Agriculture in the Green New Deal

The Green New Deal, brought to the House of Representatives by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D) and Rep. Markey (D) is, undoubtedly, a revolutionary resolution — whether or not you agree with the information and plans put forth.[1] The short, approachable, and jam-packed plan argues for sweeping changes to the way the United States approaches climate change and environmental issues, framing them as not just environmental, but social and economic problems. Considering that these are the three prongs of sustainability,[2] it seems imperative to focus on and work on all three facets together.

 

Upon reading the Green New Deal, two main themes stuck out to me: 1) pushing the United States to become a leader in climate change action, and 2) rooting these proposed developments in the local and vulnerable communities. These ideas are so exciting to me, as I support policy action focused on combating climate change. Doing so by providing agency[3] – or the ability of a person to act and speak up in accordance with their beliefs – to marginalized communities, valuing indigenous knowledge, and encouraging community engagement could support economic and social mobilization. It is well-known and researched that indigenous communities hold knowledge that holds certain keys to climate change issues.[4] Around the world, indigenous peoples live with and on land that stores a disproportionately high amount of carbon, acting as carbon sinks.[5] This illustrates the ability of indigenous people to care for land and adapt to changing circumstances. Similarly, community engagement has been shown to support climate change efforts while maintaining consideration for economic and social factors.[6] Overall, the multi-faceted approach to climate change and social issues in this resolution show a deep commitment to the problems at hand.

 

Nestled in the middle of the piece sits a concise section on agriculture. Agriculture must be included in any wide-reaching climate legislation, as it is responsible for 10% of all United States greenhouse gas emissions.[7] Not only does agriculture impact the climate significantly, but climate change is expected to reduce yields in Africa, Asia, and parts of South America, according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report.[8] Given the significant relationships between the environment and the United States agriculture industry, Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s ideas, while simple, summarize so much that needs to change in our food systems. Her main points follow:

 

  • Work with farmers, rather than telling them what to do from a distance, to limit pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Support family farmers
  • Back sustainable practices that enhance soil health
  • Make the food system overall more sustainable while providing healthier options

 

These four points, if carried out, could have major ramifications for the environment. Even if this resolution were seriously proposed and passed, my fear is that these ideas may be contextual and too vague. For example, using the USDA’s definition of family farms — “any farm organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or family corporation” —  over 96% of farms in the US are “family farms.”[9],[10] So, while I still support ideas for agriculture put forth, it feels far too vague at best and potentially under-researched at worst. Additionally, the point about working with farmers could manifest extremely successfully, as we see in comprehensive extension programs run through land-grant universities, assisting and educating farmers. These programs demonstrate the potential for successful communication between the government and farmers and they have been shown to help with climate change adaptation and mitigation.[11] However, I fear that the government may work primarily with the large farms and corporate farming operations, rather than listening to the smaller, more vulnerable farms. This type of situation happens repeatedly in the United States, as organizations and companies with more money can often leverage more power.

 

That said, the Green New Deal comes during a dearth of a clear, progressive, comprehensive climate plan.[12] It is, according to many political analysts, purely symbolic and this appears true based on the vagueness and the incredibly lofty goals. [13] I find it a call to action, a declaration of the gravity of climate change. While some may find these types of goals unapproachable and unattainable, I propose that they may be missing the point. Even if this resolution does not turn into legislation and get passed, people have started talking about it (though maybe my viewpoint as an environment student is skewed and unrealistic). The radical ideas put forth may be exactly what we need in the face of climate change.

 

I urge you to read the text of the Green New Deal and to consider how you can play a part in the solutions. In regards to the food and agriculture sections examined here, see how you can be a part of making the food system more sustainable. Make your food choices consciously and please educate yourself on the impacts and consequences of these choices. See where in your diet you can support local farmers, waste less, or eat greener.

 

Works Cited

[1]Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, House Resolution 109 “The Green New Deal” (116th Congress, 2019).

[2] What is sustainability? (University of Alberta, Office of Sustainability).

[3] Sense of Agency – Index (ScienceDirect).

[4] Nyong, A., Adesina, F., Osman, E.B., The Value of Indigenous Knowledge in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies in the African Sahel (Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 2007), 787-797.

[5] Gleb Raygorodetsky, Why Traditional Knowledge Holds the Key to Climate Change, (United Nations University, 2011).

[6] Community Engagement Strategy on Climate Change (Australian Capital Territory, 2014).

[7] Agriculture and Climate Change (USDA Economic Research Service, 2018).

[8] David Reid, UN Report Identifies Where Global Harvests Will Rise and Fall by 2050 (CNBC, 2018).

[9] Family Farms, (USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture)

[10] Lydia DePillis, Farms are gigantic now. Even the “family-owned” ones, (The Washington Post, 2013).

[11] Susko et al. The Role of Extension in Climate Adaptation in the United States (USDA, NIFA, NOAA, Sea Grant, 2013).

[12] David Roberts, The Green New Deal, explained, (Vox, 2019).

[13] Michael Grunwald, The Impossible Green Dream of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (Politico, 2019).

3 thoughts on “Agriculture in the Green New Deal

  1. As a fellow environmental student, I share many of the opinions you’ve put forth here and also hope that Green New Deal turns into significant, wholistic legislation which will change the foundation of our country. The fact that the section in the GND on farming and agriculture is vague could be a good thing because it appears that many of these issues are severely under-researched, as you have speculated. During the next few years, we need massive amounts of research on every segment of the economy to determine what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how it needs to be done in order to mitigate and adapt to impending climate change. We need analysis like yours regarding which farms the government should work with and what mechanisms the government could leverage to do this so that politicians know what the next generation of voters–which is us–cares about.

  2. I think it is also interesting to note what the outline for agriculture in the Green New Deal is lacking. Specifically, I was surprised there was no focus on resource scarcity. One of the biggest challenges the agriculture industry will face in the coming years as a result of climate change is limited usable land and water for farming. California has already experienced this after it faced the longest drought the state has ever seen from 2011-2017, which led to decreases in crop yields, increase in food prices, and the reliance on limited groundwater. As frequency and severity of these natural disasters increase, the agriculture industry must adapt and become more resilient in the face of these events. Therefore, thinking about scarcity in the context of the Green New Deal’s priorities for agriculture is an extremely important addition to the goals outlined in your blog. Scarcity resilience could fall under “investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health;” but without more of an explanation, it is unclear whether it is something under consideration.

  3. Hey Allie! I’m with you, I don’t think the Green New Deal was ever meant to pass, but rather to inform and to shine a light on the lack of similar legislation. Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Markey must have known that the phrasing was far to vague for it to garner the support needed in the House, and instead destined the bill to be an attention grabber. There certainly has been a lot of public and academic discussion about it, across Duke’s campus especially. It was mentioned in everything from this US policy class to my Spanish class on pop culture. Hopefully the Green New Deal and its media popularity will spur other, more concrete, legislature in the future.

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