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Jill Richardson wrote a diary protesting a Republican plan to exempt Ag interests from global warming regulations. Now, the plan, pushed by Senator Mike Johanns, sounds well and good on the surface. After all, why should we force small farmers to deal with all sorts of unnecessary rules and regulations when they are the ones who grow the food that feeds the world? But the problem with that is that it would also exempt large corporate interests as well, like CAFO's. The idea that we should not overregulate the small farmer is a valid concern. But the problem with many of these debates is that we split hairs over what constitutes a small farm versus what constitutes a large farm, and then nothing ever gets done.

I propose that we exempt small and medium sized farming operations from the proposed global warming regulations that are about to be drawn up. One of the problems with defining that it that it varies from state to state. However, Obama has defined the cutoff point between middle and upper class as $250,000 or more. Therefore, I propose that any farming operation that makes less than $250,000 per year after expenses and taxes be exempt from these regulations. The purpose of crafting environmental regulations should not be a one-size fits all approach -- what is appropriate for a small farmer might not be appropriate for a large operation. The purpose should be to craft something that everyone can benefit from.

There is another possibility -- use percentiles to define small, medium, and large. But the problem with that is that these percentiles vary from state to state. Some states have much larger average farming operations than others. So, that would create a system that is needlessly complex. Therefore, the cutoff point should be something that is simple to understand.

And we have to remember that small farmers and progressives are on the same side when it comes to dealing with large corporate interests. Monsanto has a whole history of suing small farmers for allegedly reseeding Monsanto beans. CAFO's have run small hog producers out of business because the cost of feeding hogs alone in a small operation is greater than the price of the hogs. And nobody wants to live anywhere near a CAFO.

Secondly of all, the number of people involved in farming has shrunk for a long period of time. The long-term trend of consolidation is turning our food supply into a high risk proposition. For instance, less diversity means that if there is a disease that happens to destroy a certain variety of corn, then that will inflict serious damage to our food supply. For example, there is a weed that turns out to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide, meaning that will put our food supply at considerable risk. But with a high level of diversity in farming, that does not happen -- the more varieties of corn there are, the less likely that the whole corn crop falls victim to some weed or pest that conventional methods can't deal with.

This means that we should be in the business of encouraging more people to get into agriculture and creating more incentives for them to get started as opposed to the massive corporate welfare subsidies that have too frequently been a part of farm policy. Our food supply would be much safer with 1 million new small farmers in agriculture than it would be if just 10 corporations controlled all the food production.

But at the same time, it is totally appropriate to regulate mega-sized operations like Monsanto or CAFO's. There is an argument that if we do so, they will just move out of the country and set up shop somewhere else. But this is not about us. The problem of global warming is one that is global, not something that we can solve through America First politics. We have to make a value judgment -- is it more important to take concrete steps towards saving the world from the threat of global warming? Or is it more important to avoid inconveniencing Monsanto or Tyson Foods or CAFO's?

If they just move their operations elsewhere and send the food back to us, then we should subsidize our small farmers so that they can compete with Monsanto et al pricewise. But the fear that if we tighten up environmental regulations that companies will simply move out is not a valid argument. First of all, it is an appeal to fear; therefore, it is inherently negative and should be rejected. Secondly of all, we are one of the least environmentally friendly countries in the world, seeing that we have only 3% of the world's population yet emit a quarter of the world's greenhouse gasses; therefore, that scenario is not likely to happen. Thirdly of all, we have to lose the notion that bigger is somehow better, given the "too big to fail" meme that has taken hold of Washington and corporate boardrooms. If Monsanto or some other operation is so big that it would be the end of the world if they moved out, then they need to be broken up like AT&T was by Ronald Reagan's Justice Department.  

Some people may argue at this point that this is not the time to be doing that given our ongoing economic crisis. It can be argued further that the IMF has found that this crisis in the financial sectors will not be going away any time soon and that we should be protecting jobs, not driving them away. But the problem with that argument is that global warming is not going away just because of an economic crisis. The jobs we create from green energy and light rail will far outweigh any jobs that we lose from companies relocating abroad because of our environmental regulations.

This argument is what is known as a false choice -- the notion that we somehow have to choose between the economy and the environment. But we don't have to choose between them at all. For instance, the Apollo Alliance and Energize America are two programs which combine the creation of jobs and respect for the environment. This is something that has been debunked for a long time.

Originally posted to Stop the Police State! on Tue Apr 21, 2009 at 10:07 AM PDT.

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