Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The cost of "winning"...

There is a real possibility that farm-state lawmakers will be successful in their efforts to exclude farmers from any participation other than getting checks from the government in efforts to combat global climate change.
The two powerful House Democrats said Thursday that they had made "good progress" in their talks on the climate bill, H.R. 2454 (pdf), following an hourlong meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But Waxman said yesterday that he has not spoken to Peterson since that session as the congressmen handed the negotiations over to their staffs.
Waxman declined to comment on the details of the climate talks, though the farm state lawmakers have not been shy in stating their problems with provisions in the bill that give U.S. EPA the principal oversight role for the carbon offset market. Peterson also is against a draft EPA regulation that would hold the ethanol industry accountable for "indirect land use," such as crop conversion in other countries.
House Democratic leaders are working behind the scenes to shore up support among the farm state lawmakers through language that could be added to the bill in a manager's amendment package. It is unclear, though, if those changes will be enough. [More]
Rep. Collin Peterson has been remarkably capable in this effort, and here's how:
Meanwhile, the fact of the matter is that in recent years plenty of incumbent Republicans have been brought down by primary challenges from the right and as best I know zero Democrats have been brought down by primary challenges from the left. This has been a huge advantage for the Democrats in terms of winning elections—it’s an important part of the reason Democrats have these majorities. But it also means that when it comes to policymaking, Republicans have a lot of solidarity but Democratic leaders have little leverage over individual members. In other words, nobody thinks that Collin Peterson (D-MN) is going to lose his seat over badly watering down Waxman-Markey and that matters a lot more than airy considerations of capital. [More]
In fact,  Peterson bluntly points out global warming might be good for his constituents, regardless of who else it harms.  In fairness, I think this accurately reflects most farmer opinions of climate change (if they buy the idea at all).  But he could be securing a place in history as the poster child of parochial interest over national (and international) well-being.  In short, this legislative "win" may prove to be more costly that anyone currently imagines.

On Tuesday, the White House released a report based on the work of government scientists that said climate change will cause more frequent and intense heat waves in the U.S. and more severe and frequent flooding that will increasingly swallow up coastal lands.
For agriculture, the report found that higher temperatures will mean a longer growing season for crops that do well in heat such as melons, okra and sweet potatoes, but a shorter growing season for crops such as lettuce and broccoli that are more suited to cooler conditions. The report said higher temperatures also will cause plants to use more water to keep cool.
In an effort to highlight what they see as the stake that U.S. farmers have in combating climate change, members of the Obama administration -- including the administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Jane Lubchenco -- were expected to participate in a conference call on Wednesday to discuss the report's findings on agriculture.
But Mr. Peterson, when asked by reporters Tuesday about the report's findings, said they run counter to what many in his region are experiencing.
"We've just had the biggest floods and coldest winters we've ever had," he said. "They're saying to us [that climate change is] going to be a big problem because it's going to be warmer than it usually is; my farmers are going to say that's a good thing since they'll be able to grow more corn."
He added that the measure proposed by Messrs. Waxman and Markey would penalize farmers in the Midwest who rely on coal-burning electric cooperatives. [More]
But Peterson might want to read that latest government report on climate change more closely before blithely touting "benefits" for corn growers. Making long range predictions based on the weather last year also strikes me as singularly non-scientific.

The report is here.  It is a whopping PDF download and to tempt you to wade through it (it is very readable), I excerpt these charming graphs. [Click each to enlarge]

And the one that definitely caught my eye:

To be sure, MN does seem to be a "winner" as annual precip and temps improve.  But MN agriculture will also cope with new pests, diseases, and even larger rain events as well.  But don't listen to me, the report has separate sections for parts of the country.

The immediate cries of unprovable nonsense will greet this report, I am sure, including many voices from farm country. Reading the report, noting the quantity and quality of the research and researchers, and the care with which the results are communicated certainly goes a long way to addressing the challenges of scoffers.

This is one issue I would prefer to have been seen by future generations as too easily alarmed than callously self-interested.  However, I am not all that optimistic meaningful mitigation will be begun until the effects are more clear to more people.  So I'm working on the adaptation strategy, while hoping for emissions reduction sooner than later.

It's also why we are investing more in drainage tile than machinery.


From Virginia said...

Since our experience of the last ten years does not fit any of the models and since they still cannot accurately predict 3 days weather so I can consistently make good hay, my skepticism remains very high. On top of that, even if you assume the doomsayers are correct, if China and India don't play, we cannot effect any meaningful change. So, we only disadvantage ourselves without any benefit to the planet.

Anonymous said...

John,,how do you keep your head from exploding with all the info you are surrounded with ...we too have infested heavily in tile and have everything at 33`or 30 ``centers.........and guess what,,hasn`t rained for a month now..regards-kevin

steve said...

virginia said it well. The earth has been here millions of years. We have records for about 100 years. Yet, we think we KNOW what is going to happen based on that snap shot in time. Worry about something else....

John Phipps said...

VA, Steve:

I always acknowledge the vast majority of agriculture disbelieves in anthropogenic warming.

The larger question is this: Is there any body of evidence or voice of reason that could persuade you otherwise? If the answer is no, your position is faith-based and my arguments will not be helpful.

If you actually read the report you will find clear replies to your objections. For example, we do have CO2 records going back millions of years thanks to air bubbles in ice.

Regardless, I respect your right to choose when you will apply logic and when you will go with some other method of determining belief.

What I find inconsistent is reliance on science for matters like GMO safety and refusal to consider the conclusions of the same scientific community on climate change.

I am not convinced our optimal use of resources is to adapt to climate change or attempt to mitigate it. But I do not consider "disadvantaging myself" a valid reason for choosing inaction. I am a member of the wealthiest sector is the most privileged society in the history of humankind. If anyone should bear an extra burden, it is I.

Ol James said...

Let me throw a bit of dirt into this thought machine here.
Mi-T-fine bit of bureaucratic reporting there. A couple of things pop out to me.
There was no mention as to how much Oxygen is being produced by Farmer's. Yes it puts some CO2 into the air to plant, maintain and harvest but no mention of how much OX is produced. This may be the stumbling block for the Ag sector in the current legislation. The findings of this report seems more like a conglomeration of facts that have been floating around for decades. Not much new news there.
Very few solutions to a proposed problem to me.
I do agree that we all effect the environment in different ways. Larger cities need to do more to cut down their footprint thru uses of mass transit rather than expansion of highways. Lord knows politicians talking less would help.
We should all strive to leave this land in better shape than we got it. But many of the policies that are trying to be adapted are boarding on scare tactics rather than fact. Do these folks have a crystal ball that sees what we don't?? I still don't see how a company can better save the Earth more so than a farmer with a meager education and some good Ol Common sense.
Take care of the land and it will take care of you.

Anonymous said...

Ignore all of the naysayer comments John. Some day there will be more farm auctions and they will have to move into an apartment in town (if they are not already there) because they failed to consider all of the possibilities and plan for the future. They deny the information that is right in front of their nose and as a result they risk not being in the agriculture of the future. Ag will be better off without them.

On another point, I really don't understand the Congressman from Minnesota's unyielding stance. Maybe it is all about political posturing (like a banty rooster) and a reasonable compromise will be reached. But my fear is he will play brinksmanship and we will all lose as a result.

Brandon said...

It's not that we naysayers accept GMO science while rejecting the global warming science, it that we accept the OTHER good science that says there is NO man-made global warming. Or the good science that says there is no warming at all. There is plenty of science on both sides. It is totally politics and power and money and common sense that is influencing the acceptance or rejection. Not faith.

John Phipps said...


You are conflating my arguments. The assertion of a non-science (faith) position applies I believe, if you cannot answer yes to the question I posed - Is there any amount of evidence or voice of reason that would change your mind? If the answer is no, the science does not matter at all.

The consensus comparison is another point entirely. Currently in the scientific community applicable to the areas involved similar ratios of support pertain - about 80-90% of scientists agree with anthropogenic global warming and GMO safety. I used this comparison to illustrate what standard of proof we use on other issues.

I do not suggest this ratio applies to the remedial action. Bjorn Lomborg is an example of former skeptic who now agrees but argues against mitigation as hopeless.

I'll post his latest soon.

Anonymous said...

What is the evidence? As I recall from the good old days at SIU-C "Survival of Man" Classes, greenhouse gases can cause either warming or cooling. Just because a few polar bears have to move a little farther north, so what? No one can really prove by the scientific method one way or another. See the back of Doanes, June 19 issue. There is 'science' on both sides. I understand your position. There are folks like me that don't buy the evolution crap either, and never will. There are other folks that remind me of story about the "Emperor's New Clothes". They go along with the crowd on faith. Believing in man caused climate change and that monkeys came from frogs.