Climate Change May Reduce Protein in Crops

by Jay Kimball on 21 June 2010

The concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere may double by the end of the 21st century.

In a recent Science Magazine article, scientists at University of California, Davis discovered that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can reduce the protein content of crop plants by as much as 20 percent.  Their research shows that high CO2 levels interfere with the ability of plants to convert nitrates into proteins, thus reducing plant productivity and food quality. Increasing nitrogen fertilization might compensate for slower nitrate assimilation, but such fertilization rates might not be economically or environmentally feasible.

Food = Energy

Most crop fertilizers are produced from oil. As oil supply tightens, the price of oil will rise.  The price of fertilizer will track that increase.
About 17 percent of fossil fuels are used to produce our food.  The most energy intensive activities are:

  • Fertilizer & pesticide production
  • Irrigation
  • Transportation
  • Processing

Fertilizer and pesticide production accounts for 31 percent of fossil fuel usage in food production.

Business Impact

Big Ag should be concerned about this.  They are the heaviest users of fertilizers and pesticides.  It’s time for them to think about how to adapt to this.  Organic farmers should be in much better shape. They avoid the use of fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides.  Organic sources of nitrogen, such as compost and manure, are their soil amendments of choice.

Community Impact

Food cost represents from 16% (developed nations) to over 60% (developing nations) of a family’s budget. As climate change reduces food quality and oil inflation drives up the cost of food production, family’s will struggle – receiving less nutritional value, at greater cost.

Government Impact

Looking at this news through the lens of government, three issues rise to the top:

  1. If you need to feed a lot of people (think India and China), it’s all about efficiency.  A 20% drop in protein production is a big problem.
  2. Make sure your Department of Agriculture and extension agents are at the top of their game, developing and disseminating best practices for our climate changing world.
  3. If your state/country produces a lot of food (think California, the grain belt, Canada, Europe and the UK), think about ramping up non-fossil fuel-based sources of nitrogen.

One clever approach to producing organic nitrogen – use farm animal waste to generate biogas for energy production, and use the resultant nitrogen-rich composted manure to amend farmland soil.  The benefits?

  • Less dependency on oil.
  • Strengthen the local economy through local nitrogen and energy production.
  • Capture the methane in animal waste before it enters the atmosphere.
  • Healthier food

The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United StatesTo learn more about Climate Change impact on food production, read the US Department of Agriculture’s report The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity.  It is an outstanding example of government in action:

  • Recognizing the fundamental importance of food to a functioning society.
  • Laying out the impact climate change will have on food production.
  • Detailed guidelines for farmers – how to mitigate impact and plan for changes to crop strategy as global warming and rainfall patterns shift.
  • Pingback: NOAA: June, April to June, and Year-to-Date Global Temperatures are Warmest on Record()

  • Pingback: Climate Change, Food, and Wildfires()

  • Pingback: Why Farmers Need a Pay Rise…()

  • Pingback: What feeds a revolution?()

  • Larose


  • Larose, You are repeating a common myth often said by climate deniers. The fact of the matter is, the sum total of all CO2 out-gassed by active volcanoes amounts to about 1/150th of anthropogenic emissions. For more on this, see:

    One visual indicator that may be helpful is the Keeling Curve, which is a measure of the atmospheric CO2 globally. See:

    Note the smooth upward trend, with no spikes during times of volcanic eruption. Seven billion people emit a lot of CO2. And its growing each year.

  • Pingback: Innovation 2.0: Open-Source Urban Agriculture()

  • M2D

    try geoengineering instead

  • To do what?

  • M2D

    to find the cause of so called “climate change”

  • How will geo-engineering find the cause of climate change? Geo-engineering is a proposed way of trying to deal with the negative impacts of climate change.

  • M2D

    geoengineering IS the cause of climate change… try geoengineeringwatch. org

  • Just want to make sure I understand your position. Are you saying that thing like burning carbon intense fuels such as coal and gasoline are not major contributors to anthropogenic climate change, and that it is geoengineering that is the major cause?

  • M2D

    Just about all human activity contributes but yes, geoengineering is the major cause of climate change… you can’t dump millions of tons of aluminum, barium and strontium into the atmosphere and not cause climate change.
    All of the fossil fuel burning put together wouldn’t even come close to the effects of geoengineering.

  • M2D

    … that is, after all, the supposed intent of geoengineering isn’t it?

  • Thanks. Regarding your statement: “All of the fossil fuel burning put together wouldn’t even come close to the effects of geoengineering.” Would you provide a scientific peer-reviewed source for that.

  • M2D

    I’d love to, unfortunately geoengineering doesn’t exist as far as any scientific journals are concerned… if you go to geoengineeringwatch. org however, you can view the lab results of ground, water and air contamination caused by geoengineering and compare them to lab results pertaining to contamination caused by fossil fuel consumption for yourself to verify what I’ve said… unless of course you are another ostrich.

  • M2D, you made the assertion, you need to back it up. You said: “All of the fossil fuel burning put together wouldn’t even come close to the effects of geo-engineering.” Back it up with a credible specific reference.

  • M2D

    I did back it up… perhaps you didn’t read my post? I’m not about to post the comparison in this comment… you can compare the results yourself at geoengineeringwatch. org… now you show me evidence to the contrary… show me how fossil fuel burning is changing the climate more than purposeful geoengineering.

  • M2D

    … so far I’ve given you hard evidence and all you’ve given me is an opinion which is pretty much what I would expect.

  • I read all your posts. No sign of a credible specific reference to your assertion “All of the fossil fuel burning put together wouldn’t even come close to the effects of geo-engineering.”

  • M2D

    Well that’s the beauty of the internet, people get to look at the evidence for themselves and decide what is true… is it Al Gore and his disinformation agents (judging by your other posts I would say you fit into that category) or is geoengineering the true cause of climate change? Unfortunately for you and Al Gore people aren’t buying the bull$hit anymore.

  • M2D, Ad Hominem attacks will get you nowhere. If you can’t back up you assertion “All of the fossil fuel burning put together wouldn’t even come close to the effects of geo-engineering.” with credible specific reference, then we are done here.

  • M2D

    LOL! Typical disinfobot… yep we’re done here.

  • For those readers looking to dive into the details of climate change and common climate change denier arguments, with fact checking, my two favorite sites are:


Previous post:

Next post: