This spring, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act. This bill puts our country on the path to creating a clean energy economy and curbing greenhouse gas pollution. Now it’s the Senate’s turn to pass the bill. Not only does this bill combat the problem of climate change, but it also is essential for the protection of our world’s food security. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins: Please take action to address the threats posed by climate change to our agricultural system. Support a clean energy bill, for the sake of our collective future and that of Maine’s agricultural economy.
Agricultural food production is the foundation of every civilization. The ability of farmers to produce surplus crops permits the vast divisions of labor that support complex societies. However, agricultural success is intimately dependent upon the earth’s climate. Many anthropologists believe that agriculture arose after the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, when a period of relatively stable and predictable climate ensued, permitting the planned cultivation of crop plants.
Climate change is now threatening the stability and predictability of the very climate system upon which we depend for our food. Scientists have warned that climate change, if left unabated, will likely bring more frequent and severe storms, droughts and floods to agricultural regions, destroying crop harvests. Recent studies by the White House as well as independent scientists indicate that yields of major staple crops, such as wheat, corn and soybeans, may decline substantially, anywhere from 30 to 80 percent, if climate change continues unchecked. Such declines in yield could prove disastrous for the agricultural economy of the United States, the world’s largest exporter of crops, as well as for the nations that depend on our crops to survive.
In our home state of Maine, the maple syrup industry, valued at $4 million annually, is already suffering from the effects of climate change, which has caused evident reductions in the duration of the sap flow season. Scientific predictions hold that, within the next century, the ability to collect sap from maple trees may disappear altogether from the forests of New England due to climate change. The loss of this industry would be an economic and cultural shock to many farmers in the state, who depend upon this source of winter income and pride themselves in preserving the historic New England tradition of maple sugaring.
Developing a clean energy economy and cutting greenhouse gas emissions need not be a painful enterprise; economic studies indicate that shifts to renewable and nonpolluting energy sources actually save money over the long term. Currently, energy expenditures comprise 6 percent of national agriculture expenses, or $60 billion annually. If we do not make a concerted switch to renewable energy, this figure is likely to rise as the prices of oil and other fossil fuels continue to increase. By shifting to renewable energy sources and by increasing energy efficiency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy anticipate net savings on the order of tens of billions of dollars for the nation’s farmers and agricultural economy. According to the USDA, carbon offset legislation that encourages farmers to adopt agricultural practices to sequester carbon or reduce greenhouse gas emissions could earn a net return of billions of dollars per year for farmers nationwide through the sale of carbon offsets.
The National Farmers Union and thousands of U.S. farmers have already voiced their support for clean energy legislation to protect our crops and livelihoods. We urge Sens. Snowe and Collins to show their support for our strong agricultural heritage by joining farmers in Maine and nationwide in passing a clean energy bill to help ensure that we will be able to feed our families, our state, and our nation for generations to come.
Thomas Young is the owner of Orizaba Farm in Bangor.