Harvesting a Climate Disaster

FARMERS went to Washington yesterday. Members of a coalition representing more than 80 agricultural organizations rallied on Capitol Hill to demand passage of a new farm bill that has been stalled in Congress.

The Democratic-led Senate has already passed its version of the bill; the Republican-controlled House is squabbling over a competing approach (one that sharply cuts food aid to the poor). Irate farmers want both sides to shut up and pass something that can replace the current farm bill, which expires on Sept. 30.

All of the parties, though, are focused on the wrong thing.

The farm bill is not only the centerpiece of United States food and agriculture policy, it is also a de facto climate bill. And in this respect, both the Senate and House versions of the legislation are a disaster waiting to happen.

Consider, for a moment, the summer of 2012. For an agricultural superpower like the United States, it should have set off alarm bells. The hottest July on record and the worst drought in 50 years — both driven partly by global warming, scientists say — have parched soil and withered crops across the Farm Belt. Yet America’s lawmakers aren’t even remotely addressing the issue in a piece of legislation that will affect the climate profoundly for years to come.

The proposed farm bill — Senate- or House-style, take your pick — would make American agriculture’s climate problem worse, in two ways. Not only would the bill accelerate global warming by encouraging more greenhouse gas emissions, it would make the nation’s farms more vulnerable to the impacts of those emissions.

Indeed, instead of helping farmers take common-sense measures to limit their land’s vulnerability to extreme weather, the legislation would simply spend billions more on crop insurance — sticking taxpayers with the bill. “It’s like giving a homeowner cut-rate fire insurance but not requiring fire extinguishers,” Jim Kleinschmit of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy told me in an interview.

Except in a technical aside, neither the bill passed by the Senate or by the House Committee on Agriculture even mentions climate change.



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