Toward the end of his letter to the editor in last week’s Landmark, Louis Smither asserts that “in 90% of the cases, government is not here to help.” That is a popular view in conservative circles and probably harkens back to President Reagan’s famous quip ‘Government is not the solution, it is the problem,’ which is not supported by the facts.
No advanced civilization could ever develop without immense government intervention. In the US, ‘hard’ infrastructure such as transportation systems depend on the government, and ‘soft’ infrastructure such as a legal system is inconceivable without it. With consumer protection, market regulation, education systems, international relationships, research and development, to name just a few, government touches our lives in beneficial ways every day. If we are not happy with it, in a democracy we have to ability to effect change as long as we are informed and care enough about it. I am sure Mr. Smither knows that ( disclosure: I am/have been a customer in his agricultural warehouse for many years and I like him), he may have just given in to the conformity of views in rural communities in this instance. Yet the farming sector of our economy relies heavily on services provided by the USDA and many businesses took advantage of the forgivable loans offered by the Payroll Protection Program during the first year of the pandemic.
Now to the more serious topic, climate change. Here, I sadly agree with both Mr. Speckman and Mr. Smither.
At this point controlling the climate is fantasy. We have influenced it for too long ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution by burning ever increasing amounts of fossil fuels and loaded the atmosphere with fully a third more of carbon than in any point of human history. What had accumulated over hundreds of millions of years in the mantle of the earth we have burned, in geologic terms, in a flash and thereby ‘enriched’ the atmosphere with carbon dioxide causing the disruptions of natural cycles.
By the way, more than half of the emitted carbon dioxide reached the atmosphere just within the last 30 years and is there to stay. And emissions are still growing – despite feeble efforts to change that. It also didn’t help that in my lifetime the US population more than doubled and the world population more than tripled. The consequences, as more and more people all around the world are experiencing , are catastrophic.
To avoid the worst scenarios we have to act. Carbon sequestration by means of cover crops as Louis Smither suggests is one good way agriculture can contribute to mitigate the problem. But make no mistake, it will take much more: Our entire way of life was changed drastically with combustion engines and industrial production and it will take tremendous efforts to return to carbon neutral ways. The answers do not lie in technological innovations alone, for these take too long and their implementation requires another surge of fossil fuel consumption. We cannot solve problems with the same mindset that got us into that situation – innocent hedonism. Nobody wanted to negatively affect the climate, everybody just wanted a ‘better life’. But here we are and have to realize that nature is not a negotiation partner. The people who will pay the price most heavily are those in developing countries who least were the causes for the climate crisis, and of course those not even born yet in developed regions of the world who will have to live on a planet that their ancestors despite many advances in science and health spoiled for them.