Monday, October 29, 2007

Warming Up to the Future

The middle of the country has always had environmental problems of its own, but it would help if we were represented by elected officials with the good sense to recognize and deal with them intelligently. Today our TX senators got a nice solid push into a good direction for them.

With farm issues gaining, momentum in the Senate, Texas Sens. Kay Hutchison and John Cornyn will soon get the rare chance to reverse decades of bad agriculture policies. By joining with reformers such as Sens. Dick Lugar and Frank Lautenberg when the Senate takes up a farm bill next week, the Texans can create saner priorities.

The proposal from Mr. Lugar, of Indiana, and Mr. Lautenberg, of New Jersey, would gradually eliminate crop subsidies to all farmers. The plan also would reinvest some of the savings into land-conservation incentives and into programs that help small farms sell products locally and grow alternative energy sources.

This alternative presents a refreshing contrast to the business-as-usual plan the Senate Agriculture Committee passed. It would maintain crop payments to farmers – including those who earn up to a million bucks – keep subsidies focused on big crops such as corn and wheat, and do too little to promote land conservation and alternative energies.

Texas' senators undoubtedly are hearing from big farm interests that favor the Agriculture Committee's bill. But more Texas farmers would benefit from the Lugar-Lautenberg bill.

For example, their proposal would replace subsidies for crops such as corn and wheat with an insurance program for all crops. The shift would lead to most Texas farmers with crop insurance paying much less for their insurance. While we don't like everything about this feature, farmers need some guarantee against the vagaries of nature and other risks. This would do it, and at a cheaper cost to taxpayers. What's more, a broader pool of Texas farmers would benefit.

Family farmers in East Texas, the Valley and elsewhere would benefit in another way, too. The reform bill would finance a program to help them sell their fruits and vegetables directly to schools in cities such as Dallas and San Antonio.

Also, the numerous Texas companies developing alternatives to corn-based ethanol stand to gain because the proposal invests substantially in such research. Companies in Dallas and elsewhere are hotly pursuing alternatives such as switchgrasses.

Finally, Panhandle farmers wondering how much longer the Ogallala Aquifer will supply water for their land will like that the bill gives incentives to turn farmland into grasslands. The latter can be used for grazing or hunting instead of corn, whose thirst for water takes a toll on the Ogallala.

Ms. Hutchison and Mr. Cornyn know that the current system has problems, but they're leery of the counter-proposal. We hope they move away from supporting the business-as-usual plan to one that creates a new day for farmers. Chances like this don't come around often.

There is real potential to do the right thing for our state, and a lot of its people. It would really make even greater sense than simply throwing money at the farmer-industrial interests, and if they don't make the right choice these senators are not going to be let alone by the state's major paper.

Drying out is something that's been happening all too often in the west, and no Texan can be sanguine about the rate our ground water is being sucked up. From the fires just coming under control farther to the west, and the huge drought hammering the Southeast, we have learned another lesson. Our water can't continue to be taken for granted. We have got to plan for more careful conservation for our future.

The Southern California fires have been largely corralled, but only after doing more than $1 billion in damage and forcing the evacuation of at least half a million people. While that crisis is waning, at least temporarily, on the other side of the country another one builds in the Atlanta region, as the drought threatens to dry up the taps of 5 million people in mere months.

Why didn't they see these disasters coming? Technology has given humankind a significant degree of control over nature, but we by no means have mastered it, nor is complete dominance possible. Yet we contemporary Americans seem to think that our money and our machines will allow us to live as large as we'd like, indefinitely.

The San Diego fires are nothing new, having been a part of that region's ecology since before men settled there. What is new is that people are building houses in fire-prone wilderness areas, where they can still live out the exurban dream.

In the words of a University of California San Diego professor, we're putting subdivisions "right in the middle of a fuel tank."

Atlanta has a somewhat more plausible excuse, as it has never endured a drought as severe as the one that now torments it. Still, even as the lake that supplies water to the city steadily evaporated this summer, the people of Atlanta carried on as if something would turn up to save them. Now, rainless and facing the stark possibility that the water will soon be gone, Georgians are finally waking up to their emergency.

The legislature said this week that it would start building new reservoirs. "Frankly, we should have been doing this before now," said House Speaker Glenn Richardson. He's right about that. Atlanta has grown spectacularly over the past 20 years, with little effort made to provide for the water needs of the burgeoning population.

Here in North Texas, previous generations of civic leaders, having learned the hard lessons of the 1950s drought, built sufficient reservoir capacity to see us through our own recent troubles. But we keep growing and need to continue to provide for future needs. This is especially serious, given climate projections indicating that the American West is becoming permanently drier.

The environment can't be ignored and it will take great steps forward to keep from turning into wasteland.

We particularly need leaders with the good sense to start conserving now, and not leave our coming generations to go looking for new sources. We have enough here, for now. In Atlanta we can see what happens when no steps are taken to keep control of the resources we know will be needed.

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Blogger Woody, Tokin Lib'rul/Rogue Scholar & O'erall Helluvafella said...

The environment can't be ignored and it will take great steps forward to keep from turning into wasteland.

OF COURSE IT CAN! It can be ignored until the looming devastation is so great that there is no solution to it ...EXCEPT TO DISBAND GOVERNMENT AND TURN EVERYTHING OVER TO PRIVATE ENTERPRISE AND THE MAGIC OF THE MARKET.
silly STILL think the Pukes give a shit about the People or the Country...or the Planet, for that matter.
Bwahahahahahahaha (gasp) Bwahahahaha
They care about GETTING/TAKING/HAVING MONEY. Anything that might interfere with that end is entirely expendable, whether it be people, nation or world...
If they die rich (and the rest of us die poor) they've done their jobs...
And no, no i really do NOT have a very high regard for 'Murkin Bidness'...

12:25 PM  

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