A week after the country received a budget proposal that would slash funding for USDA rural development, cut farm conservation programs, and exacerbate hunger in rural communities, the news broke that President Trump is expected to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. The Accord is a landmark international commitment to limit climate change below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F), a dangerous “tipping point” for global ecosystem function.
As the largest per capita carbon emitter and economy in the world, the United States has a unique role to play in limiting climate change. Under the Paris Climate Accord, we committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels. Yet in the months leading up to the decision about whether to break with the Accord, the current administration has taken a number of steps backwards on climate policy.
Those of us who live and work in rural U.S. know that such backtracking presents a threat to our families and communities. Not only are rural communities likely to suffer some of the worst consequences of climate change, but we will also miss out on opportunities to shape the direction of global policy and markets.
The National Climate Assessment predicts climate change will have devastating effects on agriculture, forestry, and other sectors upon which rural communities depend. Farmers will face even greater risk from increasing weed and pest pressure, more “high heat” days, and a continued trend toward extreme rain events. Public health will suffer as climate change negatively impacts air quality, increases the number and severity of extreme weather events, and shifts the range of disease carriers such as ticks and mosquitos.
Policies that help avoid those costly scenarios also have economic and health benefits for rural communities. Unfortunately, the current administration has slammed the door on such policies. Given that the renewable energy industry grew 14 percent and solar alone created 2 percent of all new jobs in 2016, an administration that prioritizes job growth should double down on speeding innovation within this sector. Yet the administration’s proposed 2018 budget will decimate programs that support research and development of the advanced energy economy.
We cannot afford to fall behind on climate action. The cost of failing to prevent climate change is too high for rural communities, and missed opportunities will mean fewer jobs for hardworking people in the U.S. If we become one of only three UN member nations (along with Syria and Nicaragua) to refuse participation in the Paris Climate Accord, the remainder of the world will continue to innovate and outpace us. And rural communities in the U.S. will be left behind, again.