Climate change or weather extreme?


No one you know says “grain” when they mean “soybeans” or “John Deere” when they mean “tractor.”

Of course, you might get away with these vague and misleading substitutes when talking to the non-farming public because most people don’t know soybeans are an oilseed, not a grain, and that Deere & Co. makes a lot more than just tractors.

Intentionally doing so, however, is neither vague nor misleading.

Climate change

Intention makes it lying, and lie is what your U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) now recommends some of its employees to do when discussing climate change and its impact on U.S. farm and food production.

According to more than 60 pages of internal memos published Aug. 7 by the British newspaper The Guardian, USDA, the government agency most responsible for the science and safety of U.S. food served both here and abroad, would like some staff members to refer to “climate change” as “weather extremes” and “climate change adaption” as “resilience to weather extremes.”

These less-than-subtle suggestions — there were more — sound harmless or even hair-splitting to a casual consumer.

To scientists, however, they are loaded with ambiguity and political misdirection meant to point to something other than clear, honest facts.

Interestingly, The Guardian story appeared the same day the New York Times published a not-yet-public draft report from 13 U.S. government agencies on climate change (not “weather extremes”) that stated without equivocation, “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean.”


The Times story all but put a spotlight on the USDA effort to downplay and mislead the public about climate change and its impact on American agriculture.

Perhaps acknowledging how foolish USDA looked by doing so, Tim Murtaugh, a USDA “spokesman,” told Politico that “there has never been a directive…regarding the term ‘climate change’ and that it was unclear why career officials behind the memos had raised the issue to staff.”

What may have been “unclear” to Murtaugh appears quite clear to others who had their eyes open to facts and not blinkered by petty politics.

For example, here’s how Politico explained what it saw in their daily “Morning Agriculture” report Aug. 8, the day after the USDA story broke.

“President Donald Trump has long questioned the existence of climate change, once calling it a ‘hoax’ perpetuated by the Chinese…”

The Trump White House, Politico added, also “pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate deal and changed climate-change-related web pages for EPA and other government agencies to reflect its skepticism about the science.”

Those actions might not constitute a clear “directive” from the White House on climate change but they clearly show which way the wind blows in the Oval Office.


There’s another unmistakable link between the Trump Administration’s view that climate change is a “hoax” and USDA’s misleading terms in discussing it with the public: Sam Clovis, Trump’s nominee to be USDA undersecretary of research, education and economics.

Clovis, you may recall, labels “climate change ‘junk science’ and ‘not proven’,” according to the San Jose (California) Mercury News.

He also has spent most of the Administration’s first 200 days at USDA as “Trump’s top political operative” there, reports veteran ag journalist Chuck Abbott.

Whether that’s a complete coincidence or not, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was feeling enough heat over all the steamy USDA climate news that he interrupted his all smiles-and-handshakes trip around the Midwest Aug. 7 to, once again, “fully support” the Clovis nomination.

And this despite the disclosure last week that Clovis had “once called progressives ‘liars and race-traders'” and “accused labor unions of coming out of the ‘Communist closet’ to support President Barack Obama.”

Linking the former president to communists, labor unions, and progressives likely would earn Trump, Perdue, and Clovis a cup of coffee — if not noon dinner — at most farm town cafes.


Denying climate change, however, and whitewashing its lasting effects will earn them nothing but scorn from our grandchildren because, as farmers and ranchers well know, the climate has changed even if folks at USDA, the White House, and the local cafe lack the integrity to admit it.


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.



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