Climate Change is ‘One of the Greatest Threats Facing Our Planet,’ Says Agriculture Secretary Vilsack

By Nicholas Ballasy | December 13, 2010 | 12:57 PM EST

( – The U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told a United Nations global warming conference that climate change is “one of the greatest threats facing our planet.” He later told that there are “some indications” that this decade has been “one of the warmest” in “many centuries.”

On a conference call on Friday after his remarks at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, asked Vilsack the following:  “Secretary Vilsack, Professor Phil Jones, the director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, has said there has been no statistically significant — no statistically significant --  global warming since 1995. Do you have any doubts about Jones’s data?

Vilsack said, “Well, all I can say is the vast majority of scientists and researchers believe that there has been a significant climate change, which has occurred. There are some indications that this decade has been one of the warmest, if not the warmest, in many, many, many, many centuries.”

“We obviously, within the United States, have some indication of the impact of climate change in the western part of the United States,” the USDA secretary said. “The pine bark beetle infestation is killing millions and millions of trees in Colorado and Montana and Wyoming, for example, in part as a result of winters not being as severe as they have been in the past. Those beetles basically survive the winter in greater numbers, and the result is that we are faced with a fairly serious issue with forest management.”

During his speech to the U.N. conference on Thursday, Dec. 9,  Vilsack said climate change presents opportunities for farmers.

“Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing our planet, and the United States is taking significant action to meet this challenge,” he said.

He continued, “Even in the absence of national climate legislation, there remain opportunities for farmers, ranchers and forest owners to be compensated for greenhouse gas-reducing activities through voluntary and state-run offset programs and through the actions of individual companies.”

Vilsack elaborated on his remarks during the Friday conference call with reporters.

“So I think there is, obviously, a substantial amount of science that would suggest that we need to take climate change seriously, and we are doing that at USDA. And we are also taking this opportunity to determine how we might be able to not only do what's right for the environment but also determine if there is economic benefit to be gained for our farmers, our ranchers, and our forest landowners, and if there is, we want to utilize that economic opportunity,” Vilsack told

“If there is a potential market for this, whether it is a State market or a voluntary market, we want to put our farmers and forest landowners and ranchers in the best position possible to maximize their opportunities, so that is the purpose and reason for the speech I gave today and the steps that we are taking at USDA.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. (AP photo)

Vilsack had also said at the U.N. conference that farmers could benefit from markets for greenhouse gas reductions.

“Farmers, ranchers and forest owners have a tremendous amount to contribute to fighting climate change and to also ensuring that we adapt to climate change,” he said at conference. “Farmers are helping make America more energy independent while at the same time generating new rural income by producing renewable energy.”

“And, I believe farmers, ranchers, and forest owners have the potential to benefit from markets for greenhouse gas reductions that could provide other new economic opportunities,” he said. “Indeed, addressing climate change will be much easier if we enlist landowners to produce energy and undertake practices that sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”