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Response to USDA on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad

Our colleague in the US, Rachel Smolker, has written a response to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as they sought input from the public on ‘Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad’. In the response it is made clear that we do not support the USDA’s mission to “encourage greater use” of biofuels. We recommend that the generous subsidies that are given to biofuel startups on unrealistic and hyped up claims should be stoped and not encouraged.

Fundamental, deep, systemic changes are needed in our approaches to agriculture and forestry. We simply cannot afford to keep traveling down the same pathways – when they are clearly failing and taking us in precisely the wrong direction. The assumptions underpinning the questions USDA has posed make clear that the agency considers its mandate to continue on the same path – creating more supports and incentives for biofuels and biomass, while also encouraging use of more wood and more “bio” as an alternative to “fossil” – as if we can simply substitute living biomass for all manner of uses – from energy to bioproducts – on the scale we have grown accustomed to using fossil fuels.

If we are serious about being “climate smart” – we would leave our forests to grow, reduce demand for wood and fiber, work to limit land conversion, protect our precious water and soil resources, ensure adequate habitat remains for biodiversity and produce healthy locally appropriate food for people. USDA should rethink its trajectory and undertake a process for re-evaluation of what “climate smart” actually means and how the agency can change course to achieve it. In doing so it should take care to engage with expertise independent of commercial interests and corporate lobbyists.