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Political fallout: Cap and trade capsized

Political fallout: Cap and trade capsized

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As recently as four years ago, Nebraska and the nation had the beginnings of a flourishing cap-and-trade system in which farmers were paid as much as $7.40 per metric ton to keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Since then, the U.S. Senate has balked at the idea of capping CO2 levels and allowing industries to buy the carbon credits that farmers earned to avoid federal pollution penalties.

The Chicago Climate Exchange, the crossroads for cap and trade, is defunct. And John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, is left shaking his head over the demise of a climate solution his organization strongly endorsed and helped run from the national level.

The failure of the U.S. Senate to back cap and trade sent everything into a tailspin, Hansen said.

In Nebraska, what was lost included more than 3 million acres enrolled in carbon sequestration and millions of dollars per year paid to farmers who kept soil tillage to a minimum and trapped greenhouse gases under the surface.

“At that point, we released all our climate folks from their contracts,” Hansen said. “And we said, ‘Geez, we’re really sorry. This was a good effort.’”

Nebraska and North Dakota were the two most active states in Farmers Union ranks, he said. “And then it all just collapsed.”

Hansen sees a failure to lead in a country that should be playing a leadership role in slowing climate change.

“There seems to be, in Europe especially and in developing nations we interact with -- a lot of them seem very concerned, because they don’t have irrigation or technical resources.

“When it doesn’t rain there, they just dry out and starve to death.”

Ken Winston of the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club said it’s odd that the discussion of global warming has become so political and that “respected and reputable scientists’ work is being attacked for political purposes.”

That’s not the only problem, Winston said. There’s also a sense of futility in thinking about ways to be more energy efficient and to develop wind and solar energy.

“I think one of the other problems people have with talking about climate change -- and one of the problems that the environmental community might be responsible for -- is any of this going to do any good? Are we already screwed? Is it too late?”

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups need to send a message of hope, he said.

Reach Art Hovey at 402-473-7223 or


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