The New Language of Climate Change

Scientists and meteorologists on the front lines of the climate wars are testing a new strategy to get through to the skeptics and outright deniers.

PHOENIX—Leading climate scientists and meteorologists are banking on a new strategy for talking about climate change: Take the politics out of it.

That means avoiding the phrase “climate change,” so loaded with partisan connotations as it is. Stop talking about who or what is most responsible. And focus instead on what is happening and how unusual it is—and what it is costing communities.

The strategy is being increasingly employed in more conservative regions of the country, where climate doubt still runs deep—even if there are signs of cracks in the resistance thanks to the pummeling pattern of highly unusual and costly weather events.

“They see it firsthand,” Robert Mark Simpson, a professor of geography at the University of Tennessee at Martin, told me. “There is a sort of acknowledgment that the climate is changing. They just don’t think humans are that impactful. [They think blaming humans is] a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. economy.”

Simpson attended the conference at the Phoenix Convention Center to outline his three-year effort to educate farmers about climate change in western Tennessee and eastern Kentucky, where at some dinner tables the term remains a political curse word. Tennessee just elected a leading climate change doubter, Marsha Blackburn, to the U.S. Senate.

It’s a tall order. So, he is also trying another tack to reach the political and religious conservatives for which farming has been in the family for generations: warning that the family business might be in jeopardy—sooner than they might think.

Will they be able to farm here 30 to 40 years from now?

Another line of argument he has found to appeal to conservatives’ personal connection to nature.

“Many are hunters and fishermen. They are really tied to the environment,” Simpson said. He finds he can reach them by trying to tap into their belief that “we’ve been given stewardship” of the Earth.

But the political headwinds that he and others are up against—especially in red states where political leaders are unwilling to accept the scientific consensus that human activity is playing an outsize role in the changing climate—were on display last weekend.

As winter storms bore down on large swaths of the country, Trump took to Twitter to warn Americans to “be careful and try staying in your house. Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold.”

Nowhere is the challenge of convincing the doubters without being labeled a partisan or environmental zealot greater than in the ranks of broadcast meteorologists. Local TV weather experts were among the last holdouts in the scientific community to accept the consensus that humans are responsible for climate change—so much so that in 2014 then-President Barack Obama met with some of them as part of his effort to sell his environmental policy agenda.

“I think a lot of the broadcasters were concerned that there was such a political divide within the population and if they were very vocal of any aspect of climate change some subset of their audience would not view them with a level of trust,” Keith Seitter, a meteorologist and the American Meteorological Society’s executive director, told me.

Now, some 600 broadcast meteorologists, out of an estimated 2,200 in the United States, are working with Climate Matters to craft new ways to tell their viewers about climate change.

“I have changed my presentation a bit,” Jim Gandy, chief meteorologist for the CBS affiliate in Columbia, S.C., told me. “I used to start with the science. Now I try to show them how it is changing and then I go into why it is changing. That may be a more effective approach. I share the raw data with them that has not been ‘manipulated’ and it throws them for a loop.”

Even in viewing areas considered Democratic strongholds, talking about climate change can be risky.

“You have to be careful,” Bob Ryan, a longtime television meteorologist in Washington who was the first network meteorologist, told me. “If you get into policy you are getting into political quicksand. People don’t want to be lectured to. That doesn’t accomplish anything.”

So he too is in the habit of explaining related weather events in the context of how much more often they are occurring than in the past. “Ellicott City has had a number of 500-year flood events in recent years,” he cites as one example, referring to the Baltimore suburb.

Farmers like me put Trump in office. Now his trade war is smothering us.

Farmers use a lot of steel, which Trump subjected to a 25 percent tariff in March. Combines, grain bins, fencing and cattle gating, which we are constantly upgrading and replacing, have become significantly more expensive as steel prices have jumped because of the tariffs. This has taken a painful bite out of our already-slim profit margins.

.. More than one-third of U.S. soybeans, the second-biggest crop in the nation, goes to China — about $12.4 billion worth. Since May, soybean prices have dipped about $2 per bushel to about $8.50 as export markets have dried up. For every dollar lower a bushel, farmers lose about 10 percent of their revenue.

.. pork exports to China are down nearly 20 percent this year. China is an especially valuable market for pork farmers because it purchases the lower-value portions of the hogs, such as the tongue and ears, that are difficult to sell elsewhere. As a result of the limited export markets, meat is piling up in U.S. cold-storage warehouses. Since May, prices of lean hog futures have fallen by 14 percent.

.. Congress should rally behind potential legislation by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) that would give lawmakers more say in U.S. tariff policy, in line with the U.S. Constitution. This will allow elected representatives from American manufacturing and farming communities an opportunity to make their voices heard and deliver the message that farmers want trade, not aid.

.. Such legislation would also return tariff power to Congress, whose enumerated powers under the Constitution include the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises.”

.. Trump must listen to his manufacturing and farming constituents who put him in office and pursue trade agreements that help us increase our gross and net earnings without corporate welfare. That starts with shelving plans to open a new front in the trade war with China.

China’s Taste for Soybeans Is a Weak Spot in the Trade War With Trump

.. XIAOWUSILI, China — For all its economic might, China hasn’t been able to solve a crucial problem.

Soybeans. It just can’t grow enough of them.

That could blunt the impact of one of the biggest weapons the country wields in a trade fight with the United States.

.. Last year, soy growers in the United States sold nearly one-third of their harvest to China. In dollar terms, only airplanes are a more significant American export to China

.. Over all, she is not producing much more today than she was a decade ago. Her fields are small and not irrigated. The new, supposedly higher-yielding seeds promoted by the government are not much better than the older varieties, she says.

.. Farm goods could be a big weakness for China should the trade conflict with the United States turn into an all-out brawl.

.. China’s increasingly wealthy people want more and better food on their plates. But the country’s farms are generally too small and underdeveloped to keep up.

..Nearly 90 percent of the soybeans China consumed last year came from overseas — more than 100 million tons in total. (Mexico, the world’s No. 2 importer, bought just five million tons.)

.. To increase the availability of other types of animal feed, China’s customs authority removed inspection requirements on a variety of agricultural byproducts, including peanut meal, cottonseed meal and rapeseed meal

.. the provincial government offered generous subsidies to farmers both for growing soybeans and for switching their fields to soy from corn.

.. his farm cooperative requires that members rotate their crops to keep the soil healthy.

.. China would need to dedicate a huge fraction of the entire nation’s farmland — between a quarter and a third, by various estimates — to soy if it wanted to be self-sufficient.

.. Many people from Heilongjiang are already growing soybeans across the Amur River in the Russian Far East, where land is cheap and plentiful.

.. farmers in Heilongjiang acknowledge they are a long way from being as productive as farmers in the United States, where agriculture is more mechanized and genetic modification is embraced.

.. Modern farming is expensive, however. And in Mr. Hou’s case, it involves a secret weapon: American technology.

.. a yard full of bright-green John Deere farm machines, which Mr. Hou buys with the help of government subsidies. Chinese machinery is cheaper but more prone to breakdowns, he says.

Even some of the fertilizer Mr. Hou uses comes from the United States.

.. “We rely first on the heavens,” the saying went. “We rely second on American diammonium phosphate.”

A growing number of young Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm

Some commentators here have difficulty of understanding how small farming can be profitable. It’s relatively easy to explain.

They are not selling just the product. Just like microbreweries, small farms sell for people who want more than just a beer or lettuce. They want to distinguish themselves and buy the feeling of authentic life and values. Consumer pays more for “small farm” even if the product is not any different from neighboring farm product that is not marketing itself as “small farm”.

Modern consumer marketing sells identity, lifestyle, and values. There is no reason why small farm products can’t create value from association and self–identification just like Pepsi is not selling sugar water or Nike is not selling sneakers. Everything that is sold using words classic, authentic, natural, original can be more expensive for segment who wants those tings.

Traditional farmers who produce standard grain or milk in bulk quantities are selling for different market segment.

 

.. The local product is typically more expensive because it’s production is less efficient (if it wasn’t, it would just compete with the non-local product at regular market conditions). Being less efficient means using more inputs per output, so what is the local farmers inputs, and — crucially — where are those inputs made? Is he using his not-locally-made tractor less efficiently? Is he paying a mortgage to a non-local financial institution? Is he sourcing his feed, seeds, fertilizer, fuel etc locally? And of his profit, how much of it is he spending locally?

.. These are difficult numbers to work out exactly, but it’s not difficult to see that they have to be in a pretty thigh range for your local-premium to actually, on the net, drain resources from the community, compared to you just eating cheaper meals a bit more frequently. The main type of input that most obviously support the local community is labor, and most modern products, particularly agriculturally, are rather light on labor, so you might end up supporting one job at the farm in favor of three jobs at the diner. Especially if the farm-job is held by a “highly educated, ex-urban, first-time farmer” and the diner-jobs by single moms, it’s getting morally quite dubious.

But to wrap this up, local to non-local is rarely apples to apples. Just as with organic, there’s probably a very substantial overlap with meeting a demand for products that are simply better (and thus more expensive), with the nominal quality (local, organic) actually being secondary.

.. If you’re buying a better product for a price you’re considering fair, you’re not meaningfully “buying local” – the product you prefer just happens to be locally produced (and possibly can only be locally produced).The kind of buying local that you need campaigns to encourage people to do, is generally either more expensive or poorer quality than the non-local alternative.