If You Want Farming to be a Climate Solution, Protect Farmworkers

The Intersection of Workers and Climate

Sarah Mock

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I recently sat down with Ricardo Salvador, and got the chance to unpack what’s happening with carbon markets right now, and why it’s so important that the Biden administration *not* rush into participation in a carbon credit system that’s going to burn out when people realize that the economics got ahead of the science and it doesn’t actually deliver on the promises it makes.

This conversation got me thinking about that Einstein quote — you know the one:

In so many ways, the whole issue with carbon markets (and many other environmentally-motivated agricultural projects and movements afoot today) is that they’re simply the current players trying to fix a problem with the current system using the tools we used to create the problem in the first place. Folx love a “market-based solution” but what happens when the very market you’re trying to shape into a solution was the crux of the problem in the first place?

When I’m feeling optimistic, I like to believe that the days of us believing that the market is the only way to motivate necessary changes are behind us. I like to believe that we are capable of thinking on the systems level. Putting a price on carbon is a market-level approach, it assumes that there are only two factors in the system, farmer decisions about how they farm, and the price that they’re paid for the work they do. The essential assumption being that if you raise the price they get paid for doing the work we want, they’ll do it (an assumption that finds little evidence of being true in practice). This “solution” promises to create just as many unintended consequences as any other market-level approach we’ve ever tried.

But if what we truly care about is better environmental practices on farms, a systems level approach would know that farmer decisions and the price of commodities are *not* the only two elements in the system. There are dozens of other points of intervention in a complex system where we could intercede. And when we recognize (instead of ignore) that any action we take will create predictable and unpredictable affects throughout the wider system, we can take those into account and plan accordingly. This is critical…

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Sarah Mock

Author of Farm (and Other F Words), buy now: https://tinyurl.com/4sp2a5tb. Rural issues and agriculture writer/researcher. Not a cheerleader, not the enemy.