Congressional Democrats last month rolled out what they've dubbed the Green New Deal — a sweeping set of economic stimulus proposals aimed at combating climate change and addressing "economic inequality." Sponsors include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Market, D-Mass.
The plan calls on the federal government to wean the U.S. off of fossil fuels and restrict greenhouse gas emissions throughout the economy, while introducing new, high-paying jobs in clean energy industries.
It says the world needs to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, meaning as much carbon would have to be absorbed as released into the atmosphere, but it's really unclear precisely how we would get there and if this goal is even affordable or realistic.
Those in agriculture would be wise to take note of this controversial proposal, which, if it gains traction, would dramatically change the agriculture industry as we know it. Praised by supporters as a way to save the planet and vilified by opponents as a socialist plot to take away your hamburgers, the Green New Deal has drawn wholesale criticism from major farm groups, even those that lean to the left.
President Donald Trump already has taken the offensive. At a campaign rally, he made reference to Ocasio-Cortez's comment in an FAQ sheet about getting rid of "farting cows."
“I really don’t like their policy of taking away your car, of taking away your airplane flights, of ‘Let’s hop a train to California,’ of you’re not allowed to own cows anymore,” Trump said.
While that original FAQ sheet was removed from Ocasio-Cortez's site, it may provide some insight into her true, and truly unsettling, intent.
Nebraska Farm Bureau president Steve Nelson called it “totally unrealistic” and “a blatant and unscientific attack on livestock production." He vowed that farmers and ranchers won't take this one lying down.
While delegates to the recent National Farmers Union convention reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to addressing climate change, they rejected a proposal asking them to get involved with the Green New Deal.
The most Democratic-leaning of the nation's farm organizations, even NFU can't get behind the deal drawn up by Democrats. The group released a resolution stating that “the Green New Deal is a bold proposal to transform our society, but as it stands, the resolution appeals to an urban voter base and does not properly take into account the essential contributions of rural America.”
Maybe most disturbing about the Green New Deal is that, while it would have a big impact on our nation's farmers, agriculture hasn't really been part of the conversation as it has taken shape thus far.
"People from urban areas are leading the discussion," said Frank Mitloehner, an animal science professor at the University of California-Davis. "They’re telling farmers what sustainable is, and they’re telling farmers how to farm, despite never having had farm dirt on their hands.”
Too many people continue to be woefully out of touch with agriculture and food production. Take, for example, a recent column written by Northwestern University student Catherine Buchaniec for The Daily Northwestern. Buchaniec said beef must be phased out as a way to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
"It's time to move toward other forms of protein, some of which are actually healthier than beef," she said, pushing beans and lentils as more eco-friendly meat alternatives. Opinion such as these are becoming more common, and agriculture must speak up.
When it comes to combating climate change, agriculture must have a seat at the table. Farmers have a more intimate knowledge of the environment than most, are innovative and want to be part of the solution; they're not the enemy.
I think everyone can get on board with the goal of cleaning up our environment, but the plan laid out in the Green New Deal, frankly, is out of touch with reality and offers few specifics, adding to the confusion already clouding the conversation around it.