If you’re one of those Republicans who say that people shouldn’t worry about climate change, because it will bring economic benefits to America as a result of increased agricultural yields, you need to take a look at the evidence to the contrary offered today in the form of a vote in the U.S. Senate. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand offered an amendment to the Senate’s farm bill (S.Amdt. 931 to S. 954). The farm bill as currently written takes $400 million dollars away from food stamps, and uses that money to pay for increasing agricultural insurance costs that are related to an increasing rate of extreme weather events.
No single extreme weather event is evidence of climate change, but the increase in the rate of extreme weather events as the years go on is in accord with scientific predictions of the consequences of climate change. As time goes on, annual damage to farmers’ fields, orchards, and herds is getting larger. To keep the agricultural system intact in spite of increasingly erratic climate, the federal government is having to increase its subsidies to agricultural insurance plans, and is increasing the assistance it gives to farmers in their payments of agricultural insurance premiums.
That money had to come from somewhere. The Senate has chosen to take away $400 million dollars poor families that depend on food stamps to eat in order to fill in the gap. Gillibrand’s amendment would have reversed the farm bill’s cuts to food stamps, and paid for the reversal by taking money out of the federal subsidies for agricultural insurance. Today, the Senate voted against Gillibrand’s amendment, with a vote of 70 in opposition, and only 26 (24 Democrats and the Senate’s 2 independents) in favor.
It was a tough choice for senators to make. Should they protect money to feed Americans now, or provide money to protect against losses due to climate change, hoping that the insurance subsidies will keep the U.S. agricultural system from collapsing? Few people will eat if farmers can’t recover from climate catastrophes.
What the U.S. Senate should have done a generation ago was to pass strong climate legislation to end America’s dependence on fossil fuels and provide adequate funding for sustainable energy infrastructure. The Senate still hasn’t passed that legislation, and as a result of its climate cowardice, the U.S. Senate today was forced to choose which Americans would become the newest victims of climate change. The Senate chose to let Americans on food stamps go hungry.
The longer the U.S. Senate waits to pass serious climate legislation, the more choices like this it will be forced to make. More and more Americans are going to be segregated off into the category of climate losers, as our political leaders seek to protect those elite groups with the best lobbyists from the consequences of our nation’s inaction on climate change.