When we think about climate change and sources of pollution, fossil fuels and dirty industries are the culprits that usually dominate the conversation. Agriculture, though, contributes substantially to global warming as well. The Obama Administration opted for the day after Earth Day to launch a series of ten voluntary initiatives aimed at American farmers, in an effort to support more sustainable and environmentally friendly methods of crop production. Will it work?
The reason agriculture is such a problem where climate change is concerned is pretty elementary. Clearing land for agriculture eliminates acres and acres of native plants, which turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, and replaces them with crops that just don’t do as good of a job of cleaning the air. Fertilizers and methane emissions also contribute to global warming, so as a whole, the agriculture industry is a lot less green than most people realize. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the new initiatives could help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 120 million metric tons over an unspecified length of time.
Among the sustainable agriculture techniques included in the plan are smarter use of nitrogen fertilizers, crop rotation plans, and encouraging planting of trees in urban areas to offset cleared farmlands. The USDA will oversee the measures, and provide some incentives to farmers and ranchers who participate in the plan, but details of those rewards aren’t known at this time. Critics of the plan claim making these initiatives voluntary sends the message that sustainable agriculture is more of an option than a requirement. Missing from the plan are any measures to reduce the farming of animals for consumption, which is responsible globally for more carbon emissions than all transportation combined.
The Obama administration has rolled out a number of “greener agriculture” policies over the years with mixed results. As we near the end of Obama’s presidency, those concerned about climate change might be disappointed in the legacy he’s leaving with these optional policies.