Monsanto’s Climate Cowardice


The increasing vagaries of climate change are already having profound impacts on agriculture and how we grow our food. The short of it is unless we find a way to drastically reduce green house gas emissions while sequestrating more carbon, we’re screwed. Droughts, floods, volatile weather and pests will make it much harder to grow food, and for farm families to survive on the land in the near future.

While some food companies and agribusinesses are making aggressive moves on climate change, others continue to chew around the edges. On December 1st Monsanto — premier global maker of GMO seeds and all around activist punching bag — announced that climate change was now a pressing enough problem for the company to do something about it. As reported by the Associated Press that something is:

Monsanto Co. plans to make its operations carbon neutral by 2021, in part by working with farmers who use its products to help them reduce carbon emissions, the company’s CEO told The Associated Press.

To be carbon neutral, Monsanto must reduce its net emission of climate-changing carbon to zero. Climate change is one of the most vital issues facing humanity, Monsanto’s Hugh Grant said in an interview ahead of the company’s announcement Tuesday, and an “untold story” is the agricultural industry’s effort to address the issue.

Farmers “have an opportunity and a part to play in mitigation around climate change,” Grant said. “Rather than being the problem, I think there’s a growing realization they can be a big part of the solution.”

Monsanto’s announcement comes as world leaders gather in Paris for two weeks of negotiations to finalize a sweeping global agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

Ooooooh, pledging to go carbon neutral. How 2007. That’s when the parent company of climate change denying Fox News – Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp – made their carbon neutral pledge. Also, part of Monsanto’s plan relies on little actual heavy lifting but outsourcing GHG reduction efforts onto their customers – farmers.

Most of the coverage of this PR stunt coordinated to capitalize on Paris climate deal acknowledges that Monsanto’s and other food companies’ sudden interest in climate change isn’t altruistic — it’s about survival. If we can’t grow food in a hotter climate, they can’t make money.

A profit-driven motive shouldn’t be surprising. That’s the system we have. What’s distressing is this.

In an interview with Grist, Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant said that the company conducted an internal climate change report a number of years ago and came to the conclusion that climate change (in addition to being very real) is going to cause significant changes for farmers. Although the company wasn’t secretive about these findings, it didn’t make an effort to shout the results from the rooftops and inform its customers about what it learned [my emphasis]. That was a mistake, Grant said.

Let’s be clear about what Monsanto’s honcho copped to. Farmers (their customers) are facing huge climate challenges. The company that made money off of them all these years knew what trouble was brewing and made little to no effort to inform them. Farmers are nervous for the future as growing seasons lurch from drought to biblical flood. It may not be in Exxon’s ballpark but it surely is selling GMO corn dogs in front of the stadium.

Luckily for Monsanto’s legal department, due to far-right ideology woven into major farm groups like the Farm Bureau and conservative-minded rural elected officials, most farmers don’t believe in human induced climate change. So no foul, no foul.

Monsanto could do two things it does really well, to actually make real progress on climate change. The first is to lobby Congress for new federal climate legislation. Monsanto’s congressional lobbying and spending prowess is legend. They could also only cut checks to those members that support immediate government action to fight climate change (last year 80% of their contributions went to Republicans).

Except that will never happen. It would cost them too much. The same people in Congress obstructing climate change efforts are often the same ones thwarting efforts for mandatory labels on genetically modified food. They’re also the same members fending off efforts to regulate pesticides.

Monsanto could use its other main strength in scientific research. Deploy a battalion of lab coats to develop corn plants the use little to minimal nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrous oxide is a green house gas 300 times more potent than CO2 and a big driver of American water pollution.

Instead (at least publicly) they’re selling farmers on the idea that data collection is key to adapting to climate change. Of course Monsanto owns the Climate Corporation, a farm data company.

“As the years go by we’ll get smarter,” Monsanto’s CEO told the Guardian.

A real sense of urgency there.


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