Seeking sustainability, finding skeptics at the American Farm Bureau meeting
Seattle, Wash. — Attending the American Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in the Emerald City on Sunday, I felt like a Red Sox fan at a Yankees game. It did nothing to calm my nerves when I heard Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman say this:
A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and the way we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule … Who would blame us for thinking that the avalanche of misguided, activist-driven regulation on labor and environment being proposed in Washington is anything but unfriendly?
Photo: American Farm BureauYikes! I was at the meeting to see what role sustainability and environmental concerns play in the Farm Bureau’s philosophy, and Stallman was giving me a pretty good idea.
With its 6 million members, the group is highly influential. It’s traditionally friendly to agribusiness, and in the past year has played a notable role in bogging down and opposing climate legislation. During his opening speech, Stallman touted the Farm Bureau’s corny anti-cap-and-trade slogan:
At the very same time that we need to increase our food production, climate change legislation threatens to slash our ability to do so. The exact level of land that will shift to trees will depend on the price of carbon … the USDA suggests we could easily be talking about 59 million acres … Stop by our tradeshow booth, sign a petition, pick up a farm cap. Our message to Congress about cap-and-trade is clear — Don’t CAP Our Future.
OK, he’s clearly not a cap-and-trade fan. So later, at a press conference, I asked Stallman if there were climate change legislation that he would support. His response:
Photo: Tyler FalkThere are a lot of people who say the only thing you can have is a carbon tax or a mandatory cap-and-trade program. We disagree with that. We think we can move forward with a renewable electricity standard, more incentives for solar and wind energy, voluntary tax-based incentives, or subsidy based incentives, continue with a renewable fuel standard, create more supplies of natural gas to displace some of the electricity generation done by coal, research and development of carbon capture and storage to be sure we’re able to use these vast coal reserves we have in this country in a way that keeps carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere. And then sort of a Manhattan Project, if you will, for nuclear power … But all of those things could be done and put in place through government policy at a much lower cost to the economy [than cap-and-trade] in a manner that wouldn’t downsize American agriculture. So we think that’s a much better approach.
Photo: Tyler FalkAfter all that talk about renewables, I headed over to the tradeshow to see for myself what kind of exciting green innovations are happening in the agriculture world. Well, let’s see. There’s a John Deere tractor, and of course John Deere apparel. Here’s a Stihl weedeater. I smell some ham cooking somewhere. Oh wait, look over there — an ethanol booth! That’s a start — if only it didn’t take so much energy to make ethanol in the first place. There’s a guy promoting “going green” by using propane. And another “environmental” guy who seems primarily interested in manure. Nothing organic or actually sustainable in sight. Keep looking. Wait, what’s that over there in the corner? I can’t quite see it past the glare of shiny new Dodge Rams. Hey, it’s the European Union booth!
Photo: Tyler FalkTurns out the Europeans have the only display promoting sustainable agriculture. When I tell the woman at the booth about my interest in sustainable agriculture, she eagerly loads me up with more literature than I can carry (plus all of the other E.U. memorabilia that she clearly doesn’t think she’ll be able to give away during the meeting).
Feeling disappointed with the state of modern U.S. agriculture, I decided to get kicked while I was down and subject myself to some good old fashioned climate change denial.
Before a standing-room-only crowd of about a thousand white-haired farmers, the charismatic Christopher C. Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, was there to give us the “story behind the story about global warming.” He hit on “Climategate,” global cooling, Al Gore’s cherry-picked data, and just about every other denialist argument you’ve ever heard. After the presentation a woman I overheard on the escalator said: “He was great. I wouldn’t want to debate him though. He talks so fast. Boy, does he know his stuff though.” Thank you for smoking, anyone?
So there you have it from the American Farm Bureau’s annual meeting: Don’t cap our future, don’t bother us with “sustainable” ag, and global warming isn’t real.
I’m going to put on my XL E.U. T-shirt and dream of a sustainable world, because from what I saw on Sunday that’s about as close as I’ll get.