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Green New Deal: Passion, controversy

When I first heard about the "Green New Deal" resolution in the U.S. House and learned that it has major agricultural components, I thought, "Well, there will be a lot of annoying partisan bickering. But ag has a big stake, so I'll try to figure out at least a little about it."

A few hours of off-duty online research later, I'd learned enough to write this column, which may end up upsetting both the passionate supporters and detractors of this controversial resolution.

The Green New Deal ties into President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, the famous economic reform and jobs creation program in the 1930s. The new resolution focuses on addressing income inequality and climate change, in part through agricultural policy. Here's a key ag component:

Working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including:

• supporting family farming;

• investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health; and

• building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.

Well, OK. Kinda vague, but I get the basics. Pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are bad. Family farming is good (though definitions of a "family farm" vary greatly). Sustainable farming and soil health are good. As for the third piece — I'm not really sure what it means: who defines "healthy food" and who could possibly create a system that ensures everyone has access to it?

In any case, U.S. farmers, or at least ones in the Upper Midwest with whom I'm most familiar, clearly are making progress in soil health and sustainable farming practices. I'm not sure the Green New Deal fully recognizes that.

A small point, perhaps, but one that should be made: Many opponents of the Green New Deal have lampooned it for its supposed criticism of bovine flatulence. But, in fact, that criticism isn't in the resolution itself, thought it was included in some preliminary explanatory material from Green New Deal supporters.

My own take:

• Socialism is an abysmal failure, and the Green New Deal's socialistic approach worries me.

• Its climate change provisions are sincere, but overdone. Though the preponderance of climate scientists believe climate change is real and that human activity is the main culprit, too many save-the-planet-from-climate-change activists are so strident and self-righteous that they alienate people who haven't made up their mind. (So do strident, self-righteous climate-change-is-bogus folks.)

Readers' response

In trying to change with the times and make greater use of social media, I sometimes invite Agweek readers online to share their thoughts on important issues. I did so again with the Green New Deal.

There were a few email responses; most, as I expected, were highly critical of the resolution and, even more so, of the legislators who introduced it.

But I also received a lengthy, wonderfully written response from an educated, thoughtful guy with strong farm ties who supports the Green New Deal.

A key paragraph from what he wrote: "I believe the GND resolution is a good thing for the country overall and agriculture specifically. The twin challenges of climate change and income inequality cannot be solved separately. I appreciate that the resolution sets out a vision, the aspiration — in the spirit of Kennedy's declaration that we will get to the Moon, you set the goal, get people on board, and then work like heck to figure all the details over the next couple of years."

I disagree. I think the New Green Deal is badly flawed and unrealistic. One example; its provision to eliminate air travel and replace it with environmentally friendly high-speed rail would be extraordinarily costly and completely unfeasible, according to what I've read.

But the email from the Green New Deal supporter reinforces my belief that honest, well-intentioned people can and do have legitimate differences of opinion. All of us, whatever our take on this controversial resolution, should remember that.