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Reply Letter by Bob Stallman, President, American Farm Bureau Federation, to Three Scientists Who Wrote AFBF Regarding Climate Change Policy

January 25, 2010


Thank you for your letter requesting a meeting to discuss climate change issues. I apologize for my delayed response but I was unexpectedly called back to Texas because of a death in the family and only now have returned to the office.

I am disappointed that the first knowledge I had of the letter was through a press release dated January 7, 2010 from the Union of Concerned Scientists highlighting the contents which preceded the actual receipt of the letter in our office on January 8th. Common courtesy, at least as we practice it, suggests that at a minimum I should have had the time to read and respond if the intent was a true desire to have a meaningful dialogue as opposed to pursuing a media strategy. Nevertheless, we are willing to meet and have the requested discussion.

While I initially thought the letter was a communication from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the cover letter indicated that they only “helped facilitate the letter in coordination with the initiating scientists”. This indicated to me that UCS is taking no ownership of the letter and thus my response is to you as individuals. The details of a response to UCS would be somewhat different. If I am incorrect in this conclusion, please advise.

Regarding your assertion about the statement that “there is no generally agreed upon scientific assessment on the exact impact or extent of carbon emissions from human activities, their impact on past decades of warming or how they will affect future climate changes” reflecting our “official climate change position”, I would point out that statement was pulled out of a lengthy policy backgrounder intended to inform our members about the climate change issue as part of the public policy debate. Our only “official positions” are our policy statements as adopted annually by our voting delegates or the American Farm Bureau Board.

However, I would stand by the content of the statement from our policy backgrounder and note that you overlooked the meaning of the word “exact”. I would welcome as part of our future discussion your views on the state of knowledge in the atmospheric sciences and the ability to accurately predict future weather and climate change events. Farmers and ranchers live with the uncertainties of weather every day. Since the advent of domesticated agriculture some 10,000 years ago, farmers have had to adapt to climate changes and varying weather patterns around the world. Fortunately for those in our society who do not personally grow their own food to meet their caloric needs, we have been successful in doing that. Using the technologies we have and that are being developed, we will continue to do so, even as we face additional and continuing changes to our earth’s climate. Agricultural producers will welcome the day when the earth’s atmosphere is sufficiently understood, modeled, and there exists a capability that can accurately predict the weather, at least in regard to major weather events even a year into the future. Events such as the lack of major hurricanes in the last two years or the recent cold weather over most of the Northern Hemisphere were certainly not predicted accurately.

We are skeptical of the ability of current climate models to predict changes in weather patterns 50 to 100 years into the future with sufficient accuracy to justify major domestic policy changes that will have long lasting and severe economic impacts both here and abroad.

Your reference to the “consensus opinion of the science community” as authority is claimed by others. Even assuming there is a consensus, there is no single step in the correct application of the scientific method that depends on a vote or consensus of interested scientists. Albert Einstein understood this when he commented that it “matters not how many agree with me because it only takes one to prove me wrong”. Argument by authority is not empirical evidence. As I am sure you are aware, the scientific “consensus” has been overturned numerous times throughout human history. Lucky for us that has been so; or else we would not be as scientifically advanced today as we are!

Regarding your reference to “opinions and misrepresentations…not published in peer-reviewed scientific literature”, I would note the active intent of climate scientists at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia to prevent publication of views that did not agree with their own. In an e-mail to Dr. Michael E. Mann, Dr. Phil Jones says “I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!” That approach is hardly in keeping with the principle of open discourse in pursuit of scientific truths! The question is to what extent that attitude has hampered the publication of dissenting opinions.

When answering questions last Saturday about the mistaken conclusion in the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that the Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035, Dr. Rajenda K. Pachauri, chairman of the Panel, admitted that rigorous procedures for scientific review were not followed. Such incidents raise questions about the rigor of the IPCC’s peer review process.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is not, and does not claim to be, a scientific organization. We do consistently support the use of science being applied in making policy decisions. Of course, the question before us on climate change is whether or not the world knows enough about atmospheric science to have confidence in our ability to predict 50 to 100 years into the future. At this point, we do not think that is the case.

Furthermore, even the Environmental Protection Agency admits that the legislative solutions proposed in the recently House-passed Waxman-Markey bill clearly will do little or nothing to impact the overall climate because the amount of reduction of carbon emissions envisioned will be insignificant without comparable action from the rest of the world. Given the outcome of the recent meeting in Copenhagen, it is clear that a large part of the rest of the carbon emitting world has no intention of agreeing to restrictions that will hamper their economic growth.

In addition, the Waxman-Markey bill would result in reducing the United States’ capacity to produce food by removing an estimated 59 million acres out of crop production and into trees. For us, that is not an acceptable outcome! To make matters worse, this would come at a time when the United Nations is predicting that a 70 percent increase in food production is necessary to feed the world’s population in 2050.

I look forward to having a robust discussion with you and your colleagues. Please contact my assistant, Jean Bennis, to schedule a mutually agreeable time for our meeting.

Thank you for your interest in our policy positions.


Bob Stallman


Contacts: Tracy Taylor Grondine
(202) 406-3642
Mace Thornton
(202) 406-3641