Trip gives lobbyist global-warming insights
November 30, 2009
From the Kennebec Journal
By Susan M. Cover
AUGUSTA -- Jay Nutting traveled to Belgium and India to study ways to feed the world.
He came home convinced global warming is a much bigger factor in the future of agriculture than he ever imagined.
Nutting, a 33-year-old Vassalboro resident and State House lobbyist, recently completed his overseas trip as an Eisenhower Fellow. Each year, about a dozen midcareer U.S. citizens are chosen to participate in the program.
Nutting is the 2009 Eisenhower Fellow for Agriculture, which gave him a chance to meld his background in dairy farming with his public-policy experience.
Nutting continues to play an active role in Androscoggin Holsteins Inc., a Leeds dairy farm owned by his father, Sen. John Nutting.
During the week, he works as a government affairs consultant for Verrill Dana, where he specializes in representing the interests of utility companies. His trip abroad began in the Belgian capital, Brussels, where he spent a week observing the 27-nation European Union in action.
"People call it a miracle," he said. "It really is. To take 27 different countries and group them together and watch them work together on difficult issues is pretty amazing."
He got a sense of what they were doing with agricultural and environmental policies as well as plans to help developing countries "become food secure," he said.
From there, he traveled to India -- population 1.2 billion -- where food production is no longer keeping up with demand. He met with government officials, nongovernmental organizations and farmers.
In recent years, farmers have struggled because the monsoon season, which used to provide steady rain to help crops, has turned unpredictable.
"Their three months of moderate rain has really changed," he said. "They've seen just a huge increase in the heavy rain episodes."
That causes flooding and doesn't replenish the water table, he said.
Farmers told him in no uncertain terms they believe climate change is to blame.
"You can have all the debate you want, but I'm sitting with a group of 70-year-old farmers in a village in India and I thought, 'Oh, I'll ask them about climate change,'" he said. "Universally, all of them said, 'Absolutely. We know something's going on, for the last four or five years especially. It's happening very fast, given the temperature and the issues with the rainfall.'"
While farmers are feeling the brunt of it in other countries, U.S. farmers are contributing to the problem. Nutting said 20 percent of the fossil fuel that's used in the United States is for agriculture and food production.
"Nobody's talking about that," he said. "It might be a dangerous thing for agriculture to talk about it; but to me, if something's going to happen on climate change, you can't not talk about agriculture at the same time."
Nutting said he wasn't a climate-change "naysayer" before the trip and that he believed that it was one of a host of issues that needs to be addressed. Seeing it firsthand, however, and hearing it from the farmers themselves, gave him a new outlook on the issue.
"The one variable that's probably the most important to them is their climate, because of the climate-change issue," he said. "I almost left there thinking probably one of the best things we could do if we truly want to help them feed their population is take some kind of action regarding climate change."
President Barack Obama said last week he will travel to climate-change meetings in Copenhagen next month with the promise that the United States will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the New York Times.
It would be the first time in more than 10 years Americans have promised to take action.
Obama's targets are similar to those set in legislation that the House has passed but that has stalled in the Senate, the Times reported.
On his trip abroad, Nutting found himself trying to provide answers about why the United States hasn't acted sooner.
"Almost every meeting, they'd say, 'Why aren't you doing something more in Copenhagen?'" he said. "I think I was the only U.S. person they had contact with, and they felt they had to ask me. I just didn't have a good answer."
Susan Cover -- 620-7015