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Climate change legislation is real!

I have been talking about the political and economic aspects of climate change legislation for two years and, in the past month, people have started reacting. I've found those who write and call me feel that if I'm not for them, I'm against them.

I am a farm news journalist who digs into the background of issues and events every day. I am also afforded the privilege of writing commentary on this page each week to let you know what I think is happening. I don't know if the earth is heating or cooling and I really don't care. What I want farmers and ranchers to know is that this is a pivotal time. Since the U.S. House passed its version of climate change, the people of rural America are speaking up and working within the political system to examine the legislation as it goes through the U.S. Senate. I am pleased to see that you are involved and that you admit the political system works if you work it.

Climate change is all politics, all the time. The science is a weak card played by either side to bolster their position. We won't observe sea level rising by 2012 or 2020; so, it is irrelevant. The real issue is "going green" and whether we will give up the old ways and move to a more earth-friendly culture through inspiration, incentives and legislation. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack talks endlessly about "green jobs" as the result of the actions of the administration. He does not guarantee any other outcome.

Thank God for the U.S. Senate and its deliberative ways. Their slowdown on the climate change legislation has given the people of this country a chance to analyze its consequences. The response, by liberals and conservatives, has been strongly in opposition to the House bill. Agricultural organizations have now had time to bring forth their concerns about cost of inputs and the consequences of land use changes. In a column I wrote early this year, "Carbon footprint could be on agriculture's face," I said an option under climate change legislation would be to plant trees on millions of acres of land that is currently farmed. No one wrote or called me. Last week, Farm Bureau brought forth data from the Environmental Protection Agency that said 40 to 78 million acres would be subject to afforestation (conversion to trees) and it was taken as a bolt of lightning from heaven. This could be the greatest set-aside program in history, but are you willing to risk it?

I wrote, just after the House bill passed, that agriculture should take this opportunity to make major changes in everything from production systems to ownership of farms. Fear of that eventuality seems to have been the driver. Now the industry has switched from passive defense to active participation and it is fun to watch.

On this single issue of climate change, Congress is finally accountable for its actions. Representatives' votes have been recorded, senators' positions are noted and the administration is trying to keep the momentum going and get a bill that the president can sign. The people (corporate and private) are now weighing in and generally saying they are for the legislation as long as it doesn't cost them anything or take away their livelihood. Most are no longer looking at what it may accomplish for the good of the earth--but rather the disruption it will bring to their lives.

What a great exercise in democracy. The numb and the dumb are now enlivened and informed. Any representative who misreads this situation will be awarded a ticket home--for good. The Obama administration, elected on a platform of change, has realized this climate bill could derail health care reform and energy. It is a rare event when the people say "stop." But, it looks like it is happening right now.

Just to keep the antagonistic relationship with you that I so enjoy...the last eight years of the Bush administration didn't do our economy any favors. Seeking the moral high ground led us into an economic swamp. In the second term (2004-2008) agriculture felt the Republican administration turn away on literally every issue that is favored. John McCain had climate change as a major part of his platform and could well have gotten a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to pass it, if we had elected him.

By Christmas, we will know if this country is ready for abrupt change on major issues through legislative action or whether we will go more slowly and tread more carefully toward our idealistic goals.

Editor's Note: This is Ken Root's 35th year as an agricultural reporter. He grew up on a small farm in central Oklahoma and started his career as a vocational agriculture teacher. He worked in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri as a broadcaster and was the original host of AgriTalk. He has also been the executive director of the National AgriChemical Retailers Association in Washington, D.C. and the National Association of Farm Broadcasters in Kansas City. Ken is now the lead farm broadcaster at WHO and WMT Radio based in Des Moines, Iowa. He has been a columnist for HPJ and Midwest Ag Journal for eight years.



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