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Political climate change

The climate change front moved through a couple of years ago. We all felt it, as even Republican presidential candidate John McCain acknowledged that action had to be taken to alleviate man's impact on our planet. The legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week was 20 years in coming and yet many in agriculture and industry are still in denial. The final outcome of action by Congress is still in question but the focus is clear and the change is real: We are going to reduce carbon emissions in the United States.

Those who played this game to maintain the status quo have lost. The steady insistence of the environmentally conscious moved the pieces very skillfully. The result, to date, is that industry is boxed in with no escape strategy visible. It will either be the EPA enforcing the clean air act, under its current authorization, or Congress passing laws to accomplish the same purpose.

We are an awakening species. When we launched the first satellites to view the earth, we saw it from a vantage point man had never witnessed. In 50 years of observation of ourselves, we have determined our actions are harming our home. In 20 years of debate, we have concluded that our factories and farming practices are a hazard to the long-term health of the planet. Whether this is right and whether our reaction will achieve the desired outcome is irrelevant. We are going to make fundamental changes to address global warming.

The reactionary debate in the House of Representatives showed the division that exists on the subject, with some looking at it philosophically and others examining only the economic impact. It appears that we will all pay for this change and that regulation will reach down to each individual farm and home. The challenge for business and industry is to find a way to continue to produce under the new requirements.

Actually, agriculture is more up to the task of working the system than smokestack industries. Farmers have been farming the government since the 1930s. In the Cap-and-Trade scenario, farmers have to expand practices that pay them and reduce practices that cost carbon credits. Early adopters of conservation practices showed how earth-friendly farming can be accomplished in a sustainable fashion. For those who raise livestock and grow crops in a traditional fashion, this is not a time to hole up and wait for the regulators to come to you. It is a time to inventory your resources and be ready to lead with your strongest suit.

We may not be able to project how much we'll lower the earth's temperature in 100 years, but we should be able to estimate the cost to produce grain-fed beef, pork or dairy under the new programs. If you get an exemption for five years, you at least know the deadline for compliance. Keep in mind you always have the option to forfeit and do something else. Harsh as this may seem, it is a great scenario for the young and innovative to step into an industry that has lived on its equity and incumbency for too long.

As we feel the pain, or see the gain, you can bet we will impose our change on the rest of the world. The Kyoto protocol of the 1990s will probably be the starting place. Here's the capsule view:

As of January 2009, 183 parties have ratified the protocol, which was initially adopted for use on 11 December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and which entered into force on 16 February 2005. Under Kyoto, industrialized countries agreed to reduce their collective Green House Gas emissions by 5.2 percent compared to the year 1990. National limitations range from 8 percent reductions for the European Union and some others, to 7 percent for the United States, 6 percent for Japan, and 0 percent for Russia.

We may change our buying practices so China and India have to adopt clean coal technology to maintain access to the U.S. market. Our demeanor in world trade won't change in the new carbon age. Thanks to the financial crisis, we have trashed two of our major car manufacturers; so, we soon have little loyalty to vehicle species. The one that gets the greatest mileage at the lowest cost under the green umbrella will win. The restrictions on trucks and tractors will be just as unforgiving.

You can read in political or social agendas and label individuals and groups who embrace change to address global warming. It is counterproductive to do so. The battle has been lost. The question now is how business and industry adapts to meet regulatory requirements while making a profit. It is the ultimate exercise in capitalism, as some will fail and others will rise to the challenge and gloriously succeed. We always back a winner and discard a loser. The new game is on.

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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