Government reports released this week revealed the U.S. economy is strong enough to stimulate new home construction but still too weak for inflation to threaten the fragile recovery.
According to the Commerce Department, new housing starts rose nearly 9 percent last month. Though the gain was slightly less than economists had expected, it revealed new strength across the nation.
The government also reported the Consumer Price Index rose 0.4 percent overall in November. But after stripping out the volatile food and energy sectors, so-called "core" prices were flat last month, signaling that inflation is virtually non-existent.
And that development was welcomed by Time Magazine's Man of the Year -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke -- who pledged to hold interest rates at record lows for an "extended period."
This week though, the economy took a backseat to climate change for the Obama Administration. But even before President Obama arrived at a global conference on the issue -- and despite U.S. commitments to help developing nations financially -- hopes for a binding agreement had broken down to a non-binding declaration.
As world leaders flocked to Copenhagen, thousands of protestors for and against a global climate pact filled the streets of Denmark. Members of Greenpeace invoked the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in a silent demonstration in favor of a swift global agreement.
For their part, some industrialized nations like the United States pledged substantial monetary assistance. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. would join other nations in raising $100 billion by 2020 to help poorer nations cope with climate change. But developing nations have not been pleased with previous emission cut guarantees from larger countries. Developing nations postured earlier in the week by briefly walking out of climate negotiations. Polluting heavyweights like China have signaled a cut in emissions could be offered but have yet to acknowledge any verification methods.
Thousands of miles away in rural America, it may be difficult to see a direct link from climate negotiations to U.S. farmers and ranchers. But make no mistake, policymakers are eyeing agricultural reforms.
Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "While agriculture has always been conceived as a part of the climate problem, it is a significant part of the solution to climate change. In America, agriculture is only 7 percent of the emissions but it could be 20-25 percent of the solution."
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled a proposal in Copenhagen this week with potential implications for the U.S. dairy industry. Vilsack told global leaders that dairy producers will accelerate adoption of innovative manure-to-energy projects on American dairy farms as part of a public-private partnership.
The projects will largely include anaerobic digester technology, known as a proven method of converting waste manure into electricity. Some digesters can generate enough electric power to run 200 homes but only a fraction of eligible dairies are using the technology. According to USDA, only 2 percent of dairies that could operate a profitable anaerobic digester are using the manure power systems. During climate negotiations this week, Vilsack announced that USDA has entered into a memorandum of understanding with dairy producers.
Sec. Tom Vilsack: "Entering into an MOU with the dairy industry to encourage it to reduce its emissions 25 percent by 2020. This is a major opportunity to partner with a major agricultural sector to show the rest of the world how it can be done."
Vilsack pledges USDA will allow more flexible technology implementation, undertake research initiatives, and enhance marketing efforts of anaerobic digesters in the coming months.