Investing in Food Security & Climate Protection

An August report released by the California Environmental Protection Agency (“Indicators of Climate Change in California”) confirms what many Californians already understand – that the weather is weirder, the water is scarcer and the hot spells are hotter.

The findings in the CalEPA report are yet another wake-up call, especially for farmers.  More intense and frequent heat waves will cause stress for plants, livestock and farm laborers. Reduced snowpack and earlier spring melts, of what snow there is, will mean less water for irrigation. Rising sea levels will cause saltwater to seep into groundwater and compromise an already diminishing resource.

Maybe the fact that more people are recognizing that the climate is changing explains a recent survey finding that a record number of Californians want state government to take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to Climate Change in the California Mind, 60 percent of Californians think that Governor Brown, the legislature and local government should do more.

Governor Brown has been making lots of public statements about the importance of tackling climate change. Three months ago, he very pointedly said, “[Climate change] is an important challenge, cause and undertaking. We can do it, but we have to do a lot more than we’re doing now.” Last Friday, he appeared at a public event in San Francisco to announce an agreement to collaborate with China on addressing climate change. However, inconsistent with the words and media events, to date the Governor has yet to make investments in climate change activities as part of California’s new cap-and-trade program.

By way of background: The state of California launched a cap-and-trade program this year and started collecting money from quarterly auctions of allowances (i.e., permits to release greenhouse gases) purchased by the state’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Last year, the Governor signed a bill into law (AB 1532) that lays out a plan for investing the cap-and-trade money in climate protection activities. We are pleased that sustainable agriculture is on the list of eligible funding categories in the investment plan.

The fourth auction results were announced in late August, and the state now has a total of almost $400 million to invest in agriculture, energy efficiency, public transportation, forest protection and more. Citing fiscal prudence, Governor Brown decided in June 2013 to put the first $500 million in a rainy day fund instead of spending it on climate change solutions.

To us, it seems like the stakes are high for both agriculture and the climate, and there’s no time to waste in assuring the food security in the face of climate change. California’s farmers and ranchers produce the majority of the country’s fruits, vegetables and nuts and more dairy products than any other state. We must invest in climate-friendly farming practices that mitigate climate change and help farmers adapt. CalCAN submitted recommendations to the California Air Resources Board about the farming and ranching practices that have demonstrated climate benefits and deserve state investments.

With sound science, technical assistance and financial incentives, more and more farmers will find ways to reduce their carbon footprint, produce renewable energy, protect our natural resources and use their farms as carbon “sinks” while staying in the business of feeding the world.

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