President Biden’s sweeping executive order on climate directs every federal agency to advance our country’s climate strategy—and identifies key steps in the transition to climate-friendly food and agriculture.
The connections between climate change and resilience, land use, food production, nutrition, and what we eat have never been clearer. The climate EO directs federal agencies to: end to fossil fuel subsidies; adopt policies to address disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities; and invest in climate-friendly infrastructure and jobs. Meeting Biden’s climate goals will require changes in our food and farming practices, such as:
- ending reliance on fossil-fuel based fertilizers and pesticides;
- protecting communities from bearing the externalized costs of industrial meat production;
- building resilient regional food systems; and,
- ensuring nutritious food gets to everyone’s plate.
The EO also takes important steps toward fulfilling President Biden’s campaign promises to advance climate-smart agriculture and protect 30 percent of our nation’s land, waters and oceans by 2030 (30x30).
First, it calls for a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative that will create jobs restoring ecosystems and leveraging agriculture’s carbon sequestration potential. The Corps will offer critical opportunities to build wealth in rural communities, help farmers add climate- and ecosystem-friendly features like hedgerows to their operations, and build a new generation of organic and regenerative farmers and farm workers. It is also a key opportunity for agriculture and other private landowners to participate in the “30x30” initiative by restoring riparian areas, wetlands, and other important ecosystems.
Second, the EO directs the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct a stakeholder process to identify opportunities for climate-smart agriculture. The importance of a truly inclusive and impactful stakeholder process—on agriculture and throughout the government—cannot be overstated. For too long, American agricultural policy has been shaped by the largest and most powerful players in the food system—to the detriment of public health, the environment, and especially the communities of color, who live closest to polluting industries, who move our food from fields to tables, and who have repeatedly had their land and resources stolen from them. Indigenous communities have centuries of experience farming in collaboration with natural systems, and farmers and farm workers of color stand ready to lead our transition away from extractive agriculture. The Secretary of Agriculture’s implementation of this directive will set the tone for the Biden-Harris Administration’s approach to agriculture, and this is an opportunity to develop policy that truly reflects the diversity and expertise embodied in our food system.
Finally, the EO aims to leverage the federal government’s footprint and buying power to lead by example. The climate impacts of food purchases and waste must be recognized as a critical part of every agency’s climate agenda. The federal government is a major market player, and all federal agencies should leverage their purchases and practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food production—by buying from organic and regenerative producers, by shifting toward more plant-based foods, and by adopting restorative land management practices on federal lands to support biodiversity and carbon sequestration.
We also need to make the most of the food we grow. Even the most sustainable food production requires water, land, and energy to grow, harvest, and transport. Yet, up to 40 percent of our food is wasted. When we waste food, we’re wasting all of the resources used to produce it—and costing the U.S. about $218 billion per year. We have more than enough food in this country to feed everyone. We should be focused on making better use of the resources and food we have.
The federal government must ramp up progress on the national food waste reduction targets and help people understand the climate impacts of food production. Many people seek out more efficient vehicles and turn off lights to save energy, but they don’t think twice about tossing out freezer-burned hamburger patties. Every American should know that greenhouse gases were emitted during the life of the cow, energy was consumed to feed, process, transport and freeze the meat, and methane is emitted as it decomposes in a landfill. If Americans skipped eating just one big burger each week, it would be like taking 10 million cars off the road for a year—and if we stopped wasting burgers, the climate and other resource savings would add up even more.
Biden’s order commits to using every tool to address climate change, and the food and agriculture sector stands in a unique position as both a climate pollution source and a potent solution. Our national climate policies must center food and agriculture—for the health of farms, our communities, and the Earth.
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