Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why Don't Farmers Believe in Climate Change?

David Biello has a piece in Slate asking "Why Don't Farmers Believe in Climate Change?"

He doesn't really come up with an answer, and I'm not sure there is one. Frankly, if I were a farmer, I suspect climate change would be very far down the list of my worries.

Because first you need to replace the spark plugs in your tractor, and there are rats in the corn crib, and if it rains tonight that hay you just cut that is laying in your far field might be ruined by Friday.

Farmers have always lived on the edge of disaster. So what's one more of them, 30 years out?

I have to admit I don't know any farmers right now, so I might be wrong. But growing up in rural Pennsylvania I knew a lot of them, including my grandfather who, before he retired, worked as a machinest during the day and an 80-acre farmer the rest of the time.

I was his oldest male grandchild (that seemed to matter, unbeknowst to me), and he took me everywhere. I helped him clean off the afterbirth from cows who had given birth, mucked out the pens of bulls pissed off by their very existence, and broke the ice in the outdoor bathtub so the horses would have water.

On summer days I got to ride up high on the wagons pulled behind the hay baling machines, but also had to pick rocks out of his 7-acre fields for maybe $2 an hour (and my grandmother's lunch). I hitched a dragging chain around more small trees than I can remember, worried every time (thanks, Mom) that I might lose a finger or a thumb.

I rode with him down across the state line to Maryland, with a cow or two in the back of his small pickup truck, boards penning them up on the side. We'd back into the meat plant, unload the cows, wait an hour or two, and haul the meat back home in the back of his truck.

That night we would wrap meat in a frenzy. I was always the one to label the wrapped packages, with a black magic marker on white butcher paper, since I had the best handwriting, even at 9-years old. That was how we got our meat, a half-cow at a time.

I once spent the evening with my dad up the road at a neighbors, while we killed a pig with a pistol and my job was to grind up the meat in a hand-turned sausage machine. One winter our pipes froze and we had to haul water from a roadside spring. We never had a proper bathroom, just a toilet in the space under the stairs, and a rusty shower down in the cold, dirty cellar beside the wash tubs and the coal bin.

This was all normal stuff where I grew up. It's strange to think about.

My point is that farmers are hard-working stubborn old coots. They don't care what obstacle is in their way -- they find a way through it. It can be 10 degrees out and they just pounded a nail through their hand (my uncle once did this, somehow), but they wipe the blood off and keep working. There is stuff to get done.

They had nicknames like Pappy and Boots and Old Man Stairs, and they didn't watch the news and they didn't give a toss what anyone said, let alone some fancy scientists up at Harvard or Yale or even Penn State. Because tomorrow they needed to rake their hay, and god damned if the weatherman wasn't calling for rain, and hopefully the slice across their palm wouldn't be infected by morning.

Because if it was they were out of gauze and out of tape, and the truck was about out of gas anyway.

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