Climate change might be an invigorating political and environmental challenge — if only it didn’t seem impossible to solve.
The global scale of warming, and the variety of potential disasters associated with it, is essentially inconceivable.
This one broad phenomenon could cause intensified flooding in New York, increased drought in California, reduced peach bloom in Georgia, wars over water in the Middle East, coral bleaching in Australia and aardvark die-offs in Botswana.
Successful mitigation will basically result in unprecedented weather disasters not happening, which is a rather intangible benefit.
Moreover, all of the proposals to fight climate change seem sweeping and astronomically costly.
Maybe that’s why so much of the climate crusade remains cheap talk and fantasy. After a while, all of the blaring exhortations and denunciations just blend into one insufferable, ivory-tower scolding.
No wonder, then, that agriculture’s response to climate change has largely been to deflect criticism onto larger pollution sources and to seek increased federal funding for on-farm conservation.
The tactics are fair enough, but farmers must beware of sounding selfish when their talking points are basically “I’m not the problem” and “Money please.”
That defensive posture probably won’t hold off activists’ growing pressure forever.
Climate change is presented as such a large problem that major cuts in high-pollution sectors like transportation and energy may not be enough to achieve the goals that have been proposed.
We may also need marginal reductions across many other sectors, including agriculture.
As efficient as U.S. farms already are, we shouldn’t assume that farming has already reached its greatest, most environmentally friendly flowering.
Farms have to be ready to change.
What exactly this means for your farm I’m not sure, in part because scientists are still trying to work all that out.
Cover crops will probably be in the mix somehow. But recent reporting has indicated that two of agriculture’s most-heralded climate strategies — carbon sequestration and cell-culture meat — may be far less practical than their proponents have claimed.
Still, the United States is hoping to innovate its way out of a climate crisis. If predictions are to be believed, that might be our only option besides annihilating our standard of living.
It’s worth remembering, though, that a given industry is only responsible for its sliver of the solution.
It’s not on farmers to cut the emissions of airplanes or power plants, and it’s not vegetable growers’ job to deal with cow belches.
My point is not so much to promote specific solutions as to encourage a state of mind that will make adjustments possible.
If you block out anything to do with climate change, you may lose wholesale customers as they add climate-related practices to their contracts.
Or you may miss out on strategies that, irrespective of climate change, increase efficiency or prevent erosion.
Some of the climate-change responses that farmers will see in the coming decades will be impositions. Some will be failures and perhaps even scams. Many simply will not materialize given the lack of funding and political will.
But it would be wise not to dismiss climate mitigation out of hand. If farms are not adapted to social and weather realities, the struggle may go on without them.