New Study Refutes Trump's Climate Change Denial - And Highlights Threat to Corn Crops Around the World

To hear President Trump and his former EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, tell it, climate change is a fantasy. But many scientists and researchers disagree—and according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, climate change could lead to corn crop failures around the world.

Michelle Tigchelaar, a researcher at the University of Washington and lead author of the study, discussed her findings with NPR’s “Living on Earth” after it was published. According to Tigchelaar, “Increased warming leads to global crop failures because plants are not adapted to really high temperatures. Most of our crops are really well-adapted for our current climate. There is an optimum temperature at which they grow, and beyond that, their yields decline.” 

The study noted that a climatic warming of only two degrees Celsius could cause corn yields to decline by 20-40% in the world’s main growing regions, while a warming of 4 degrees Celsius could result in declines of 40-60%.

Corn is the most traded crop in the world, and it is an important staple of the diet in Mexico (where it is used to make tortillas) as well in Central American countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But feeding people isn’t the only use of corn crops, which are also used for everything from sugar to biofuel to feeding livestock.

Tigchelaar pointed out that the majority of the world’s corn crops are grown in a handful of countries, including the U.S., Argentina, China and Brazil—and simultaneous crop failures in those countries could have devastating effects.

Farmers, according to Tigchelaar, might be able to adapt to climate change in the future—although it won’t be easy.

“Already, we see that wheat is expanding northward,” Tigchelaar explained to NPR. “So, we might be able to soon grow corn in places we couldn’t grow it before. Similarly, farmers might decide to shift their planting dates to avoid the hottest time of the year.”

Among environmentalists, the Trump administration has been criticized extensively for denying the existence of climate change and promoting fossil fuels over green energy. Scott Pruitt, who recently left his position as administrator for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a climate change denier—and the U.S.’ European allies were disappointed when Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change, which was a big departure from the Obama administration’s environmental policies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement as “very regrettable,” declaring, “We know climate change isn’t a matter of faith—it’s a fact.”

Merkel has stressed that Germany, unlike the U.S., has no intention of leaving the Paris Agreement.

“The German government,” according to Merkel, “stands fully behind the Paris climate accord because ambitious climate policies don’t just help limit the worst consequences of climate change—they also offer chances for innovation and therefore, growth and prosperity worldwide.”

Tigchelaar, during the NPR interview, noted that those most affected by global corn crop failures “would be poor, urban consumers worldwide, mainly in developing nations. That is really unfortunate because those people generally tend to be most vulnerable to climate change to begin with.”

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