President Donald Trump announced that the United States—one of the countries that has been a leader in the climate movement—will pull out of the Paris accord, a climate agreement signed in 2015. Nearly 150 countries have adopted agreement reached at COP21, in Paris, committing to keeping the planet from warming two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It is irresponsible for the United States to pull out of the accord, even though it will not happen immediately, when it contributes greatly to climate change; it is the number two biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.
My heart sank when I heard about the news. It sank because I know from personal experience and my scientific research how much climate change negatively affects agriculture and our soil.
I grew up on a farm in Kenya and agriculture runs in my blood. Just this week, my father and I had candid conversations about climate change. After seven months of drought, the rains recently returned to the Kenyan Coast and instead of helping plants grow, they washed many away. My father was very devastated. He explained to me how over the years, he had witnessed the gradual change in the weather and seasons and how these changes had disrupted the cycles of growing food. He said that some of our neighbors were facing hunger and how food prices had skyrocketed. He and I have seen firsthand the consequences of failed rains, droughts and extreme temperatures that come with a changing climate and I do not want my children to experience that what I experienced.
This is not a problem specific to the Kenyan Coast or my home community. Around the world, the effects of climate change are manifested in the form of repetitive droughts, flooding events, deadly storms, extreme hot temperatures and crop failures. From Kenya, to South Africa, to Uganda, and the United States, everyone is impacted.
Indeed, droughts affect many people’s livelihoods and will continue to do so in the next decade if we do not act now. Over 70 percent of the world’s poor relies on agriculture as a source for income and employment. When the source of people’s livelihood is impacted, the consequences can be devastating. These consequences can range from increasing poverty levels, hunger, and food insecurity and disease outbreaks as seen in Yemen. Is the United States saying it does not care about all these global ills? I hope not.
While President Trump and his administration may not feel the heat, many farmers around the world will. To them, it is a matter of life and death. The irony is that many of them come from countries that have contributed fewer emissions.
President Trump says that the accord is a “bad deal” and that the United States pays billions of dollars while other countries pay nothing. He also claims the United States needs to pull out to save money and help create new jobs. However, it has been argued that such a move is unlikely to add jobs.
One thing I know from my research work at the University of Auburn is that not caring about climate change will have a huge impact to the many unappreciated workers that live beneath our feet. It will render the many soil microorganisms that work day and night to help us feed ourselves jobless. Their jobs are in jeopardy if President Trump pulls out of the Paris accord.
Unseen to the naked eye, soil microorganisms including bacteria, fungi are hard at work and have been our allies for millions of years, helping us deal with the consequences of a changing climate. These microorganisms aid in keeping our soils healthy, allowing us to produce more food. In addition, they help plants to tolerate extreme temperatures and fight off insects pests that come with a changing climate. They indeed could be key allies in revolutionizing agriculture under a changing climate.
But an increase in temperatures as a result of climate change would kill and threaten the existence of these very important members of our society whose activity is influenced by temperature. What’s more is that soils that lack these microorganisms lose their ability to carry out the many important processes, including recycling water and nutrients. As a result, these soils become unhealthy. According to Nature Conservancy, the annual costs associated with unhealthy soils is $85.1 billion. More importantly is the fact that healthy soils are able to hold more carbon, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50-80 percent.
Of course, the negative affect of climate change on farming and our soils is just part of the larger picture of all that could go wrong. This is why waiting upon God to take care of the changing climate, as advised by United States Congressman Tim Walberg, is irresponsible. Instead, the United States should keep the Paris accord and jointly work with other countries to curb climate change. Now.