Saving dollars, making sense

By Bruce Knight

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Regular readers of this blog are fully aware that I am convinced that the scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that climate change is real.  But I am equally convinced that it is possible to address climate change in ways that can enable us to prosper.

Reducing CO2 emissions can both save dollars and make business sense.  Climate change is an issue we cannot ignore, but disaster is not inevitable.  There are pragmatic approaches to dealing with it that we can begin to implement now that can also provide economic benefits.

I am particularly encouraged by a recent report from World Resources Institute (WRI) called Seeing is Believing: Creating a New Climate Economy in the United States that found that “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the US doesn't hurt the economy-in fact, it can actually benefit the economy by saving businesses and consumers money and improving public health.”

This report confirmed the science behind climate change and pointed to weather problems in the U.S., such as the drought in California, the heat wave in Texas, and a historically cold winter in New York as evidence of the problem.  It also noted that there is a widespread misperception in this country that addressing climate change will automatically result in negative economic consequences.  Instead, the report stressed that it is possible to reduce climate risks and at the same time create jobs and boost economic growth.

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The five strategies that the report identifies would address the sources of 55 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. They include:

·         Reducing the carbon emissions associated with electricity generation

·         Improving energy efficiency for consumers

·         Building cleaner, more fuel-efficient passenger vehicles

·         Reducing waste from natural gas systems, and

·         Reducing consumption of hydrofluorocarbons.

How does this work?  The bottom line is that newer, more efficient technologies are becoming available that enable us to either reduce energy consumption and/or use cleaner fuels (natural gas) or sources (wind, solar, biogas) to produce that energy.

For example, the WRI study found that by 2025, new cars should be about twice as fuel-efficient as those on the dealers' lots today.  That will save dollars for drivers and reduce the environmental impact at the same time.  Plugging methane leaks in natural gas systems can cut air pollution and save the gas industry millions per year.  Switching to safer and cheaper refrigerants would be less expensive, plus it would cut hydrofluorocarbon emissions.

Changes already in progress are making a difference.  But the WRI report also proposed additional steps we can take to reduce CO2 emissions further while saving money.  Many of these are policy recommendations that will help align a commitment to address climate change with incentives to reduce energy use, increase efficiency and opt for cleaner choices where possible.  Other strategies involve focusing research and development to drive further technological improvements that lower emissions as well as encouraging investment in those technologies.

The WRI study largely bypassed looking at the agriculture community which is okay for now.   However, the time is coming for those of us in agriculture to look for the same type of win-win opportunities and actions that we can take when it comes to climate change.  Closely examining energy efficiency, food and feed waste, crop and livestock efficiency will all lead to the same conclusions in our community. We can, in fact, save money while reducing climate impacts.   We have a unique opportunity and potential in agriculture to mitigate climate impacts through our production actions.

Improving the environment we all share and strengthening bottom lines for agricultural producers, manufacturers, service providers and consumers go together.  There are common sense solutions available that save dollars.  Addressing climate change can be a win-win proposition if we simply have the vision to see it and the will to insist upon it.

About the author: Bruce I. Knight, Principal, Strategic Conservation Solutions, was the Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from 2006 to 2009. From 2002 to 2006, Knight served as Chief of Natural Resources Conservation Service. The South Dakota native worked on Capitol Hill for Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, Rep. Fred Grandy, Iowa, and Sen. James Abdnor, South Dakota. In addition, Knight served as vice president for public policy for the National Corn Growers Association and also worked for the National Association of Wheat Growers. A third-generation rancher and farmer and lifelong conservationist, Knight operates a diversified grain and cattle operation using no-till and rest rotation grazing systems

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