Climate change has returned to the stage in the new, 116th Congress, and that gives advocates of landscape-scale solutions to the challenges posed by the growing threat to agricultural production a renewed opportunity to elevate their message to the nation’s lawmakers.
The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is being reconstituted, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R-CA) said late last month, announcing that seven-term Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) will chair the panel. The House first created the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming in 2007 through a resolution adopted by a 269-150 margin. However, that panel was disbanded when leadership of the House changed in 2011.
Pelosi said reviving the committee was in response to a demand from “the American people,” who want “action to combat the climate crisis, which threatens our public health, our economy, our national security and the whole of God’s creation.”
A rules package unveiled last week that will govern the House for the next two years calls on the 15-member committee (nine Democrats and six Republicans) to “investigate, study, make findings, and develop recommendations on policies, strategies and innovations to achieve substantial and permanent reductions in…activities that contribute to the climate crisis.”
Many elected to Congress in the November elections made climate mitigation and clean energy prominent issues in their campaigns. The shift in the balance of power in the House of Representatives would indicate favorable political support for the kinds of policies advocated by Solutions from the Land (SfL), including the three pillars of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA):
- Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and livelihoods (i.e. sustainable intensification)
- Enhancing adaptive capacity and improving resilience
- Delivering ecosystem services, sequestering carbon, and reducing and/or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.
These are strategies needed to counter the increasing impact that volatile weather patterns – rain, flooding and hurricane damage across the south and dry conditions leading to widespread wildfires in our western states – are having on the ability of our ag and forestry sectors to produce food, feed, fiber and energy.
Climate change should not be a partisan issue. In fact, members from both sides of the aisle have raised concerns about its impact on a rural America, which is into its fifth year of economic distress driven by falling commodity prices and exacerbated over the past year by trade disputes that have caught much of U.S. agriculture in the middle.
In the Senate, which retains a Republican majority, Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) told Agri-Pulse that he will hold a hearing or roundtable to examine the impact a changing climate is having on agriculture. Roberts cited the proliferation of recent reports indicating conditions are worsening rapidly.
Among those reports was the Fourth National Climate Assessment Report, Volume II, issued in late November by a collaboration of 13 federal departments and agencies – including the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, as well as EPA. The assessment forecasts extremely hard times for the U.S. agriculture and forestry sectors if no action is taken immediately to stem the challenges that come with volatile weather and related conditions. (The first volume of the quadrennially produced assessment was released in 2017.)
Climate change is a politically charged issue. But SfL believes it is incumbent upon all agricultural and forestry leaders to carefully assess what the assessment and other reports have to say about the impact that climate change is already having and will have on the sectors going forward. We urge our partners to call on their representatives in Washington to take an active interest and role in the work of the new climate crisis committee. And they must make sure any laws or policies coming forward – whether during this Congress or after elections in 2020 – are developed with the input of stakeholders, including farmers, ranchers and forestland owners.
SfL calls on policymakers to provide the tools – conservation programs, tax incentives and research, among others – that will allow the agriculture and forestry sectors to not only adapt to the challenges, but pivot and, through sustainable farming systems and renewable energy production, capture, reduce and sequester greenhouse gas emissions – the root cause of climate change.