Oct 15, 2019

USDA's silence on climate crisis makes little sense to farmers

Photo: Jean-Francois Monier/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration's resistance to addressing climate change is exacerbating the Department of Agriculture's mostly unsuccessful attempts to help farmers cope with extreme weather, Politico reports.

Why it matters: Farmers and ranchers are already reckoning with the impacts of climate change today in their businesses, making federal action (or inaction) on the issue especially relevant.

The state of play: USDA spends 0.3% of its $144 billion budget to help farmers respond to climate change, per Politico, describing the lack of effort as "a conspiracy of silence at lower levels of the department." Many officials fear they'll lose their jobs if they acknowledge climate change publicly.

  • A collection of 10 Climate Hubs, designed during the Obama era to help farmers, ranchers and rural communities deal with climate-related vulnerabilities, has been operating under-the-radar, with few resources and little staffing "to avoid sparking the ire of top USDA officials or the White House," Politico writes.
  • Farmers are still feeling the effects of the March "bomb cyclone," which brought blistering blizzard conditions to the Plains this year.
  • Wet conditions this spring meant 20 million acres could not be used for planting, according to Politico.
  • Weather-related events across the country "have converged to make the past year one of the worst for agriculture in decades," Politico writes.
  • Politico reports that new tools designed to help farmers respond to global warming are not typically promoted, and are tricky to find on the department's resource pages.
  • A recent Politico investigation found the department "routinely buries its own scientists’ findings about the potential dangers posed by a warming world."

Flashback: During President Obama's tenure, USDA changed what had been years of that agency deeming climate change "too politically toxic in the traditionally conservative agriculture sector," Politico writes. But now under the Trump administration, the issue has been largely repressed.

Between the lines: Earlier this year, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue blamed climate change on weather patterns, a stance that has trickled down throughout the department.

  • Rather than climate change, staff should hold "weather extremes" responsible for shifting patterns, Bianca Moebius-Clune, an official directing soil health at the Natural Resources Conservation Service wrote per emails obtained by The Guardian. "Instead of climate change adaptation, staff should consider using 'resilience to weather extremes/intense weather events: drought, heavy rain, spring ponding,'" Politico added.

The big picture: The National Climate Assessment, released by the Trump administration in late 2018, cites human-driven global warming for climate shifts, and it warns of catastrophic impacts.

Go deeper: Trump administration ignored internal report on climate change and migration

Go deeper

Not a hoax or an emergency: What swing voters think of climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Swing voters in three of America’s top battleground states say climate change is a concern, but not an urgent crisis.

The big picture: The results of focus groups in Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin suggest that some of America’s swing voters have views on climate change that are in between Democratic presidential candidates, who think it’s a crisis, and President Trump, who dismisses it altogether.

Go deeperArrowOct 21, 2019

Italy becomes first country to require students to learn about climate change

Students hold a climate march in Palermo, Italy, on Sept. 27. Photo: Francesco Militello Mirto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

All public schools in Italy will require students to learn about climate change and sustainable development starting the next academic year, the Washington Post reports.

The big picture: Italy is the first country in the world to mandate curriculum on climate change. Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and students in the U.S. — through the Zero Hour and Sunrise movements — have organized massive protests on climate change and called for politicians and other adults to take science on the issue seriously.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Nov 7, 2019

New climate consensus moves forward without the U.S.

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos by Win McNamee, Alex Wong, Horacio Villalobos - Corbis/Corbis, Oliver Douliery/AFP, and Noam Galai Via Getty Images

The world's top economic institutions are going deeper in the fight against climate change, and central banks are re-evaluating policies and pushing new principles to integrate climate-related risks into financial supervision, leaving the U.S. behind.

On one side: The effects of climate change are everywhere, European Central Bank chief economist Philip Lane said during the IMF's fall meetings last week.

Go deeperArrowOct 22, 2019