Monday, November 16, 2009

Biggest Obstacle to Climate Change and Clean Energy Progress is America's Farmers, Says the Economist

Oy -- here's another story about how the costs of solving climate change are hindering progress.  In this case, The Economist focuses on how farmers are scared that solving climate change will make fossil fuels so expensive that it puts them out of business:

AMERICA will not pass a cap-and-trade law in time for the global climate-change summit in Copenhagen next month. To understand why, it helps to ask a farmer. Take Bruce Wright, for example, who grows wheat and other crops on a couple of thousand acres near Bozeman, Montana. His family has tilled these fields for four generations. His great-grandfather built the local church. He loves his job and the rural way of life. But he fears that higher energy prices will endanger both.

To grow his crops, Mr Wright needs fertiliser, fuel and pesticides—all of which are derived from oil. When the price of oil hit the sky last year, Mr Wright’s operating costs nearly trebled. He survived because the oil-price surge also forced up the price of grain. But such wild swings make him nervous. If he has to invest three times as much in his crop and the crop fails, he says, he will be buried in debt.

Ooooh boogy boogy boogy. Sounds pretty scary. But should the costs of climate change and clean energy legislation to farmers really be the storyline here?

I don't see a single milliliter of ink in this story dedicated to the benefits to farmers of passing climate change legislation, such as reduced exposure of our economy to increasingly unstable oil markets, reduced health care costs, reduced need to spend trillions of our tax dollars on military operations defending oil supplies, and the like.

Nor do I see a speck of ink talking about how the high costs of agricultural fuels, fertilizers and pesticides actually reflect inefficiencies in our food production system that are harming people and ecosystems alike.  And how farmers can offset a lot of the costs they fear simply by making their operations more efficient.  After all, studies estimate that over 30% of nitrogen fertilizer application is wasted (causing a whole host of environmental problems), and food with too much nitrogen in it has been shown to contain higher levels of disease-causing compounds (which in turn helps drives up health care costs -- see the linkages here?  The Economist didn't...).

This Economist piece gets a big "gong" from Conservation Value Notes.  It does a scarily good job of conveying the challenges and hardships we face in enacting climate change solutions.  Then it shamefully ignores examples of the ways that transitioning to a clean energy-powered economy will also be a transition to a more stable economy characterized by more efficient energy and agricultural systems, reduced pollution-related health care costs, and less money being funneled to regimes that don't like us (among many benefits).

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