For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
- Trump Neglects Climate Change in State of the Union While ... ›
- House Democrats Hold First Climate Change Hearings in More ... ›
- If the Democratic Party Is Serious About Climate Change, They Must ... ›
When former Vice President Joe Biden effectively clinched the Democratic nomination in April, one major concern for the climate movement was the fact that his plan for tackling the issue was less ambitious than that of some of his primary rivals.
- Harris and AOC Introduce Climate Equity Act to Protect Frontline ... ›
- Sanders, AOC Promote Green New Deal at Largest Iowa ... ›
- Climate Activists Prepare for November Election - EcoWatch ›
- Climate Activists Prepare for November Election - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Liz Carlisle
This opinion piece was originally published by Yes! Magazine on March 30, 2020.
As the coronavirus crisis has laid bare, the U.S. urgently needs a strategic plan for farmland. The very lands we need to ensure community food security and resilience in the face of crises like this pandemic and climate change are currently being paved over, planted to chemically raised feed grains for factory farm animals, and acquired by institutional investors and speculators. For far too long, the fate of farmlands has flown under the radar of public dialogue—but a powerful new proposal from think tank Data for Progress lays out how a national strategic plan for farmland could help boost economic recovery while putting the U.S. on a path to carbon neutrality.
Lincoln’s Unfinished Business<p>Farmland ownership has not followed the path that President Lincoln envisioned, explains the memo's co-lead author Meleiza Figueroa, a Ph.D. candidate in geography at University of California, Berkeley and faculty-owner of the Birmingham-based Cooperative New School for Urban Studies and Environmental Justice. When Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862, he promised small tracts of land to family farmers. Following emancipation, the Lincoln administration also promised "40 acres and a mule" to formerly enslaved Africans.</p><p>However, land speculators cheated from the beginning of the homestead era, gobbling up multiple claims under different names. And "40 acres and a mule" were never provided to emancipated slaves, as President Andrew Johnson <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/the-truth-behind-40-acres-and-a-mule/" target="_blank">rescinded the promise</a> after Lincoln's assassination. Homestead claims <a href="https://www.nps.gov/home/learn/historyculture/abouthomesteadactlaw.htm" target="_blank">trickled to a close</a> in the early 1900s, and the federal government backed out of land policy, letting the market take its course. "When you look at the history of injustice in this country," Figueroa says, "it's all about land."</p><p>In the century-long absence of a coherent U.S. policy framework for farmland, Figueroa and her coauthors point out, several worrying trends have developed. For one, prime farmland has been paved over. According to the American Farmland Trust, 25.1 million acres of U.S. agricultural land—nearly the size of the state of Ohio—was converted to developed uses between 1982 and 2015.</p><p>Such land use change has significant climate implications. A <a href="https://ww2.energy.ca.gov/2012publications/CEC-500-2012-032/CEC-500-2012-032.pdf" target="_blank">2012 University of California, Davis study</a> that compared an acre of urban land to an acre of irrigated cropland found that the urban land generated 70 times as many greenhouse gas emissions. There's also an opportunity cost: Land-based carbon sequestration strategies like <a href="https://civileats.com/2018/10/11/fire-and-agroforestry-are-reviving-traditional-native-foods-and-communities/" target="_blank">agroforestry</a> and <a href="https://civileats.com/2020/02/11/two-states-are-leading-a-cover-crop-revival/" target="_blank">cover cropping</a> can't be adopted if the land is under concrete.</p><p>Second, the memo points out, what farmland remains has become ever more concentrated in the hands of large farms and institutional investors. A mere <a href="https://www.elementascience.org/article/10.1525/elementa.356/" target="_blank">3.2% of U.S. farms account for 51% of the total value</a> of the nation's agricultural production. Forty percent of U.S. farmland is rented, discouraging sustainable agricultural practices that require long-term management and secure land tenure. And farmers make up just <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/ag-and-food-sectors-and-the-economy.aspx" target="_blank">1.3%</a> of the U.S. workforce.</p><p>"There's an assumption out there that this is just the forward march of progress," Figueroa says. " 'Who wants to be a farmer anymore?' Actually, a lot of people want to be farmers now—especially young people who are aware of the effects of climate change and also not satisfied by alienating office labor. Why not offer the opportunity for meaningful and gainful work that is beneficial to everybody, to people and planet?"</p>
Racial Injustice Plays Out on the Land<p>The absence of a coherent U.S. land policy can be blamed for some of the current problems with farmland concentration, say the authors of the Data for Progress memo. But co-lead author Leah Penniman, founding co-director of Soul Fire Farm in Upstate New York, argues that the U.S. government has had a very influential de facto land policy over the past century, even if it wasn't articulated as such. "The very basis of U.S. land policy is rooted in the theft of land and the exclusion of people of color from land," Penniman explains. "This, of course, started with the genocidal stealing of almost the entire continent from the stewardship of Indigenous people … [and] throughout much of our history, there have been various state-level property ownership requirements that excluded people of color from being able to own property."</p><p> When people of color did amass property, Penniman says, they were targeted with violence.</p><p>"The Ku Klux Klan, the White Caps, and the White Citizens Council were responsible for lynching almost 4,500 people, many of whom were landowners, who they saw as having the audacity to get off the plantation and to want to stop sharecropping." The federal government also discriminated against black farmers through USDA programs, Penniman explains, resulting in a rapid decline of black farmers from 14% of the nation's farmers in 1910 to approximately 1% today.</p><p>Given that the average age of the American farmer is 57, and a significant share of the nation's farmland will soon change hands, Penniman and her co-authors argue, Americans have a short window of opportunity to rectify this unjust history while ensuring that farmland is conserved and that farmers have opportunities to combat climate change.</p>
A Diverse Coalition for Reform<p>The diverse coalition mobilizing around these shifts to farm policy is notable: Contributors to the Data for Progress memo range from staffers at predominantly white farm state groups like National Family Farm Coalition and Family Farm Defenders to racial justice leaders like Penniman and Figueroa to academics focused on economic policy.</p><p>What these diverse constituencies share, the memo's authors explain, is that they've all gotten the short end of the stick of land consolidation and are struggling to survive. Ironically, many family farmers have accumulated significant land over the past generation or two but are less economically secure, as they've taken on debt to keep up with the treadmill of overproduction stimulated by current agriculture policy.</p><p>"We need to give current family farmers, who are mostly white, a lot of credit," Penniman says. "Nobody wants to be complicit in racism and in that kind of harm and exclusion. I think it's in our best interest as a nation not to pretend that we're all the same or that we all need the same policies, but to really look truthfully at what needs to change. And we've found that having these honest conversations in our communities often leads to common ground."</p><p>As for how to turn this common ground into policy change, the memo's authors outline a couple different pathways. The 'low hanging fruit' option, explains contributor Adam Calo, a researcher at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland, would be to expand three separate kinds of existing policies. For one, Calo believes, the U.S. should ramp up efforts to conserve farmland and protect it from development while limiting land investment by large corporations. Second, programs that incentivize farmers to use regenerative agricultural practices that combat climate change should be dramatically scaled up. The third and critical piece of this policy triad, Calo emphasizes, is equity: the U.S. must strengthen and enforce policies that ensure "Socially Disadvantaged Farmers" (the USDA's term for farmers subjected to racial discrimination) have equal access to all farm programs and particular set-asides to redress historic injustices.</p><p>More ambitious and transformative, the memo's authors suggest, would be to combine these objectives with a fully integrated land policy. Such a policy would include public land banks that could acquire land from retiring farmers and provide affordable access for farmers of color, new farmers, and farm cooperatives who pledged to use sustainable practices. It would also include a land commission, anchored by community-based institutions led by people of color, that would periodically assess that state of farmland access and make policy recommendations.</p>
Good Stewardship at Scale<p>Figueroa is excited about these more far-reaching approaches, which she sees as opportunities to mobilize the underutilized climate response potential in Black and brown communities. "How many Oaxacan farmers are in apartment buildings right now?," Figueroa asks. "If you gave them land, they know what to do with it. It's not like they forgot what to do with it once they crossed the border."</p><p>But getting farmers on land isn't enough, Figueroa and her coauthors emphasize. A successful Green New Deal for farmland must help ecological farmers stay on the land—and thrive. Penniman points to the success of payment for ecosystem services policies like those in Costa Rica, where farmers are compensated for providing environmental benefits on behalf of society—benefits like maintaining pollinator habitat, preventing soil erosion, and sequestering carbon. We already have such programs in the U.S., including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, but they are funded at much lower levels than other farm programs that predominantly support industrial agriculture.</p><p>Overhauling farm programs by shifting current subsidies to instead compensate farmers for climate-beneficial practices—and establishing public procurement and supply management—would allow current family farmers to earn more money on fewer acres. At the same time, it would enable farmers to produce more human food (rather than biofuels and feed grain for factory farms) and provide more public benefits (such as drawing down emissions and improving watershed health). Remaining and degraded acres no longer needed by these now much more viable farms could be transitioned into land banks like those envisioned by the Data for Progress team, offering a just transition for both existing family farmers and landless farmers looking to contribute to climate mitigation and community food security by stewarding land.</p><p>"It's a win-win," Figueroa says. "People who want to put their labor into agriculture and struggling farmers who want support can actually join together as a community."</p>
- Unfair Food Pricing Is Killing Family Farms and Regenerative Farming ›
- Climate Leader Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Joins Hundreds of ... ›
By Jessica Corbett
"As a nation we face three converging crises: the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession; the climate emergency; and extreme inequality."
- Progressive advocates propose $2T 'green stimulus' plan | TheHill ›
- How a coronavirus stimulus package could bolster the economy and ... ›
- As Europe fights coronavirus and climate, is 'green stimulus' the way? ›
- Democrats Want to Include Climate Action in Coronavirus Aid ... ›
- Climate Change Push Fuels Split On Coronavirus Stimulus : NPR ›
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday to chide Republicans for not reading the Green New Deal, which she introduced over one year ago, as The Hill reported. She then read the entire 14-page document into the congressional record.
- Ocasio-Cortez Fires Back at Trump Over Green New Deal - EcoWatch ›
- Sanders, AOC Promote Green New Deal at Largest Iowa ... ›
The climate crisis got its moment in the sun during the ninth Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas Wednesday.
- Sprawl, climate crisis combine to hit disadvantaged communities the ... ›
- The hellish future of Las Vegas in the climate crisis: 'A place where ... ›
- How the Climate Crisis is Impacting Nevada | Climate Reality ›
- Climate Crisis In Nevada: What's Being Done? | Nevada Public Radio ›
- For Many Nevada Latino Voters, Action on Climate Change is Key ... ›
Six Democratic presidential candidates squared off Tuesday night in Des Moines, Iowa for the seventh primary debate of the season and the last before voting begins with the Iowa caucuses Feb. 3. The climate crisis tied with health care for the No. 1 issue important to Iowa voters when choosing a candidate, according to the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll. So how much attention did it get during the debate?
National Security<p>The first climate mentions came in response to the first question, about which candidate was best prepared to be commander-in-chief.</p><p>Both former South Bend, Indiana Mayor <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Pete-Buttigieg" rel="noopener noreferrer">Pete Buttigieg</a> and Sen. <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/elizabeth-warren" target="_self">Elizabeth Warren</a> (D-Mass.) listed the climate crisis among new national security issues they would tackle as president, according to a transcript provided by the <a href="https://eu.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/elections/presidential/caucus/2020/01/14/democratic-debate-transcript-what-the-candidates-said-quotes/4460789002/" target="_blank">Des Moines Register</a>.</p><p>Philanthropist Tom Steyer brought up the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/australia-wildfire-deaths-2644394434.html" target="_self">wildfires in Australia</a> when asked how he would use military force as a president, suggesting that the climate crisis might require large international mobilizations.</p><p>"[T]here's a gigantic climate issue in Australia, which also requires the same kind of value-driven coalition-building that we actually should be using in the Middle East," he said.</p>
Trade<p>The next time the candidates brought up climate was during the discussion of a new trade deal struck by President Donald Trump with Mexico and Canada. Sen. <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bernie-sanders" target="_self">Bernie Sanders</a> (I-Vt.) came out strongly against it, largely because it does not mention climate change.<br></p><p>"[E]very major environmental organization has said no to this new trade agreement because it does not even have the phrase 'climate change' in it. And given the fact that climate change is right now the greatest threat facing this planet, I will not vote for a trade agreement that does not incorporate very, very strong principles to significantly lower fossil fuel emissions in the world," he said.</p><p>Democratic lawmakers had pushed for a commitment to the Paris agreement to be included in the deal, but that did not make it into the final draft, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/14/us/politics/fact-check-january-debate.html" target="_blank">The New York Times pointed out</a>.</p><p>Sanders also fought back when Pfannenstiel tried to shift his answer from climate to trade more narrowly.</p><p>"Well, they are the same in this issue," he said, according to the transcript.</p><p>Steyer joined Sanders in saying that he would not sign the deal because it failed to mention climate.</p>
'Managed Retreat'<p>The first question directly raised by the moderators about the climate crisis brought up last spring's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/flooding-nebraska-bomb-cyclone-2631998694.html" target="_self">disastrous flooding</a> in the Midwest and focused on what candidates would do about farms and factories that could not be relocated.</p><p>The question first went to Buttigieg, who spoke generally about the need to act on climate until the moderators repeated the question.</p><p>"We are going to have to use federal funds to make sure that we are supporting those whose lives will inevitably be impacted further by the increased severity and the increased frequency," he said.</p><p>The question then went to Steyer.</p><p>"Look, what you're talking about is what's called managed retreat," Steyer answered. "It's basically saying we're going to have to move things because this crisis is out of control. And it's unbelievably expensive. And of course we'll come to the rescue of Americans who are in trouble."</p>
Fracking<p>Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) received some pushback from climate activists when she defended her decision not to call for an all-out ban on <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/fracking/" target="_self">fracking</a>.</p><p>"When it comes to the issue of fracking, I actually see natural gas as a transition fuel. It's a transition fuel to where we get to carbon neutral," Klobuchar said.</p><p>Her remarks come less than a week after a <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/us-oil-gas-emissions-2644654513.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3" target="_self">study</a> found that new oil and gas emissions projected for the next five years could nearly cancel out the decline in coal emissions, partly enabled by the fracking boom and the falling price of natural gas.</p><p>"I cannot believe I am listening to<a href="https://twitter.com/amyklobuchar" target="_blank"> @amyklobuchar</a> talking about fracked gas as a bridge fuel in 2020," Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash tweeted in response.</p>
Climate Credentials<p>Over the course of the debate, the candidates attempted to position themselves as the best person to take on the climate crisis in office.</p><p>Steyer emphasized that climate was his top priority.</p><p>"And I'm still shocked that I'm the only person on this stage who will say this. I would declare a state of emergency on day one on climate," he said.</p><p>Warren, meanwhile, painted herself as the best person to get to the root cause of decades of climate inaction.</p><p>"Mr. Steyer talks about it being problem number one," she said. "Understand this, we have known about this climate crisis for decades. Back in the 1990s we were calling it global warming, but we knew what it was. Democrats and Republicans back then were working together because no one wanted a problem. But you know what happened? The industry came in and said, we can make big money if we keep them divided and make no change. Priority number one has to be taking back our government from the corruption. That is the only way we will make progress on climate, on gun safety, on health care, on all of the issues that matter to us."</p><p>Sanders, for his part, pointed to his plan for a <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/green-new-deal" target="_self">Green New Deal</a> to transition to 100 percent renewable energy in 10 years.</p><p>"If we as a nation do not transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, not by 2050, not by 2040, but unless we lead the world right now — not easy stuff— the planet we are leaving our kids will be uninhabitable and unhealthy," he said.</p><p>Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, pointed to his legacy.</p><p>"[B]ack in 1986, I introduced the first climate change bill — and check PolitiFacts (sic); they said it was a game-changer. I've been fighting this for a long time. I headed up the Recovery Act, which put more money into moving away from fossil fuels to — to solar and wind energy than ever has occurred in the history of America," he said.</p>
- 11,000 Scientists Declare a Climate Emergency, Warn of 'Untold ... ›
- 7,000 Colleges and Universities Declare Climate Emergency, With a ... ›
- 'This Is an Emergency. We Need the Democrats to Act Like It ... ›
- New U.S. Oil and Gas Emissions Could Nearly Erase Environmental ... ›
- Trump Organization to Pay $290,000 for Failed Legal Fight Against ... ›
- Trump Falsely Claims Noise From Wind Turbines Causes Cancer ... ›
The Conservative Party emerged victorious in Thursday's UK elections with a majority of 78 seats in the House of Commons, its largest majority since 1987, as BBC News reported.
- Climate Change Emerges as Key Issue in Close Finland Election ... ›
- Here's All You Need to Know About Canada's 'Climate Election ... ›
The European Commission introduced a plan to overhaul the bloc's economy to more sustainable, climate-conscious policies and infrastructure, with the goal of being carbon-neutral by 2050, according to CNBC.
- EU Parliament Declares 'Climate and Environmental Emergency ... ›
- EU Aims to Tackle Climate Change With Newly Adopted 'Green ... ›