Dave Dickey

Unless you are an ostrich or a U.S. republican lawmaker, you likely are on board with the concept that Earth’s climate is changing on a worldwide scale.

The implications for agriculture are not to be ignored.

A federal advisory committee and a team of more than 300 experts reported that if we don’t start reducing pollution by the second half of this century, then “climate change is projected to have more negative impacts on crops and livestock across the country – a trend that could diminish the security of our food supply.”

A study from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations had similar conclusions.

The impact on U.S. agriculture could be severe.

Recall the drought that struck the U.S. Corn Belt in 2012. Corn production was down 34 percent in Illinois, 20 percent in Iowa and 16 percent in Nebraska. Total U.S. corn production averaged an anemic 123.4 bushels an acre, a huge plunge from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s projection of 166 bushels per acre at the time.

And if you think it has been warmer lately, it is not your imagination.

The 10 hottest years on record have all occurred within the last two decades.

Needless to say, it was major news when on Dec. 14 nearly 200 nations – including the United States – signed a historic agreement in Paris that actually aims to do something about climate change.

The agreement puts the onus on each nation to do its part in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, setting a worldwide cap of increasing temperatures by no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

Each nation is required to be transparent on their progress toward the overall goal. Yet, whether the United States actually delivers on the agreement is largely dependent on who wins the presidential campaign next year.

Some U.S. lawmakers – mostly republicans with close ties to the oil, natural gas and coal industries – are convinced that the world’s best scientific minds are wrong. So it was no surprise when flame throwers were out in force even before the agreement was ratified.

Wyoming republican Senator John Barrasso summed the agreement up by saying, “The American people oppose sending their money to a United Nations climate slush fund.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also a republican, said the agreement is “based on a domestic energy plan that is likely illegal, that half the states have sued to halt, and that Congress has already voted to reject.”

In any case, the agreement itself does not need senate ratification.

At this point, all that the republicans of big oil can do is huff and puff, and there will be plenty of that floating around Washington in the days ahead.

Outside of a GOP president, the republicans’ best chance to put a kibosh on the agreement may be in the ratification math: nations will be able to officially sign on to the agreement next April, and it will take no fewer than 55 countries accounting for at least 55 percent of global emissions to make the deal a reality.


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 The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting 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 The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

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