Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/22/stanford_warming_n_poverty_study/

Global warming worst case = Only slight misery increase

Peasants wouldn't be revolting, they'd be in clover

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 22nd February 2010 12:45 GMT

Agricultural brainboxes at Stanford University say that global warming isn't likely to seriously affect poor people in developing nations, who make up so much of the human race. Under some scenarios, poor farmers "could be lifted out of poverty quite considerably," according to new research.

David Lobell, an agri-boffin at the Stanford Program on Food Security and the Environment (FSE), explained his and his colleagues' thinking at a conference over the weekend.

"Most projections assume that if [food] prices go up, the amount of poverty in the world also will go up, because poor people spend a lot of their money on food. But poor people are pretty diverse. There are those who farm their own land and would actually benefit from higher crop prices," said the prof.

FSE scientists modelled three climate scenarios looking ahead to 2030. One was that considered most likely by the embattled UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which would see global temperatures climb 1°C over the coming two decades.

If this happens, according to the Stanford boffins, nothing much will change in terms of crop yields, food prices and the amount of poverty suffered by the human race.

More interesting, however, were the results in the less likely scenarios where temperatures rise only 0.5°C, or alternatively climb by 1.5°C. These results are considered unlikely by the IPCC; the chance of either occurring is only 5 per cent. But some counterintuitive results could be expected, according to Lobell.

In the blistering +1.5°C scenario, crop yields could be expected to fall significantly and as a result food prices would climb. Wealthy Westerners would grumble, but as they spend relatively little of their money on food they could cope relatively easily.

The peasants aren't revolting - they've never had it so good

According to conventional wisdom, though, the world's teeming poor - who spend most of their small incomes on getting enough to eat - would be hit hard. This would lead to widespread famines, misery, possible mass migrations and wars and plagues etc: the disaster scenario as offered by warming alarmists.

Not so much, according to Lobell's colleagues, analysing the consequences of this high-end-of-what-could-happen temperature rise. Many people would indeed be hit hard in the Third World: the urban poor, and those in "semi-arid" nations like Zambia or Malawi where crop yields would be hit extra hard.

But small farmers in other nations, a group which accounts for very large numbers of people, would be very happy: rising food prices would lift them out of their hardscrabble existences and make them comparatively well-off.

Across the 15 developing nations modelled, the misery would slightly outweigh the prosperity: but overall the poverty rate would increase by only 3 per cent in the almost-worst-case +1.5°C scenario.

The same effect would act in reverse, however, supposing the IPCC dice come up double six rather than snake-eyes, and temperatures climb only 0.5°C. This would see crop yields actually rise and food prices dropping, which in theory would be excellent news for the world's poor. But the small farmers would be hit hard, taking a lot of the edge off the good news: poverty rates among self-employed farmers in Thailand, for instance, would soar by 60 per cent.

Improvements to the lot of the non-farming poor would be relatively modest in the high-yield scenario, according to the FSE. Poor non-farmer Thais would see "a slight drop in poverty", and even in semi-arid Africa the townsmen would only see a 5 per cent misery drop.

All in all, from what the researchers say, the likeliest result is that no disasters can be expected. Even if the worst predictions come true, overall the world's poorest will still be only slightly worse off than they are now and the various catastrophes foretold would seem unlikely.

There's more detail from Stanford here for those interested. ®