If there's one thing those of us in agriculture wish we could control, it's the weather. So when talk turns to the issue of climate change, we listen.
Unfortunately, right now we don't like what we're hearing or seeing, especially after the United Nations met in Kyoto, Japan from Dec. 1 through 10 to sign an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which some but not all experts say are causing global climate change.
In the last decade or so, there's been considerable debate about whether or not greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane) are contributing to increases in average global temperatures and adverse changes in the world's climate. There's considerable evidence on both sides of the question and many different views about what to do about the problem, if indeed it exists.
World leaders have been grappling with this scientific debate for years. In 1992, the U.S. and other nations signed the Rio Treaty that called for voluntary, non-binding measures to limit greenhouse gases. However, last year negotiators changed course and embraced "legally enforceable, binding targets" for greenhouse-gas reductions.
Many nations, including the United States, have submitted proposals that spell out timetables for reducing emissions. Some, such as the European Union's, are more stringent than others.
All of the proposals debated at Kyoto were unacceptable. They all would have a dramatic effect on agricultural practices and productivity, hampering one of our most competitive industries.
All of the proposals would mean new laws and regulations. For farmers, those could take the form of new taxes on fertilizer, limitations on production per acre for some crops, requirements for plowless soil preparation, mandatory fallowing of cropland, limits and restrictions on livestock production, restrictions on timber harvesting, and restrictions on the processing, manufacturing and transportation of food products.
Higher taxes, more regulations and red tape translate into higher food prices for all Americans, and economic troubles for food producers. It's not hard to imagine how such a proposal, imposed throughout the economy, could cost our nation billions of dollars in reduced production and services.
To reach the emissions goals of most treaty proposals, the United States would have to adopt a 25-cent to 50-cent hike in the price of a gallon of gasoline, according to most analysts.
In my industry, this would have a devastating effect. Farmers use a tremendous amount of petroleum and petroleum-derived products to produce the nation's food supply. As a result, production costs would soar.
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