Well, we made it through another Earth Day. This high holy day for those who worship the environment takes center stage and, for at least one day, everyone gets environmentally aware. What gets overlooked are those who work to improve the environment the other 364 days of the year. The highlight of Earth Day 2016 was more than 150 world leaders gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York City to sign a historic climate change deal. They met to sign the Paris Climate Change Agreement, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly and to help all countries build a sustainable future for their citizens. But, more significant to the future sustainability of our world’s environment and food production system is what was NOT included in the agreement.
Each participating country that signed the accord has agreed to work toward limiting the temperature rise overall to below 2 degrees Celsius and must submit detailed plans for how it will meet the goals of the pact. Thirty-seven nations included biofuels as part of their plans. The United States, however, did not include biofuels or renewable energy as part of its plan to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gasses. This despite the fact that the U.S. has the most developed biofuel infrastructure and most progressive renewable energy industry in the world. Even though we have a Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in place, the Obama administration chose to leave it out of the U.S. plan. This in spite of the overwhelming evidence that renewable energy makes a tremendous contribution to reducing greenhouse gasses. Last year alone, ethanol in our fuel supply reduced CO2 emissions by 41 Million Metric Tons — the equivalent of taking 8.7 million cars off the road.
“The urgency of this challenge is only becoming more pronounced, and that is why our gathering today is, in fact, historic,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as he signed the accord. Yet, that urgency is not enough to motivate the Obama administration to support the renewable fuel sector, an industry that not only provides proven benefits to the environment but provides jobs and economic investment in rural America.
Another activity that got overlooked on Earth Day was the planting of cover crops. Last fall, far from the news cameras, Indiana farmers planted over 1.1 million acres of cover crops on their fields. This was a 10% increase and makes Indiana the leader in the U.S. in cover crop adoption. Cover crops build soil organic matter, protect against soil erosion, cycle nutrients, reduce compaction, sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and build overall soil health and make it more resilient to weather extremes. In addition, the use of cover crops helps improve water quality and protects the rural environment. While Hoosier farmers are taking the lead, the adoption of reduced tillage and cover crops is a trend that is increasing on farms across the nation.
These are just two examples of things that are being done all year long — far from the media spotlight — that actually do more to improve the earth than international accords and once a year events.
By Gary Truitt