Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore continues to tirelessly fight climate change with “An Inconvenient Sequel” sequel. (July 27)
Midwest farmers have seen firsthand the impact of climate change, with millions of acres going unplanted last year due to flooding and the damage done this summer by drought and Iowa’s destructive derecho, former Vice President Al Gore said as he kicked off a week of World Food Prize events Monday.
Speaking as part of a virtual roundtable for the Des Moines-based annual conference, Gore said last year’s floods resulted in nearly 20 million acres not getting planted and cost Americans $20 billion, including $6.5 billion in crop insurance payments.
He said the world needs to stop using the Earth’s atmosphere as an “open sewer” for its growing carbon emissions.
“We need to encourage as much carbon sequestration … as we possibly can — in soils, in vegetation and trees,” said the Tennessee Democrat and 2000 Democratic presidential nominee. Gore shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for his efforts to highlight the causes and costs of the shifting climate.
He said a team of researchers looked at flooded Midwest areas and found farms with the greatest ability to plant in 2019’s extreme weather had adopted practices such as “sharply reduced tillage, cover crops that keep roots in the soil,” increased grazing and greater crop diversity.
“We have economic evidence that in the wake of these more common extreme weather events, farmers can improve their bottom line and make their farms more resilient with regenerative agriculture practices,” said Gore, who joined Rattan Lal, the winner of this year’s World Food Prize, on a panel that explored agriculture’s role in addressing climate change.
The prize honored Lal, a distinguished professor of soil science at Ohio State University, for his work showing how plants can pull carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil, preventing it from combining with oxygen and creating carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
Though the international food and farm symposium is being held virtually to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it typically attracts 1,200 people from 65 countries to Des Moines, home of the World Food Prize.
Lal will be awarded the $250,000 prize in a virtual ceremony Thursday.
In Monday’s discussion, Lal compared soil to a bank account. “If you want your bank account to increase, you must deposit (more carbon) into the account than you withdraw,” he said, adding that carbon is the currency that enriches soil and, in turn, those who grow crops in it.
Farmers who increase soil health improve fertility and yields while reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals, Lal said. “The profitability of the farm operation becomes much better,” he said.
Gore, who called Lal a mentor, said U.S. lawmakers need to consider a national healthy soils act to help provide the financial resources farmers need to cut carbon emissions and store more of it in their soil.
“We have a Clean Water Act and a Clean Air Act,” he said. “Why not a healthy soil act?”
He proposed providing incentives that would “reward farmers for sequestering carbon and providing other ecosystem services,” such as improved water quality.
“A reformed agricultural subsidies program, fashioned in consultation with farmers, ranchers and foresters, would ensure they’re compensated for verified, audited carbon sequestration,” he said.
Lal said the country can’t have healthy air and water without healthy soils.
The World Food Prize was established in 1986 by the late Norman Borlaug. A native Iowan, he received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his research to create drought-resistant, high-yielding wheat varieties. He is credited as the “father of the Green Revolution” that saved a billion people from hunger.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at [email protected] or 515-284-8457.
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