Comments on the Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 - Agriculture

by a collaborative effort of the PA Chapter Food & Ag Team

This article is one in a series by the PA Chapter Conservation Teams reviewing the 2021 PA Climate Action Plan.

PA CAP GHG by Sector

Image from the 2020 GHG Inventory Report prepared by the PA DEP

What is most notable about this “action” plan is the very limited action called for in agriculture. We are facing catastrophic climate change and this plan is woefully inadequate to ameliorate its most devastating consequences. This plan simply doesn’t take on the scope of climate changing gases reduction needed and the massive quantities produced by animal agriculture. The Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 emphasizes increased efficiency for the agriculture sector, but implementing this strategy results in a reduction of only 0.003 GHG by 2050.  Clearly, this strategy does not begin to tackle the problem. 

To not take on the need to greatly reduce the greenhouse gases (Carbon Dioxide, Methane, & Nitrous Oxide) produced in that animal agriculture, is simply negligence. Katherine Hayhoe, the Nature Conservancy’s chief scientist, estimates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused directly and indirectly by animal agriculture. One must look at the entire scope of the problem to understand its impact. 

The PA CAP assigns just 3% of the PA GHG emissions budget to Agriculture, which is based on the 2020 GHG Inventory Report prepared by the DEP. However, when you consider that emissions from all farm equipment are assigned to the Transportation sector and that Pennsylvania exports more than 50% of the fossil fuel energy that it generates to other states, we feel that the Agriculture sector is underrepresented in the overall responsibility of emissions in PA.

There are very powerful economic interests involved in the production and sales of meat, eggs, and dairy that don’t want the issues raised, but the DEP must have the courage to do what is right for all of us and not the profits of these powerful interests. Economic adjustments must be made rationally or they will be forced upon us by climate and weather events for which we are unprepared.

The first step should be the ending of all subsidies for the grains raised to feed animals. This has artificially lowered the cost of production making the price of animal products artificially low, while there are almost no programs to lower the price of vegetables, fruits, and organic produce. Meal sized salads are always more expensive than a Big Mac or Whopper making access to plant-based meals a challenge in Pennsylvania communities.The UN has reported that 87% of our agricultural spending runs counter to climate change prevention. According to the report, “continuing with support-as-usual will worsen the triple planetary crisis and ultimately harm human well-being.”  The triple planetary crises are climate change, biodiversity, and pollution.

Image from Don't believe the hype around factory farm biogas - Sierra Club

Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement requires shifting support, especially in high-income countries, for an outsized meat and dairy industry. In lower-income countries, governments should consider repurposing their support for toxic pesticides and fertilizers or the growth of monocultures. 

Secondly, we must stop promoting the myth that animal food, particularly animal protein, is needed for a healthy diet. Research has clearly demonstrated that consumption of animal products is a major cause and/or promoter of most of the diseases that Americans face from obesity and heart disease. Cow’s milk is only natural if you are a baby calf.

Since animal agriculture needs the production of more than half of the farmland in this country (per USDA data), the reduction in all the problems of fertilizer runoff, erosion, deforestation, and water pollution will follow the reduction of animal agriculture. The best way to deal with animal manure is not to produce it.  It is recognized that a transition away from animal agriculture will not be easy. We must help farmers involved with animal agriculture make transitions to other types of agriculture, but we must make the transition or face the changes needed forced on us by catastrophic climate change. Increasingly hot summers are likely to reduce yields of corn, Pennsylvania’s most important crop according to the EPA report on climate in PA.

This blog was included as part of the January 2022 Sylvanian newsletter. Please click here to check out more articles from this edition!