116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Carbon sequestration is all the rage.
President Joe Biden has said he wants to pay farmers for growing cover crops and other conservation measures that hold carbon in the soil. That sequestered carbon could offset the output of industries emitting greenhouse gases. Offset credits purchased by industry could go to farmers, or maybe the government chips in.
It sounds simple, but as Politico reported recently, Team Biden still does not have a plan. And that’s because sequestration is actually pretty complicated. For one thing, it’s tough to figure out just how much carbon is being sequestered in the soil. Sort of critical.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has appointed a large Carbon Sequestration Task Force to study the potential for Iowa farmers to get into the carbon storage business. A GOP regime that’s shown little interest in climate change and its devastating effects on the state is, at least, pondering a potential step toward accepting that reality.
Cue a polite golf clap.
It wasn’t so long ago that then-Gov. Terry Branstad took a “weather’s gonna change” stance on the climate. “So, you know we had an ice age not all that long ago in this country,” Branstad said in 2013.
OK, so Reynolds’ news release didn’t mention “climate.” There was a “carbon free” and a “sustainability” or two. Her proclamation forming the task force does mention climate once, noting “the climate solutions market could double from $1 trillion per year to $2 trillion per year by 2025.”
Ka-ching. It’s all about protecting the planet, right?
Of course it should be. Why throw around trillions of dollars to pay for sequestration that doesn’t really positively affect the atmosphere’s warming carbon load? That would be like spending tens of millions of dollars on water quality projects without proof they’re working.
Oh, yeah. We’re already doing that.
The governor’s task force does not include any climate scientists, nor are environmental groups represented. The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Alliant Energy, John Deere, ADM, Cargill, multiple agribusinesses, Agriculture Sec. Mike Naig and Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham all have seats at the task force table.
So it’s a typical Reynolds-era confab of hefty industrial and agricultural interests who will no doubt steer the sequestration ship in a direction that means more profits for industry and agriculture. That doesn’t mean the profit motive can’t be harnessed to do good for the climate, there’s just no evidence that’s the goal of this effort.
Will we, like on the water quality front, throw big bucks at voluntary sequestration efforts that don’t reach a scale that has much effect, or that could be plowed under next growing season? Will Iowa actually try to accurately measure effectiveness of sequestration measures or simply send out happy-talk media releases touting a 1 percent gain in cover crop acreage?
And sequestration can’t be the only climate game in town. Existing farm programs should be changed to promote more conservation practices, such as removing land from production. And there’s also the need to reduce carbon emissions at the industrial sources, not just through offset credits. Without a cap on emissions, the entire credit scheme is voluntary. We know how well that works.
After decades of political climate gridlock, some things are starting to happen. That’s good. But anyone who follows environmental issues knows how quickly the usual suspects and powers that be can turn needed environmental protection into little more than another ka-ching.
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