950, says the report, half of the Central Valley was suitable for growing tree crops. Today, only 4% of the valley gets enough chilly days in winter to produce well in the summer and fall. By the end of this century, they predict that virtually none of the valley's land area will be tree-fruit friendly.

The technological optimists are out in force on this one, of course, hoping that new breeds of tree crops can be developed to require fewer cold days. Others suggest increasing the use of, um, "rest-breaking chemicals" that can compensate for a lack of cold days. (Don't ask us how.) But UC Davis researchers aren't so hopeful. "The main walnut breeder at UC Davis is retiring," says one of the study's authors. "After that, funding will be short."

Take-home message? "Climate change is not just about sea-level rise and polar bears," says the lead author of the study. "It is about our food security. Climate change may make conditions less favorable to grow the crops we need to feed ourselves." (LA Times)

10 Responsesto “California’s tree crops are screwed, says new report”

  1. I hate to be the bearer of good news but climate change is. It's been cycling back and forth for hundreds of millions of years. In the past it was far warmer than it is now. Cooling is actually far more destructive than warming. I'm more worried about another ice age than I am about global warming.

    The big constant is that the climate does change. With it goes evolution, new animals and plants come to dominate replacing those who were lost. One area is no longer suitable for growing something but a new area becomes suitable. Change made it possible for mammals, and you and I, to develop. The real take home message is that change is.

    There is also the issue that the California Central Valley was a desert to begin with. Water was sucked out of other parts of the country to create unsustainable agricultural ventures. Lots of sunshine but not enough water. Is that really the right place to be growing crops, fruits and such so intensively? Is it the right place for people even?
    http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/bnelson/from_cotton_farms_to_solar_far.html
    http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displaystory.cfm?STORY_ID=13237162

    This is not to argue that people, or volcanos or what ever, should keep on polluting. Let's cut our foot print. But let's also recognize reality. Don't let dogma bite you.

  2. Leisureguy says:

    Indeed the globe's climate has changed many times in the past. What's different this time is (a) we're here now and (b) we're causing the climate change, and (c) the result may be detrimental in the extreme to our lives. It's only prudent to (a) track the effects of the changing climate and (b) do what we can to mitigate the change.

  3. Really? I like the more temperate weather we've been having. If we can mitigate having another ice age then this is a good thing. Cold will be far more damaging than the minor warming they are predicting.

  4. Leisureguy says:

    Walter, could you provide some background on your climatological expertise, or at least a link that justifies the conclusion you've reached? As it is, it's unclear whether you're just a regular bloke talking out your hat, or a scientist who's carefully studied the evidence and found that global warming is beneficial.

  5. Tom Amlie says:

    Lesisureguy - I'm sure we'd all like to hear about your climatalogical education and expertise.  Or is this simply a matter of "everyone agrees with my position"?

  6. Leisureguy says:

    Oh, I'm no climatologist---but I do listen to what climatologists say. I have great respect for their expertise and work, and I tend to trust their pronouncements. The position I took in the comment above (the comment where I actually took a position) is based on that trust and also seems to me to be common sense. The earth, after all, has from time to time become quite hostile to life. Indeed, the very late arrival of animal life is due mainly to the aggressively hostile conditions at the time---I refer you to <a href="http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327161.200-dawn-of-the-animals-solving-darwins-dilemma.html"><b>this fascinating article</b></a>.

    My hope is that we don't re-introduce conditions that are hostile to life. One question I have: major plant die-offs have already begun to occur---plants have evolved to fit the climatological niches of their locals, and plants cannot move away when conditions change. Since all the oxygen (so far as I know) in the atmosphere is recycled from CO2 by plants, I'm wondering what proportion of plant life must die away before the oxygen levels in the atmosphere start to drop. (The Amazon basin, for example, is already showing climatological stress, and we've barely begun.)

    I hope that I wasn't impolite in the above: I just wanted to know on what authority Walter's conclusion was based---either his own authority or a link to a reputable source. I don't think, given the seriousness of the issue, that such a request is out of place. And I assume you agree with me, since you've asked a similar question.

  7. Leisureguy, thank you for your civil response. I am really disappointed that it is even necessary on this blog to debate the premise that the climate is changing in a radically destructive fashion due to humanity's activities, and that there can be any doubt amongst intelligent people of the need to modify our collective behavior in order to at least attempt to slow down the rate of change.

    I personally think — on my bad days — that humanity is a cancer on the body of the earth, we're busily doing our best to destroy our host, and we're probably going to succeed in at least wiping out ourselves and 90% of today's species. And probably that's not so terrible from an evolutionary perspective. But that doesn't stop me from wishing we could work together collectively to take responsibility for our destructive, rapacious  behavior and halt it.

    However, we all have better and more important things to do than to argue with people who have decided to ignore or worse, deny, the overwhelming evidence of climate change. It's pointless, Leisureguy. Thanks for trying, though. :-) 

    Bonnie (Ethicurean editor)

  8. Leisureguy says:

    In my second post above, "locals" should be "locales" and the link didn't work right. Sorry. Here's the URL naked---and the article makes a great science-fiction drama, except it's not fiction.  :)

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327161.200-dawn-of-the-animals-solving-darwins-dilemma.html

  9. The problem is people fixate on the needle and miss the haystack. Their minds are open but their parachute failed to open. Global warming is just a minor symptom, a hickup that distracts people. The real problem is pollution. All this hype about carbon credits and cap & trade lose site of real solutions and mean business as usual. Sad.

  10. Patriot Henry says:

    Dear Bonnie,

    First, thanks for the great blog!

    Secondly:

    "Leisureguy, thank you for your civil response. I am really disappointed that it is even necessary on this blog to debate the premise that the climate is changing in a radically destructive fashion due to humanity's activities, "

    I have no degree. I have no experience. I do have the ability to think critically, use reason, and evaluate the scientific merit of the methodology of research. I haven't yet seen any conclusive or even strong evidence that mankind is affecting the average temperature of the globe. If you know of any such research I would love to read it. So far the most convincing evidence I've seen suggests that the variations in solar radiation are directly correlated to the variations the global temperature.

    "and that there can be any doubt amongst intelligent people of the need to modify our collective behavior in order to at least attempt to slow down the rate of change. "

    Doubt is a benefit. Belief is a detriment. Doubt keeps you questioning, wondering, and thinking. Belief binds you to what you believe. As far as modifying our "collective behavior" - that can only be done by governments wielding the power of the gun, and that is something far more pernicious than a change in the weather patterns. In addition, as the long run inevitable problem is global cooling, we shouldn't be trying to slow down the rate of change, but to understand and control it. If we really have been raising the temperature - then we can combat entropy and the eventual perpetual ice age - hallelujah!

    "I personally think — on my bad days — that humanity is a cancer on the body of the earth, we’re busily doing our best to destroy our host, and we’re probably going to succeed in at least wiping out ourselves and 90% of today’s species. And probably that’s not so terrible from an evolutionary perspective. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing we could work together collectively to take responsibility for our destructive, rapacious  behavior and halt it."

    Not only is that not going to happen, it's not even possible. There is no such thing as collective responsibility. In a collective everyone can and does blame everyone else, and that lack of responsibility encourages further acts of irresponsibility. Only individuals can be responsible, and they can only be responsible for their own individual selves and any irresponsible individuals in their custody.

    I do agree in part though, humanity is infected by a cancer. I call it the soul cancer. The soul is the will to live - the drive to produce. The cancer comes from the desire to have something for nothing. Any collective solution will be predicated on taking in order to obtain something for nothing. Any real solution will arise from individuals voluntarily cooperating to make a real solution.

    "However, we all have better and more important things to do than to argue with people who have decided to ignore or worse, deny, the overwhelming evidence of climate change. It’s pointless, Leisureguy. Thanks for trying, though. :-) "

    I don't deny or ignore - I analyze and critique, and I have more than a few doubts about this "overwhelming evidence" based on a small data set and elaborate computer models.

    Aloha,

    Patriot Henry