Climate Change

Farming, Fate, and Difficult Decisions

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Imagine yourself a farmer in the early summer of 2019. (If this already describes you, the exercise should be easy.) Imagine the corn crop you planted, or attempted to plant, during the regular spring planting cycle has been damaged or washed away by a season of intense rain, unusual cold and strong flooding.

Now you’ll have to make a difficult set of decisions that may not only impact your own family and finances, but also the complex fluctuations and intersecting factors that put food on tables across the country.

You’ll need to either:

(1)  Plant your corn three weeks later in the season than you usually do, trusting that the floods are over, and raising a crop that may or may not be high and valuable enough to cover your loans by the season’s end.   

(2) Switch to a soybean crop, which tolerates a later planting and which farmers often do during spring seasons that are inclement for corn. The risk: soybeans are typically delivered to markets in China, which have been threatened by the current trade debacle. What if you grow a crop you can’t sell?

(3) Accept a subsidy so you can stay in the business…or not. Subsidies promised to farmers by the Trump administration require eligibility parameters, and these payouts will be limited or unavailable to farmers who have not planted anything yet due to flooded fields.

And then, the truly hard questions: If you hold a crop in storage while waiting for prices to return, what will you do if that never happens, or the water ruins your stored crop?  Will exiting farming now protect you and your family from a lifestyle with shrinking prospects? If you leave, what will you do instead? Where will you go?

And finally, consider the questions that fall not to you, but to the rest of us: What will we do if a year (or two or three) of painfully difficult decisions push farmers to exit the profession in critical numbers?

A healthy society and a functioning civilization depend on several things, including a democratic system of governance; a sustainable economy; ingrained support for education, culture and art; just, flexible and fairly enforced laws; and a system that brings accountability to those in power who work to undermine and corrupt it. But at the very core, none of these pillars can stand without universal access to clean water and food.

Without food, democracy, laws, culture, human rights, transportation, infrastructure and commerce fail quickly. And while climate change strikes at the heart of all of these things, none of our systems are more directly connected to the climate than our food system.

The United States doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and by simply examining the larger world, we can already see how climate change upends the lives of those who depend on the land for a living.

We may not all be able to grow our own food (though backyard gardens can supply us with both tomatoes and crucial lessons about the knowledge, labor, patience, experience, cost, risk, and moxy that it takes to grow a tomato, which can breed a healthy respect for farming). And we may not be able to protect ourselves from food shortages by implementing policy changes and price protections; a broken system, once broken, is difficult to rebuild, and abandoned fields don’t return to instant fecundity once lost overseas markets reopen.

But we can do one important thing, right now in the summer of 2019: Help farmers to make the difficult decisions in front of them by supporting farm-friendly policies and standing up to poor and reckless trade decisions. Most important: we can recognize the impact of climate change that’s taking place before our eyes, and we can look around the world and into the future as we search for ways to adapt.  

December 2018: A Brief Review of Global Developments

This week, there are so many developments of special interest to Just Atonement taking place around the world that it’s difficult for us to keep up. So we’ve distilled just a few of these events and noteworthy items and summarized them here.

UN COP24 Takeaways

Monday December 3rd marks the opening of the UN COP24 Climate Change conference, in which UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez will address a large audience of world leaders gathered to discuss strategies climate action. His early message can be broken down into four key points. First, Gutierrez delivered a call for greater ambition in the generation of renewable energy. “If we fail (to reduce emissions by 45 percent before 2030) the Arctic and Antarctic will continue to melt, corals will bleach and then die, the oceans will rise, more people will die from air pollution, water scarcity will plague a significant proportion of humanity, and the cost of disasters will skyrocket.”

Second, Gutierrez emphasized the importance of creating implementation guidelines in order to build trust among nations. More will be encouraged to act if others are also taking action. For item three, he stressed that adequate funding must be procured for climate action, and four, he emphasized that social and economic action on climate change result in benefits, not burdens. It remains to be seen how this message will be received by world leaders. Here’s a longer summary of the discussion.

Conditions in Yemen

What has previously been documented as the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world” is now also considered the largest food security crisis in the world, according to UN officials. Populations cut off from resources by conflict in and around Yemen’s port city of Hudaydah are facing deadly threats of hunger and malnutrition.  The Under-Secretary- General of the UN, Mark Lowcock, examined the situation and has reported and reiterated that only a political solution can end the crisis. Please read more here.

Oil Drilling in the Arctic

While some national governments are working hard to develop renewable energy and slow reliance on fossil fuels, the Trump administration is doing the opposite, specifically regarding the prospect of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a neighboring area in Alaska known as the National Petroleum Reserve. In both areas, Republicans in congress are working with corporate interests in the state of Alaska to rush through environmental assessment studies, roll back protective regulations, and issue drilling permits as fast as possible, hoping to unlock increased oil production along the Alaskan Coast. Learn more about the destructive race for Alaskan oil that appears to be undergoing a rapid acceleration by clicking here.

For more information on important current developments in the areas that affect our work the most, contact the team at Just Atonement. As always, we’re working every day to protect a just, safe, and democratic future for all people despite the unique challenges of our century.



Migrant Caravans and Climate Change

Here in the Just Atonement blog, we’ve spoken at length about the effects of climate change on human migration. As the planet warms, ecosystems are shifting unpredictably and sea levels are rising. As a result, coastal communities are facing enormous economic and lifestyle changes, and those who live further inland are dealing with droughts, storm systems, and water management issues. But there’s one population that will—and has already—felt the first serious impact of changing ecosystems: farmers.

Here’s an insightful article from the Guardian that addresses one example of this: the “migrant caravan” that appears to be moving north from central and south America this fall.

Those who make a living by growing food and other commercial goods appear to be providing early indicators of the changes that are yet to come for the rest of us. As farm landscapes and water resources shift, these people are among the first to feel the lifestyle and economic effects. And in many cases, these lifestyle changes are already pushing farmers, families and communities onto the road and into new geographic regions. As we’ve discussed in earlier blogs, this will mean massive numbers of people leaving one culture and entering another, with political and social impacts that are so far difficult to measure and predict.

How will the new arrivals be treated in their destination areas? Will they find assimilation and acceptance? Will they be easily able to move across political and cultural borders? When the do cross these borders, how will they reestablish themselves in their new lands, and how will they make a living?

Over the long term, the question we’ll all need to face is simple (though the factors that influence the answer are terribly complex): Can we navigate waves of human migration crisscrossing the surface of the planet while avoiding wars and political upheaval? Can we manage these changes without attacking each other? When migration takes place, it tends to bring fear, confusion, language and cultural barriers, and skirmishes over what are perceived as limited resources. Who has the right to these resources? Who belongs and who does not?

But migration also brings some incredible and positive tendencies, results that are not only essential to our ability to survive and thrive, but in fact have given us most of the things we celebrate about humanity: innovation, new ideas, connection, friendship and family, and the ability to grow and change as the world changes around us. As the planet shifts, will inevitable massive migrations bring out the best or the worst in all of us? We are witnessing the answer as we speak.  

Contact our team at Just Atonement to learn more. Find out how you can help us move toward our goal of a safer, wiser, more vibrant and sustainable world.  


Climate Change and Art

Here at Just Atonement, we typically consider the battle against climate change (the effort to prevent a critical two degree increase in planetary temperature) in terms of policy and legal action. In our blog, we review statements made by international organizations like the UN, and we discuss actions taken by public and private groups to limit society’s dependence on the burning of fossil fuels.

We recognize that fighting climate change is a multi-pronged effort, and the largest and most effective moves will likely be made at the highest levels of legal and political influence. For instance, when large municipalities (like New York City or the state of California) fund the exploration of sustainable fuel sources or increase tax shares on gas and oil companies, these moves create a larger impact than an individual person’s decision to recycle, drive a hybrid car, forego meat, or rein in their personal consumption habits.

All of us play a role, and every role matters, even though sometimes some roles seem to matter more than others. And when the impact of our own role seems to disappear in the grand scheme, this can lead to a host of existential frustrations and challenging mental exercises. These exercises, in turn, can push us toward larger questions about our role in the world and the purpose of our existence. If we follow this trail for a while, we find ourselves in a new place: a place of art.

An important intersection has opened up in the overlay between art and climate change. We don’t know what this means or where it will take us—Nobody does! But art, by nature, opens doors for us into new ways of thinking, new forms of action, new perspectives and new ways of looking at the same old world. Art expands us internally, pushing out and shifting the walls that define who we think we are and what we’re supposed to be doing here. And as it changes our inner lives, it also changes what we do, how we live, and how we impact the world outside of ourselves.

Check out this organization called Artists and Climate Change, and review the group’s latest series of interviews with artists who turn their attention to this issue.

Then take a look at this series of 12 contemporary artists who have contributed climate change-related works to this review in the NY Times Style Magazine.

And then of course, consider developing a project of your own that can demonstrate what these larger questions mean to you personally. If you have work to share with us—from photography to painting to writing or dance—please let us know!

Agricultural Challenges in the 21st Century

Several well recognized factors and global trends are pushing the planet closer to a state of precarious food distribution, which could lead to increases in malnutrition, hunger, and unpredictable agricultural commodity markets. These trends have been on the rise for years, and they don’t come as a surprise to those who study agricultural markets and food distribution issues, but some of them appear to be reaching critical tipping points. These include: 1) increasing population concentrations in urban areas 2) increasing populations in general, and 3) the impact of climate change, which we have yet to fully understand. Shifts in planetary temperature can wreak unpredictable havoc on growing patterns, pest and disease ecosystems, rainfall, and our ability to keep food fresh and safely transport it from one place to another.

On Monday, the United Nations agricultural agency chief outlined these issues while announcing the launch of the FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization) latest publication. This year, the publication will focus on the links between agricultural trade, food security, and climate change.

According to the Director General, in the coming years, the agriculture industry will face intense pressure to provide the world with safe and nutritious food in increasing quantities under increasingly difficult conditions. The industry will be required to feed the world while also preserving the world’s biodiversity and natural resources. This will be no small task, and the challenge will be greatest in lower latitude regions of the world closer to the equator.

Unpredictable fluctuations in rainfall will likely accompany rising temperatures, and arid and semi-arid regions will experience lower crop yields. At the same time, less affected areas at higher latitudes may experience a reduced impact, which can increase an already destabilizing development gap between wealthier and poorer regions of the world.

Even without the backdrop of climate change and shifting growing systems, the global food system will need to produce almost 50 percent more food by 2050 then it did in 2012. Using fewer resources to produce greater yields will be necessary to generate the basic stability we will require during the century ahead.

Are you interested in entering the field of agriculture or agriculture science? Our team can help you find a path into this challenging and vital field. Contact our office! In the meantime, learn more here.