Our country set an alarming record in 2020: Americans suffered 22 separate billion dollar weather and climate disasters. Even more terrifying: America should beat that record this year!
But even though we have stopped emitting any new carbon pollution from today, unfortunately we are still in a very difficult situation. Leading scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and elsewhere now tell us that in addition to drastically reducing our emissions from power plants and vehicles, we need to take action to remove carbon already in the air.
A key solution, too often overlooked, is already there: in the earth beneath our feet and the trees around us. Farmers, ranchers and foresters are uniquely positioned to tackle the crisis head-on through climate-smart management.
We need to adopt a climate policy that supports nature-based solutions such as climate-smart farming and forestry practices. These practices are easily one of the most cost-effective and sustainable ways to simultaneously tackle the climate crisis, restore our soils and water, preserve biodiversity, and build a better and more resilient future for generations to come.
Climate-smart agriculture, including regenerative agriculture and other conservation practices, extracts carbon from the atmosphere and stores it below the soil surface – and has additional benefits for the quality of the land.
A simple but effective strategy is to plant cover crops during the winter when the soil is bare. This extra crop helps build organic matter in the soil this keeps more carbon in the soil. This regeneration process creates healthy agricultural soils, which improves yields and makes crops more resistant to drought. This too has the added benefit of preventing nutrient runoff into waterways, which ultimately contributes to algal blooms like those that occur every year in Lake Erie, Chesapeake Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico .
Other regenerative practices – such as diversifying crop rotations so that a farmer grows more than one or two crops, or integrating livestock grazing with row crop production to more closely mimic natural ecosystems, can further reduce the climate footprint of agriculture. Likewise, managed grazing, where pastures have time to rest so that perennial grasses can regenerate and develop deeper root systems, can increase the carbon content of soils and improve the health and resilience of millions of people. ‘acres of pastures and rangelands in our country.
Regenerative and climate-smart farming practices benefit both farmers and the planet. While scientists tell us there is huge potential in nature-based solutions, the federal government can help farmers adopt these practices on a scale that can make a real difference in reducing carbon pollution. .
Current federal programs that support these practices are extremely popular but are routinely underfunded – with three times as many applicants than they can accept – so we know that every additional dollar invested in these programs can be immediately used to tackle the climate crisis.
Research into climate-smart farming technologies and practices can also help farmers and ranchers reduce powerful climate âsuperpollutantsâ like nitrous oxide and methane. With better technology, more farmers are able to reduce their fertilizer use, thus avoiding excessive nitrous oxide emissions, which are hundreds of times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2), leakage into the atmosphere. And thanks to innovative research, ranchers are adopting a new practice of feeding cattle with algae, which can reduce methane emissions by up to 80 percent. Many of these advances are the result of public-private research partnerships, which we must scale up to accelerate their uptake and impact on the climate crisis.
Climate smart forestry practices also have great potential to seriously tackle the climate crisis. Despite all our innovations, one of the best carbon capture technologies has already been invented: it’s called a tree!
We need to protect our old growth forests, which are huge carbon reservoirs, and we need to continue scientific reforestation across the country to extract carbon from the air on a large scale. With the right policies and the right investments, we have the potential to increase carbon capture in US forests by more than 40 percent.
In addition, one in four rural Americans owns forest land. These forest owners can play a crucial role in tackling the climate crisis if we work with them to manage their trees in a way that sequesters more carbon, while retaining market opportunities for traditional forest products.
Tackling our climate crisis through urban forestry is also a way to begin to address long-standing environmental justice issues. Planting a tree does more than just remove air pollution. Studies show that in American cities, residents of low-income neighborhoods and communities of color often experience much higher temperatures than people who live in whiter, richer areas that typically have more trees.
This “heat island effectâHas led to worse health outcomes in neglected communities, from higher rates of childhood asthma to increasing deaths from extreme heat waves. Our rebuild better budget calls for an unprecedented tree-planting effort in long neglected neighborhoods.
These benefits are just the start of what we can accomplish with climate-smart agriculture and forestry. Nature-based solutions, like those in our Build Back Better budget, are a climate powerhouse. They help remove more than 1.3 billion tonnes of CO2 from the air, which is equivalent to taking 285 million cars off the road. And at the same time, they improve the health of our soil, our water, our forests and our cities. In addition, they are among the most cost-effective ways to tackle the climate crisis.
Federal government has spent an average of $ 126 billion per year over the past 5 years alone to respond to the damage caused by climate change. And this number goes up and up – threatening to quickly overshoot our budget that will actually reduce pollution and seriously tackle this crisis.
The climate crisis is the major challenge of our time. Given the right support, our land and our trees can be a significant part of our response, alongside aggressive emission reductions in other sectors such as energy and transport.
We must act now with the sense of urgency that this moment demands.
Senator Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann Stabenow Senate Democrats blow up the Supreme Court on the first anniversary of Barrett’s confirmation. is chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.