Everything old is new again when it comes to federal agriculture policy. The federal condescension that has become characteristic of many a farm bill’s agriculture programs has found new expression in the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan outreach to farmers.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the locations of seven Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change. The stated purpose of the climate hubs is to “translate science and research” on fires, floods, pests, and droughts induced by climate change to farmers and forest managers. The regional hubs will provide climate information, education, forecasting, and risk assessments and function as a network among universities, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations.
In other words, the hubs are meant to help farmers learn how to deal with the occupational hazards common to farming since people started cultivating food. The only difference is that these hazards have now been relabeled as “climate change risks.”
Farmers have had to deal with climate change for centuries—natural disasters and adverse conditions are nothing new. But the USDA cites heavy rains and cool weather in the Midwest region that cost Iowans 3.8 days in the field between April and May 2013 as evidence of a need for a climate hub in Iowa (though the USDA elsewhere attributes climate change with adding two extra weeks to the growing season in the Midwest since the 1950s).
The climate hubs at best will be duplicative places to pool knowledge on farming techniques. The farm and ranching communities, universities, research centers, agri-businesses, and the like have for decades responded to changes in climate conditions and made farming the modern, cutting-edge industry it is today. They, unlike the government, have incentive to access good practices and good information as their livelihood depends on it.
But more problematic is the broader reality that the climate hubs are yet one more instance where the Obama Administration has declared that “climate change is a fact” while ignoring the legitimate scientific debate over what is causing temperatures to warm, the pace of warming, and how sensitive the earth is to warming. It’s dangerous to set policy on such uncertain grounds, especially when the very climate policies the Obama Administration has proposed or implemented are likely to damage the best tools Americans have to manage significant changes should global warming become a problem—namely, the creation of wealth and expanded opportunities for people to improve their quality of life and adapt to change.
In announcing the creation of the climate hubs, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that “for generations, America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners have innovated and adapted to challenges.” If they’ve been managing successfully for generations not only to feed a nation but earn a living, why should the federal government start doubting them now?