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Most Presidential Candidates Get It: We Can't Solve the Climate Emergency Without Regenerative Agriculture

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) still hasn’t agreed to the Sunrise Movement’s demand for a #climatedebate, but that hasn’t stopped candidates from focusing on the issue.

Supporters of Organic Consumers Association’s “Cook Organic, Not the Planet” campaign, along with supporters of Regeneration International, a nonprofit OCA helped launch in 2015, will be happy to hear that this election cycle, candidates are finally talking about climate change. More important, most of the candidates recognize that it will be very difficult to solve the climate problem by focusing on fossil fuels and emissions reduction alone. They realize that we also have to draw down and sequester the excess carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere—and they know that the most efficient, most practical and most “shovel-ready” way to do that is to rapidly scale up regenerative organic farming and ranching practices that increase soil carbon.

Here’s how some of the candidates stack up on the issue.

Bernie Sanders was one of the first candidates to take a public stand, back in May, fully embracing the regenerative revolution. He is a Green New Deal cosponsor who supports “comprehensive legislation to address climate change that includes a transition to regenerative, independent family farming practices,” as well as a “transition to more sustainable management of livestock systems that are ecologically sound, improve soil health and sequester carbon in soil.” Sanders would compensate farmers for improving ecosystems. He supports a program “to permanently set aside ecologically fragile farm and ranch land.”

Tulsi Gabbard has taken the position that “Environmental degradation has taken us past the point where we can simply ‘sustain’ the status quo. We need regenerative agriculture to actively rebuild one of our most valuable national resources—our farmland.” Gabbard is the author of the Off Fossil Fuels Act (FFA), which is focused on creating a just transition away from fossil fuels to 100-percent clean energy by 2035. But the FFA also states: 

“In addition to the specific changes made by this Act, we must also explore the methods used in regenerative agriculture that provide healthier, grass-fed cows, chickens and pigs that also restore farmland to its original condition. This is vital if we hope to expand the market of regenerative farming and work to phase out harmful, conventional practices that contaminate our water and deplete essential topsoil. Conventional, large-scale farming is the cause of widespread topsoil depletion, and is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. There are better alternatives and sustainable solutions in the form of regenerative agricultural practices. We should incentivize farmers who provide healthier food, sustain the land and sequester carbon dioxide and methane.”

Jay Inslee would “ensure that farming practices maximize the potential to provide long-term natural carbon storage that makes a lasting contribution to cleaning the atmosphere” and he advocates for greater “federal investment in research, development, demonstration and deployment of persistent soil-based sequestration processes.” 

Elizabeth Warren would invest $2 trillion over the next 10 years in “green research, manufacturing and exporting—linking American innovation directly to American jobs, and helping achieve the ambitious targets of the Green New Deal.” (She’s also a GND cosponsor.) This investment would include funding for the Agriculture Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant program at the Department of Agriculture, both of which support innovations in soil carbon sequestration on working lands.

Tim Ryan spoke up for regenerative organic agriculture during the July debate and even name-checked a couple of farmers, saying:  

“But you cannot get there on climate unless we talk about agriculture. We need to convert our industrial agriculture system over to a sustainable and regenerative agriculture system that actually sequesters carbon into the soil. And you can go ask, you can go ask Gabe Brown and Allen Williams, who actually make money off of regenerative agriculture. So we can move away from all the subsidies that we're giving the farmers. They haven't made a profit in five years. And we could start getting good food into our schools and into our communities. And that's going to drive health care down. That's another part of the health care conversation that we didn't even have. How do we start talking about health instead of just disease care?”

Not familiar with Gabe Brown and Allen Williams? Watch “Soil Carbon Cowboys,” an inspiring and hilarious movie about family farmers who discover the amazing power of regenerative organic grazing to raise their profits and cut their work time. (The funniest part of the movie is what they describe how they would have spent their extra time if they'd learned this earlier.) The secret is increasing soil carbon which, by the way, could solve the problems of what to do about climate change and how to feed the world's growing population. The movie shows you how they do it and why Ryan's so excited about it.

Pete Buttigieg hailed soil as a solution to climate change in the June debate, saying, "Rural America can be part of the solution instead of being told they're part of the problem. With the right kind of soil management and other kinds of investments, rural America could be a huge part of how we get this done."

Beto O'Rourke took a stand during the July debate in favor of “farmers in Iowa [who] say pay me for the environmental services of planting cover crops and keeping more land in conservation easements.” 

Marianne Williamson supports regenerative agriculture. 

Michael Bennet would “Increase the effectiveness of voluntary markets and government partnerships that support soil health, reforestation, wetlands restoration, conservation, and drive up the income of the people working our lands.” He also wants to “assist farmers and ranchers to transition to voluntary carbon sequestration practices.”

Joe Biden would “focus on [among other things] decarbonizing the food and agriculture sector, and leveraging agriculture to remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the ground.”

Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar don’t specifically mention agricultural soil carbon sequestration in their climate plans, but they’re cosponsors of the Green New Deal which would “remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible” and invest “in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health.”

Just about every candidate who’s likely to make it to the next round of debates is on record in support of regenerative organic agriculture practices as a solution to climate change!

This topic deserves way more attention. But it’s unlikely to get it without an official debate focused on climate change. The Sunrise Movement has demanded that the Democratic Party hold a debate focused on climate change. The DNC initially refused that request, but both MSNBC and CNN announced they would broadcast candidate forums about climate change, and now the news is that the DNC may vote on the issue on August 23. 

Let’s support the Sunrise Movement’s demand for a climate debate and let the DNC know we want one that includes agriculture!

TAKE ACTION: Sign our petition to the Democratic National Committee calling for a #climatedebate that includes agriculture!

Alexis Baden-Mayer is political director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.