Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Implications of climate change in rural communities.

Yesterday the radio program Talk of the Nation reported that over the past year there was a 14% decline in the number of people who believed that climate change was occurring (from 71% in 1998 to 57% in 1999).  Not surprisingly, there was a similar decrease in the number of people who thought climate change was an important policy concern.  This change could, in part, be related to the tough economic times; people are more concerned with immediate problems, and climate change just isn't as pressing as job loss and home foreclosure.  Unfortunately, climate issues don't go away just because people don't care about them as much.  There has been a lot of discussion about the disparate impact on rural communities during an economic downturn, but I wonder how rural and urban communities are differently affected by climate change?

Rural communities are more dependent on agriculture for income than urban communities, and agriculture is very climate sensitive; the types and amount of crops grown, availability of water resources, and outbreaks of disease and pests are all concerns that become more relevant in the face of changing temperatures.  It is incredibly important that farmers are aware of the potential problems so they can adapt if and when climate change begins to affect their livelihood. 

The Climate Change bill that was passed in the House and is now making its way through the Senate may help farmers not only prepare for change, but help prevent it.  The bill includes incentives for farmers to increase the carbon sequestration properties of their land, and gives them the opportunity to earn money through carbon offset trading and leasing land for clean energy facilities.  There would also be cap-and-trade exemptions for agriculture and forestry, and greater demand for renewable bio-fuels grown by farmers.  This legislation seems to be helping rural communities in two significant ways: providing potential for new jobs in clean energy, and decreasing the potential for harmful effects of climate change by slowing greenhouse gas emissions.  

So why are Republicans, many of them with a significant number of rural constituents, boycotting the bill?  In a statement released on Tuesday, Republicans sited uncertainty and the potential for higher taxes and lost jobs as the reasons why they didn't participate in the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee discussion of the bill.  This sounds like tired rhetoric, since Democrats have made the creation of jobs and tax exemptions for vulnerable individuals a cornerstone of the bill.  The real problem seems to be unwillingness on the part of Republicans to fully engage in the political process.  This legislation is only one facet of what needs to be a comprehensive plan to minimize the damaging effects of climate change on both urban and rural communities.  It is my hope that rural farmers will begin to understand the opportunities inherent in this climate change legislation, and encourage their representatives to fight for their interests.  As of this week, rural conservatives don't have a voice in the Senate when it comes to climate change, since the Democrats were obliged to push the legislation forward without a single Republican participating.  

No comments: