Finding Practical, Viable Solutions to a Changing Climate

February 27, 2019

Subject to considerable discussion among policy makers in Washington and stakeholder interests across the nation, the Green New Deal is a non-binding resolution that offers a wide-ranging response to warnings from international experts, as well from assessments within the U.S. government, who say a changing climate will have catastrophic consequences if not addressed soon.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in October that the rate of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) is increasing to levels that will push temperatures above the limits targeted by world leaders in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The IPCC said that significant action must be taken – and taken now – to limit the increase in global temperature to no more than the mid-century target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Without rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in the energy, transportation and agriculture sectors, the IPCC says, the risks of a changing climate to communities, regions and nations dramatically increase.

In November, similarly dire results were predicted in a report published by a collaboration of 13 federal agencies and departments, including USDA, the EPA and the Departments of Interior and Energy. The Fourth National Climate Assessment Report, Vol. II – the latest interagency climate evaluation developed under a mandate set by Congress in 1990 – warned of future production declines and economic losses for our nation’s farmers, ranchers and forestland owners if no action is taken to adapt to and help mitigate the escalating challenges of our changing climate.

Given those ominous forecasts, efforts by many in Congress to address climate issues in a meaningful way is laudable. However, the legislative vehicle that is getting much of the attention poses challenges by including a broad, disparate variety of concerns. While the Green New Deal would seek a rapid transition to net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the measure’s focus is weakened by the inclusion of provisions not directly related to climate.

The merits of those provisions notwithstanding, they would be better served by bills specifically dedicated to their respective concerns, so as not to diffuse efforts to address a changing climate that could otherwise lead to the universally disastrous outcomes predicted by not only our own governments experts, but a confirmed 97 percent of climate experts around the world.

Unfortunately, the resolution comes with a lack of recognition for the importance of all forms of renewable energy. In focusing on no-carbon renewables like wind and solar, the measure fails to reference other near-term, low-cost, high-value renewable energy solutions like bioenergy. For example, while the bill calls for “overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector,” it ignores biofuels, which as a bridge to a zero-carbon transportation future, offer huge emission reductions now when compared to petroleum-based transportation fuels.

The Green New Deal does recognize the role agriculture can play in reducing GHG emissions, calling for a collaborative effort with farmers and ranchers to address the issues. While somewhat vague on details as to how the sector will contribute, it suggests a willingness to include the kinds of wide landscape-based measures and practices advocated by Solutions from the Land.

Reports out of Washington Wednesday indicate Senate Democrats are prepared to offer a resolution that simply calls for a 10-year mobilization to get net U.S. carbon emissions down to zero. Though the text of the resolution was unavailable as of this writing, it reportedly includes no specific targets or timetables. However, it represents an approach that can take into account the widest range of solutions to our climate challenges, including biofuels and others that the Green New Deal would disregard.

Despite its problems, the Green New Deal, and the less encumbered resolution said to be under consideration in the Senate, indicate a serious engagement with what is one of the most critical challenges of our time. SfL has hope that going forward, lawmakers will ultimately enact policies that provide proven, practical and pragmatic solutions to climate change that can benefit our society, and particularly assist farmers, ranchers and forestland owners. As the coming planetary population of 10 billion leads to a surge in global demand for food and other commodities, these solutions will be more needed than ever.

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