Landscape with the rice fields and Onive river at Antanifotsy in Madagascar

A Google news search for the term “climate change’ today turns up a number of stories in the mainstream media promoting the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) claim that climate change is causing a drought in Madagascar that threatens more than 1 million people with starvation.

The WFPs claim linking climate change to a temporary weather event, which this drought is, is false. Indeed, the U.N.’s own data show Madagascar has been setting records in recent decades for crop production, so any food supply shortages are due to political or economic factors not declining crop production.

A story in ABC News, titled “S. Madagascar on the verge of climate change-induced famine: How to help,” is indicative of other media outlets coverage of the WFPs claim that climate change is to blame for drought induced hunger in Madagascar.

“For the past four years, the lack of food has become a constant in [many Madagascar residents] lives,” writes ABC News. “But unlike other countries, where extreme hunger and near-famine conditions are caused by war, conflict, or isolated weather events, in this part of Madagascar, the cause is so far unique: southern Madagascar is on the verge of becoming the world’s first climate-change induced near-famine in modern history.”

The UN and ABC News should check their premises and data. History shows back to back droughts are not unprecedented in Madagascar’s history. The current drought is serious. However, ABC News’ own story notes Madagascar had a similar drought forty years ago, at a time when scientists were warning of a coming ice age, not global warming.

Peer reviewed research shows Madagascar’s large megafauna declined sharply, with many species going extinct during previous extended droughts. Research indicates Madagascar suffered extended droughts nearly 6,000 and again nearly 1,000 years ago. A drought, approximately 950 years before present, triggered a large transformation in vegetation, an increase in wildfires, and a sharp decline in the island’s megafauna.

It may be true that some people in Madagascar face potential starvation, but, contrary to WFP’s claims it can’t be due to more than a very recent decline in food supplies, because data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), show Madagascar’s food production has set repeated records since 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen first declared during carefully staged Senate testimony that he was 99 percent certain humans were causing climate change. (See the figure below)

Since 1988, FAO data show:

  • Madagascar’s cereal production has increased by more than 93 percent, setting records for production 15 times.
  • Madagascar’s vegetable production has increased by more than 60 percent, setting records for production 26 times.
  • Madagascar’s fruit production has increased by almost 69 percent, setting records for production 25 times.

The most recent record for cereal production was set in 2010, and for vegetable and fruit production in 2019, during the recent drought.

Madagascar’s current drought is hardly unique and as dire as the present food shortage its people face may be, there is no evidence supposed human caused climate change is to blame. Indeed, during the era of global warming, Madagascar’s food production, like food production for the world as a whole, has increased significantly. Research shows at least part of the recent increase in food production is due to the fertilization effect from increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from human fossil fuel use.

In a fervor to link the current drought and associated food shortages to climate change, perhaps in order boost support for international action on climate change and aid at COP-26 in Glasgow, Scotland, the WFP and ABC News studiously ignored the fact, weather is not climate and temporary weather conditions, such as back to back drought years, don’t necessarily reflect a changing climate. The WFP should check its sister organization, the FAO’s data before it promotes climate alarm to the media. Also, media outlets, like ABC News, should be more skeptical of alarming climate change related claims about drought and food production, which readily available data refute.

 

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is managing editor of Environment & Climate News and a research fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute. Burnett worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis for 18 years, most recently as a senior fellow in charge of NCPA’s environmental policy program. He has held various positions in professional and public policy organizations, including serving as a member of the Environment and Natural Resources Task Force in the Texas Comptroller’s e-Texas commission.

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