It may be the least opportune time of the year to bring it up, but climate change is something we in Flyover Country are finally reckoning with. And even as the thermometer this week plunges to its lowest levels of the season in much of the heartland, longer-term forces are going to prevail on the issue of our climate, just as spring follows winter.
For the record, I remain agnostic about whether the perceived craziness in meteorological phenomena these days is the result of true, epochal climate change; just a long bout of what we used to call “bad weather”; or something in between. And no doubt our perceptions are being shaped significantly by the climate-disaster narrative that has been embraced by the media, academia, most of government and much of business.
But to some degree, it doesn’t really matter what I or anyone else actually believes about what is happening with the climate, or at least with the weather: The horse, as we say in rural Flyover Country, already has left the barn. Not only are the realities and perceptions about climate change shaping political dialogue – they’re also beginning to shape the responses of our economic actors, from farmers to Realtors to car companies.
More about that in a minute.
Reshaping Has Begun
Unfortunately, a lot of activity around the climate-change issue is worthless or, at worst, counterproductive.
One recent example was how media pundits interpreted the disastrous, long-track tornadoes that pummeled Illinois, Kentucky and adjacent states on December 10. Rescuers were only starting to reach those suffering or dead in piles of debris when some media pundits already were pontificating that the once-in-a-century onslaught of twisters was the evil result of global warming. And, implicitly, their message was: So what are you going to do about it?
But such irresponsible climate mongering doesn’t negate the fact that reactions to weather or climate changes so far, and anticipation of further changes, are beginning to reshape our economy here in the American heartland.
Consider agriculture. Meat and dairy farmers and processors have become Public Enemy No. 1 to environmental activists who, essentially, want to ban the production of animal proteins on which much of the economy of the heartland depends. While there remains a lot of debate about how much animal methane emissions actually contribute to the global total, the dubious progressive narrative is that plant-based products not only are more “sustainable” but also healthier.
The Weight of Water
At the same time, our prospects around water look better. The apparent likelihood of longer growing seasons is creating hopeful new considerations on farms in Flyover Country about crop choices and rotations. Our situation in a region anchored by the Great Lakes, and helped by conservative water management across the heartland, is much better than in the American West.
Even last summer’s drought, which whacked wheat crops in the Great Plains, and the ongoing depletion of the region’s underlying Ogallala Aquifer, seem manageable compared with what’s going on elsewhere. Farmers’ more aggressive water-conservation measures are one thing that is helping.
By contrast, take California, where irresponsible stewardship of water has combined with record drought over the last several years to produce not only tremendous current economic thirsts but also great concerns about the future and about how much water shortages could come to crimp growth. Vast swaths of acreage now devoted to water-thirsty produce like almonds – products that have helped revolutionize the American diet – are threatened, and so are the state’s many industrial uses of water. Not to mention watering the sea lavender and taking showers.
Also consider the rising seas that, according to the consensus of current climate science, will be lapping at Atlantic and Pacific shores in no time. You don’t have to think the 2004 movie The Day After Tomorrow was prophetic to believe that certain coastal real estate may be threatened at some point and that, for much of it, little can be done to retain its current value.
Would this development open doors for climate-danger comparative sales of homes and plots in places like Little Rock, Arkansas (335 feet above sea level); Akron, Ohio (1,004 feet); or Bemidji, Minnesota (1,365 feet)?
The regnant climate-change narrative for consumer products is one place where Flyover Country companies can play. For example, Post Holdings, the grain giant based in St. Louis, has launched a brand called Airly. Sure, they are just snack crackers made from oats and other grains. But that's not all they are. They are "the first-ever climate-friendly snack developed to remove greenhouse gases from the air," Post declared.
How do they do that? Clearly, not even AI and machine-learning-equipped crackers could physically remove carbon dioxide from the air. What Post actually means, in keeping with the sustainability narrative, is that "each box sold removes between 18g-21g of [carbon dioxide] from the air, which is equivalent to 2,500-2,900 beach balls worth of fresher air" -- because of how efficient Airly is in considering "its impact on the environment every step of the way, using cutting-edge technology and the latest scientific innovations to support our planet's health."
And also buying carbon credits to offset any footprint from its production and transportation system.
Clearly one place where Flyover Country already has been betting big on the climate-change narrative is electric vehicles. Car-industry leaders have essentially thrown in the towel on making internal-combustion engines even better and have flipped decidedly toward building their companies’ future in an electric-car economy that – while not yet being demanded by consumers – is being dictated by government policy, environmental activism and enthusiastic EV reviewers in the media.
Fortunately, as they hurry their corporate transformations to make all-electric vehicles and assume that demand will catch up quickly, companies including General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Volkswagen largely are staking their reliance on existing and new plants across the heartland.