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Biden’s climate change strategy looks to pay farmers to curb carbon footprint

PUBLISHED FRI, FEB 12 202111:47 AM EST
UPDATED FRI, FEB 12 20214:07 PM EST
Emma Newburger@EMMA_NEWBURGER
Source: CNBC

  • The Biden administration is looking to steer farm aid from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation to encourage carbon emissions reductions on farms.
  • By adapting more “regenerative practices,” experts estimate that American farmers can sequester a large enough portion of emissions to avert a climate catastrophe.
  •  “If the government supports the farmers who are getting good results, everyone else will follow,” said a fourth generation cattle rancher.
Fourth generation cattle rancher Loren Poncia has made Stemple Creek Ranch carbon positive. He's implemented rotational cattle grazing systems that allow soil and grass to recover, applied compost on pastures and planted chicory that aerate the soil.
Source: CNBC
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Fourth generation cattle rancher Loren Poncia has made Stemple Creek Ranch carbon positive. He’s implemented rotational cattle grazing systems that allow soil and grass to recover, applied compost on pastures and planted chicory that aerate the soil.Courtesy of Paige Green

President Joe Biden has called on U.S. farmers to lead the way in offsetting greenhouse gas emissions to battle climate change — a goal fourth generation cattle rancher Loren Poncia set out to achieve over a decade ago.

Despite working in the beef sector, a big contributor to global warming, Poncia has transformed his Northern California ranch into one of the few carbon-positive livestock operations in the country.

“It’s a win-win — for the environment and for our pocketbook,” said Poncia, who adopted carbon farming practices through a partnership with the Marin Carbon Project.

Experts estimate that farmers across the world can sequester a large enough portion of carbon through regenerative agriculture practices to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Research suggests removing carbon already in the atmosphere and replenishing soil worldwide could result in a 10% carbon drawdown. The United Nations has warned that efforts to curb global emissions will fall short without drastic changes in global land use and agriculture.

Poncia’s ranch sequesters more carbon than it emits through practices like rotational cattle grazing systems that allow soil and grass to recover, applying compost instead of chemical fertilizers to pastures to avoid tilling, building worm farms and planting chicory to aerate the soil. Such climate-friendly projects have allowed Poncia to grow more grass and produce more beef.

“If we as a world are going to reverse the damage that’s been done, it’ll be through agriculture and food sustainability,” Poncia said. “We’re excited and positive about the future.”

While some farmers, ranchers and foresters have already embraced sustainable practices that capture existing carbon and store it in soil, others are wary of upfront costs and uncertain returns that could vary across states and farming operations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently said it would incentivize farmers to implement such sustainable practices. And more researchers and companies have started to better quantify and manage carbon that’s stored in the soil.

USDA push towards carbon farming

Battling climate change has become a matter of survival for American farmers, who have endured major losses from floods and droughts that have grown more frequent and destructive across the country.

In 2019, farmers lost tens of thousands of acres during historic flooding. And NASA scientists report that rising temperatures have driven the U.S. West into the worst decades-long drought ever seen in the past millennium.

In the U.S. alone, agriculture accounts for more than 10.5% of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, according to the estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency.

As a result, the Biden administration now wants to steer $30 billion in farm aid money from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation to pay farmers to implement sustainable practices and capture carbon in their soil.

This Monday, March 18, 2019 file photo shows flooding and storage bins under water on a farm along the Missouri River in rural Iowa north of Omaha, Neb.
Source: CNBC
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

This Monday, March 18, 2019 file photo shows flooding and storage bins under water on a farm along the Missouri River in rural Iowa north of Omaha, Neb.AP Photo | Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Biden’s USDA Secretary of Agriculture nominee, Tom Vilsack, who has vowed to help meet Biden’s broader plan to reach a net-zero economy by 2050, said the money could go toward creating new markets that incentivize producers to sequester carbon in the soil.

Former President Donald Trump previously tapped those funds to bail out farmers harmed by his trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada that sent down commodity prices.

Using the CCC money to create a carbon bank might not require congressional approval, and agriculture lobbying groups are expected to persuade Congress to expand the fund.

“It is a great tool for us to create the kind of structure that will inform future farm bills about what will encourage carbon sequestration, what will encourage precision agriculture, what will encourage soil health and regenerative agricultural practices,” Vilsack said at his Senate confirmation hearing this month.

Vilsack, who spent eight years as President Barack Obama’s Agriculture secretary, has also asked Congress to have an advisory group of farmers to help build a carbon market and ensure that farmers receive the benefits.

The administration’s push to encourage carbon capture on farms could bolster an emerging market of on-farm emissions reductions and the technological advances that are helping growers improve soil health and participate in carbon trading markets.

An emerging market

Some farmers have started partnerships with nonprofit environmental and policy groups to work on environmental sustainability. The movement has seen increasing support from private companies, too.

Indigo Ag, a start-up that advocates for regenerative farming practices, said corporations like Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and Shopify have committed to purchasing agricultural carbon credits that help growers with transition costs.

Chris Harbourt, global head of carbon at Indigo Ag, said the company is working with growers to address financial barriers during the transition and provide education on implementing regenerative agriculture practices, like planting off-season cover crops or switching to no-till farming.

“Growers who adopt regenerative practices see benefits well beyond financial,” Harbourt said. “The soil is healthier and more resilient, which creates more opportunities for profitable years even when weather conditions are challenging.”

Erik Fyrwald, CEO of Syngenta, a Switzerland-based seed and crop protection company, said government policies need to provide proper incentives to farmers to accelerate the transition to regenerative agriculture.

“The incentives must be sufficient and reliable enough to give farmers the confidence to make the necessary investments to implement these practices on their farm,” Fyrwald said.

Poncia, who has received state funding twice from California’s Healthy Soils Program to implement sustainable practices on his ranch, said he hopes the administration can provide enough support for agricultural so other people can achieve similar results.

“The agriculture community wants to support this movement, but they need help, education and an ability to decrease risk,” Poncia said. “If the government supports the farmers who are getting good results, everyone else will follow.”

How can you support farmers? What information would you like to see on your food labels? How do you identify food from sustainable and nutritious sources? Foods purpose is to support the body and its functions: the give nutrition to the body.

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Biden’s Latest Executive Orders Are The Most Aggressive Moves On Climate Change Of Any President

The executive orders will take aim at fossil fuels and set the US up to be an international leader in tackling the climate crisis.
Zahra Hirji, BuzzFeed News Reporter
Source: Buzz Feed News
Last updated on January 27, 2021, at 4:23 p.m. ET
Posted on January 27, 2021, at 9:27 a.m. ET

Source: Buzz Feed News
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed sweeping executive orders to force the federal government to plan for and respond to the urgent threat of a warming planet, laying out his historic vision for how the United States can once again become a global climate leader.

The moves will stop new fossil fuel leases on public lands, boost renewable energy development and conservation, as well as create new government offices and interagency groups to prioritize job creation, cleaning up pollution, and environmental justice.

Since taking office last week, Biden and his Cabinet nominees have repeatedly said that tackling the climate crisis is among their top priorities. With these new actions, Biden is detailing how he plans to make that happen by making the federal government central to the response.

“The United States and the world face a profound climate crisis,” the main executive order Biden signed said. “We have a narrow moment to pursue action at home and abroad in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of that crisis and to seize the opportunity that tackling climate change presents.”

Biden’s early climate moves stand in stark contrast to former president Donald Trump’s actions, which included immediately deleting climate change from the White House website, thwarting climate action, and using his executive power to boost oil, gas, and coal development.

Biden’s day-one climate actions were a direct response to Trump, including directing his staff to review more than 100 anti-environmental rules enacted by Trump and to start the process for the country to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. But these new actions go far beyond reversing Trump’s actions or even reinstating climate initiatives first championed by former president Barack Obama.

“Today makes clear that President Biden hears our generation’s demands loud and clear, understands the power of our movement, and is serious about using executive power to deliver on his campaign promises,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, in a statement.

As part of a broad new executive order, Biden is directing the Department of the Interior to indefinitely pause new oil and gas leases on public lands and offshore waters “to the extent possible.” The order does not specifically ban new coal leases and leaves fossil fuel leases on tribal lands up to their discretion.

Moreover, Biden is directing a review of existing fossil fuel leases and development projects, and asked the Interior Department to find ways to boost renewable energy projects, especially offshore wind, on federally owned water and land.

The American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas trade association, balked at the new restrictions. “Restricting natural gas and oil leasing and development on federal lands and waters could threaten U.S. energy security, economic growth and good-paying American jobs,” API tweeted.

While the order would not impact the majority of the nation’s oil and gas drilling and coal mining, which takes place on private land, it could still have a major climate impact. The extraction of fossil fuels on public lands between 2005 and 2014 accounted for roughly 25% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions during that time, according to a United States Geological Survey report.

A key part of the executive orders is creating new offices and committees focused on addressing specific climate problems and goals. Besides formally creating a new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, led by Gina McCarthy, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Biden on Wednesday established a National Climate Task Force that directs members across agencies and departments “to enable a whole-of-government approach to combating the climate crisis,” according to a White House memo.

Biden is also creating a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative designed to create new jobs in conservation, an Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization to take on projects that cut the pollution from existing and abandoned fossil fuel infrastructure, as well as a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to boost environmental justice monitoring and enforcement.

Few details were provided on exactly who will be spearheading the many new efforts, how much funding they will receive, or timelines for delivering on these bold goals.

In most cases, Biden’s actions follow through on his climate campaign promises, such as promising to set aside 30% of public lands and waters to conservation by 2030 and having an international climate summit in his first 100 days — one will be held on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.

“The last four years have been a feeding frenzy on our public lands and waters, and this moratorium is the right way to start our overdue transition to a more sustainable economy,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona and chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Grijalva last year co-sponsored the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act of 2020 that similarly supports the 30% conservation goal. He said now Congress will move forward with the bill.

“The stakes on climate change just simply couldn’t be any higher than they are right now,” John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, said at a press briefing Wednesday.

January 27, 2021, at 10:48 a.m.

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Biden and Pope Francis Could Make a Climate Change Miracle

How the new U.S. leader and the liberal pontiff—like presidents and popes before them—can cooperate to transform American politics.

BY TIMOTHY NAFTALICHRISTOPHER WHITE
JANUARY 31, 2021, 4:22 AM
Source: Foreign Policy

Pope Francis is joined by then-Vice President Joe Biden after the pontiff addressed Congress on his first U.S. visit on Sept. 24, 2015. MINDY SCHAUER/THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER/MEDIANEWS GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

America now has its second Catholic president. It took 60 years and, in some ways, the two eras could hardly be more different for American Catholics. In 1960, John F. Kennedy worried that many American Protestants would not vote for him because he was a Catholic. In 2020, Joe Biden had more reason to be concerned that it would be his fellow Catholics that would refuse to vote for him.

But there is a key similarity. President Biden comes into office uniquely positioned to work productively with a powerful ally in the Vatican on an issue that a week into his presidency he has already described to the American people as “an existential threat:” climate change. Sixty years ago, when nuclear annihilation posed the greatest threat to humanity, a like-minded pope helped Kennedy to broaden domestic public support for a change in Washington’s posture in the Cold War, preparing Catholic opinion in particular for a shift in the rhetoric towards Moscow. There may be some lessons for the incoming Biden-Harris administration as it grapples with the fact that 74 million Americans voted for a climate-change denier.

It took Kennedy two years to risk identifying himself with any initiatives from Pope John XXIII. Initially, Kennedy felt he had to keep the Vatican at arms’ length. Anti-Catholic bigotry had not prevented his election but it had suppressed the Democratic vote in some parts of the country. The Vatican was equally sensitive. Days after his inauguration, the Holy See took the unusual step of making clear in a public statement that the president would not be expected to kneel in any future audience with the pope.

Although Kennedy never fully lost his wariness about seeming too close to Rome, he wasn’t naive about the potential benefits of papal support in a world staring nuclear annihilation in the face. The Kennedy White House had a hand in shaping the pope’s call for peace during the Cuban missile crisis. And after that 13-day dance on the precipice of nuclear war, both Kennedy and John XXIII—an elderly man whose pontificate had begun in 1958, three years before the dynamic young JFK took his oath—wanted to change the global conversation about peace and soften Soviet resistance to a détente.

As John XXIII was dying with cancer in 1963, the Vatican initiated a back-channel effort, led by Jewish-American journalist and peace activist Norman Cousins and blessed by Kennedy, to move Washington and the Kremlin closer to achieving the first nuclear arms-control agreement. The Pope’s most important contribution was Pacem in Terris, or “Peace on Earth,” a papal encyclical calling for a new approach to peacemaking, one that relied not on weapons but on words and the power of negotiation.

The New York Times published the letter in its entirety in April 1963, marking a first for the paper, and for the Vatican it marked a course correction. No longer would papal enyclicals be directed to Catholics alone, but, in John XXIII’s phrase, to “all people of goodwill,” words that proved very helpful to Kennedy, who knew that among America’s most hardened anti-Communists were his fellow congregants. The Vatican had made a point of sending the Kennedy White House the final proofs of the encyclical days before it was officially published.U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Pope Paul VI meet at the Vatican on July 2, 1963. The pontiff praised the first Roman Catholic U.S. president for his "untiring” efforts to obtain peace in the world.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Pope Paul VI meet at the Vatican on July 2, 1963. The pontiff praised the first Roman Catholic U.S. president for his “untiring” efforts to obtain peace in the world. BETTMANN ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES – Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Highlighting the papal message in a speech at Boston College a week after its publication, Kennedy said “that document surely shows that on the basis of one great faith and its tradition there can be developed counsel on public affairs that is of value to all men and women of goodwill. As a Catholic I am proud of it, as an American I have learned from it.”

With the Vatican having gone first, it was politically easier for Kennedy to issue his own extended statement on seeking peace in the Cold War, resulting in his June 1963 American University speech, which helped pave the way to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with Moscow later that summer.

The pope wasn’t the only religious leader who played an important role in encouraging Americans to support relaxing tensions with Moscow. But the Vatican’s highly visible use of soft power to reduce nuclear danger helped shift attitudes at the height of the Cold War. Now five decades later there is an opportunity for a pope and a president to work together on a different issue that threatens the future of humanity.

In the United States, some Christian leaders have politicized the issue of climate change, pitting science against faith. Not the Vatican. The condemnation of Galileo was 400 years ago, and Rome insists that the faithful not see any tension between their faith and climate science—or between their faith and their public responsibility as citizens. Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical, Laudato si’, like Pacem in Terris, was an urgent appeal for a new dialogue on “how we are shaping the future of our planet.” In this case it is the proliferation of fossil fuels and not nuclear weapons that is the cause of the urgency.

Francis’s encyclical was strategically timed to influence the Paris Climate Agreement, which was later abandoned by the Trump administration. In his new book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Francis recalls how after being elected pope, he assembled the world’s best scientists and asked them to provide a summary of the “state of our planet.” He then asked theologians and scientists to work together on the document, to serve as a blueprint to galvanize people toward engaging on climate concerns. When the pope was traveling to Strasbourg in 2014 to address the Council of Europe, then French President François Hollande’s environmental minister urged the pope to complete the letter and release it before representatives of the world gathered in Paris for what would become the climate accords, in order to help solidify support for the agreement.

With the Biden administration’s decision to rejoin the Paris initiative, the challenge now, as in 1963, is to convince more of the American public to shed their superstitions and tribal blinders and embrace the complex reality of an existential threat to the planet. The pope, who has tried to appeal to all people of goodwill to tackle the threats to the environment, can be of great help to Biden in persuading people of faith that there are no liturgical and theological roadblocks to combating global warming, just as there were none to seeking to reduce the danger of nuclear war with an atheistic Communist state.

Like Kennedy and John XXIII, a half century ago, the current pope and president will need to speak over the leadership of the American church directly to American Catholics on the existential issue of their generation. Just as John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris contradicted years of hard-line Cold War statements by prominent American Catholic leaders such as former Senator Joseph McCarthy’s ally Francis Cardinal Spellman, Pope Francis’ bishops in the United States aren’t fully in unison with him or the man who is now the nation’s most prominent Catholic in recognizing the existential threat of climate change. Just minutes after Biden took office, the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, issued a letter to the new president saying he hoped they could work together on certain issues, but that abortion remains their “pre-eminent priority.” Gomez’s approach to climate change is not an aberration among the hierarchy. In 2019, his predecessor, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said that combating global warming was important, but “not urgent.” In the same vein, Eternal Word Television Network, the world’s largest Catholic news network released a voting guide ahead of the 2020 election labeling environmental concerns a “negotiable policy issue” for Catholics. But Catholic laity are ready for a new message. Whereas only 57 percent of white evangelical protestants say they are concerned about the environment, according to polling from Yale University and George Mason University, 77 percent of white Catholics were worried about climate change.

Because of the anti-Catholic bigotry of his times, Kennedy had to receive help indirectly. Biden can embrace it openly. In fact, he already has. When the pope called Biden to congratulate him on his election win, among the chief issues they pledged to work on together was environmental action. Biden’s choice for special climate envoy, fellow Catholic and former Secretary of State John Kerry, recognizes the remarkable opportunity presented by Francis’s Vatican to soften the political divide on environmentalism. In 2015, as he was negotiating the Paris Climate Agreement, Kerry praised the global importance of Laudato si’ and, after Biden tapped him for his new post, Kerry said the nation’s 46th president “will trust in God and he will also trust in science to guide our work on Earth to protect God’s creation.” When then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris introduced the Biden administration’s climate team last month, she specifically quoted the encyclical, citing the pontiff’s words: “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”Trending Articles

In the same way that Laudato si’ proved to be an effective tool of soft power in helping Hollande and other heads of state embrace the Paris Climate Agreement, Francis can prove useful to Biden both in terms of his powerful evocation of environmental concerns, but also through practical leadership on the ground. Francis’s point man in the U.S. capital, Archbishop Wilton Gregory—whom he just elevated to be a cardinal in November, making him one of the pope’s principal collaborators—is among the top leaders of the U.S. bishops when it comes to environmental concerns. In his previous post in Atlanta, Gregory mandated climate education in Catholic schools and an energy audit of the church’s schools, churches, and other institutions. Now, in the nation’s capital, he is well positioned to do the same. During an interview with television host and political commentator Stephen Colbert in December, Biden revealed that Gregory had recently called him and said he looked forward to partnering with him. Biden would be well advised to take him up on that offer. Through a strategic partnership with the Biden administration, as one of the largest landowners in the world, Catholic institutions could pave the way in setting new standards for environmental stewardship. Finally, during this week’s signing of executive orders relating to the threat of climate change, Biden announced that he had directed the Department of Justice to establish an office of climate justice. Including a faith outreach team as a part of that office could prove to be a pivotal partnership for bringing about the environmental justice that both the president and the pope say that are committed to achieving.

Like Kennedy and John XXIII, Biden and Francis share a similar posture on the most important issue facing humanity. In different ways—spiritually and politically—both men will be seeking converts in bridging the divide between faith and science. Biden and Pope Francis are in their seventies and eighties respectively, and while both are at the top of their respective hierarchies, they have a relatively brief window of opportunity, which like an earlier pope-president combination could fundamentally change the world.

Timothy Naftali, a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU (Wagner) and co-author of Impeachment: an American History, is writing a presidential biography of John F. Kennedy. Twitter: @TimNaftali

Christopher White is a national correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.