Now Reading
World Food Prize goes out to a former farmer who answers the question on climate change: ‘So?’ | KPCC – NPR News for Southern California
[vc_row thb_full_width=”true” thb_row_padding=”true” thb_column_padding=”true” css=”.vc_custom_1608290870297{background-color: #ffffff !important;}”][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][thb_postcarousel style=”style3″ navigation=”true” infinite=”” source=”size:6|post_type:post”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]

World Food Prize goes out to a former farmer who answers the question on climate change: ‘So?’ | KPCC – NPR News for Southern California

Cynthia Rosenzweig says she staves off "eco-anxiety" by thinking of the "wonderful" scientists and crop modelers she works with to help <em>their</em> countries respond to climate change: "It gives me hope. There is such an energy around helping save the planet."


For scientist – and former farmer – Cynthia Rosenzweig, her work on climate change has always revolved around one big question: “So what?”

She says, “Impacts on climate change are crucially significant.” “If the climate is changing and nothing happens, then why should we care?”

In the early days climate science, in the 1980s, she was one the first to project how changing climate would affect North American crop yields. The researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space StudiesShe knew she had got to go.

This is why her NASA colleague was there for years. James HansenRosenzweig wrote him a note regarding climate change after she gave a 1988 testimony before Congress. She said she wanted to expand her computer modeling in order to better understand the potential impact of climate change on global crops.

Cynthia Rosenzweig says she staves off "eco-anxiety" by thinking of the "wonderful" scientists and crop modelers she works with to help <em>their</em> countries respond to climate change: "It gives me hope. There is such an energy around helping save the planet."

Yana Paskova

Cynthia Rosenzweig says she staves off “eco-anxiety” by thinking of the “wonderful” scientists and crop modelers she works with to help <em>their</em> countries respond to climate change: “It gives me hope. There is so much energy in saving the planet.

Rosenzweig has been doing that for most of the past 40 years. NPR reports that while her initial climate modeling work was done at a computer, she is now on farms working with stakeholders to determine how crops are affected by climate change.

She is the founder of the “Agricultural Model Intercomparison & Improvement Project” (or “AgMIP”), a multidisciplinary team of over 1,000 researchers working on climate modeling and agricultural. Rosenzweig was awarded the World Food Prize for her efforts in helping the world recognize and predict the effects of climate change on food systems, and her leadership in finding new solutions for countries.

Rosenzweig is the head for the Thesis. Climate Impacts Group at NASA Goddard Institute for Space StudiesColumbia University. She explains why the climate crisis and food need new approaches to research. She also fields a question about a Nigerian farmer and shares how she manages her eco-anxiety. This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Since the 1980s you have been researching climate change and farming. What has been the most surprising about your work?

Surprisingly, extreme events have become more severe, more prolonged, more frequent, and earlier than we expected. Starting around the turn into the 2000s, this increase in extreme events in agricultural regions around the world – that’s been the surprise.

Did you ever think that there would be a 40% drop in crop yields in the 1980s? In 2030?

Or the 2050s or possibly even beyond 2050.

Could you tell me more about the models and how they were designed on a 1980s computer?

There was Groups around the country developing crop models to answer management questions – “how much fertilizer to put on to help farmers?” These are just a few examples. But I realized that these models will be very, very helpful in answering questions about climate change.

These models basically allow you to grow crops in your computer. When you insert the seeds, you specify a planting day. The inputs for daily weather, daily temperature and daily precipitation, as well as solar radiation, and the atmospheric CO2 level are also important. I worked with crop modeling friends and we added the equations to account for higher CO2 impacts on crops.

When did climate change become apparent? TheMost significant threat to planet food systems?

1994 was the year we conducted our first global study with crop modelers. We were so excited to start drawing maps of the changes in yields as a result of climate change scenarios.

When we created the hand-drawn map we saw all the yellows, oranges, and browns in the developing countries at the lower latitudes. [signifying lower crop yields]. We realized that the greatest impacts of climate change are being felt in the food systems of developing countries, especially those at lower latitudes. This was the “aha” moment for me to realize the significance of climate changes and the downward pressure that yields are under, especially for the most poorest farmers.

Northern Nigeria would have been an area that would be brown — the biggest drops in crop harvests?

It would have been brown, yep.

I’m going share with you a question I received from a farmer in Northern Nigeria. I spoke to him yesterday. Nasir Abdullahi. He was telling me about the changes he’s seen on his farm over the past few decades. He sees so much hunger in the region, not only from the loss in crops from climate change but also from the lack of food because of political insecurity. Violence between farmers & herdsmen, which is also linked to climate change.

We are facing triple threats or quadruple risks, quintuple dangers. We have climate change, already happening, and projected to get worse in the next decade. We also have a COVID pandemic. We also see conflict.

Abdullahi already suffered a 30% loss in his millet crop last season. He claims that the rains come late and then stop. Then they come back stronger with flooding. He wants to know if you have any suggestions.

AgMIP now has an A-team, which stands for the Adaptation Teams. We work with developing nations to ask “Well, what can we do?” Let’s work together to develop and evolve agricultural systems that can be used to plant when rain is falling. We’re looking for drought-tolerant crops that can withstand heat.

For example, in Ghana and West Africa, there is an AgMIP A team. The team found these kinds of results. [Abdullahi]They were experiencing. Then they recommended to the [Ghanaian]Government will develop longer-lasting life cycle varieties [of crops]You can adapt to this potential change.

Cynthia Rosenzweig at her farm in Tuscany, Italy, in 1969. She now works in a lab at Columbia University but her research takes her to farms around the world.

Cynthia Rosenzweig on her Tuscany farm, Italy, 1969. While she now works in Columbia University’s lab, her research takes them to farms around the globe.

It seems like the fact that you brought me a question from a farmer doesn’t make it any more revolutionary. It seems like you are already integrating questions from the ground.

This is what we refer to as stakeholder-driven research. We don’t think in terms of the questions we want with our AgMIP toolkit. We first go into listening mode.

You’re listening to…

Whoever it is – farmers, planners, national decision-makers. So we first listen and then we ask them: What would your interests be?

We are currently working on a project in Bangladesh to improve sustainable rice production. Participants at the stakeholder engagement meeting requested that we include livestock production as well as rice production into the protocols. For the next phase, we are developing livestock models for climate impacts and greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s not us saying, “You know, we think you need this.” We take those stakeholder-driven reactions and incorporate them into our protocols.

It reminds me of the way people with “long COVID”, are sharing their symptoms and insights to scientists so they can quickly develop research based on the specific questions.

You are absolutely correct. We used to do science, then just kind of threw it overboard. We now realize that climate change requires us to bring policy experts along. It is the double helix of policy and science. We have been saying from the beginning: “Here’s the science.” What policies could you use right away?

It seems like there are many people who, when it comes to crop failure, hunger, and all the challenges that we’re facing, think there’s no hope. eco-anxietyThere’s an immense sadness. This can make people feel stuck and helpless. It sounds as if you weren’t immobilized in 1994. How do you keep going forward? How can you overcome those feelings?

Because I have been so fortunate in my career, I have been able to work with people around the world, my fellow crop models, my amazing climate scientists, and the AgMIP community to help. Their countries respond to climate change – it gives me hope. There is such a strong energy around saving the planet.

Because everyone on the planet eats food, that’s why food is so vital. These opportunities are endless, and you can use them to solve climate change.

AgMIP models verify that farmers’ practices, such as no-till or cover crops, actually help to reduce greenhouse gas emission. AgMIP will be holding a workshop on these activities this month. The challenges are real and it’s not a dream. But I am seeing so many people in this food system working together to find the solutions.

It sounds like you don’t even consider failure.

No, I don’t. I don’t. Do you know why? We It is impossible fail. We MustIt must be solved. We must solve this problem for the good of all people on the planet.

You were enthusiastic right away.

Yes. [Laughs.]If you have known me for half an hours, you will know that this is how I am!

Are you able to plan what you will do with the $250,000 prize money?

Well, yes. It’s not a perfect plan, but I will donate it all to research about climate change and food. All of it.

Julia Simon is a regular contributor on NPR’s podcasts.

Copyright 2022 NPR. Visit to see more.


View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.