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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Green grows profits

Planting more trees could mean more green for Arizona cotton growers.

The agriculture sector in the Southwest may make more money if tree planting becomes a profitable business in the South as a result of cap-and-trade, a researcher at the UA’s Institute of the Environment says.

The impact of cap-and-trade could lead to new forms of business, one of which would be tree planting in places like Mississippi. The policy, which aims to mitigate industrial greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change, is part of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

After a certain period, restrictions on emissions would rise and costs would go up, but before that, there would be enough time for industries to adjust, according to George Frisvold, a professor and agricultural-resource economics specialist at the Institute of the Environment.

By adjusting and taking advantage of government incentives to fight climate change, Mississippi farmers could start growing trees instead of cotton, indirectly helping competing Arizona cotton farmers.

Frisvold conducted an analysis of how the bill would affect the agriculture sector in the Southwest, and found it would not have any significant agricultural impacts until 2030.

The agriculture sector, within cap-and-trade, would not be directly regulated or limited. Rather, greater effects would be felt by energy industries, leading to higher energy costs for the agricultural industry.

In the policy, industries would have to purchase or be given permits for carbon emissions, increasing their costs, according to Frisvold.

With agriculture offsets becoming potential income sources, the government could start paying farmers to plant trees to reduce carbon emissions.

In the South, people would take land out of production to do that, and “”up to 30 million acres in the U.S.”” could be used to plant trees, Frisvold said. The process would take place over 40 years, and be complete around 2050.

The policy would also be determined by projections on the availability of renewable fuels, which affects the price of carbon in the future, possibly making tree planting a very profitable business.

“”It depends on how much someone’s willing to pay you. If the price is right, there’s lots of things people will do,”” Frisvold said.

Farmers could also experience some indirect increases in their income. As costs go up, production would be lower and prices would rise, bringing in more revenue to counteract lowered production.

Frisvold’s study, funded by the American Farmland Trust, looked primarily at how the cap-and-trade bill would affect corn, soybean, wheat and cotton production. Overall, Frisvold concluded, the bill would increase farmers’ costs, but there is alternative income potential that varies by the type of farm and location.

“”A lot of studies either try to sugarcoat this or are saying this is the end of the world. I think the reality is a lot more subtle and complex than that,”” Frisvold said.

He recently received funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for further research. Frisvold will look at which specific farms will benefit and which will be hurt by the policy, as well as the offset potential for particular farming sectors in the Southwest.

 

Right now, cap-and-trade might be best bet

In the tough current economic context, cap-and-trade may be the best approach in mitigating the effects of climate change, said Gregg Garfin, deputy director for science translation and outreach at the institute.

Because of the economy, reducing emissions has “”become a sensitive issue,”” he said. The policy may be politically expedient because businesses would be more open to it as opposed to a tax.

Adapting, another way to deal with climate change, is harder to manage, as it requires more coordinated planning. Tucson has an adaptation as well as a mitigation plan, while Phoenix has established the latter in properties operated by the city government, without including citizens and local businesses.

Some headway has been made in dealing with climate change, Garfin said. Cooperation at different state and federal levels to address the matter has also improved.

But not enough resources are being invested or available to hire qualified people that would lead to faster progress, he said.

“”For every person who’s working dealing with either mitigation or adaptation, they’re working a job and a half, maybe two jobs,”” Garfin said.

Engaging and bringing awareness to the public is also important so efforts dealing with climate change can succeed, he said. Public support of public agencies is one example.

To implement changes in resource management and energy efficiency, for instance, stakeholders such as board of directors or city councils take in account the public’s opinion.

“”These institutions, they’re keenly aware of public perception and they, by and large, are … cautious, and they want to have that public support before they go ahead in doing something that’s risky … or expensive,”” he said.

But Garfin is encouraged by current changes.

“”Things are happening,”” he said. “”When I first started at my job here 10 years ago, things weren’t happening. And in some cases, things are happening at a good pace.””

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