An article by ABC News, “Climate change could soon make these staple Thanksgiving dishes more scarce,” claims that foods like cranberries, sweet potatoes, and turkey, among others popular at Thanksgiving dinner, are threatened by climate change. This is false. Except for recent declines in cranberry production, these foods have not seen negative trends over the past hundred-plus years of modest warming, and there is little reason to believe those trends will reverse any time soon.
ABC News claims that Thanksgiving itself “could soon become another victim of climate change as rising temperatures threaten the abundance and quality of the ingredients used to make traditional dishes,” quoting in support of this statement the CEO of a company that claims to be able to accurately predict future produce yields using climate and weather modelling.
Himanshu Gupta, CEO of ClimateAi, told ABC News that harvest yields of sweet potatoes and cranberries have decreased “significantly” due to climate change. While neither ABC nor Gupta cite a study that shows this, Gupta nonetheless claims that ClimateAi determined that cranberry yields will “decrease by at least 5% by 2070,” and the quality of the fruit will also decline.
Skepticism is warranted right away, because as Climate Realism has noted dozens of times, this kind of computer and AI-driven forecasting, built on notably inaccurate climate models, is unreliable, especially when attempting to link it to particular effects like agricultural yields.
Agriculture is much more complex than Gupta and ABC News suggest. For example, despite decades of warming which in theory might impact cold-weather crops like cranberries, the fruits saw a steady gain in production and yield until 2016, after which there is a decline, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization data. (See Figure below)
Still, since 1961 overall cranberries in the United States saw:
- Production rise 472 percent;
- Yield rise 222 percent.
ABC News and Gupta attribute this recent decline to climate change, insisting that droughts in 2020 and flooding in 2021 contributed. However, the decline began years before the 2020 drought. Instead of climate, it is more likely economic factors that are forcing farms to shut down, which explains why production and yields are tracking so closely. Indeed, trade deals between China and the United States regarding cranberries fell through shortly after 2016, which was widely reported in the news at the time as having a significant impact on cranberry farms in the United States.
Gupta then says that sweet potatoes in the United States are likewise going to be impacted, although again, the data from the United Nations does not show any looming sweet potato catastrophe. Sweet potatoes have seen a roughly 100 percent increase in production since records begin in 1961, and a 140 percent increase in yield during the same period. In fact, sweet potatoes hit an all-time production record in the United States as recently as 2017, with the second highest production year in 2019. (See figure below)
Rather than citing real world data for the claims that sweet potato production is likely to decline due to climate change, ABC News and Gupta rely on ClimateAI forecasts which suggest Mississippi and North Carolina will see reduced yields in the latter half of the 21st century. This claim particularly strange because sweet potatoes love the heat – they need a long growing season in order to produce large tubers, and are heat and drought resistant.
As further evidence of their claims, ABC News points to the price of a Thanksgiving meal, where “[a]n average Thanksgiving meal for a family of 10 rose 20% between 2021 and 2022 — from $53.31 to $64.05 — according to a report by the American Farm Bureau released last year.”
But this is not a climate issue, it’s an economic one. The price of almost all goods and services, but most especially food, has gone up across the board since the pandemic due to high fuel costs, inflation, and trade disruptions, largely caused by government monetary, energy, and climate policies, as discussed in multiple Climate Realism posts, including here, here, and here, for example.
Last but not least, ABC News spoke to Lea d’Auriol, founder of nonprofit Oceanic Global, an ocean conservation group, who said “[r]ising temperatures around the world are increasing the amount of stress on turkeys, which are seeing declining birth rates as a result,” and that extreme weather “such as an increase in strong hurricanes in some regions and more drought in others,” are negatively impacting some turkey farms.
While there is no doubt that a hurricane hitting a turkey farm could kill many birds, stress others and result in a general temporary decline in turkeys available for sale, there has been no increase in hurricanes or droughts, as shown by Climate Realism, here and here, for example, so that can’t explain any turkey production woes.
Even the base claim however, that turkeys are experiencing low birthrates due to climate change, is not evident in production data. The production of turkey meat in the United States rose sharply after 1975 and leveled off through the 2000s, while the amount of meat per bird has likewise sharply increased during that time. (See Figure below)
Since records began in 1961, turkey meat in the United States has:
- Increased in production by 272 percent;
- Increased in meat per bird by 70 percent;
- Broke all-time production record in 2008, with descending order records in 2016, 2017, and 2012.
And, although the United States produces far and away the most turkeys globally, the U.S. is not the only country producing turkeys and U.N. Food and Agriculture data show that turkeys are not suffering from climate change. Indeed, global turkey meat production was 5,792,412 tons in 2021, 2.72 percent higher than in 2011. The most recent record for global turkey production was set in 2018, during the decade climate alarmists claim has been the warmest on record; and, since 1961, the average annual growth rate of turkey production has been to 3.16 percent.
Based on these facts, there is little or no evidence climate change is harming turkey production or threatening people’s traditional Thanksgiving main course.
ABC News also alleged that brussels sprouts, green beans, wheat, and bread in general are threatened, but again, the same arguments above still apply. Wheat in particular is a bad example, because while United States’ production isn’t impressive due to farmers’ preference for growing corn, world production has continued to increase and break production and yield records. (See figure below)
Although economic factors tied to inflationary government policies have made the food that makes a traditional Thanksgiving meal more expensive in recent years, outside of AI generated computer forecasts, there is no evidence that climate change itself is threatening peoples’ Thanksgiving dinner. ABC News should report the real reasons people are struggling to pay for Thanksgiving rather than falsely blaming the problem on climate change.