ESSAY: Rural People Should Demand a Place in the Global Warming Debate

Rural America has much to lose with inaction over climate change and much to gain by acting to become part of the global solution

Beyond a reasonable doubt, the globe is warming. It presents rural America with great risk and opportunity.

Rural people should be at the forefront in demanding action. We have much at stake. We need a place in the debate.

The emerging scientific consensus is sobering. Early this year, an international panel of 2,500 scientists concluded that it is “unequivocal” that global warming is occurring, and it is more than 90 percent probable that it is caused by humans.

The small possibility that global warming is not caused by our actions should not stop us from acting. Farmers and ranchers are used to dealing with risk. You don’t bet the ranch on everything turning out rosy. Those who do are no longer in business.

That we don’t know with any certainty the broader affects on climate – rainfall patterns in particular – is only cause for greater anxiety. We are playing with fire. The three things we do know are great cause for concern.

1) Higher temperatures increase moisture stress and make us more vulnerable to drought.
2) Global warming is prompting an increase in extreme weather events – from downpours to drought. Neither is good.
3) Climate change has the potential to shift weather patterns. Agricultural communities have made investments based on current weather patterns. If the rain shifts elsewhere, the effect may be neutral for the world, but it will be devastating for those communities.

Developing new technology and reducing fossil fuel use to reduce warming come with a price tag. Most economists believe that combating the problem will cost roughly one percent of gross domestic product, according to The New York Times, comparable to the spending on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cost of securing our future in the face of climate change pales in comparison to the cost of not acting and betting the ranch on everything turning out rosy.

And in the end, rural America may reap great economic benefit by grasping the opportunity to be part of the solution to climate change. Efforts to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are creating opportunities for farmers to be paid to store more carbon in the soil by building soil organic matter levels.

That is a win-win solution. Raising soil organic matter reduces warming as it builds healthier soils that store more water – which helps crops survive high temperatures and drought. And the need for alternative energy is setting off biofuel and wind power booms, creating opportunity in rural America.

Rural entrepreneurs have the opportunity to be part of the solution to climate change. By grasping it, we can create a better future for our communities and help solve the world’s most pressing environmental problem.

Agree or disagree?: Contact Chuck Hassebrook, or 402.687.2103 x 1018 with your comments, questions, and opinions.

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