Baise: Organic won't feed the planet or solve climate issues

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"We are at the most critical moment in the history of our species, as manmade changes to the climate threaten humanity's security on earth." The Rodale Institute makes this claim in a report on April 17, 2014.   Rodale claims our greenhouse gas emissions come from manmade sources, and we are creating a "climate chaos" which is changing our planet. Rodale further claims that we must battle "...Carbon pumps everywhere - industrial, agricultural, the transportation sector - and from every direction on the globe."

The Executive Summary says, "People are left to pray for a yet undiscovered 'technological messiah' to undo the damage, for our political will is paralyzed."

This all sounds serious and apocalyptic until I read in the May 5, 2014, issue of Wall Street Journal a column by a professor at American University in Washington, D.C. who claims he has spent his entire life on the political left, and claims  he has started to suspect there are problems with the climate change data.

The professor, quoted in Wall Street Journal, says, "... the climate-change data were dubious a decade ago..." He determined this, he claims, when teaching statistics and studying computer models which claim that six-tenths of one degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperature could not statistically separate fossil-fuel and natural trends.

In his column he says  the computer models used by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change built computer models which included the assumption that fossil fuels are the culprit for warming "...even though a similar warming took place from 1900-1940 before fossil fuels could have caused it." He also claims the IPCC  "...acknowledges that the average global temperature today remains unchanged since 2000, and did not rise one degree as the models predicted."

Rodale obviously disagrees and appears to claim that agriculture, as practiced today, is part of the climate change problem, because "It [agriculture] is a net producer of greenhouse gas emissions both directly through conventional farming practices that deplete soil carbon stocks while emitting nitrous oxide, and indirectly through land use change."

Agriculture, as you see, is a big problem causing climate change!

Rodale's solution to solving climate change is to use "regenerative organic agriculture." Rodale believes we must move agriculture "...from a source of carbon pollution to a potential carbon sink..." Rodale claims that if agriculture sequesters its carbon our planetary water crisis, extreme poverty, food insecurity, and the environment will be protected and enhanced for generations to come.  

Regenerative organic agriculture is " organic system refraining from the use of synthetic pesticides and inputs, which disrupt soil life, and fossil-fuel dependent nitrogen fertilizer, which is responsible for the majority of anthropogenic (manmade) nitrous oxide emissions."

Rodale further claims that regenerative organic agriculture uses organic practices which include cover crops, residue mulching, composting and crop rotation.

Rodale wants agriculture to sequester carbon and claims its practices "...combine with the spirit of organic agriculture to produce healthy soil, healthy food, clean water and clean air using inexpensive inputs local to the farm."

By utilizing Rodale's farming systems, it concludes that humanity could sequester "...more than 100% of current annual (carbon dioxide) emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices..."

Rodale's paper describes the problem of bare soil and how tillage undermines soil carbon sequestration. It further discusses a technique being used by many in agriculture described as conservation tillage or no-till.

Cover crops also increase soil carbon, nitrogen leaching and reduce wind and water erosion. Rodale seems to have discovered that cover crops and crop residues contribute to soil organic matter.

The Rodale paper extols the virtues of cover crops and main crops being composted which the paper claims is a "...controlled aerobic decomposition of organic materials such as plants, animals or manure." Leaving cover crops or main crop residue on fields must be a surprise for the folks at Rodale.

Turns out "regenerative organic agriculture" includes excellent practices - many of which are already being used in the United States.

Rodale does not mention the remarkable gains in today's conventional agriculture, which produces 200% more wheat per acre than 70 years ago, chickens which are 25% bigger in less time and on less food, and an average cow which produces 60% more milk today than 50 years ago. Today 69,000 pork farmers feed twice as many people as 3 million hog farmers did in 1950. 

Farmers in the U.S. are already part of the climate solution. It should be recognized!

Gary H. Baise is a principal at OFW Law (Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz P.C.). This article first appeared in Farm Futures magazine. The opinions presented here are expressly those of the author. For more information, go to

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Iowa  |  May, 12, 2014 at 09:13 AM

Typical PC, BS. Did they forget that all crops produce oxygen and absorb CO2?

Houston Metro Area, TX  |  May, 12, 2014 at 09:19 AM

I am curious why you refer to a "column" (" I read in the May 5, 2014, issue of Wall Street Journal a column by a professor at American University in Washington, D.C...") BUT DO NOT give an explicit bibliographic citation (with the author's name) even as a footnote? Is this the ACCEPTED NEW MEDIA means of citing one's PUBLISHED sources of information? Is this intended to be some sort of guessing game, or, a tongue-in-cheek reference to a WELL-KNOWN public individual (e.g., "The CURRENT head of the Executive branch of the federal government of the United States of America - who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20500-0001" to refer to Barack Obama)? Why not a footnote in an accepted citation format?

May, 12, 2014 at 10:00 AM

In 50 plus years I have never seen a footnote or journal citation in a news column. It would be nice but won't happen. Don't hold those you disagree with to a different standard.

Houston Metro Area, TX  |  May, 12, 2014 at 10:47 AM

It seems this is a link/URL to the "column", an "OPINION" in the Wall Street Journal, contributed by Caleb S. Rossiter, Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, School of International Service, American University, entitled "Sacrificing Africa for Climate Change - Western policies seem more interested in carbon-dioxide levels than in life expectancy." (the online version states "Updated May 4, 2014 6:49 p.m. ET"): Now, was providing this additional detail/information so UNimportant or too difficult?

Houston Metro Area, TX  |  May, 12, 2014 at 11:16 AM

Regarding the comment which reads as follows: "In 50 plus years I have never seen a footnote or journal citation in a news column. It would be nice but won't happen. Don't hold those you disagree with to a different standard." First of all... Who said I AGREED or DISAGREED with something (other than objecting to NOT providing citations to sources referred to in the "news column"). [NOTE: I don't believe I would classify the Baise "piece" as a "news column" - seems more like an opinion - not NEWS!] NEVER seen a footnote in a "news column"? It may NOT be the norm but I doubt it has NEVER been done before. Perhaps this is one "convention" which should be changed (including citations of published sources "referenced" in writing/exchanging ideas) as it provides greater "transparency" (merely a buzz word, or a meaningful action?). Furthermore, in my opinion, a citation (and a link/URL) for the Rodale Institute "report" should also be provided - which appears to be as follows: Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change - A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming. 2014. Rodale Institute, Kutztown, PA. The report (referred to as a "white paper") is available online as a PDF file:

Houston Metro Area, TX  |  May, 12, 2014 at 11:42 AM

For a more detailed discussion of Caleb Rossiter's "opinions" regarding the interpretation of "climate change data", see: Rossiter, Caleb S. 2010. Climate Catastrophe: Convenient Fibs and Dangerous Prescriptions.

Ted Daley    
Kentucky  |  May, 15, 2014 at 01:06 PM

Is the same Gary H. Baise that works for the Heartland Institute? The same institute that defended the tobacco industry by saying there is no link between secondhand smoke and human health? Even ExxonMobile has disavowed this mendacious spin machine. No one will believe us when we say pork is a health part of everyone's diet if we don't learn from ExxonMobile and distance ourselves from these people.

VA  |  May, 16, 2014 at 09:48 AM

"Rodale does not mention the remarkable gains in today's conventional agriculture" Probably because both conventional AND organic have made great improvements in yield. As conventional increases yields, so do organic yields.


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