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A September 17 report by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. Pete Linforth / Pixabay / CC0

By Karen Charman

When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.

By Karen Charman

When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot’s plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State’s worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.

While Trump declared that the weather will just “start getting cooler” and that science is irrelevant to the wildfires, millions were struggling to breathe through the toxic smoke that gave Portland the week-long distinction of having the most hazardous air on the planet, with pollution levels in Seattle and San Francisco close behind. Whole towns in California and Oregon have been destroyed by the wildfires.

A growing body of scientific evidence over the last several decades confirms that as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases rise, so too will frequent, intense and increasingly deadly weather events. Strange new weather phenomena like fire tornadoes, “snowacanes” and “rain bombs” are now part of our experience and language. Droughts, unprecedented heat, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding are happening more often, becoming more severe, and occurring over larger and larger areas.

This year several strange and extreme weather conditions combined to create the perfect firestorm across the Western U.S. A prolonged record-breaking heatwave saw temperatures reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley, California, on August 16, and 121 degrees Fahrenheit in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills three weeks later on September 6. In mid-August, more than 10,000 dry lightning strikes began igniting fires in Northern California, Oregon and Washington, including all over the Bay Area where they were eerily close to heavily populated areas. Lightning-induced fires are also torching Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico. Subsequent high winds in drought-stricken landscapes then turned the initial sparks into major conflagrations.

By the morning of Trump’s California appearance, 28 major fires had incinerated more than 3 million acres just in California. Fires in California, Oregon and Washington had combined to create a hellscape of toxic smoke that turned the skies in those states orange, blood red and deep magenta and was detected as far away as Europe. At least 35 people had died.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Hurricane Sally, one of five named storms then swirling in the Atlantic, was just two days away from flooding coastal communities from the Florida Panhandle to Louisiana. Sally, which submerged downtown Pensacola in five feet of water, hit just three weeks after Hurricane Laura caused massive flooding and 10 deaths. Slamming into the Louisiana coast with 150-mile-an-hour winds, Laura was one of the strongest hurricanes to make landfall in U.S. history.

So far, 2020 has been an extremely busy hurricane season with more than 20 named storms, seven of which formed in the first half of September. With two more months before the hurricane season officially ends, there could be several more. Meanwhile, many of the fires across the West are still burning.

Nor has catastrophic weather spared the middle of the country this summer. On August 10, a particularly strong derecho, a quick-forming massive wall of intense winds, blasted through Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. The derecho cut a path 770 miles long, held its strength for 14 hours, and clocked winds up to 140 miles per hour. Four people died, and crops and buildings on some 10 million acres in Iowa — nearly a third of the state’s farmland — were heavily damaged. This storm also caused significant damage to cars and homes, downed power lines and destroyed massive numbers of trees in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and parts of Chicago.

In 2019, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a comprehensive report mandated by Congress to study the impacts of climate change, found that without substantial and sustained greenhouse gas reductions along with vast infrastructure upgrades, unabated climate change will threaten much that many Americans take for granted and lead to an unrecognizable, dystopian existence for large swaths of the population.

Among the report’s findings: food will become harder to grow and be lower in quality but more expensive. Clean, safe water supplies will become scarce in many parts of the country. Human health will take a significant hit from worsening air and water pollution, greater exposure to disease-carrying insects, pests, foodborne and waterborne pathogens, as well as the emotional strain of having to deal with the reality and uncertainty of catastrophic weather events and their aftermath. Heat will kill more people. Energy supplies will become increasingly unstable and more costly (because most U.S. power plants need a steady supply of cooling water to operate).

Moreover, the report predicts that already compromised roads, bridges, and the safety of pipelines all over the country will be vulnerable to damage from violent storms and flooding. Whole communities, especially those facing rising sea levels along the coastline, will be forced to move. Increasing production and supply chain disruptions will cause significant damage to the economy as a whole. Areas and industries that depend on natural resources and good, stable weather will likely be hardest hit with annual losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, an amount exceeding the current total economic output of many U.S. states.

Overall, the report predicts “substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century,” though it notes that poor and disadvantaged communities will disproportionately bear the worst impacts.

A stark illustration of what current levels of greenhouse gas emissions will look like is provided in maps by the Rhodium Group, a New York-based independent research organization, which forecasts a much harsher living environment for many parts of the U.S. over the next 20 to 40 years. Temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will become much more common, especially in the South and Southwest, with places like Phoenix, Arizona, much of interior Southern California and southern Texas likely sweltering in 95 degrees or hotter for half the year.

Along with rising temperatures, humidity is expected to dramatically increase, even in places like Arizona, Southern California and Nevada, which have long been known for their dry heat. When excessive humidity combines with extreme heat, it creates “wet bulb” temperatures where sweating fails to cool the body. Such conditions make it dangerous to work outside or for kids to play outside. According to Rhodium’s projections, current emissions are on track to turn much of the Mississippi Valley, the above-mentioned areas in the Southwest, southern Texas, and coastal areas in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina into high wet bulb zones.

Despite all of these future threats — on top of the climate disasters we are already seeing — Trump, the ruling Republicans, the fossil fuel sector and their defenders in right-wing media continue to deny climate change.

“If we don’t have a stable environment to live in, there’s no way to have life, liberty, or pursue happiness,” Jeffrey Potent, adjunct professor of sustainability at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, told Truthout, decrying the Trump administration’s attack on the government’s ability to oversee and protect our environment.

“This is completely different from anything I have encountered in Washington,” said Tyson Slocum, director Public Citizen’s energy program. “It’s an all-out assault on everything for the public interest.”

Foxes Guarding the Henhouse

Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don’t profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.

Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for self-dealing and abusing their positions of authority. One example is Trump’s first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who aggressively worked to overturn Obama’s climate regulations, spent most of his time in private meetings with fossil fuel and chemical company executives, sidelined career EPA staff and reconfigured independent scientific advisory boards to make them more supportive of the industries EPA is charged with regulating. Dubbed “one of the most scandal-plagued Cabinet officials in U.S. history,” Pruitt resigned in disgrace after revelations about his multiple brazen abuses, including using the agency as his personal concierge service and piggy bank.

Pruitt’s deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist and longtime Republican Washington insider, took over and has continued Trump’s deregulatory agenda apace.

At the Department of Interior (DOI), a sprawling agency that oversees 75 percent of the country’s public federal lands and includes the U.S. Geological Survey, which is tasked with evaluating natural hazards that threaten life and the health of our ecosystems, Trump installed another flamboyant anti-environmentalist to head the agency. Like Pruitt, Trump’s first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, ditched more than 200 advisory panels, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. Described by one environmental group as “the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation’s history,” Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.

The DOI is now run by Zinke’s deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of several government ethics complaints for various violations favoring polluting industries.

More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously funded by fossil fuel interests, was hired for a top job advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Legates has called for increasing carbon emissions.

The Trump administration has done much more than stack government agencies with fossil fuel industry proponents. It has removed or diluted discussion of climate change from as many government platforms as it can and decimated independent scientific advisory boards that provide unbiased, fact-based information the government needs to enact policies that protect the public. It has also slashed environmental agency staffing and budgets.

The Damage So Far

A September 17 report by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. These include repealing Obama’s main climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce dirty emissions from power plants; increasing pollution from cars by rolling back fuel economy standards and challenging California’s longtime authority to set stricter emissions standards; targeting controls on hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners that also destroy the Earth’s protective ozone layer; and allowing unreported and unregulated emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, by oil and gas companies.

Besides these measures, Trump is also trying to gut core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, all of which were enacted to protect human health and preserve a livable world.

The Paris agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and hopefully cap it at 1.5 degrees C or lower. We are now at approximately 1.2 degrees C and counting.

This story originally appeared in Truthout and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

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A factory in Newark, N.J. emits smoke in the shadow of NYC on January 18, 2018. Kena Betancur / VIEWpress / Corbis / Getty Images

By Sharon Zhang

Back in March, when the pandemic had just planted its roots in the U.S., President Donald Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do something devastating: The agency was to indefinitely and cruelly suspend environmental rule enforcement. The EPA complied, and for just under half a year, it provided over 3,000 waivers that granted facilities clemency from state-level environmental rule compliance.

By Sharon Zhang

Back in March, when the pandemic had just planted its roots in the U.S., President Donald Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do something devastating: The agency was to indefinitely and cruelly suspend environmental rule enforcement. The EPA complied, and for just under half a year, it provided over 3,000 waivers that granted facilities clemency from state-level environmental rule compliance.

These rule suspensions ended last month, but they almost undoubtedly caused an increase in pollution rates, as one preliminary study already found. What’s worse is that we’ll likely never know the full extent of the damage, as the agency also suspended rules for self-monitoring (and even before the pandemic monitoring was already limited). Analysts at the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative found that, in March and April, industrial polluters conducted 40 percent fewer tests compared to the same time in 2019, according to self-reported data.

In a country where pollution impacts are disproportionately impactful, the suspension of pollution rules in the middle of a respiratory illness outbreak is unconscionable — several studies have found that higher pollution exposure can lead to higher rates of death due to COVID-19.

But, given the stark differences between racial groups when it comes to pollution exposure and effects, the temporary policy is downright racist. A 2018 study from the EPA itself found that, respectively, Black and Latinx communities were exposed to 1.5 and 1.2 times more particulate matter, a pollutant that can cause damage to the respiratory system, than white communities. Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2017 found that Black people were three times more likely to die from exposure to particulate matter than the overall population.

Under Trump, federal climate policy has only become less and less stringent — The New York Times has documented 100 environmental rollbacks thus far. Such rollbacks are bad news for everyone, but they’re especially harmful for Black and minority communities, which have borne the brunt of pollution for decades.

The fact that Black and brown people suffer most under environmental degradation is not news. But the dilemmas remain in the environmental justice community as they have for many years: How do we lessen the climate burden on Black and oppressed communities? How can we achieve equitable and drastic emissions reductions and transform our entire economy before the window of opportunity to prevent irreversible climate change closes?

For decades, one of the only legal tools available to an environmental justice advocate was the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, was written in the late 1960s in response to historical disasters like oil spills and injustices like the destruction of poor neighborhoods to build highways. Over the years, NEPA has been an extraordinary useful framework for communities to lessen or prevent environmental impacts of federal projects — in 2018, a judge cited NEPA when they blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline.

While NEPA has helped countless communities in protecting against potentially harmful impacts, however, it also has major limitations. Though NEPA forces agencies to consider the potential impacts of a project, it doesn’t require stopping or even mitigating those impacts. This is partially what has allowed polluters to choke out disproportionately Black communities like Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” and New York City’s “Asthma Alley” in the past decades. Early this year, the Trump administration radically rewrote NEPA so that it would give more power to polluters, limiting public input on projects and eliminating the consideration of cumulative impacts.

“A big challenge is the way that NEPA intersects with other racist policies like redlining and things that existed prior to NEPA,” says Sally Hardin, who formerly worked on the council that oversees NEPA and is the interim director on energy and environment at the Center for American Progress (CAP). While NEPA is a tool that communities can use to challenge projects such as the construction of a new oil refinery, the process requires time and resources that many can’t afford; poor neighborhoods that can’t afford to hire lawyers to review legalese or where citizens don’t have time to show up to public hearings are more likely to find themselves with a new refinery than a wealthy neighborhood.

When communities do have the time and resources to oppose a project, though, states will find a different way to get around them. Legislators in Louisiana, for instance, who often receive financial incentives from oil and gas companies and chemical manufacturers, have attempted to outlaw protests against these projects.

So, while environmental advocates can use NEPA as a tool to further justice, entrenched racial and class disparities in the U.S. will be extremely difficult to undo, no matter the policy or politician. To Peggy Shepard, the executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, the problem presents itself before NEPA can even come into the equation. Part of the issue, Shepard says, lies in permitting.

“You could have numbers of facilities emitting air toxins, numbers of facilities impacting water quality, facilities impacting soil contamination, a number of waste transfer facilities all in one community,” says Shepard. “And because you’re only permitting [pollution type by pollution type], you would say, ‘Well, we’ve got one waste transfer station and it’s okay, it’s in compliance.’ But what does it do when you’ve got water contamination, soil contamination, air quality, toxins? What’s that soup?”

Yet another issue lies in unequal enforcement of certain laws, especially along financial lines — a 2009 study found that agencies did not enforce crucial pollution laws in poor counties as much as richer counties.

And, in some ways, unequal enforcement can be built into the laws themselves. For instance, as Climate and Energy Policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists Rachel Cleetus raises, the Army Corps determines and allocates resources for defensive measures for such events as flooding using a cost-benefit analysis. That analysis benefits richer communities because the market value of the property being lost is higher.

“There are lots of ways in which you can have neutral-sounding laws, but if you don’t get out some of these underlying things and specifically target resources to set them right in some way, you’re gonna end up with skewed outcomes,” says Cleetus.

In Congress, some legislators are working to solve some of these problems at a federal level. Last month, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) introduced the Climate Equity Act, which would introduce the Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability within the Office of Management and Budget and require relevant agencies to appoint a director of environmental justice. It would also require environmental legislation to come with an “equity score” that rates the impact of the legislation on frontline and poor communities.

“The difficulty [with the equity score] comes in defining who those communities should be and how (and that definition should ABSOLUTELY be created by, and with, the impacted communities themselves),” says Hardin in an email to Truthout. The Climate Equity Act was crafted from advice from environmental justice coalitions, and though the bill likely won’t pass soon, coalitions and communities most impacted must have a say in the process.

Though there are many hurdles to yet to clear, environmental justice movements have been making big moves across the country in the past few years. Initiatives like the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform and the Environmental Justice for All Act have gained momentum among Democrats; and local groups are getting the attention of politicians to address some of the largest hurdles — permitting, unfair lawmaking and gaining grassroots political power.

Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-New Jersey) signed an environmental justice law unlike any other in the country: Despite powerful industry opposition that stalled the bill for years, the new state law will require permits for projects like power plants and landfills to be rejected if they are to be cited in an already overburdened neighborhood. Other states require agencies to merely consider cumulative impacts in the permitting process with no mandate to act on that consideration — formerly, NEPA required all government-funded projects to consider cumulative impacts, but the Trump administration, in its gutting of NEPA this year, rolled that rule back.

The bill was passed due to the tireless work of grassroots activists and environmental justice groups — Ironbound Community Corporation, New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance and Clean Water Action — who fought chemical and waste industry lobbyists and Murphy’s administration to push the bill through.

Grassroots and activist groups have helped Joe Biden better his climate platform, too, as he unveiled a new plan in July — his environmental justice plan is surprisingly good for candidate whose climate plan as a whole got an “F” from the Sunrise Movement last year. The plan includes creating and elevating climate justice divisions in the federal government and the White House, mandate pollution monitoring in frontline communities — which is currently notoriously terrible — and spend 40 percent of the overall investments in the climate plan on disadvantaged communities.

Several of the initiatives outlined in Biden’s plan are extensions of what the Obama administration already got started — expanding the EPA’s EJSCREEN tool that identifies environmental justice hotspots, for instance. This is progress that should have been made years ago — and progress that could have been made under a different administration.

But Trump has reversed much of the progress on climate that the country has made not only since the Obama administration, but also from decades ago — including outright eliminating funding for environmental justice at the EPA. From here, as the climate crisis rages on, progress will be ever more vital to make. And, despite Biden’s progress in climate over the course of the election, climate activists have their work cut out for them – no matter who’s in office come January.

This story originally appeared in Truthout and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

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Since April 2020, farmer support for Trump has fallen from 89 percent to 71 percent, according to an August 2020 survey by DTN/The Progressive Farmer. Steve Smith / Getty Imagess

By Leanna First-Arai

In a push to capture the rural vote, 62 percent of which went to Trump in 2016, both the Trump and Biden campaigns are ramping up efforts to appeal to farmers and ranchers.

By Leanna First-Arai

In a push to capture the rural vote, 62 percent of which went to Trump in 2016, both the Trump and Biden campaigns are ramping up efforts to appeal to farmers and ranchers.

On September 22, the Biden campaign launched a new radio ad blitz in eight battleground states, in which Biden appeals to older voters whose families have lived in rural areas for generations. “No longer are we going to be faced with children or grandchildren believing that the only way they can make it is to leave home and go somewhere else to get that good job,” Biden’s voice assures. “There’s no reason why it can’t happen here.”

In a contrasting approach, at a rally in North Carolina, just a few hours ahead of the opening of the Republican National Convention in August, Trump claimed that, under his administration, “The American farmer has done very well. I never hear any complaints from the American farmer.” Remarks later that week during the convention followed suit. “The economy is coming up very rapidly, our farmers are doing well because I got China to give them billion because they were targeted by China,” Trump said on the first night of the convention.

But that assessment doesn’t square with the hardship many U.S. farmers are facing — particularly small farmers. U.S. farm bankruptcies increased 20 percent in 2019, reaching an eight-year high, on account of factors like the trade war, increasing costs of production and crop loss related to the climate crisis.

Since April 2020, farmer support for the incumbent president has fallen from 89 percent to 71 percent, according to an August 2020 survey by DTN/The Progressive Farmer. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office revealed that under the Trump administration, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Market Facilitation Program payments to farmers harmed by the trade war went disproportionately to large-scale cotton and soybean farmers, ignoring the needs of small farmers who grow food. On account of Trump administration changes in payment maximums for the USDA’s Market Facilitation Program, the top 1.3 percent of payment recipients received an additional 9 million, while the average individual farmer in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania got ,829 and ,661, respectively. The finding is in line with earlier analyses revealing Trump’s disproportionate financial support for the largest capitalist farmers.

According to the USDA, more than half of the 2 million farms in the United States are “very small farms,” grossing less than ,000 annually. When asked what political capital this group could hold, Wingate University Assistant Professor of Political Science Chelsea Kaufman told Truthout that the increased pressure small farmers face from forces like the overlapping COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis could make them a “relatively unique” political force, as has been the case with farmers experiencing economic shocks during past election cycles.

In 1932, incumbent President Herbert Hoover lost votes from normally Republican-voting northern farmers, and the same happened for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. Academics attribute this to low crop prices during election years. According to the Cook Political Report, many of what are expected to be key battleground states in 2020, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, are also top agricultural producers.

The majority of the smaller farmers Truthout spoke with for this story want to see a federal government that tackles climate change head-on and restructures agriculture to be a solution by encouraging diversified farming that stores (rather than releases) carbon. Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, through its reliance on chemical fertilizers, the manufacturing of which releases carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, and depletes the soil of nutrients. It’s a system that farmers are “stuck in,” says Tom Rosenfeld, who grows apples, blueberries, strawberries and peaches on 120 acres of farmland in southwest Michigan. Rosenfeld purchased a conventional orchard in 2005 and has been converting it to organic ever since, which he says has been a challenge in a system that prioritizes conventional practices. Dealing with climate change has made it even more difficult, a sentiment that reflects a wider experience among farmers. In 2018, 75 percent of Farm Aid hotline calls were related to extreme weather and weather-related crises like wildfires.

Rosenfeld says more frequent late freezes due to climate change have been all but impossible to bounce back from. After temperatures dropped to 25 degrees Fahrenheit in May 2020, he lost 65 percent of his strawberries, 40 percent of his blueberries and all of his Red Delicious, Gala, Empire and McIntosh apples. On top of that, the changing climate has brought new pests to the region, like the apple flea weevil, which destroyed a full season’s worth of crops when it first appeared in 2010. “Every year I keep thinking, is this it?” he tells Truthout. “I can’t afford this financially; I can’t afford the time and energy and it doesn’t seem to be getting to any kind of manageable place.”

In 2018, when President Trump signed the latest Farm Bill, he reauthorized the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides financial and technical assistance to farmers who implement certain conservation practices like mulching to protect soil, or “karst sinkhole treatment” to protect runoff from reaching groundwater supply.

But Rosenfeld, who is in the midst of transitioning all 110 acres from conventional to organic, says the program doesn’t offer the kind of assistance he needs. When government representatives paid his farm a visit to assess what kind of EQIP program they might support, Rosenfeld says they proposed he build a retention wall near where he fills his sprayer, to help catch runoff. “But what good does that do?” he said, referring to his ultimate goal of moving away from using any kind of hazardous material on his land. “They’re not offering the types of programs that are relevant to me as an organic grower.”

Rosenfeld says he wants to shift away from using diesel and gas-fueled tractors and to have on-site renewable energy to power his farm. But no existing government programs make that financially feasible. When he considered investing in solar panels a few years ago, he found one program that would have cost him around ,000, but with the kind of crop loss he has experienced, he couldn’t afford it.

Two hours north of Rosenfeld’s farm, in White Cloud, Michigan, Luke Eising is a farmer who uses silvopasture techniques, letting cows, pigs and chickens graze together amid integrated forest and plant landscapes. Rotating the animals to different pastures encourages plants to develop more robust root systems, which returns carbon to the soil and improves soil quality. In addition to producing food for his community, Eising says, being able to help sequester carbon and rebuild degraded soil is a major reason he chose to be a farmer. According to the 2018 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, sequestering carbon in the soil is the most cost-effective option for economic activity generating “negative emissions.” “I very much see it as a solution for food systems,” Eising told Truthout.

Eising would like to see subsidies for corn and soy cut, because he thinks regenerative practices like his would become competitive. “We’re fighting an uphill battle when I can see chicken breasts or pork chops in the store for less than I pay to process [my product],” he says, referring to animals raised in confinement and fed monoculture corn and soy feed the federal government subsidizes. Another issue the current administration hasn’t helped with, Eising says, is a major meat processing backlog. Whereas Eising can usually get a date within six to eight weeks at a meat processing plant, given meat plant shutdowns amid COVID-19, leading to short supply of meat processing facilities, it’s been hard to find a date any time before 2022. “This is not okay. I have animals outside that are ready to process, I have customers lining up because they’re hungry and I have a freezer that’s empty,” he says. Existing laws prohibit small, local butchers from processing meat headed for market.

Eising tends to vote for conservative or libertarian candidates in local and national elections. In 2016, he voted for libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. But Eising says he’ll likely vote for Biden if polling remains close in Michigan. “Nobody else is at all interested in what regenerative farming could do for this country,” he says. Biden has recently talked about paying farmers for “planting certain crops that in fact absorb carbon from the air,” but his climate plan makes no mention of organic, diversified or regenerative farming. According to a report by Data For Progress, conventional farming practices that rely on pesticides and monoculture practices are linked to billion in annual damage related to soil erosion in the United States, which is perhaps felt most acutely in areas where soil can no longer retain moisture in the advent of a heavy rain, leading to catastrophic flooding.

Ecologically minded farmers in swing states outside of Michigan similarly reflect a desire for leadership that addresses climate through agricultural reform. Kemper Burt began farming 40 years ago in California. He now lives in Arizona, where he grows lettuce and other produce on a 40-acre farm powered by solar energy. Burt points out that tackling climate change will entail decolonizing the way we produce food, in direct contrast with the “feed the world” mentality behind the so-called “Green Revolution” of the 1970s, which led to the fertilizer and pesticide-heavy monoculture farming he and other small-scale farmers want to break away from. “Let’s just try feeding our community, then let’s just try feeding our state, and then let’s just try feeding other states,” Burt says. Burt is registered as an independent, though he wouldn’t say exactly how he’ll vote in November. “I look to what people are doing to help protect nature, which then in turn protects you and I,” he said.

Many small farmers say they’ve yet to see a presidential candidate or down-ballot candidate fully address their needs in this election cycle. President Trump’s reelection campaign has not yet put out a climate plan. And Biden’s climate plan does not yet spell out what small-scale farmers say they want, like a return to the New Deal-era concept of “parity,” a supply-management strategy designed to prevent the kind of wasteful over-production of soybeans and corn that wipes the land of biodiversity and results in unstable prices. Rosenfeld wants to see a shift away from crop insurance, which comprised one-third of farmers’ income in 2019, toward income insurance, which would provide financial support for people growing food, rather than cash crops.

As long as agriculture is considered a solution to the climate crisis, whether in a Green New Deal or as part of another climate plan, says Maine farmer Craig Hickman, he’d consider it a step forward, noting that he thinks his neighbors in Maine, many of whom are libertarians, would agree. “Investing in food infrastructure is as important as roads and bridges,” he told Truthout.

In 2019, Maine, a “purple” state, passed the first state-level Green New Deal backed by labor unions. Facing increased pressure from forces like climate change, the potential “farm vote” could build swing power, “although it is not clear whether that would happen in 2020 or a later election year,” Kaufman said. “We can look to the lessons of history: Farmers had quite unique behavior at points in time where they faced economic instability, which led them to support candidates and parties that addressed these issues.”

This story originally appeared in Truthout and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

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