OPINION: We Can No Longer Pretend Climate Change Doesn’t Exist

Surviving disaster after disaster will test even the most passionate agriculturists.

Megan Brown's farm has been threatened by multiple wildfires.
Photography by My Photo Buddy on Shutterstock

Over the past five years our ranch has been affected by three major fires. The first in 2017 caused just under $4 million in damage to our ranch. The second in 2018 torched the ranch’s historic water source. As I write this, I am under evacuation warnings from the North Complex fire, which is raging mere miles away from me, raining ash. 

In addition to these massive fires, I have also experienced a flood, a drought, and finally multiple years of extreme grasshopper infestations. Our area of California seems to be ground zero for “historical” and “unprecedented” natural events. These events have cost our family ranch millions of dollars and untold mental anguish. 

Our family came to California in the 1850’s. Since then, we have farmed and raised cattle in the same area of the state. Each generation has operated our ranch much like the last, mimicking the patterns of the native grazers. The family has passed down knowledge of the area and how best to graze our animals. As a small child, I remember my grandfather sharing his wisdom on how many cattle I could graze per pasture.

However, things are changing. In the long history of our ranch, we have never experienced so many disasters in such a short amount of time. Of course, like all producers, we have experienced the kind of weather events—a once-in-a-lifetime flood, an occasional drought—that would be added to the family legend and lore. But nothing in our ranch’s 170-year history compares to the constant and compounded events I am living through now. 

Climate change is no longer something we can pretend does not exist. We cannot blindly repeat the industry talking point, “graze it, log it or watch it burn,” in the hope of improving our climate. For years, I believed and even perpetuated that belief. That is, until I logged it, grazed it and hopelessly, watched it burn. Then flood. Then get devoured by grasshoppers, twice. 

Science has been telling us some major changes were coming for years, and we did not listen. Now I am living in those changes—this way of life is not sustainable emotionally or financially. 

Knowing I will be forced to evacuate my home annually negates the sense of safety I once felt. Choosing what animals to load in my trailer as I have mere minutes to flee for our lives, is a choice I am not ready to make, yet again. Watching flora and fauna I am obligated to care for, wither and die after months of no rain, is a slow heartbreak. Feeling my animals and my health suffer after living in toxic, thick smoke for over a month, makes me question if I am making good choices for us.

The financial damage to our ranch is much more tangible. Repairing miles of fence after floods and fires is expensive, and my cattle ingest hardware from damaged fencing, causing them a slow and distressing death. Increased insurance premiums are an expensive reminder of what I’ve lived through. I cannot graze as many cattle as my grandfather when they compete with grasshoppers. I have learned from experience and my extension agent that 30 pounds of grasshoppers will eat as much as a 600-pound steer. Finding enough hay for my livestock either during a drought or flood is a challenge, forcing me to cull cattle I normally would keep. It is getting incredibly challenging to earn a livable income on this ranch. 

Production agriculture is already a stressful lifestyle; surviving disaster after disaster in such a short period of time will test even the most passionate agriculturists. We are well past the time of using industry talking points to deflect the impact of climate change. Agriculture uses science to assure the public our use of technology is safe. It is time we use that same science to address climate change, before our land becomes so inhospitable that we become stubborn witnesses to the death of our industry rather than resilient farmers, ranchers, and stewards.


Megan Brown is a sixth generation rancher based in Plumas County, California. You can follow her on Twitter at @MegRaeB.

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Eric S Prater
10 months ago

I Was googling why the Anasazi died off, it brought up some interesting droughts, there was a 23 year drought, 55 year drought, then a 95 year drought, why not focus on YEARS of over growth and mismanagement in our land management agencies, remove the Bernanke vegetation instead of wringing your hands over “climate change” theory as people try and figure out why all the overgrowth of vegetation in some dry years, so if we are in a “climate change cycle” it becomes even more important to remove vegetation before overgrowth burns and we have to breathe decades of public… Read more »

Chris
10 months ago

Maybe all the environmental restrictions and California desire for climate controls have something to do with the fires.
The more you have the worse it appears.
Of course the climate is changes it always has. Yosemite was once covered with ice. There must have been significant climate change to melt that away.

Dee
10 months ago

I am sorry for your losses and stress. I can’t imagine how you manage. I have one thought – BioChar. Not only would it increase the ability of the land to absorb what water you do receive but increases the fertility of your pastures, and is wonderful for livestock. It is also known as terra preta from the Amazon. Modern Farmer should do an article.

8 months ago

Amazing content…loved it

Iain Climie
7 months ago

The simplest comment here is that many ideas essential if mainstream views are correct make sense even if climate change were a damp squib or temperatures fell e.g following a major volcanic eruption like Tambora in 1815. Examples include less waste, silviculture, restoring fish stocks, combining conservation with careful use (e.g. rewilded bison) and reducing the impact per head and probably numbers of conventional livestock. So, given the choice of adopting such win-win options or bickering over who was right, which did humanity choose over the last 30 – 40 years? I can only apologise to today’s youngsters for how… Read more »

Otis Needleman
10 months ago

The climate changes constantly. The Earth has had Ice Ages and warmer periods. Human activity has only a limited effect on climate. Face it, when you have heavy snow in Colorado/Wyoming in late summer, as happened a couple of weeks ago, that’s no sign of the much-ballyhooed “global warming”.

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