By Alex Amonette
On the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump recognized that family farms are the backbone of our country. He recognized our challenges and vowed to support family farms. Farmers and rural America helped vote him into office. He reiterated his appreciation for farmers at the American Farm Bureau (AFB) Annual Convention just last month. “Our nation was founded, settled, and built by farmers. From the fields of Pennsylvania […] to the Big Sky of Montana […] farmers have always led the way,” he said.
But the challenges farmers face continue as we produce the food, fiber and fuel needed to keep our economy strong. We have many concerns, from trade wars, to immigration reform, to regulation. We’d like to think that the least of our problems will be an unstable climate that will increasingly intensify the extreme weather events—droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, and floods—we’ve been experiencing. How can we manage these challenges?
Farmers and ranchers depend on a stable climate to grow crops and raise livestock. We know the climate is changing. Before the industrial revolution, atmospheric carbon dioxide measured about 280 parts per million (ppm); now, it’s trending about 410 ppm, due to our emissions from burning fossil fuels. It’s remarkable how much that difference of 130 ppm can make.
The increased carbon dioxide changes the Earth’s energy balance in a way that threatens agriculture. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, reviewed by 13 agencies in the Trump Administration, recently reported:
“Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States. Expected increases in challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and changes in extreme events in the United States and abroad threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability.”
When we hear about this, we don’t know what to do, figure it will cost us money, and some of us ignore it. But not doing anything will be worse in the long run.
Fortunately, Congress wants to lead with a bipartisan climate solution called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, that can reverse the trend of excess carbon emissions. And as we drawdown our emissions, we can adapt.
A bipartisan bill: The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act was introduced in late 2018 by Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate, and reintroduced in 2019. It will drive down America’s carbon pollution and help bring climate change under control, while unleashing American technology innovation and ingenuity. How does this climate change solution work? By putting a rising fee on fossil fuels and allocating the money to Americans every month, to spend as we see fit. A small percentage of the fees covers administrative costs. The government does not keep any of the money from the carbon fee. It is not a complicated cap and trade scheme, nor is it a tax that can be used to grow government.
Here’s the best part for farmers and ranchers: The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act provides an exemption for diesel or gasoline used for agricultural purposes. The bill’s authors know farming is absolutely vital to the American economy, and diesel or gas used for agricultural purposes only account for .6% of national emissions. (Emissions from agricultural processes themselves—think methane in cow burps—are not covered by this bill.) This bill will spur innovation that will spill over into agriculture and therefore decrease the sector’s already low percentage of emissions from fossil fuel usage.
Farmers and ranchers, you’re invited!
Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is one of the organizations advocating for policy that will protect farmers from climate change. CCL’s Agricultural Action Team, made up of volunteers who care deeply about agriculture, builds relationships with farmers and farmer organizations like the Farm Bureau and National Farmers’ Union. It seeks farmers and ranchers to join them in positive climate-policy discussions with members of Congress.
CCL’s Agriculture Action Team invites farmers and ranchers to get involved with us and have positive climate discussions with our congressional representatives. We want to ask them to endorse the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. CCL regularly lobbies Congress in D.C. and in the members’ home districts. We’d like you “at the table” with us.
Steffi Rausch, a volunteer with CCL in North Carolina, said, “We need farmers at the table to discuss this bill and be a part of the solution. Because farmers and ranchers come from a variety of political leanings, they are a great bridge across the partisan divide that will enable us to strengthen the conversation in a bipartisan way.”
As the National Climate Assessment explains, farmers and our food supply will be affected the most if nothing is done. A good climate solution will mitigate climate impacts to farmland, provide farmers with more economic opportunity, and give farmers a generation to adapt.
If we do not take immediate action, we must ask ourselves: Can we afford the risk? Will we have time to adapt?
In his speech to the AFB, President Trump told us: “…government’s first duty is to our own citizens.” Farmers need to let Congress and the Trump administration know that addressing climate change is part of that duty. Farmers are needed now — to help lead the way.