Berkeleyan: A newspaper for faculty and staff at UC Berkeley


Berkeleyan HomeSearch BerkeleyanBerkeleyan ArchiveUCB NewsUCB Calendar

 This Week's Stories:


Regular Features


How Climate Change Affects U.S. Agriculture

By Jill Goetz, College of Natural Resources
posted September 2, 1998

A panel of scientists advising the United Nations has predicted that the Earth's average surface temperature will rise 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit during the next century if greenhouse gas emissions -- particularly carbon dioxide -- are not reduced.

Could such a climate change spell disaster for crop producers?

Not if farmers and elected officials do the right thing, according to economists in the College of Natural Resources.

"If we can develop incentives for farmers and other landowners to help reduce levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, global warming could be a blessing rather than a curse for U.S. agriculture," said David Zilberman, professor of agricultural economics and director of the college's Center for Sustainable Resources.

The most promising incentives would reward farmers for creating or maintaining "carbon sinks" -- wetlands, large stands of trees, crops that are highly efficient carbon consumers such as alfalfa, and agricultural soils that, through practices like conservation tillage, absorb atmospheric CO2.

"Carbon sequestration," as it is called, could be profitable for farmers if they receive "credits" for establishing and expanding these carbon sinks.

Carbon sequestration has gained renewed interest since the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 international accord on reducing greenhouse gas levels. The protocol awaits ratification by the U.S. Senate.

Zilberman and other Berkeley agricultural economists recently presented their research at an Environmental Protection Agency-sponsored workshop in Washington, D.C., on climatic change and carbon sequestration.

Carbon sequestration is gaining currency in the agriculture community, he said, but agricultural leaders are concerned about how it may affect U.S. agricultural exports.

The Kyoto Protocol contains no provisions for incentives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Only by establishing incentives for farmers to reduce greenhouse gas levels can the goals of Kyoto be achieved," Zilberman said.

A web site is being created for the proceedings. For details, call 643-2575, or email

[ Back to top ]


UCB Home

This site is produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs, University of California, Berkeley.
Copyright 1998, The Regents of the University of California.
For comments concerning this web service please e-mail