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Investing in earth
Greg Doering
Greg Doering

County Farm Bureaus across Kansas marked Earth Day last week in classrooms, farm fields, fairgrounds, pastures, recycling centers and other assorted locations across the state. They helped schoolchildren understand that growing food and caring for natural resources go hand in hand.  

Though they may not label themselves environmentalists, farmers and ranchers are some of the finest ecologist, preservationists and conservationists in the world. While we’re all dependent on the earth, we don’t all get the close-up experience of what Mother Nature has to offer like agriculturists do day in and day out.

Certainly, there are those who disagree with my belief that farmers and ranchers are dedicated caretakers of our natural resources. You know the type. They make dire claims about the future of our planet and point to modern agriculture as a significant culprit in a bleaker tomorrow.

I’ll go ahead and put my cards on the table for why I believe they’re wrong even though I buy the premise that our atmosphere is warming and human activity is contributing to that phenomenon. Where we differ is I don’t believe it’s necessary to discard the progress we’ve made since the industrial revolution based on the projection of what the planet could maybe, potentially look like decades in the future.

“Washington Post” columnist Sunny Bunch once observed that well-meaning but overly enthusiastic eco-activists are easy marks for caricature on the basis their beliefs are genuine. “Environmentalists make a useful villain because their malevolence can be obscured by a patina of reasonableness,” he wrote. “Global warming and other manmade problems are going to end the world if we don’t do something — so just about anything is justified! But their villainy resonates with the masses because they actually do want to make life worse for people, for the most part.”

For the “villains,” obvious sources of carbon dioxide or methane like transportation, electrical generation and agriculture should be severely limited if not eliminated to preserve the future. Do you fly or drive? Stop that! Do you enjoy stepping into an air conditioned building on a warm, humid day? Don’t! Do you enjoy consuming beef, pork, chicken and other animal proteins? You should move to a plant-based diet or consider these wonderful recipes featuring bugs!

While I admire their sincerity and believe their proposed solution would work in theory, it has failed in reality. Changing human behavior is hard to do even when it results in a positive outcome relatively quickly, like quitting smoking or a consistent exercise program. Convincing people to give up conveniences today for some vague improvement decades down the line is impossible.

Like with so many other things in life, the answer isn’t strict prohibition of desirable activities that also come with negative side effects. The solution isn’t to get rid of the desirable activities, it’s to address the side effects. One of the best examples in recent history of successfully achieving this is the reduction of atmospheric sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide by 93 percent and 87 percent, respectively.

This year’s Earth Day slogan was “Invest in Our Planet,” and that’s exactly the course we should be on. There’s not one technology that will reverse the side effects of the past two-plus centuries of progress. Instead, it will be a combination of ideas, both new and old, that will preserve our planet.

Investing in earth is a lot like farming. The little steps we take today won’t show up tomorrow, next week or even next month. But to have a fruitful harvest, those initial steps are a requirement, even if our planet-level growing season is measured in decades and centuries rather than from planting to harvest.

Greg Doering works for Kansas Farm Bureau. “Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service.