I spent a lot of time looking out the window, anxiously anticipating my freshman year, as my family drove from Washington, D.C. to Northfield. Aside from being thankful for my family’s new unlimited cellular data plan, which afforded me the opportunity to watch an unsettling amount of Friends on Netflix, I was awestruck by the sheer number of farms and pastures that hugged the shoulders of many highways and surrounded many of the
small towns we visited. I am certainly not trying, and do not want, to paint the Midwest as a farming monolith, but coming from the urban hotspot of Washington, D.C., I was not used to such a strong presence of agriculture. With this admitted lack of exposure came a personal ignorance to the degree to which agriculture impacts the environment and is integral to the American economy.
Upon further research, I found that farming and related industries accounted for 5.5% of the American gross domestic product and, according to the Economic Research Service, employs 11% of the American population, as of 2015. Oh, and the United States is also the world’s leading soybean producer, as of 2015 producing 108 million metric tons annually of the light brown legume. On a more sobering note, agricultural production accounts for 10% of the carbon dioxide emissions of all industrial output. When compared to agriculture’s 5.5% share of the GDP, it becomes clear that agriculture accounts for an outsized share of environmental degradation compared to its economic weight. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that many agricultural processes inherently emit greenhouse gases. Cows still gotta fart. In fact, cows still gotta fart a lot, like a lot a lot. A Danish study found that a single cow will burp and fart out enough methane gas each year to have the same damaging greenhouse effect as four tons of CO2. However, there certainly are steps that can be taken to decrease the emissions from agricultural production. And the United States, the country with the third largest agricultural industry and second largest carbon footprint in the world, has a duty to lead by example.
Expecting that leadership under the Trump administration,unfortunately, is a fool’s game. Sonny Perdue, one of the President’s comparatively less controversial cabinet members, is the current Secretary of Agriculture. In fact, Perdue might even be one of Trump’s most qualified cabinet members, which, admittedly, is not saying a lot. Nevertheless, Perdue was, in fact, raised on a farm and was an active agribusinessman in his adult life. So it is safe to say that Perdue knows his way around a farm, which seems like a very reasonable prerequisite for running a department that employs 100,000 workers and has a 2018 budget of $137 billion. Perdue even has executive experience. He was a two-term governor of Georgia. While Perdue might have all the rudimentary prerequisites to hold his position, his scientific beliefs (or lack thereof) distinctly disqualify him from the job. In a 2014 National Review editorial, Perdue offered his thoughts on climate change. He laughed off the notion that climate change can lead to more frequent extreme weather events, a link the scientific community overwhelming agrees upon. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-affiliated group of climate scientists, stated that climate change contributes to the increasing amount and intensity of extreme weather. The UN commission’s statement rings even truer today in the wake of the destruction caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, revealing the potential consequences of ignoring climate change. Continuing with his editorial, Perdue argued that “liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science because their arguments have become so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality.” It turns out that Perdue’s opinion is the one not based in reality. Characterizing the mountains of evidence put forth by the international science community that links human activity to climate change and climate change to environmental harm as hogwash is disturbing, especially when considering the obvious and continuing
need for climate action.
It is sad that for these crucial next four years (and hopefully not eight), the Department of Agriculture will be led by someone who actively ignores climate change and belittles those who point out its harmful effects. In
the context of the Trump administration at large, an administration that has slashed countless environmental regulations and voluntarily gave up its position as a world leader on environmental issues, one can see how dangerous the climate inaction of government leaders like Sonny Perdue is.
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