Tough spot for farmers: Adapting to change you can’t believe in
Even the farmers who think climate change is a hoax have to adapt to it. Agriculture depends profoundly on the weather, and yesterday Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a suite of new government programs to help farmers adjust to a more extreme climate.
“The bottom line is that in the United States, we produce an amazing amount of food because we adapt to today’s threats and prepare for tomorrow’s threats,” Vilsack said.
The thing is, a lot of the people growing that food refuse to accept that there is any threat. Reporter Julia Kumari Drapkin illustrated this problem vividly in a story that recently aired on This American Life. In rural, conservative agricultural areas, this story showed, climatologists are loath to talk about climate change, and for good reason: Some who have acknowledged that they believe human-caused climate change is a problem have lost their jobs.
But no one can deny that in the past few years conditions have made life tougher for the people who produce our food and fiber.
“We’re seeing more severe storms,” Vilsack said. “We’re facing more invasive species. More intense forest fire threatens communities each year. NOAA reported that 2012 was the second most intense year in our history for extreme weather events — droughts, flooding, hurricanes, severe storms, and devastating wildfire. NOAA also advised that last year was the warmest on record for the continental United States.”
He made it clear we can’t dismiss these changes as an aberration.
“[T]he latest science tells us that the threat of a changing climate is new and different from anything we’ve ever tackled,” Vilsack said.
Of course it’s one thing to adapt to climate change, and quite another to take strong action to prevent it from growing worse. James Bruggers, a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, found that people like Scott Travis, a soybean farmer, have begun to acknowledge and adjust to the reality of climate change, while maintaining that humans have nothing to do with it.
“I’ve accepted for me to stay in business, I have to adapt,” Travis told Bruggers.
Simply adapting to changes as they happen may be enough to keep farmers in business in the short term. In the long run, however, the advantage will go to those farmers who are able to plan ahead and make investments with a clear-eyed assessment of the science. In other words, there’s now a strong economic incentive to stop denying the reality of climate change.