The debate underway in Congress this week on disaster relief spending in the wake of Hurricane Harvey has, as could be expected, raised contentions that the storm, which produced the most severe rain event in U.S. history, can be attributed in part to climate change.
That assertion, in turn, has sparked the usual arguments over whether climate change is real; to what degree it exists and what causes it.
Despite the assertions of some policy makers, there is overwhelming scientific agreement that some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, according to a recently disclosed draft of a wide-ranging federal climate change report. The draft, which awaits approval from the Trump administration, shows the average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and severely just since 1980. The past four decades have been the warmest of the last 1,500 years, scientists say.
While they might not go near the term “climate change,” U.S. ag producers are growing in their consensus that volatile weather – heavy precipitation that cause floods; extreme drought that spark wildfires and enable pest infestation; tornados that destroy croplands, farm structures and equipment – is a worsening reality.
Congress has always played a critical role in aiding U.S. citizens in their efforts to come back from natural catastrophes – and rightly so. The loss of life, property and any semblance of normality that comes with these disasters require our leaders to respond with compassion and prompt support to help with rebuilding efforts.
Another key aspect of any disaster response is to provide the means to help mitigate future catastrophes – such as when the federal government aided in the restoration and shoring up of levees around New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
While not sharing the profile of larger, singular catastrophic events, the pressure that changing climate conditions are putting on America’s farmland and forests is posing a growing threat to our nation’s ability to produce the essential food, feed, fiber and fuels that our country – and, for that matter, a large part of the world – depend on.
That’s why it’s important for policy makers to maintain their support of longstanding programs and funding that encourage innovation and accelerate the development of measures that address the huge challenges faced by agricultural productivity in the face of a growing global population and a changing climate.
There are already some initiatives in place to address the necessity of having farmers, ranchers and forestland owners adapt to the extreme weather that comes with climate change. And there are significant efforts underway to promote practices that mitigate its causes, despite the administration’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.
The goal of these efforts mirror that of the North American Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA). That is to sustainably increase agricultural productivity; enhance the capacity of producers to adapt to changing conditions, whether it be higher temperatures or greater precipitation; improve their resilience against these often adverse conditions; and deliver ecosystem services such as improved soil quality, cleaner air and water, and wildlife habitat.
But the research and development of land management and production practices that mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration, as well as contributing to the reduction and/or avoidance of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, are just as important in the changing environment in which we live.
Farmers are finding ways to ensure that their operations make smarter use of increasingly more limited resources, and provide more food while emitting fewer carbon emissions. They are doing this through activities like increased crop rotations, utilizing cover crops, using drought-resistant seeds, applying better input management, reducing water usage, and implementing no- and low-till crop production systems, among others. Simultaneously, forest management is advancing to the point that global forestlands are becoming even greater carbon sinks.
The 25x’25 Alliance urges partners and all stakeholders to call on policy makers to give priority to those efforts that promote adaptive management and mitigation strategies for the agriculture sectors. Prime examples of those efforts include the work being done by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and, even more to the point, the department’s seven Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change, which provide tools and information to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners on ways to adapt and adjust their resource management.
It is critical for lawmakers to embrace the efforts of those in agriculture and forestry who are working to maximize the use of our natural landscapes to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Policy makers should remember that these practices also improve the bottom line of farm and forest operations when rural communities continue to face lean economic times. It’s a win-win for the nation and for rural America.