One of the most famous headlines in U.S. journalism appeared in Variety in its July 7, 1935 issue STICKS NIX HICK PIX over an article about the reaction of rural audiences to movies about rural life. Today, Eags (the NY Fishwrap's Timothy Egan) celebrates a hick in OK for having the courage to speak out on the issue of climate change. Ironically, the foremost denier of climate change in the U.S. Senate is Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). Inhofe is the author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future 2012). Kudos to Eags for celebrating Clay Pope and brickbats to James Inhofe for being an idiot about climate change. Pope is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack could use Clay Pope's help in pushing back against fools like Inhofe. If this is a (fair & balanced) call for good sense on climate change in 2013, so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap]
Hicks Nix Climate Fix
By Timothy Egan
Tag Cloud of the following article
Clay Pope (OK rancher)
Everybody loves a farmer, judging by the popularity of this year’s hit Super Bowl ad about the virtues of those who coax food from dirt. And yet nobody wants to be one, with less than 1 percent of the population claiming it as an occupation.
But somewhere among the 315 million Americans is a farmer who is (rarer still) a Democrat willing to serve President Obama. Should this person be found, he or she should be put in charge of the daunting task of convincing food producers that nothing imperils their future more than climate change.
I realize that summoning images of wilted wheat, lizard-skin ground and scrawny cattle nosing through drought-ravaged forage just a few days after a major winter storm is not the most timely approach. Whenever it snows over a large portion of the country, climate change-deniers point to the blanket of white outside and cry “hoax!”
But with the announcement this week of the usual suspects of city-bred, East Coast, well-credentialed types to the cabinet-level team that Obama is assembling to fight climate change, it’s time to consider a farmer as a leader of that cause.
Farmers don’t care much for Obama, so why should he reach out to them? He lost the rural vote by almost 20 points. And among big farmers (I’m talking productivity here, not bib overall size), he lost by 50 points. No surprise. Farmers haven’t had anything nice to say about a Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt was touring cornfields in his open-air car.
The people who grow grain for breakfast cereal and raise pigs for prosciutto are also among the biggest deniers of the consensus scientific view that humans have altered the earth’s climate. While acknowledging that, yes, sir, the weather does appear to be changing for the worse, most farmers don’t think it is human-caused, according to several polls. You’d have to survey the leading talk-radio hosts to find a higher percentage of disbelievers of the obvious.
At first glance, this makes no sense, because farmers have the most to lose in a world of weather havoc. Droughts, floods, searing high temperatures and freakish storms that now appear with regularity pose more of a threat to global food supply than the whims of the market. Weeds, pests and fungi — agricultural nightmares in a bundle — thrive under warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels. Heat waves are livestock killers, increasing the prevalence of parasites and diseases.
These horrors were highlighted in two recent government assessments of what climate change will mean to the nation’s breadbasket. And since American exports supply more than 30 percent of all wheat, corn and rice on the global market, what’s bad for the fertile crest of the United States is bad for a planet with seven billion people to feed.
So, why the denial? Cost. Any fix in the sticks is likely to hit farmers hard, because they use a disproportionate amount of the fertilizers, chemicals and fossil fuels that power the American agricultural machine, and are likely to come under increased regulation.
It’s one thing to persuade hipsters in Portland, OR, or Brooklyn to grow organic — hey, how cool is an artisan radish — in their rooftop gardens. It’s a much tougher push to get Big Ag, made up mostly of stubborn older men, to change its ways.
But imagine if a farmer led the cause against climate change. Franklin Roosevelt chose Hugh Bennett, a son of the North Carolina soil, to rally Americans against the abusive farming practices that led to the Dust Bowl. Big Hugh was blunt, smart and convincing. “Of all the countries in the world, we Americans have been the greatest destroyers of land of any race of people,” he said, without apology.
Obama’s picks for energy secretary, the M.I.T. scientist Ernest Moniz, and Environmental Protection Agency administrator, the seasoned regulator Gina McCarthy, are cautious and qualified insiders. The problem with those nominees is that they come from the same general neighborhood. Just as every justice on the Supreme Court is an Ivy Leaguer, top government posts are thick with people from the same provinces of success, usually the Northeast and its top schools.
Clay Pope, a rancher from Loyal, OK, recently cut a YouTube video [above] urging President Obama to highlight the climate change threat to agriculture. It was good to see Pope, who speaks with the kind of vowel-crushing twang rarely heard in Washington policy circles, take up the good fight, especially considering the risk he exposed himself to from primitive politicians in his home state.
Either by push from a regulator, or shove from the weather itself, or persuasion from a person whose very livelihood depends on what comes from the sky, agricultural life will be unrecognizable within a generation’s time. If a farmer led the way to a better era, we might see this headline during the transition, a rewrite of one of the most famous in newspaper history: Hicks Fix Climate Tricks. Ω
[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]
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