Skip to Content

Monsanto asks its scientists if global warming is real

Stalks of soybean sprouts in the soybean greenhouse at the Monsanto Research fac
REUTERS/Peter Newcomb
Stalks of soybean sprouts in the soybean greenhouse at the Monsanto Research facility in Chesterfield, Mo.

In the world of agriculture, when Monsanto speaks, farmers listen. It is one of the world’s largest agribusinesses, and while it has more than enough detractors, Monsanto does its homework.

Along with the University of Minnesota’s Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, Monsanto is one reason why food producers have been able to meet the needs of an exploding population, despite warnings that it couldn’t be done. 

So, when the board of directors of Monsanto asked its scientists to figure out whether global warming was real, and whether it would cause problems for farmers, it got its answers. The answer was “Yes” on both counts.

One of those scientists was Dr. David I. Gustafson, a chemical engineer. Gustafson wrote an article for Pest Management Science outlining his findings. I found Dr. Gustafson at his office in Missouri. I asked the Monsanto senior fellow what conclusions he drew from his review of the science. Gustafson said: “We found very strong evidence that the basic theory of man-made global warming is true. It is warming the planet and we are already seeing significant shifts in planting zones here in the US and around the world.”

I asked him what that might mean for farmers. “We see significant changes in precipitation, and the rate of change will be even greater in the second half of the 21st century,” he said. Then the Monsanto scientist added: “We are going to need to use all the technology available to deal with the challenge of climate change.”

View of skeptics

I was born at night, but not last night. Skeptics might say that Monsanto has a dog in this fight, and if farmers are frightened of climate change, they will be looking for genetically engineered products Monsanto will sell. I had to ask the question.

“I’m a scientist,” Gustafson said. “I’m not trying to sell any products. Now, it is true that some of Monsanto’s crop protection technology might be helpful in responding to the challenge of climate change, and it is true we are in a position to help. But this challenge is way bigger than one company or one industry.”

Here is a portion of what Dr. Gustafson wrote in his research article: “Crop productivity is expected to increase slightly owing to climate factors at mid to high latitudes until mid-century when excess heat will begin to harm yield…after mid-century, crops in all world areas are expected to be negatively impacted by changes in rainfall patterns – not only in terms of drought, but also in terms of heavy precipitation events and the increased frequency of storms.”

David I. Gustafson

Gustafson believes precipitation, coupled with heat, will be the major problems. Heavy rains erode fertile soil. Lack of rain is worse. He says bugs and weeds, which are already on the move, will hinder food production. And, he warns, the bugs and weeds are moving north. Plant diseases are made worse by warmer temperatures, which he sees as yet another threat.

“We approached this very humbly,” Gustafson told me. “We see this as a challenge; not just to the ag sector, but to everyone. Personally, I try to keep this out of the political and business realm and focus on it as a scientific fact. We are just trying to get people to address this problem. We think it is very significant.”

Gustafson’s analysis, nonetheless, concludes on a note of guarded optimism, at least in the short term. The report states that the panel found agricultural production systems are secure and sufficient to meet the forecast pace of climate change “at least through mid-century.”

After that, Gustafson reports, things aren’t so rosy. “Beyond that time,” he writes, “modeling suggests that crop productivity in all regions could begin to be harmed by higher temperatures predicted for that period…unless successful greenhouse gas mitigation measures are implemented soon.”

Global concerns

Because it is an international company, Monsanto is concerned about agriculture all over the world. Some parts of the world producing a lot of food right now for a lot of people concern Gustafson.

“America has a lot of adaptive capacity, lots of good productive soil and water,” he said. “But there are countries around the world where that is not the case, and some of those countries have huge populations to support. Parts of Africa and Asia have less adaptive capacity to deal with the issue of climate change.”

Gustafson says that farmers have already learned to use a lot less fossil fuel and non-organic fertilizers. He says that more and more farmers are preserving soil by planting cover crops to hold the soil in heavy rains, and tilling techniques that do less damage and expose less of the earth to erosion. He urges an even wider acceptance of those practices. 

Monsanto thus joins a growing list of some of the country’s largest businesses in taking seriously the science of climate change and are changing their practices accordingly.  In January 2007, the CEOs of ten of America’s largest corporations, including General Electric, DuPont, Alcoa and Caterpillar, urged Congress to pass legislation that would spur the growth the green technologies, and even demanded a cap-and-trade program on greenhouse gases.

I asked Dr. Gustafson if there was anything else. He said: “I’m just trying to be a good scientist. I’m just trying to be a good citizen.”

Monsanto may just have planted its most important seed.

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

Comments (17)

Good news, good news, bad news

Good for Monsanto, and that's the first good news. Granted, they have skin in the game, but that only means they are motivated to take the issue seriously.

The second is that, according to a survey as reported by the Strib ( http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/140756293.html ), the percentage of Americans acknowledging the reality of global warming is on the rise, now standing at 62%, and based largely on their own experiences with increasing temperatures and increasing frequency of bizarre weather. That's the thing, of course; denialists can preach denial all they want, but the global climate just keeps on changing, giving the lie to the denialists in the process. People are going to believe the evidence of their own senses before they believe hysterical tantrum-throwers.

The bad news is that the scientists who speak out are often subjected to harassment, intimidation, and even death threats ( http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2107747,00.html ). I certainly hope that Dr. Gustafson escapes that kind of treatment.

Even in the bad news there is good, though. Only someone who is desperate and knows that the facts are not on his side would resort to death threats. Denialist tactics reveal the lie, and speak far louder than the words themselves.

Funny, I don't seem to recall hearing anyone on the right condemn these thuggish tactics.

I've heard that somewhere...

“I’m a scientist,” Gustafson said. “I’m not trying to sell any products.

Where was it?.....hmmmm. Oh, *snap*

"WASHINGTON — The head of the Council for Tobacco Research acknowledged Thursday that his organization acted as an industry "conduit," steering research grants to favored scientists in hopes of getting results that reflected positively on the industry.

Dr. James F. Glenn, chairman of the industry-funded council, which awards scientific grants to researchers studying the relationship between smoking and health [said]

The council "does not consider whether the research will be favorable or not favorable," he said. "We are scientists. . . . Industry exercises no control."

http://lat.ms/xiFG1O

If Monsanto was looking to plant a seed, it coudn't have found any more fertile ground than good ol' Don Shelby.

Poor Mr. Swift is getting pretty desperate...

Quoting from a piece about tobacco research that is 18 years old to try to cast doubt on the overwhelming amount of evidence and universal agreement - among the sane - about the reality of global warming is simply not going to wash, sir.

The Tobacco Research Council is equivalent to the research done on global warming? Even the Catholic Church is in agreement that global warming is both real and dependent on human activities that need to be modified.

Yes most of the seeds of scientific knowledge have fallen on fertile ground and people like Don Shelby have made use of them, but unfortunately some have fallen on rocky places and become scorched and withered. I'm sure you know your bible, Mr. Swift, so you'll know what comes next in this story. The part about not seeing, hearing, or understanding.

Monsanto is following a lot of farmers in this.

There are a lot of northern corn belt farmers who are already planting earlier than ever before and using varieties that need longer and longer growing seasons. They are also very concerned with northward movement of pests and crop diseases. They are seeing some of these that they never had to worry about before.

Monsanto being heavy in both seed and pesticides is simply following their customers lead in this.

What we have here is an actual case where the industry's market is following its customers. The market is finally stepping in on the side of human caused global warming following the actual lead of one of the most conservative elements in American society. Whether they will admit it or not publicly, they are validating global warming in the ways they are pursuing profit.

For Mr. Swift:(quote)The

For Mr. Swift:

(quote)

The pope told them that the church's teaching on the environment follows from the principle that men and women are collaborators with God and his creation. The lessons of responsible stewardship over natural resources are increasingly important, he said.

"In fact, it is by now evident that there is no good future for humanity or for the earth unless we educate everyone toward a style of life that is more responsible toward the created world," he said.

He said education toward environmental responsibility must begin in families and schools and must reflect the church's teaching that respect for the human being -- in all stages of life -- goes hand in hand with respect for nature.

In a pastoral letter, the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference asked people to urge South Africa's government, which is chairing the Durban meeting, to support resolutions "based not on immediate economic needs only, but on the survival needs of future generations."

Noting that South Africa is the world's 13th-highest global emitter of carbon dioxide, the bishops said the country should pledge "much higher targets of renewable energy production by phasing out coal and nuclear production and by developing the job creation potential of renewable energy."

The bishops also called on people "to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using your own properties productively to grow trees that will absorb carbon dioxide, to grow vegetables and crops organically to reduce the use of chemical-based fertilizers, and to share the food thus grown with the hungry and malnourished in your midst."

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1104646.htm

(end quote)

Seems to me the pope is saying that God will not save us from our destructive behavior.

By the way

I have to say, I'm encouraged by the number of new converts here on MinnPost looking to the Catholic church as an authority....I expect the tone to change on any number of topics!

A broken clock

is still right twice a day. I wouldn't count on any converts, Mr. Swift.

I just wanted to cite an authority you might believe, Mr. Swift

Or are you a cafeteria Catholic?

No convert, but just pointing

No convert, but just pointing out that even a retrograde operation like the Vatican acknowledges the reality of climate change and man's role in it.

The more important fact is that the Vatican refutes the belief that God will prevent or mitigate the damage that people do to the world or to each other.

Greetings Don, In your last

Greetings Don,

In your last article you mentioned several pastor's who "take seriously" the bible. They claimed that the bible teaches the earth is "the body of God." (Where is this taught in the bible?)

Now you claim there are a growing number of businesses "taking seriously” global warming science.

I sure hope these businesses have a greater handle on scientific truth than the pastors have in biblical truth.

Seriously
...

Stewards of the Earth

The bible contains many passages talking about stewardship, what makes a good steward, etc. A good steward presents his Master, upon his return, with that with which he has been put in charge, in at least as good condition or better condition, than when he was first put in charge. Being stewards of the Earth means nurturing and taking care of it, not dominating and abusing it.

Argue specific bible passages all you want - that's just a lawyer's trick. Human beings have violently abused the Earth and do so more every day, and that is clearly contrary to the Maker's intent, as expressed in the Bible.

Consider it this way: if you are a believer, and claim to love God and wish to do His will, why would you then knowingly trash His beautiful creation? Would you expect to be rewarded for turning a beautiful world, a gem of creation, possibly rare in the universe for all we know, into a garbage dump? Would you expect Him to say that you have been a good steward? How would you reward a steward you had put in charge of your property while you were away, and who returned it to you sullied and ruined?

Bible knowledge

I just want one verse that teaches that the "earth is the body of God" - just one verse we can argue about. seriously

Close as I can come

I am not a biblical scholar, nor even a christian in the modern, conventional sense (I have no use for guys in robes and institutional, hierarchical structures), so this is as close as I can come with minimal effort:

"The earth is the Lord's" (Ps. 24:1).

If you're stuck on "body", then be stuck. I think it is more instructive to consider the essential meaning that underlies both the "body" concept and "The earth is the Lord's" - which is that the earth is not ours to do with as we will, but ours to nurture and care for as good stewards, which is a biblical concept.

My own point of view is that all of creation is God's "body", and to defile any of it is to defile God.
Or, to reference a novel (Stranger in a Strange Land), and various real world traditions, "Thou art God". God is in everything, therefore be respectful of everything. This is true reverence.

Ever hear of "analogy'? Man

Ever hear of "analogy'? Man is made in God's image. The world was made by God, "and it was good". Damaging man or the world damages God's physical manifestations.

Hope that helps.

And as for business that recognize climate change is happening:

(quote)

United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) is a group of businesses and leading environmental organizations that have come together to call on the federal government to quickly enact strong national legislation to require significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. USCAP has issued a landmark set of principles and recommendations to underscore the urgent need for a policy framework on climate change.

(end quote)

Member companies include:AES, Alcoa, Alstom, Boston Scientific Corporation, Chrysler, The Dow Chemical Company, Duke Energy, DuPont, Exelon Corporation, General Electric, Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson, NextEra Energy, NRG Energy, PepsiCo, PG&E Corporation, PNM Resources, Rio Tinto, Shell, Siemens Corporation, Weyerhaeuser

And BP said back in 1997:

(quote)

On May 19, 1997 John Browne, British Petroleum's Group Chief Executive, broke with the oil industry's position on greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change with these words.

"There's a lot of noise in the data. It is hard to isolate cause and effect. But there is now an effective consensus among the world's leading scientists and serious and well informed people outside the scientific community that there is a discernible human influence on the climate, and a link between the concentration of carbon dioxide and the increase in temperature. The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are part. We in BP have reached that point."

(end quote)

1997 !!

Congratulations of some sort must be extended to those who have managed to stonewall this issue for almost 20 years. 20 years down the drain!! Way to go!!

Science advice form the bishops

I am intrigued by the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference calling for closing of nuclear plants. Nuclear is by far the most important source of electric power which does not emit green house gases, except for water vapor which rains out.
We couldn't rely on Catholic bishop's for science advice in Galileo's time; that condition hasn't changed.
Human activity is contributing to global warming. It just isn't happening as fast as many of the models predict. This is giving hope to the deniers.

Meanwhile, back to the topic

Dr. Gustafson's statement that global warming is clearly anthropogenic (caused by human activity) was clear and unequivocal. This is a key point that has great meaning, because it leads to the prospect of undoing - or at least minimizing - the activities that are causing the problem.

And this will cost money. The more you have, the more it will cost.

And this is why the estimable Mr. Swift dove in so fast, once again highjacking the thread and steering it over into the culture war that provides such a convenient smoke screen for so much of what has happened to our country over the past 32 years.

Fabrications to discredit AGW skeptics

#1 poster Lance,
Thanks for the link to time.com which also recounts the FAKEGATE scandal committed by environmental advocate/warmer scientist Dr. Peter Gleick.

He fabricated a memo "2012 Heartland Climate Strategy" and misrepresented himself in an attempt to discredit the Heartland Institute.

Dr. Gleick has taken leave from the Pacific Institute as president and resigned from the American Geophysical Union Task Force on Scientific Ethics.

I nominate Dr. Gleick for the "Dan Rather fake Texas Nat'l Guard Memogate Award". Just as Powerline debunked the fabricated Bush memo, John Hinderaker has an excellent analysis of the lies coming from the left.
http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2012/02/global-warming-alarmists-r...