A Green New Deal Must Include Food and Farming

Congressman Earl Blumenauer is calling for solid, lasting bonds between the climate justice movement and the movement to reform the food system.



Our food system and environment are inexorably linked. What we grow–and how we grow it–has a tremendous impact on our land, water, and climate. And right now, our climate is in crisis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard for climate science, implores the world to cut greenhouse gas pollution by half in the next 12 years, and eliminate them entirely by 2050, to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate disruption on people, economies, and the natural world. We must build solid, lasting bonds between the climate justice movement and the movement to reform our food system. This starts with a Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal is an incredibly powerful social, economic, and environmental effort to invest in clean energy jobs and infrastructure. While the exact details have yet to be worked out, underlying this movement is a series of policy proposals to stop investing in fossil fuel development and redirect these resources toward decarbonizing the economy and making it more equitable.

Fueled by immense social power, it is designed to build on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sweeping New Deal that invested in natural resource conservation, built massive public works projects, and reformed financial institutions in order to pull the country out of the economic crisis of the Great Depression. Today, the Green New Deal is intended to make massive investments and reforms on the same scale in order to pull the world out of the climate crisis.

Shine for Milwaukee's Green New Deal protest. (Photo CC-licensed by Joe Brusky)

Shine for Milwaukee’s Green New Deal protest. (Photo CC-licensed by Joe Brusky)

But the Green New Deal won’t have the impact we need it to without a fundamental change to the way we produce our food. As of 2016, American agriculture contributed over 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution, largely due to emissions from livestock and poor soil management. If we are to reach the climate goals set by the IPCC, the food system must play a key role in reducing these greenhouse gas emissions and even sequestering carbon—actually taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere—through regenerative agriculture practices.

I’ve long said that as a nation we pay too much to the wrong people to grow the wrong food in the wrong places. We pour billions of dollars into subsidies for just a few commodity crops, which are grown year after year on the same pieces of land in a way that saps our soils of nutrients while polluting the air and water. We enshrine agricultural practices that use dangerous pesticides and threaten the health of farmworkers. We look away as farm practices pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, while giving very little support to regenerative agriculture and other techniques that sequester carbon. Even worse, our food system often shuts out small and beginning farmers, undercuts sustainable agriculture, and reinforces centuries of structural inequities that block access to land, capital, and opportunity for farmers of color and other underserved communities.

Every single one of these activities has an impact on the climate, and we need bold ideas to both rebalance the food system and tackle the climate crisis. A Green New Deal can start by incorporating the principles of agricultural reform and applying them to practices that will decarbonize the economy, while bringing justice to the food system. This means linking the billions of dollars we spend on subsidies to conservation and farming practices that reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint, and, in the process, lowering the cost of healthy food for all Americans. Many of the ideas to implement these kinds of changes and policy proposals are included in the legislation I introduced last year amidst the 2018 Farm Bill negotiations, The Food and Farm Act.

Rep. Blumenauer (left) rolling out the Food and Farm Act in 2017 in front of the Capitol, alongside Michael Pollan (center) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (right)

Rep. Blumenauer (left) rolling out the Food and Farm Act in 2017 in front of the Capitol, alongside Michael Pollan (center) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (right).

Now is the time to fundamentally shift farm infrastructure. A Green New Deal should reforest riparian areas, invest in conservation practices that rebuild degraded soil, and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reduce the 9 percent of greenhouse gas pollution from American agriculture to zero. By connecting communities to their food and investing in farmers, this suite of policies can ensure that locally grown, affordable, healthy food is accessible to everyone.

It shouldn’t be so hard for farmers to get by growing the food that sustains our nation. With the right investments, a Green New Deal could provide living wage jobs for agricultural workers, prioritizing low-income communities, communities of color, Indigenous groups, and frontline communities who are disproportionately affected by climate disruption. We can mitigate and address both climate change and the longstanding inequities and disparities that exist in the food system and the American economy.

In the last Congress, I led the resistance against a farm bill that followed the status quo. And I believe that in order to achieve generational change for the food system, we need a movement that includes an entire generation. It’s clear to me this change is possible with a Green New Deal, and its momentum is growing. The food and farm movement must join forces with the climate movement to save the planet and restore balance to our communities.

Top photo: Hundreds gather in San Francisco with the youth led Sunrise Movement to call on House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to support the formation of a Select Committee to advance a Green New Deal to address Climate Change. (Photo CC-licensed by Peg Hunter)

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has represented Oregon’s 3rd district since 1996. He is a senior member of the House Committee on Ways and Means.

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  1. Wednesday, January 30th, 2019
    I am hopeful that this idea of a Green New Deal that includes a deep and critical reform of our federal food and farm policy will gain momentum. I am grateful to Congressman Blumenauer and his colleagues in Congress that will be proposing and advocating for such a practical and sane policy. I also appreciate Peg Hunter and Civil Eats for focusing on the burgeoning movement around the New Green Deal and encourage your close observation and continuous reporting on the concept.
  2. Wednesday, January 30th, 2019
    Sir,
    I was hopeful that you would focus on the massive contribution of the meat and dairy sectors on Climate Change, but sadly, like far too many of your colleagues that particular potato is too difficult to handle. The fact is that Animal Agriculture contributes significantly more than 9% of Climate Change emissions (Greenhouse gasses and methane). Western countries, including the USA need to dramatically curb their appetites for meat and dairy if we are to have a planet on which to live. But don't take my word for it - read this article from the very authoritative Guardian Newspaper - https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth. If you have children or grandchildren, now would be a very good time to switch to a plant-based diet.
    • Stefhan Gordon
      Thursday, January 31st, 2019
      Guardian has become an animal rights soap box regurgitating EAT/FReSH/Wellcome Trust corporate funded manufactured advocacy masquerading as science. The 9% figure the Congressman cited is GHG emissions for the entire Ag sector including animal Ag for the United States accounting for LUC (land use change). This number is from EPA, IPCC and the UN Climate Change Conference. The Guardian article you provided a link to cites a meta-analysis by a vegan author who averaged LCA's for different types of foods. This meta-analysis excluded a lot of data since it didn't fit the methodological criteria. Research excluded included carbon NEGATIVE ways for raising beef. So like with any food, there are very bad to very good ways to raise, grow or catch any food item. We really need to focus in on the best food production methods in the appropriate ecosystems rather than continually argue over the false dichotomy that "plants good; meat bad" especially since much of what's degrading the soil and releasing carbon into the atmosphere is plant production including annual organic plant production.
    • Timmy
      Thursday, January 31st, 2019
      Sorry -- bzzzzzt -- what you and the Guardian assert (without qualification) might be true of how most meat is produced -- i.e., grain-finished in sordid CAFOs, but well-managed cattle, who live their whole lives on pasture [and their movement is holistically managed], cattle are not only not detrimental to the environment, but are very beneficial to the land and human health. Don't let the militant vegans (of which many Brits are, including "institutions") deceive you otherwise. Do your own research, and change your criticisms of beef to criticisms of CAFOs and other aspects of how they are managed and treated.
  3. Ellen Levine
    Saturday, February 2nd, 2019
    Thank you for being an important part of the solution to the human-caused environmental crisis. I am proud you are my representative in Congress and proud to support the Green New Deal as well.
  4. Monday, February 4th, 2019
    Project Drawdown's impact list should be integrated into future farm bill modifications and the Green New Deal. Beyond drawing down carbon, the integration of these practices and technologies would be so energizing to be an economy of the future. Can you imagine the promise and hope and its multiplying impacts? Create the right framework for Project Drawdown to thrive. Invite them in to measure the results of your new laws and revise, revise, revise until we've maximized at every resource expended. https://www.drawdown.org/solutions-summary-by-rank
  5. Joerg Peter
    Friday, February 8th, 2019
    We can only change our society and our environment if we (mostly) eat the same atoms that we pee and poo into the environment. The more personal it becomes the more sustainable it will be. When we create social structures and means of reproduction that ensure this mass-energy balance, we will thrive; and only then!!
  6. Anita Walsh
    Wednesday, February 13th, 2019
    I do hope you mean that we must work to eliminate animal agriculture and support healthy plant-based foods through subsidies that currently prop up the waning and destructive dairy and meat industries.