Global Warming Activists Target Farmers

Published July 1, 2007

When politicking in Farm Belt states, global warming alarmists frequently assert global warming legislation will benefit farmers. They say the measures will encourage ethanol production and induce industry to purchase carbon sequestration credits from farmers engaging in no-till agriculture.

Once out of the farmers’ earshot, however, global warming alarmists make it all too clear they see farmers as more of a problem that needs correction than a friend who deserves reward.

Ag in Crosshairs

Stephan Singer, the World Wildlife Fund’s European Head of Climate and Energy Policy, told Reuters on April 30 beef consumption is a major contributor to global warming due to methane emitted from cattle. “The diet of the West has a big impact on the atmosphere,” he said.

San Jose State University sociology professor Dan Brook told attendees at an April 16 public lecture that giving up meat is “even more important than switching from an SUV to a Camry” because agriculture is “the number one cause of greenhouse gases.”

Singer and Brook are not out of the mainstream of global warming alarmists. A December 2006 report from the Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative, supported by the World Bank, European Union, United States Agency for International Development, and United Nations, claims farmers are doing more damage to the Earth’s climate than all the SUVs in the world combined.

The report, titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” asserts the “livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”

Foes, Not Friends

The LEAD report does not acknowledge agriculture as a good-guy mitigator of greenhouse gases. Nor does it envision enriching farmers as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To the contrary, the report claims, “The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport.”

Farmers unsure of whether they are seen as friends or foes of global warming alarmists need only consider the following statement in the LEAD report:

“At virtually each step of the livestock production process substances contributing to climate change or air pollution are emitted into the atmosphere, or their sequestration in other reservoirs is hampered. Such changes are either the direct effect of livestock rearing, or indirect contributions from other steps on the long road that ends with the marketed animal product.”

Money for Nothing?

Despite promises to the contrary, U.S. farmers are unlikely to be paid free money for sequestering carbon dioxide. In any cap-and-trade carbon legislation, sequestration would be rewarded only if it exceeds today’s sequestration baseline. Status quo sequestration will receive no reward; only additional sequestration will be rewarded.

In any carbon trading scheme, farmers would be net purchasers rather than net sellers of carbon sequestration credits. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2001 agricultural soils in the United States sequestered 15.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (mmtCO2e), compared to total agricultural emissions of 526 mmtCO2e. Emissions were roughly 35 times as great as sequestration.

To the extent non-farmers may be required to purchase carbon sequestration credits, they will get far more bang for their buck paying for the preservation or planting of forests than they will by giving money to farmers. According to EPA, U.S. forests sequestered 50 times as much carbon dioxide equivalent in 2001 as did agricultural soils, even though farm acreage was greater than forest acreage by more than 25 percent.

The Environmental Defense publication “What Business Can Do about Global Warming” tells businesses, “forests can sequester more carbon more quickly than agricultural lands.”

Ethanol False Promise

Farmers hoping ethanol revenue will compensate for the sacrifices that will be asked of them will be disappointed. Corn is already obsolete as an ethanol resource. According to the Houston-based CLEAN Energy group, Brazilian-grown sugarcane is more than five times more efficient for ethanol production than U.S.-grown corn.

Any serious ethanol market will send money to Brazil rather than to U.S. farmers.

Even in the short term, farmers’ higher corn income will be mitigated by higher costs associated with greenhouse gas restrictions. Agriculture is an energy-intensive industry, and higher fertilizer and fuel prices will offset higher corn income. Additionally, corn farmers’ gain will be livestock farmers’ loss, as livestock farmers are forced to pay higher prices for animal feed.

Farmers beware: Greenhouse gas restrictions are not as farmer-friendly as global warming alarmists would like you to believe.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.