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Backing Out of the Paris Agreement Could Devastate American Agriculture

Lost credibility, trade repercussions, and a lack of voice from policy-making are just a few of the problems agriculture-industry experts are concerned about.

Tom Perkins

Photo by Flickr user Mark Taylor.

The effects of climate change on the nation's agriculture industry (and the earth in general) are pretty clear and dramatic. For farmers, it has already started to mean dealing with an increasingly large number of droughts, floods, stronger storms, unexpected invasive species, plant pests, and other abnormal events that are becoming the new normal. The warming of the earth is already starting to create a hops shortage, it will likely lead to destabilization of agricultural production, and it has begun to transform the wine industry.

It's generally agreed by most climate scientists and those in the field that if we don't change course, we will experience food shortages before too many more decades pass. So it would seem that participating in a worldwide effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions like the Paris Agreement would be in our best interest.

READ MORE: This Government Report Warns that Climate Change Is Going to Screw Up Global Food Security

President Trump seems to disagree, however, and has pulled us out of the pact that nearly every country on earth agreed would help curb the effects of climate change.

Now, as is so common these days, we're left trying to predict a future which is already starting to feel apocalyptic. To get a better idea of what's in store, we talked to several farmers and experts in and around the agriculture industry about the potential consequences of Trump's decision to back out of the Paris Agreement.

"For years, we have been the country that argues to the rest of the world that we should all aggressively support and follow sound science, so to then turn around and totally ignore science and pretend it doesn't exist—that's a problem."

The good news is that you won't be left standing in a Venezuelan-style bread line any time soon. But those we spoke with see two sets of issues.

The more immediate set of problems is the diplomatic and possible economic consequences related to trade. The second is that if we aren't willing to take steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, then the weather related issues will only get worse in the future.

Agriculture industry officials say other countries are a lot less likely to follow our lead on any issue if they feel we can't be trusted or are subject to wild shifts in direction by extreme leaders.

"For years, we have been the country that argues to the rest of the world that we should all aggressively support and follow sound science, so to then turn around and totally ignore science and pretend it doesn't exist—that's a problem," Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, tells MUNCHIES. "Now we don't have the standing to make that case to other countries about food safety, food production, different technologies in agriculture. There's a loss of credibility."

In regards to its impact on climate, Johnson says that at this point the move is more symbolic practical, as Trump has already been rolling back environmental protections.

Reid Detchon, the United Nations Foundation's Senior Advisor for Climate Solutions, tells MUNCHIES that it's difficult to know how our exit might impact foreign relations, but any trade repercussions would hit the agriculture industry hard because US farmers rely so heavily on the export market.

But Detchin fears the long-term issues more. Climate change-related problems are increasing in severity at a time when the world's population is quickly growing, and farmers need to boost production. So although Big Ag generally supported Trump, isn't keen on regulation, and there's some skepticism of the Paris Agreement, everyone recognizes the challenge.

READ MORE: Food in America Is About to Go to Hell Under Trump

"Farmers may be unwilling to take action in the name of climate change, but they are interested in increasing resilience to weather events," Detchon says. "There are climate resilient agriculture practices that increase productivity and improve farm income, so we should make a concerted effort to pursue that kind of climate agenda."

But, he adds, "It seems less likely in light of the announcement that the government will pursue those kind of policies."

Ernie Shea, a conservationist and president of Solutions From The Land, agrees. He says farmers are increasingly using cost-effective sustainable practices that also address climate issues by capturing methane, using ethanol fuel, or planting cover crops to sequester carbon dioxide and enrich the soil. Those are the type of practices American farmers should be discussing at the table in Paris, he says. But there is only so much they can do without a voice in the conversation.

"There are things that we can do today that can solve problems and create new revenue streams, so it's smart to pay attention to those things, if you're a farmer," Shea tells MUNCHIES. "We don't want to miss this train. We want to be smart about policies, but if you're not at the table to advocate for new policies that benefit your sector, then you're in the bleachers instead of being in the game."

"We can participate, or act like dinosaurs, chew at the plants, and think everything is fine, then get wiped out."

While everyone agrees that climate change is a problem, not everyone is fully convinced that the Paris Agreement was the solution. Pat O'Toole is president of the Family Farm Alliance and has won awards for his progressive practices on the Ladder Ranch, which sits on both sides of the Wyoming-Colorado border. Like others in the West, he's contending with a dying forest and threat of fires, among other climate change-related issues.

O'Toole attended national meetings on climate change in advance of the Paris Agreement several years ago and was worried that it would lead to more regulations, which he says isn't the solution. He also felt there was a lot of undue negativity in the pre-Agreement meetings.

"The world isn't coming to an end, and we don't know what (the Paris Agreement) meant for American farmers and ranchers," O'Toole says. "We need to address issues that are real in a tangible way, not just push them aside like we have for the last couple decades."

He adds that conservation and production are related, and a patchwork of large scale land management practices could be employed to address the changing landscape.

And that seems to be what Detchon meant when he says there needs to be a solution that benefits farmers and the climate.

For now, other countries, individual states, individual cities, and corporations like Kellogg and Cargill—as well as those like O'Toole—plan to continue enacting policies that will benefit the environment.

"We can see that's where the void is going to be filled in the short term, especially as people have a better appreciation for why it makes business sense to participate in the reality of a low-carbon future and economy," Shea says. "Whether the oil and coal industry like it, this is the world we are headed toward. We can participate, or act like dinosaurs, chew at the plants, and think everything is fine, then get wiped out."