The Truth about Trade
Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.
Rebranding A Crisis
Jul 16, 2009
When the global-warming alarmists realized that they had a serious branding problem, they did what any marketing expert might advise: They changed the name of the product they’re trying to sell. And so “global warming” became “climate change.”
That’s what one too many snowstorms during congressional hearings on a heating planet will force a movement to do.
The rebranding may have worked: The House of Representatives has passed a massive bill aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. Debate now moves to the Senate and is likely to continue for at least a couple of months. If you’ve ever visited Washington, D.C. at this time of year, you probably know that a summer blizzard isn’t likely to disrupt these deliberations.
Farmers, however, may want to hope for one: This is a bad bill for agriculture. The American Clean Energy and Security Act goes by the acronym “ACES.” Since we’re on the subject of rebranding, I’d like to propose an alternative. This legislation is not an ace, but a joker. Farmers and ranchers are fools if they fall for it.
Oh, sure, the legislation in its current form is not as horrible as it once looked. During negotiations this spring, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, chairman of the House agriculture committee, forced a few improvements. Yet the environmental lobby finally found his price. The rest of us should recognize that making a horrible bill slightly less awful still does not make it good.
Much has been made over the fact that under the bill’s current provisions, farmers and ranchers won’t have to limit their carbon emissions. But who expects this exemption to last? It concedes a critical point—the notion that climate change poses such a certain and enormous threat that we must take drastic action to address it, despite high economic costs during a global financial crisis.
When farmers concede this point, they set themselves up for a calamity. Agriculture’s exemption won’t last. Instead, it will become the next target for zealots. We live in a world in which global-warming fanatics try to measure the impact of cow flatulence on the climate. If this is one of their obsessions, how long will they ignore the effects of our trucks and tractors?
What’s more, our exemption only goes so far. It certainly does not insulate us from the effects of the bill on the rest of the economy. We know that the legislation will make energy substantially more expensive. Some experts believe electricity prices will double. Fuel prices could increase by more than 50 percent. These are prices we will pay, even if we are not forced yet to track our carbon emissions.
High energy costs will affect farmers in all sorts of ways. Consider the impact on fertilizer, which requires a large amount of energy to produce. The price of this important commodity will soar. Farmers will have little choice but to pay up. Meanwhile, the fertilizer industry will confront difficult decisions. As a globally traded commodity, imports already account for more than half of America’s nitrogen fertilizer supply. The climate-change legislation almost certainly will push more of this offshore to nations without similar climate policies. It makes you wonder whatever happened to Washington’s calls for energy independence.
One of the reasons why the cap-and-trade system has gained political traction is because its supporters think they can sell it to the public as a way of improving the environment without imposing new taxes. But this is snake oil: What we have here is a carbon tax by another name. Instead of writing checks to the IRS, people will feel the pinch when they pay their electricity bills and fill their gas tanks.
They’ll also feel it at the grocery store. If farmers and ranchers have to pay more to produce food, so will consumers. Think of it this way: A carbon tax isn’t just a special tax on energy, it’s also a tax on food. You’ll pay it every time you eat.
So let’s rebrand the legislation. Supporters can call it a global-warming bill, a climate-change bill, or whatever they want. Farmers must recognize it as a new tax that will make virtually everything we do more expensive.
Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org