Opinion: America is surrendering world leadership (and it ain’t good for agriculture)

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Dave Dickey

First a little history lesson.

Back in the late 1970s, the world faced what scientific research proved was an undeniable threat — a hole in the ozone layer of the earth’s atmosphere which increased the possibility of skin cancer and blindness.

The ozone layer, a band of gas in the earth’s stratosphere, protects humans from ultraviolet radiation.  It turns out that the ozone was slowly being destroyed by the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) found in man-made aerosol propellants as well as in refrigeration and cooling units.

The research from the international United Nations conference cumulated in the signing by the U.S., European Union, and other major producers of CFCs of the Montreal Protocol in 1987.  Then President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency led the international treaty effort, which created a schedule among participating nations to aggressively reduce CFCs.

The Montreal Protocol is still in effect and it has done much to replenish the earth’s ozone layer, reducing the threat on human health, and forging bonds of scientific cooperation.  The risk of not working together was not an option. No one back in the day was tweeting #fakenews or tweeting the media is the enemy of the state.

Flash forward to December 2016.  Years and years of tough negotiations, give-and-take, and general angst cumulated in the U.S. led signing of the Paris climate accord, a deal to combat what most of the world takes a scientific certainty: human burning of fossil fuels is leading to global warming.

Every nation on the planet with the exception of Syria and Nicaragua signed on the dotted line. The accord calls for participating nations to make voluntary reductions in their carbon footprint that collectively will keep average global temperatures from rising a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century.

A majority of scientists and the public agree that there is already plenty of evidence of how our warming atmosphere is impacting our planet.

Federal data shows that 2014, 2015 and 2016 are the hottest three years since humans have been keeping records.

Since 1910, Glacier National Park in Montana has lost 124 of its 150 active glaciers.

Arctic sea ice is the lowest level ever and is melting at an alarming rate.

Many have declared it part of President Barack Obama’s legacy to push through the Paris accord, which if you think about it is a lot like trying to herd cats.   Just as in the case of CFCs, U.S. led efforts to make our world a better place to live.

Except when confronted with broad-based evidence of planetary warming and the almost daily emerging evidence of the impacts of climate change, President Donald Trump just pulled out of the Paris accord in a Rose Garden ceremony, casting his lot with a small cadre of climate change deniers.

The POTUS believes the Paris accord gets in the way of making America Great Again (patent pending).  Trump’s withdrawal comes with caveats; he says he’s willing to re- negotiate the deal or cut a new deal with the world that gives the U.S. more favorable terms. In the meantime, Trump says the U.S. will no longer contribute to the Green Climate Fund, because it’s a job killer.

The Trump Administration fiscal year 2018 budget actually signaled U.S. withdrawn from the Paris agreement.  The EPA budget slashes technology and science spending by 40 percent – $282 million.  Air and energy research are cut by two-thirds.  The Greenhouse-Gas reporting Program is eliminated.

The withdrawal follows a pattern of American protectionism since January.

First there was the rejection of the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would had been a boon for U-SU.S. farmers and ranchers.

And now U.S. farm producers – already juggling changing weather patterns, insects, water availability and demand from consumers for sustainable food production – find themselves increasingly isolated by rejection of the Paris accord.  National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson wrote the President, suggesting the Paris accord could have helped farmers respond to climate change:

“The Paris Agreement on climate and the existing pledge on emission reductions are critical to producers and rural communities. Many of the actions that would contribute to achieving our current target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 -28 percent by 2025, relative to 2005 emissions, would create jobs and stimulate economic growth in rural communities.  In particular, incentives to encourage farmers, ranchers and forest owners to sequester more carbon would benefit rural communities and could serve as an innovative part of addressing an emerging farm crisis before it reaches full maturity.”

Taken together, the U.S.  pullout of the TPP and Paris climate accord lowers American leadership on the world stage.

The world will conclude that the U.S. does not see climate change/global warming as a threat to the earth.

And more than that, nations dealing with the U.S. on a variety of issues will wonder if the U.S. is sincere and can be counted on to keep its promises.

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.

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