Climate Pragmatism Amid the Glasgow Rhetoric

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak with a political candidate during our Canadian federal election. It was one of those moments when you know you could be asked just about anything. Typically, non-farm people who run as candidates want to meet with farm people to learn the issues. At a certain point in the conversation, we were asked how climate change was affecting our farms. The group gathered kind of looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. In this dreary October with soybeans still in the field, it’s like haven’t we been here before?

I sure have. However, I know you don’t want to know more about my problems with wet fields and wet conditions. I simply want the sun to shine and the wind to blow. The bottom line is that probably climate change is affecting all of this, but it’s particularly difficult to tell as I look out amid the raindrops in southwestern Ontario. I’ve been a climate change believer for a long time.

Sometimes being asked about it is a different thing. For instance, I was asked publicly once by a very popular American grain analyst what I was doing as an individual too combat climate change. It was one of those questions that you get sometimes which has to do with personal accountability. I answered the question by telling her probably the biggest thing I do is pay a carbon tax to help save the planet. That is in addition to my soil sequestration etc. etc. I thought it was a good answer to a tough question, but it surely is controversial. As farmers, we are at the frontlines of climate change. We know how to eke out a living where the vagaries of climate affect you every day.

In early November you surely will hear stories about climate change everywhere. I hope to be combining soybeans but everybody else it seems will be at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference in Scotland starting on October 31st. The Prime Minister will be there along with his new Environment minister Steven Guilbeault. Mr Guilbeault is controversial in some parts of Canada because he once was an environmental activist in Quebec as well as working for Greenpeace. I suppose many other ministers will be in Glasgow to talk about climate change maybe even our own Canadian minister of agriculture who got her old job back last week Marie Claude Bibeau.

With China not being at the conference and being one of the largest carbon emitters on the globe it’s hard to tell whether they’ll be any new carbon reduction initiatives coming out of Glasgow. We need to remember that US coal futures were up big last week. In fact, year to year ICE Rotterdam futures are up 140%. Simply put, there have been problems with renewable energy as global demand for electricity power generation has spiked in many countries. There has been somewhat of a scramble to secure power supplies for the northern hemisphere winter and coal has benefited even though it is a very dirty fuel. We like to be warm in the winter!

I’m just trying to be a pragmatist here. It’s the inconvenient truth in 2021. COVID certainly has complicated things as well. The transition to renewable energy is not happening overnight and it will surely continue over the years into the future. With that in mind, coal’s resurgence, will likely be short lived. At a certain point renewables are our future. Keep in mind how important ethanol was and is to making for a cleaner world. Nothing is ever perfect on the way to Nirvana.

That won’t stop the rhetoric coming out of Glasgow next week and to be honest it really shouldn’t. As I’ve told you many times polar countries like Canada and Russia may have a net benefit from climate change because their agricultural sectors will benefit. Warmer means a longer crop season. However, just look at our Canadian Arctic and the permafrost melting, look at the extremely high temperatures in a place like Kuwait or go with me on my next trip to Bangladesh and see farmers deal with salinity among their rice patties. Climate change is real and smarter minds than me will help us get to a place in the future where we might get things back to normal.

Keep in mind the politics surrounding climate change are over, at least in Canada. There is room for pragmatism but there’s really no room for having your head in the sand. It is hard to argue with the science, and I’ve chosen not to many years ago. As farmers we will continue to be on the leading edge of climate change. Many of us including myself will shrug my shoulders from time to time. I will continue to sequester carbon. The hard part though is getting the whole planet to cool down a few degrees. At a certain point, just like this year’s soybean harvest, you got to hope it will happen.