Thursday, July 26, 2012


Dear Foodies,       
America is boiling right now and the nation’s farmers are bearing the brunt.
Faced with the worst drought in 50 years, crop yields are down, grain prices are at record levels, and livestock producers are being forced to sell off entire herds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has declared the largest federal disaster area in history, spanning over 29 states and 1,300 counties.
Scientists are unequivocal about the links between climate change and increased droughts. But U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack seems afraid to even discuss the topic.
At a press conference last Wednesday, a reporter asked Vilsack about the relationship between the drought and climate change. Vilsack responded: “I’m not a scientist so I’m not going to opine as to the cause of this.”
When pressed further, Vilsack punted again, saying: “Our focus, to be honest with you, in a situation like this is on the near term and the immediate…”
This makes no sense. Of course it's essential that the USDA help farmers in need right now. But the agency’s leaders must also speak clearly and consistently to farmers and the American public about how climate change is impacting our entire farming sector.
This is not the last time that Secretary Vilsack will be discussing the current drought, which is expected to last all summer. We need to make sure that next time he doesn't dodge climate questions. Join us and our friends at Forecast the Facts, which works to ensure Americans receive accurate information about climate change, to send a strong message to Secretary Vilsack that supporting America's farmers requires him to tell the full story about climate change and extreme weather.
After the Wednesday press conference, Vilsack continued to dodge the issue. On Thursday, he refused to answer a direct question about climate change in a Marketplace radio interview: "I’m not an expert on climate change so it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for me to respond specifically to that question."
Vilsack claims he’s not a scientist, and therefore can’t speak on the subject. But hundreds of scientists work for the USDA, and a core mission of the Department is to use scientific data to help farmers. In fact, the USDA has an entire Climate Change Program Office.
In 1989, scientists delivered a report to Congress entitled "The Potential Effects of Global Climate Change on the United States," which had an entire chapter discussing how global warming pollution would cause droughts in the Great Plains even worse than the Dust Bowl era, with a decline in crop yields of up to 90 percent. Twenty years later, during Secretary Vilsack's tenure, the USDA contributed to a government-wide report, "Global Climate Change Impacts on the United States," which concludes that “Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.” The study goes on to warn that current water shortages in the Great Plains would only get worse, “this time largely due to human-induced climate change.”
It’s simply not credible for Secretary Vilsack to suggest he’s unaware of the vast body of scientific evidence linking droughts to climate change. By publicly acknowledging that link now, Vilsack can help American farmers manage the long-term challenges headed their way. 
Congress created the USDA “to acquire and to diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture.” It is well established that greenhouse gas pollution is making droughts, storms, floods and other threats to agriculture more frequent and extreme.  Farmers, perhaps more than any other Americans, will have to contend with these harsh realities. They also have an opportunity to fight climate change with low-carbon farming and sustainable biofuels.
We can protect the future of American farming, but only if we rely on well-established science. Secretary Vilsack should lead the way by talking about the facts of man-made climate change before disaster strikes again.
Thanks for participating in food democracy,
Dave, Lisa and the Food Democracy Now! team
Transcript of Vilsack press conference, 07-18-2012
Vilsack refuses to answer question about climate change, Marketplace, 7-19-2012
Drought spreads, boosts corn to record price, Reuters, 7-19-2012
Livestock Liquidiation: Extreme Drought Forces Farmers to Sell Herds, Huffington Post, 07-17-2012
The Potential Effects of Global Climate Change on United States: Great Plains. Rosenzweig, Reibsame. (1989)
Global Climate Change Impacts in the US: Great Plains. (2009)
UCAR: Climate Change May Threaten Much of Globe Within Decades, 07-03-2012

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