The Democratic presidential candidates from the top to the bottom of the polls are making climate change a major feature of the campaign message and trying to make the case that farmers will benefit from addressing it.
Farmers generally get passing mention in the stump speeches the candidates are giving in Iowa, the focus of the campaign this week, and it’s usually in the context of the climate issue or President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.
“We want to make sure that we have a safe planet. We want to protect the home, the lands that we love, the land that we farm,” said Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (shown above), campaigning at the Iowa State Fair on Friday, summarizing a common talking point.
“This is what we’re talking about when we talk about addressing climate change, moving away from fossil fuels, investing in clean renewable energy that is better for us, better for the planet and better for our pocketbooks,” she added.
Julian Castro told reporters at the fair that “Iowa farmers know that climate change represents a threat to their livelihood,” noting that a report released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change detailed the potential impact on food security.
“We need to act, and so my hope is that more Iowa farmers will leverage the influence that they have, because Iowa is an early state, to push for climate change legislation. We need to do it, it’s an existential threat to our nation and to our world,” said Castro, a former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Obama administration.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has centered his campaign around addressing climate change, cited this spring’s Midwest floods as proof that it is happening and he called for the need for technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invoking the name of a famous Iowan, plant breeder Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the father of the Green Revolution.
Inslee told reporters Saturday that he has reduced his consumption of meat, a recommendation of the IPCC report.
“This is an issue of personal choice. I believe our nutritional decisions do have an impact on climate,” he said.
Other candidates who have released detailed rural and agricultural policy proposals have featured proposals to increase conservation program spending to encourage farmers to increase soil carbon.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed this week to help farmers fight climate change by putting $15 billion a year into the Conservation Stewardship Program to pay farmers for practices that increase soil carbon. CSP is currently funded at about $1 billion a year.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar also released general policy proposals that called for using CSP and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program to help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Conservation program funding should “support farmers who want to implement new, validated practices to stem climate change are eligible to receive payments to implement carbon sequestration on their farm as they do for providing other environmental services,” according to the Gillibrand plan.
Her plan also calls for expanding research at USDA and land-grant universities "to develop, evaluate, and refine carbon sequestration and advanced nutrient management programs on their farms."
The latest poll of likely Iowa caucus growers has Warren running second in the state at 19%. Former Vice President Joe Biden leads the state at 28% in the Monmouth University survey. Klobuchar, Gillibrand and Gabbard are well back at 3%, 2% and 1% respectively. Castro and Inslee had less than 1%.
Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who came in at 2% support in the poll, is keeping a relentless focus on his central campaign theme, which is to provide $1,000 a month to every American citizen to offset the job losses caused by technology.
Even when the issue is trade and the importance of exports to Iowa, Yang returns to the theme.
“If we’re going to pursue trade agreements we have to make sure and take care of the people who are not going to be part of the benefits,” Yang told reporters. He argues that retraining programs have done little to help people who have lost jobs to automation and trade.
“If we’re going to have trade deals, we need to push the economic benefits more quickly and broadly, and the first step would be a dividend of $1,000 a month for every American because then everyone would feel like they are sharing in our progress,” Yang said.
In a departure from other candidates, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney promised fairgoers on Friday that he would immediately join the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership if he is elected. Former President Barack Obama "was 100% right" about the TPP, Delaney said.
“Every acre of land in Iowa would be worth more money, because every crop price would be higher,” said Delaney. President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement, which is now in force without the United States. Former Vice President Joe Biden now says that he would not support joining TPP unless it is renegotiated.
Hannah Pagel contributed to this report.
(Updated Saturday with Inslee.)
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