Nature, Climate Change, Agriculture, the Farm Bill and Trump
By Allen H. Olson
Trump is representative of a number of ills in post modern society. He is a result, not the cause of our current malaise. Perhaps half of the population is unhappy to the point of irrationality since only irrationality could cause someone to vote for a candidate who acts in such a deplorable manner as measured by the modern standards of a liberal, democratic society. The question is why and to what effect.
In our post modern society, the liberal, democratic ideals that have slowly advanced civilization over the past centuries have begun to fail. It is beyond the scope of this essay to investigate all the reasons that this is so. Certainly the age old sins of greed and sloth contribute as does a declining interest by many in education and science. Information overload reinforced by hand held technology has overwhelmed our ability to think and communicate effectively. Traditional social bonds are deteriorating. Hate of “others” is increasing.
Instead I will focus on one overriding reason for our fall – the increasing disconnect between people and nature as illustrated by our present disinclination to control CO2 and methane emissions in spite of conclusive scientific knowledge that global warming will jeopardize agricultural production and ultimately the very lives of the people who inhabit this planet.
By nature I mean Nature with a big “N.” Nature is the sum total of physical properties and integrated systems that determine life on earth. It includes what we see, such as mountains, plains, oceans, lakes, rivers, soil, plants, animals and weather. It also includes what we do not, the physical, chemical, biological, evolutionary and meteorological processes by which life is created and sustained.
Nature is the basis of all science. It is the source of air, food and water that allows humans to exist. It is a source of spiritual inspiration and comfort for many. For some, it is the physical manifestation of God.
In the past, people have unwittingly destroyed Nature because of their ignorance. They lacked scientific knowledge of the long term effects of their short term actions. People survived this destruction because their total population was low, their technologies were limited, and there were new frontiers to settle. But now, population is great, the frontiers are gone, and technology is changing the constitution of the entire planet. By continuing to burn fossil fuels, we are destroying Nature at a prodigious rate, and, incredibly, we are doing so despite our knowledge of the effects of our actions. Only a disconnect between man and Nature could allow this to happen.
This disconnect extends to farmers and ranchers. They above all others should understand the relationship between agriculture and Nature and should be most concerned about the effects of climate change. They should be leading the charge to change our fossil fuel burning society. Unfortunately they are not. Far too many voted for Trump. I might also add that many non-Trump voters are also disconnected from Nature, living in large houses built on former farmland and driving their SUVs long distances to buy organic foods at Whole Foods and farmers’ markets.
So, if Trump is an effect, not the cause of our disconnect from nature, what will his presidency mean for climate change and agriculture? It likely will mean two things.
First, global efforts to reduce emissions to keep global warming within the 2 degree Celsius target established by the Paris Agreement will be impaired. Should Congress give Trump and his climate change denier appointees their way, the United States will no longer participate in the international effort to limit global warming and indeed may increase its emissions contrary to international goals. This in turn may cause other nations like China and India to reduce their own efforts. Global warming will increase, and its effects will be felt sooner by more people. It is by no means certain that the combined commitments of nations under the Paris Agreement will achieve the 2 degree target, but it is certain that the failure of the United States to participate will assure that the target is not met and that climate change occurs at an expedited pace.
Second, the Trump administration will not pursue programs to make agriculture more resilient to climate change. Climate change is already occurring, and, with or without Trump, its affect on agriculture will increase in the future. Now is the time to develop programs to mitigate climate change effects so as to preserve as much agricultural production as possible. As climate change progresses, more food will have to be produced on less land and with diminished water resources. Pushing off such programs to future administrations will mean higher costs and lost opportunities.
In the age of climate change, United States farm policy will become more important than it has ever been. Farm Bills from the 1930s forward have addressed both threats to farm survival and food shortages. The threats posed by climate change are much greater than anything in the past. Future Farm Bills must adopt new programs to address the new threats if they are to retain any relevance. Trump’s farm supporters, however, are likely to push for traditional farm bills that provide short term economic support for basic commodities and that are skewed in favor of larger operations. They are unlikely to support long term climate change driven programs that encourage agricultural resiliency.
It is nevertheless impossible to predict exactly what the next Farm Bill will look like or whether one will even be enacted. Trump’s farm policy positions are largely unknown, and he has shown that he is willing to change positions quickly and with no notice. He has no agricultural experience. Furthermore, the Republican controlled Congress contains elements that oppose farm subsidies in general, much less those related to climate change. It is possible that traditional farm subsidies could be abolished or at least reduced. In an attempt to eliminate other Farm Bill programs like SNAP (Food Stamps), Congress could take out farm subsidies as well.
What is possible to predict is that climate change will continue until nature and people are reconnected and then vote to preserve the connection. If the reconnection does not come soon, things will certainly get worse. There will be higher temperatures, more frequent and stronger storms, more disease, more drought, less usable water, less arable land and ultimately food shortages in both developed and underdeveloped regions of the world. There will be a tide of migrants trying to survive, and social unrest of epic proportions. No one will be spared, neither the rich, the poor, farmers nor foodies, not even Donald Trump.
Allen H. Olson is an attorney based in Albany, Georgia who represents farmers and ranchers on matters of agricultural law, including farm programs, crop insurance, conservation easements, water law, farm estate planning, and commercial disputes. He is also Executive Director of the Institute of Agricultural Law & Climate Change. He received his BA from Cornell University, his JD from the University of North Carolina Law School, and his LL.M. in Agricultural Law from the University of Arkansas Law School. He has practiced in Virginia, Nebraska, and Georgia as well as taught in the Arkansas LL.M. Agricultural Law Program. He has authored numerous articles on agricultural law and is a past chair of the Agricultural Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia and a past board member of the American Agricultural Law Association.
Allen H. Olson
Attorney at Law
Allen H. Olson, PC
PO Box 1745
Albany, GA 31702