Putting Climate Politics Before People: USDA Edition


Stop me if this sounds familiar.

The House of Representatives today passed an amendment [subscription required] that would keep the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from integrating future climate conditions into its programs and operations. This is like the Department of Homeland Security amendment from a couple weeks ago — another short-sighted political maneuver that threatens taxpayers, businesses, the environment, and frankly people’s lives.

Rep. Scalise from Louisiana made justifications for his amendment that defied logic and had no basis in fact. He warned that adapting (which is really just planning) to a changing climate is somehow a backdoor attempt to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re wondering how the USDA’s efforts to help farmers prepare for more frequent floods and droughts will lead to an economy-wide cap and trade system, I’m with you.  Mr Scalise repeated the tired old line that we can’t predict the weather for next week, so we can’t forecast it three decades out. The fact is that up until now farmers haven’t had to forecast out three decades because past trends have always been a good predictor of the future.

Climate, as opposed to weather, is simply trends over time. The day of the last frost of the year or the range of extremes of precipitation for a given place are the kinds of information that make or break a farming operation. The world’s best climate scientists have demonstrated through real-world data and computer models that changes to our global climate will result in more floods, droughts, and heat waves throughout most of the globe.

Farmers are perhaps more vulnerable to climate change than any other segment of society. They depend on the right amount of water at the right time to go along with the right temperatures to feed the world. The adaptation efforts of the USDA are simply an effort to make sure farmers can keep growing enough food in spite of these changes

The USDA has been helping farmers adapt to the climate for decades. The only difference now is that they’re trying to anticipate how that climate may be different from what we’ve come to expect and what farmers need to do to remain successful. For example, if it will be too warm for a certain crop in a certain place, it’s better to start thinking about what will grow better there before it’s too late. The USDA can help with that transition — if they’re allowed.

It is particularly ironic that this amendment comes at a time when farm land in parts of the country is under water – including in Louisiana where Mr. Scalise’s district is located – and in other parts is withering under severe drought. These are precisely the type of events for which the USDA wants to help farmers prepare.

We know one thing for certain: ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. It will just ensure that we waste money on government programs that don’t change with the times and leave farmers without the help they need to stay in business and keep food on our tables. Forcing the USDA to put blinders on and not plan for the future is bad for farmers and bad for the American taxpayer.

Failing to adequately plan for the future will require us to spend more money to correct our mistakes and bail people out after the problems occur. Only in the Congress would someone try to outlaw foresight.