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How This Un-Sexy Legislation Could Help Save the Planet

Op-Ed 2022-08-13, 9:50pm

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Danielle Nierenberg



Danielle Nierenberg

The Inflation Reduction Act is certainly not the sexiest-sounding legislation, and it doesn’t sound like it addresses agriculture, either—but it does, in a potentially big way. The Bill, which we talked about last week, is now set to go to the U.S. House of Representatives after passing the Senate. And it includes quite a bit about building more climate-smart agriculture and is, in fact, the largest climate-related investment in U.S. history.

In total, the bill provides about US$40 billion to agriculture—specifically aimed at helping farmers of different sizes and at creating more diverse agricultural systems. The Bill includes US$4 billion to boost drought resilience, US$14 billion set aside for rural clean energy and economic growth, US$5 billion to fight wildfires and increase carbon sequestration projects, and more.

And, there’s US$2.2 billion for aid to farmers who’ve experienced discrimination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This part is really important because farmers of color have been suffering for years at the hands of the USDA, so reparations need to be made—though that term still isn’t being used outright. A huge problem with USDA funding, for a long time, has been the number of hurdles in the way for busy farmers, especially women, queer farmers, and farmers of color, so I hope they make it easier for folks to go through the process. Extension services in the U.S. aren’t as robust as they once were—which, to be fair, is something that’s been happening around the world—but I think extension agents could also have a big role in helping farmers not only gain access to these funds but also implement them.

It’s taken this country’s legislators and presidential administrations decades to realize that we’re actually in a climate crisis. But for all the fanfare, the U.S. is not even close to the first country to legislate these kinds of climate goals. In 2020, the European Commission adopted the European Green Deal, a set of proposals to make the EU’s climate, energy, transportation, and taxation policies align with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This kind of action is not at all unprecedented—and we should’ve been following other countries’ leads on this a long time ago.

The Bill is, finally, a step in the right direction. But unfortunately, it passed the Senate with zero Republican support. I was really hoping that, because this bill is about agriculture, about helping farmers deal with the changing climate, that it could be bipartisan or nonpartisan. I hoped these were issues we all stood behind, and I’m sad to see that’s not the case. I’m keeping a close eye on the vote in the House of Representatives, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing support for farmers and rural communities from members of both parties.

I was also pleased to see analysis from journalists and experts when the bill passed the Senate, including from Bill McKibben, who for decades has been warning us of the impacts of the climate crisis. "Finally, today, they act," he tweeted this week. "It’s late, it’s deeply compromised, and it's also a great victory for all who have fought so long and hard." Dr. Jonathan Foley, the executive director of Project Drawdown and someone I also respect deeply, wrote on Twitter that "it’s just one piece of the larger answer we need to climate change, of course. But it’s a big piece. And an essential one."

Overall, I’m glad this legislation is moving forward, and I hope you’ll share with me what you think. I especially want to hear from farmers—what do you think this legislation will actually do? Do you think it’ll be easier to get the funds and support you need? Farmers are not only the core of our food system but also central to Food Tank’s work to build more sustainability and justice. 

(Danielle Nierenberg is President, Food Tank and can be reached at danielle@foodtank.com)