Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Old McDonald hates climate legislation

Posted by Danny Morris on January 13, 2010

The American farmer, long the backbone of our upstart and formerly agrarian society, is one of the proud archetypes we Yanks like to incorporate into our national identity (much like the cowboy and the Hasselhoff). The strong farmer, reserved in demeanor and stout in constitution, laboring dutifully for the good of the nation. It’s a powerful image. Know what else about farmers is powerful? Their lobbyists. How powerful you ask? Well, powerful enough that after agriculture and land use were excluded from regulation under Waxman-Markey, they got one of their favorite Congressmen (Collin Peterson, D-MN) to throw a tantrum and threaten to derail the whole bill unless he got what. In the name of the mighty farmer.

So now that farmers got what they want, that’s one less obstacle for climate legislation working through the Senate, right?

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the most powerful group in this most powerful lobby, has come out firmly against any climate bill. According to Reuters:

In a speech opening the four-day AFBF convention, Stallman said American farmers and ranchers “must aggressively respond to extremists” and “misguided, activist-driven regulation … The days of their elitist power grabs are over.”

Vast amounts of farmland could become carbon-capturing woodlands under cap-and-trade, “eliminating about 130,000 farms and ranches,” said Stallman. One federal analysis says 8 percent of crop and pasture land could be turned into trees by 2050 because trees would be more profitable than crops.

On top of that, Rep. Peterson is having second thoughts about all his hard work being difficult last Spring:

Blue Dog Democrat Collin Peterson, who played a major role securing rural lawmakers’ support for cap-and-trade climate legislation this summer, now says he would vote “no” if a similar bill returned to the House for final passage.

The Agriculture Committee chairman said he was “stuck voting” for the bill (which awaits Senate action) in June because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi granted his requests for broad agriculture concessions, but he won’t support it again if it remains unchanged.

Man, I totally hate it when I get ‘stuck’ soing something I agreed to do in exactly for just about every concession I asked for. Poor Collin Peterson, 2009 was a rough year.

As for the Farm Bureau Federation and their concern that a swarm of carbon-hungry forests are going to swoop in and conquer the Grain Belt, they might yet be saved from the onslaught of immobile carbon zombie hordes, with their sinister foliage and penetrable cellulosic skin. A new study out of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden finds that paying people to preserve forests may not be sufficient to keep them standing. According to researchers Martin Persson and Christian Azar, a price on carbon from a cap-and-trade regime will drive demand for carbon-neutral fuel sources, such as palm-oil. This will compete directly with REDD schemes designed to pay for the preservation of tropical forests. In almost all the scenarios modeled in the study, clearing forests and planting palm oil is more profitable, meaning additional incentives aside from REDD program are necessary to keep forests standing.

While the study focuses on tropical forests and palm oil, and thus is not directly applicable to the Grain Belt per se, it does suggests that the competition for land between biofuels and forest carbon offset is not  so cut and dry. Demand for biofuels from US sources has the potential to overwhelm demand for offsets, especially if cheaper international options are available. Farmers may yet be saved from being taken over by ravenous groves of fast growing trees. Thank God, because they need all the help they can get.

3 Responses to “Old McDonald hates climate legislation”

  1. Josh said

    Great post. I’d like to point out, though, that Old MacDonald’s farm wouldn’t be represented by the Farm Bureau today. He’s running a multi-species operation, and probably has cows out to pasture and chickens running loose. The Old MacTyson would be represented, though, where all he has is a chicken, about 100,000,000 times over.

    Thanks for your work here. I’ve listed you at my blog.

    • Danny Morris said

      Old McDonald got bought out by Old McTyson and is now part of the Old McTyson’s regional conglomerate chicken production concern.

      Thanks for the props, we’re gonna try to make posts a little more regular over here, so keep reading. We’ve got you on our Blogroll too, so keep up the good work.

  2. green guy said

    No special interest group should be excluded from climate legislation, including farmers. All industries have to do their part and not be spared from government legislation just because they hired expensive lobbyists. I wish legislators would have the integrity to do what’s right instead of being easily swayed by hired mouthpieces who will say or do anything for enough money.

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