Editor’s Desk: Climate change meets agriculture

By Samuel Fromartz

We’ve long argued that farming needed a bigger profile in the climate discussion because it is responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions (we got into that in our Hot Farm podcast earlier this year). This week we explored that connection from three different angles, looking at the way rising heat is affecting farmworkers, at the efficacy of a multibillion-dollar plan to capture CO2 from biofuel plants, and at a climate adaptation strategy that went wrong.

As heat rises who will protect farmworkers

AP Photo/Nathan Howard.

Heat waves that arise with global warming can be especially risky for workers outdoors. Staff writers Bridget Huber, Nancy Averett and Teresa Cotsirilos teamed up to report on the health issues farmworkers face from heat, and the lack of regulations to improve safety. Although a handful of states have rules governing work in extreme heat, the vast majority do not. And the U.S. has been slow to come up with a federal standard.

The great carbon-capture debate

Photo by Francis Chung/E&E News/POLITICO via AP Images.

Iowa environmentalists say the plan to build three pipelines to move liquified carbon dioxide — collected from the smokestacks of ethanol refineries — to North Dakota and Illinois, where the carbon would be pumped underground, will simply prop up the fossil fuel industry and shower their agribusiness investors with tax credits, as staff writer Nancy Averett explains. But climate scientists have supported carbon capture and storage as essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

When climate adaptation goes wrong

Photo by Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

In Bangladesh, Stephen Robert Miller reports, rising sea levels ruined farmers’ rice fields by increasing salinity. So the government and development organizations encouraged the farmers to switch to aquaculture, much of it shrimp farming for export. But these heavily fertilized lagoons quickly became breeding grounds for diseases, and the remaining rice farmers complain that brackish water leaking from shrimp ponds poisons their fields.

We hope you take a look at these stories. And, as we celebrate 10 years of FERN, we hope you’ll consider making a tax-deductible donation to support this kind of essential reporting.