10. U. S. Department of Agriculture Funded Research on Global Warming

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial
Published May 5, 2013

“Research to the rescue”
Federal investment in university research can help agriculture face the challenge of global warming.

On his trip to Wisconsin last week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a prime example of the kind of smart investment the federal government should make to confront climate change and support the economy.

UW-Madison and six other universities are to share a $9.9 million grant for a five-year research project aimed at reducing the dairy industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. The project is especially important to Wisconsin, where the dairy industry contributes more than $26 billion a year to the state’s economy. Climate change is a threat to the industry and, consequently, a threat to Wisconsin’s economy.

In the long term, climate change puts Wisconsin at risk of becoming less desirable as a location for dairying. But of more immediate concern is the dairy industry’s contribution to climate change.

The industry produces 2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which tend to keep more heat in the atmosphere. Customers, including Wal-Mart, are pressuring the industry to cut emissions. Furthermore, the prospect of federal regulation looms.

In response, the industry has pledged to cut emissions by 25 percent in the next seven years.

Just as climate change poses a threat, the response poses an opportunity. By finding ways to cut emissions, the industry can improve efficiency, which would boost profits.

University research on new technologies and strategies can play a central role in helping the industry meet its challenges and take advantage of its opportunities, as a look through history demonstrates.

Wisconsin was a wheat-growing state in the 1800s. But when wheat farming declined, University of Wisconsin research helped the state become “America’s Dairyland.” During the Dust Bowl on the Great Plains in the 1930s, university research found farming methods that cut down on wind erosion. After the Dust Bowl, university research helped produce higher-yielding hybrid crops.

No doubt, some wag will ridicule the USDA grant as a waste of taxpayer money on a study of manure, which indeed will be a part of the research. But while these are times to control government spending, these are also times to invest in the country’s future.

Investing in research to combat climate change and improve the dairy industry is the right priority.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published in Wisconsin State Journal on May 19, 2013
Question Asked: Is research key to helping Wisconsin farmers deal with climate change?

“Let fossil fuel industry fund research”

I have reservations about this federally funded university study on the dairy industry reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

Industries knew the importance of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at the United Nations’ 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. President George H. W. Bush signed an agreement at the summit.

Besides being too little in the fight against global warming, UW-Madison’s research grant seems too late.

Unfortunately for us, few U.S. industries took the threat of climate change seriously enough to begin researching ways to reduce emissions 20 years ago.

Now that we are beginning to experience effects of the increasingly warmer atmosphere — rising sea levels, higher temperatures, melting polar ice caps — the Department of Agriculture finally decides it’s time to fund research into reducing dairy’s contribution to the “problem” (catastrophe) of global warming.

Who should fund the studies? Global warming scientists have pinpointed the majority of this problem to fossil fuel burning. That industry should be tapped to fund the lion’s share of funding, not the American taxpayers.

— Michael Neuman, Madison

“Let farmers lead the way”

Of course research is key to helping Wisconsin farmers deal with climate change. And not just farmers — research helps all of us.

When humanity began large-scale fossil fuel burning by industrializing, we unintentionally began a planetary experiment on the effects of adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

We didn’t realize then we might threaten our survival, but thanks to scientists we understand it now. The vast majority of climate scientists agree climate change is real, primarily human-induced and dangerous if unchecked.

So I’m delighted the university will be researching how to lower emissions in the dairy industry. But research is just the beginning. We must also act on what we learn. We need good federal climate policy.

The best idea I’ve seen, based on economic research, is a steadily-rising fee on carbon-based fuels so they reflect their true cost to society, with a return of the revenue to households to cushion the impact of rising prices.

Both liberal and conservative economists have concluded this is the most effective way to stimulate the change we need in our energy system. Many opportunities will arise as we make this change, and I would love to see our farmers lead the way.

— Madeleine Para, Madison

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About Mike Neuman

Environmentalist; Father; Senior Citizen; Husband, School Crossing Guard; Green Bay Packer Fan; Wisconsin Badger Fan; Animal Lover; Humanitarian

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