Mother Earth Day 2015: Regenerating the Soil and Reversing Global Warming

The elimination of fossil fuels for all but the most limited and essential purposes is necessary but not sufficient to allow our descendants a fair chance for a healthy and prosperous future. Enhancing carbon biosequestration in terrestrial ecosystems is also essential.”  Wayne A. White, Biosequestration and Ecological Diversity p.118 (CRC Press 2013)

The standard gloom and doom discourse surrounding global warming and climate change has infected the body politic with a severe case of depression and disempowerment. So starting today April 22, embracing what the United Nations has designated as the “Year of the Soil,” let’s look at our planetary crisis from an entirely different, and more hopeful perspective.

The good news is that the global grassroots, farmers and consumers united, can reverse our suicidal “business as usual” food, farming, energy, and land use practices. Harnessing the awesome power of Regenerative Organic Agriculture and reforestation, we can literally suck down enough excess (50-100 ppm of CO2) heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and naturally sequester it in our plants, trees and soils.  Regenerative Agriculture and Earth Repair practices can not only mitigate, but also, in combination with drastic reductions (80-90 percent) of fossil fuel emissions in our food and farming, transportation, housing, utilities, and industrial sectors, actually reverse global warming.

Regenerative Agriculture and Forestry

If you’ve never heard about the amazing potential of regenerative agriculture and land use practices to naturally sequester a critical mass of CO2 in the soil and forests, you’re not alone. One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the solution to global warming and the climate crisis (as well as poverty and deteriorating public health) lies right under our feet, and at the end of our knives and forks. Changing our food and farming systems, along with changing our “business as usual” political system and energy policies, is the key to our survival and well-being.

Transforming and regenerating our planet’s 28 billion acres of cropland, grassland and forests, as well as urban areas of the planet, is the challenge—not only for Mother Earth Day 2015, but for the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Global Organic Regeneration and Earth Repair is the key to drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our current unsustainable food, farming and deforestation practices (which now produce the majority of greenhouse gas emissions).

Regenerative Earth Repair is the absolute prerequisite for ramping up plant and forest photosynthesis and sequestering in the soil several hundred billion tons of excess atmospheric CO2 over the next two decades.

A global campaign of Earth Repair and Regeneration can buy us the precious time we need to move away from fossil fuels to a global economy based upon renewable energy. Global Regeneration will dramatically improve soil fertility, crop yields, soil water retention, crop resilience, and food quality, thereby helping to mitigate and reverse global poverty, malnutrition and deteriorating public health.

Before we look how we can sequester up to 200 percent of current human greenhouse gas emissions through regenerating the planet’s croplands (four billion acres), pastures and rangelands (14 billion acres), and forests (10 billion acres), let’s look at what Michael Pollan, the U.S.’s most influential writer on food and farming, has to say about plant photosynthesis, regenerative grazing, and carbon sequestration:

Consider what happens when the sun shines on a grass plant rooted in the earth. Using that light as a catalyst, the plant takes atmospheric CO2, splits off and releases the oxygen, and synthesizes liquid carbon–sugars, basically. Some of these sugars go to feed and build the aerial portions of the plant we can see, but a large percentage of this liquid carbon—somewhere between 20 and 40 percent—travels underground, leaking out of the roots and into the soil. The roots are feeding these sugars to the soil microbes—the bacteria and fungi that inhabit the rhizosphere—in exchange for which those microbes provide various services to the plant: defense, trace minerals, access to nutrients the roots can’t reach on their own. That liquid carbon has now entered the microbial ecosystem, becoming the bodies of bacteria and fungi that will in turn be eaten by other microbes in the soil food web. Now, what had been atmospheric carbon (a problem) has become soil carbon, a solution—and not just to a single problem, but to a great many problems.

Besides taking large amounts of carbon out of the air—tons of it per acre when grasslands are properly managed… that process at the same time adds to the land’s fertility and its capacity to hold water. Which means more and better food for us…

This process of returning atmospheric carbon to the soil works even better when ruminants are added to the mix. Every time a calf or lamb shears a blade of grass, that plant, seeking to rebalance its “root-shoot ratio,” sheds some of its roots. These are then eaten by the worms, nematodes, and microbes—digested by the soil,in effect, and so added to its bank of carbon. This is how soil is created: from the bottom up.

What is Regenerative Agriculture?

A recent article in the Guardian summarizes Regenerative Agriculture:

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.

With these basic concepts of photosynthesis and Regenerative Agriculture in mind, what do we need to do?

(1) Regenerate croplands, eliminate GMOs, pesticides, monocultures, chemical fertilizers, and tillage. If we can mobilize the global grassroots to promote and adopt regenerative organic agricultural practices (“organic and beyond”) on the Earth’s four billion acres of cultivated farmland, we can drastically reduce our use of fossil fuel inputs and slash greenhouse gas emissions; produce healthier, climate-resistant crops and nutrient-dense food; and meanwhile sequester large amounts of carbon in our degraded, de-carbonized soils. Our agricultural soils have lost 25-75 percent of the soil carbon they once had before the onslaught of unsustainable agricultural practices.

As the must-read 2014 Rodale Institute White Paper explains:

In practical terms, regenerative organic agriculture is foremost an organic system refraining from the use of synthetic pesticides and inputs, which disrupt soil life, and fossil-fuel dependent nitrogen fertilizer, which is responsible for the majority of anthropogenic N2O emissions. It is a system designed to build soil health.

Regenerative organic agriculture is comprised of organic practices including (at a minimum): cover crops, residue mulching, composting and crop rotation. Conservation tillage, while not yet widely used in organic systems, is a regenerative organic practice integral to soil-carbon sequestration.

As the Rodale research indicates, and is echoed by numerous other field trials across the globe, Regenerative Organic practices on cultivated farmlands across the world can, over the next few decades sequester 40 percent of current human greenhouse gas emissions.

(2) Regenerate grasslands and pasture lands, eliminate factory farms. Even more encouraging, as Rodale and others, including Quivira Coalition and the Savory Institute, point out, by adopting regenerative grazing practices on the earth’s seriously degraded 14 billion acres of pastureland and grassland (there is 3.5 times as much pasture land and rangeland on the Earth as there is cultivated farmland), we can eventually sequester an additional 71 percent of all current greenhouse gas emissions.

In other words by eliminating inhumane, unhealthy and heavily polluting factory farms or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), which now produce 2/3 of all global meat and animal products, and by putting billions of the Earth’s 70 billion farm animals back on the land, we can regenerate, through planned rotational “mob” grazing, and the production of grass fed beef and dairy, and pasture-based pork and poultry, the 14 billion acres of rangeland and pastureland that are our most strategic “sink” or depository for excess CO2 in the atmosphere.

Last year Dr. Richard Teague of Texas A&M explained the principles of planned rotational (“mob”) grazing to a House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources (June 25, 2014):

The key to sustaining and regenerating ecosystem function in rangelands is actively managing for reduction of bare ground, promoting the most beneficial and productive plants by grazing moderately over the whole landscape, and providing adequate recovery to grazed plants…

Regenerative grazing and pasturing on a global scale will require the dismantling of the entire factory farm system, freeing billions of farm animals from their animal prisons or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and putting them back out onto the land to graze and forage where they belong. Once CAFO and GMO crop subsidies are reduced and removed, and once the pent-up market demand for healthier, more humanely produced meat, dairy and eggs can be harnessed, the factory farm/GMO industrial food and farming system will begin to collapse.

With billions of animals released from intensive confinement (including freeing herbivores from unnatural, unhealthy GMO grain diets), marketplace pressure will encourage farmers and ranchers to adopt herd management strategies that replicate natural or wild herd habits. This involves herbivores rotationally grazing only the top grasses of small pastures, for short periods of time, defecating and urinating and forcing the stubble into the topsoil. After the grasses recover, then the herd or flocks are returned for a few days to harvest the most nutritious grasses again. With omnivores (pigs and chickens), free range or pasturing practices will similarly restore animal and soil health as well.

The current factory farm system takes the naturally grazing cattle off pasture to enormous feedlots to fatten them up with corn, soybeans, cotton seed cake, cotton gin trash, sludge-fertilized hay, and waste industrial products. Cows, sheep, and other herbivores are not grain, GMO, or garbage eaters by choice. Their preferred foods are mixed grasses.

Regenerative grazing is not something new, but rather a rediscovery of the beneficial animal welfare and environmental practices that were “normal” (buffalo and elk on the grasslands of the US, wildebeest herds in Africa, communal grazing practices worldwide) before the advent of industrial farming and CAFOs.

One very important benefit of grass-fed beef, sheep, goats and dairy, and pastured poultry and pigs—a benefit which is already starting to drive consumers away from factory farmed foods—is that grass-fed or pastured animal products are qualitatively healthier than CAFO products, higher in Omega 3 and “good” fats, and lower in animal drug residues and harmful fats that clog arteries, destroy gut health and cause cancer.

(3) Regenerate forests and wetlands, end deforestation. By halting unsustainable land use and deforestation of the planet’s remaining 10 billion acres of forest (deforestation is now responsible for a full 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions), by re-planting species-appropriate trees on five billion deforested rural and urban acres, by incorporating sustainable forest management practices on existing forests, and by integrating agro-forestry practices on existing farms and ranches (and restoring wetlands), we can drastically reduce carbon emissions while sequestering billions of tons of excess carbon in our forest lands and in reforested rural and urban environments.

As permaculture author Michal Pilarski explains in his “Carbon Sequestration Proposal for the World,” we can reverse global warming by:

I.    Reforestation/Afforestation of 5 billion acres worldwide = 150 billion tons of carbon sequestration.

II.    Earth repair and improved ecosystem management of existing forests and all other terrestrial ecosystems = 100 billion tons of carbon sequestration.

Earth repair and reforestation of our cities, forests, marshes, savannas, grasslands, steppes, and deserts could eventually add up to a total of 250 billion tons of carbon sequestered. This translates into removing over 100 ppm of excess CO2 from the atmosphere and putting it into the soil and forests. This level of carbon sequestration would bring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels down to where they were in the early 1800s, if carried out in combination with slashing human-caused carbon emissions.

According to biosequestration expert, Wayne White, if we could just stop all tropical deforestation, and maintain the health of our forests, the increased photosynthesis of this massive forest growth would sequester a full 69 percent of all human greenhouse gas emissions. (Biosequestration and Ecological Diversity p. 93)

Too many forests have been degraded, or clear-cut, or over-grazed and even over-fertilized with nitrogen. Too much land has been developed, exploited, and then abandoned. The solutions to our forest crisis are similar to organic farming solutions. We need to practice sustainable forestry management strategies that restore the mycorrhizal and other forest fungi, and replant clear-cut areas with high-density, species-appropriate plantings. We need to manage this reforestation, including thinning and pest control. We need to avoid the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers because they damage fungi and other microorganisms, which are the foundations of a successful reforestation program. With reforestation and restoration of the forest floor microorganisms, our forests will be able to sequester billions of tons of carbon.

Critics of the Earth Repair strategy

A number of critics of our Earth Repair strategy have told me and other regeneration activists that we should not talk about natural sequestration of CO2 in the soil, nor the enormous Regenerative potential of organic food, farming,and forestry, because this “positive talk” will distract people from the main task at hand, drastically reducing fossil fuel emissions and taking down King Coal and Big Oil.

Of course we need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels, extractivism and overconsumption into conservation, sustainable living and renewable energy. We must all become climate hawks and radical conservationists. But we must also become advocates of Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Forest/Land Use.

Unite the Food, Forest, and Climate Movements

The large and growing anti-GMO, organic food, and natural health movement in the U.S., for example, of which I am a part, must begin to think of ourselves as climate and food activists, not just advocates for natural health, small farmers/ranchers, animals and food justice. Given that the GMO, factory farm and industrial food and farming system seen as a whole (production, chemical crop inputs, processing, transportation, waste, emissions, deforestation, biofuel/ethanol production) is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions, surpassing even the transportation, utilities, housing and industry sectors, climate activists need to start thinking of ourselves as food activists as well.

There will be no organic food, nor food whatsoever, on a burnt planet. Nor will there ever be a 90-percent reduction in greenhouse gas pollution without a transformation of our food and farming and land use practices, both in North America and globally.

We must begin to connect the dots between fossil fuels, global warming and related issues, including world hunger, poverty, unemployment, toxic food and farming, extractivism, land grabbing, biodiversity, ocean destruction, deforestation, resource wars, and deteriorating public health. As we regenerate the soil and forests, and make organic and grass-fed food and fiber the norm, rather than just the alternative, we will simultaneously develop our collective capacity to address all of the globe’s interrelated problems.

Breaking through the silos of single-issue campaigning and limited constituency organizing (“my issue is more important than your issue”), we will be able to expand our global grassroots Movement to include everyone who cares about climate, health, justice, jobs, sustainability, peace and democracy.

Some pessimists argue that the Global South (China, India, Africa, Asia, Latin America), where most of the world’s population lives, is too preoccupied with moving beyond poverty and creating jobs, to put a priority on reversing global warming, reducing emissions, and natural sequestration.

But the extraordinary thing about de-industrializing food and farming, restoring grasslands and reversing deforestation—moving several hundred billion tons of carbon back from the atmosphere into our soils, plants and forests—is that this Organic Regeneration will not only reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate, but will also stimulate hundreds of millions of rural (and urban) jobs, while qualitatively increasing soil fertility, water retention, farm yields and food quality.

Earth Repair holds the potential not only to restore forests and grasslands, recharge aquifers, restore and normalize rainfall, but also to address and eliminate rural malnutrition, poverty, unemployment and hunger. Regenerative agriculture and land use—which will require both enormous political struggle and unprecedented marketplace pressure—will lead to healthy soils, healthy forests, healthy climate, healthy food, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy societies.

As 350.org and other climate campaigners point out, we’ve got to force the fossil fuel corporados and Wall Street banksters to leave 2/3 or more of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground. We can basically burn 825 billion tons more of fossil fuels out of the 2.785 trillion remaining, but no more, according to scientific consensus, before we reach the point of no return, whereby climate change morphs into climate catastrophe.

To stay within our carbon budget, we’ve got to stop the fracking, the tar sands, the pipelines, the bomb trains, King Coal, and nuclear madness.

But we’ve got to do more than just protest, resist and divest. We must shut down King Coal and Big Oil’s greenhouse gas pollution, yes; but we must also suck down and naturally sequester over the next 20 years, several hundred billion tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases through the qualitatively enhanced photosynthesis of regenerative farming, ranching and land use.

We must make peace with the living Earth and restore our biotic community.

According to scientific consensus, soon to be formally ratified by the nations of the world at the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015, fossil fuel emissions—now spewing out 8.5 billion tons of carbon annually (i.e. 32.3 billion tons of CO2 in 2013 and again in 2014) into the atmosphere and the oceans—must peak and go to zero by 2050. Unfortunately, even if every country moves to zero emissions by 2050, we will still find ourselves way past the danger zone at 480 ppm or higher of CO2.  Only a mass global campaign of Regenerative Agriculture and land use, combined with dismantling the Fossil Fuel Empire, will suffice.

So who will actually carry out this global campaign of Earth Repair and Organic Regeneration? Of course we must continue, and, in fact vastly increase, our pressure on governments and corporations to change public policies and marketplace practices. But in order to overturn “business as usual” we’re going to have to inspire and mobilize a vastly larger climate change coalition than the one we have now. Food climate and economic justice advocates must unite our forces so we can educate and mobilize a massive grassroots army of Earth Regenerators: three billion small farmers and rural villagers, ranchers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, urban agriculturalists, and indigenous communities—aided and abetted by several billion conscious consumers and urban activists.

We don’t have the time or space here for a full Earth Repair strategy, but here are five things we can start to do immediately on this Mother Earth Day 2015:

(1)    Educate yourself, your friends, and your family on the basic principles of Earth Repair      and Regenerative Organic Agriculture. Here’s an annotated bibliography to help you get started.

(2)    Join an activist organization dealing with food and farming, forest preservation or climate. If you’re already an activist, get your group to connect the dots between fossil fuel emissions reduction and natural carbon sequestration.

(3)    Boycott all GMO, chemical-intensive and CAFO foods. Purchase organic and 100-percent grass-fed or pastured products. Push the organic community top go beyond the minimum standards of “USDA Organic” to food and farming practices that are climate-friendly, re-localized and regenerative, as well as organic.

(4)    Support the organizations that are educating and agitating for regenerative agriculture and land use. These groups include:

Organic Consumers Organization, The Carbon Underground, IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements), NavdanyaInstitutefor Agriculture and Trade Policy, The Rodale Institute, Quivira Coalition, The Savory Institute, and others.

(5)    Change the climate conversation from gloom and doom to one of positive solutions. We’ve got 20 years left to turn things around, but we need to start our Regeneration International campaign now, Mother Earth Day 2015.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico sister organization, Via Organica.

From ‘Sustainable’ to ‘Regenerative’—The Future of Food

This week (October 26, 2015), the paywalled site PoliticoPro reported that the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture wants “farmers and agricultural interests to come up with a single definition of sustainability in order to avoid confusing the public with various meanings of the term in food and production methods.”

We agree with Secretary Tom Vilsack that the word “sustainability” is meaningless to consumers and the public. It’s overused, misused and it has been shamelessly co-opted by corporations for the purpose of greenwashing.

But rather than come up with one definition for the word “sustainable” as it refers to food and food production methods, we suggest doing away with the word entirely. In its place, as a way of helping food consumers make conscious, informed decisions, we suggest dividing global food and farming into two categories: regenerative and degenerative.

In this new paradigm, consumers could choose food produced by degenerative, toxic chemical-intensive, monoculture-based industrial agriculture systems that destabilize the climate, and degrade soil, water, biodiversity, health and local economies. Or they could choose food produced using organic regenerative practices based on sound ecological principles that rejuvenate the soil, grasslands and forests; replenish water; promote food sovereignty; and restore public health and prosperity—all while cooling the planet by drawing down billions of tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil where it belongs.

‘Sustainable’—Is that All We Want?

The dictionary defines “sustainable” as: able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; able to last or continue for a long time.

In other words, sustainability is about maintaining systems without degrading them. And it is about keeping things much the same without progressing.

Industrial agriculture today, with its factory farms, waste lagoons, antibiotics and growth hormones, GMOs, toxic pesticides and prolific use of synthetic fertilizers, doesn’t come close to “not using up or destroying natural resources.”  And even if it did, is that all we want, or need, to achieve?

Or do we want to grow our food in ways that restore climate stability and regenerate—soil, health, economies—rather than merely maintain the status quo?

Greenwashing and the Labeling Game

Corporations love to brand themselves, and label their products, as “sustainable.” The hope is that consumers will view “sustainable” products as superior to mere “conventional” products, or better yet, equate the word “sustainable” with “organic.”

But when a widely discredited and despised company like Monsanto co-opts the word “sustainable,” the word loses all meaning for consumers. On its website, Monsanto says:

Our vision for sustainable agriculture strives to meet the needs of a growing population, to protect and preserve this planet we all call home, and to help improve lives everywhere. In 2008 Monsanto made a commitment to sustainable agriculture – pledging to produce more, conserve more, and improve farmers’ lives by 2030.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready, chemical-intensive GMO crops now dominate agriculture, on a global scale, poisoning soil, water, air, farm workers and consumers. The words on their website fool no one—the agriculture they promote is anything but “sustainable.”

It is the same with the certified “sustainability” labels promoted by corporations such as Cargill, Heinz Benelux, Mars, Nestlé, Unilever and Cadbury. These labeling schemes, such as Rainforest Alliance, Sustainable Agriculture Network, and UTZ can be congratulated for promoting the planting of trees on farms, for improving the farm environment and for requiring compliance with minimum labor standards. But they do nothing to curtail the use of soil-destroying, climate-destabilizing chemical fertilizers and the thousands of toxic pesticides that are known to cause both environmental and health damage.

A “sustainability” label may mean the production methods behind a product inflicted somewhat less damage on the environment. But it doesn’t mean the product will cause less damage to human health. Numerous published scientific studies link exposure to the smallest amounts of these “approved” pesticides to cancers, birth defects, endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, developmental neurotoxicity, ADHD, autism, obesity, type 2 diabetes, reproductive problems, immune system damage, epigenetic mutations, kidney, liver and heart disease and numerous other non-communicable diseases that are currently in epidemic proportions.

Most of the farmers enrolled in these “sustainability programs” used to grow crops or graze animals traditionally, with little or no chemicals. The same is true for the many thousands of certified organic coffee and cacao farmers who have been hijacked by these schemes—schemes which allow them to charge a premium without meeting the more rigorous organic standards. How can the promoters of these “sustainability” labels claim that they are reducing chemical use when they have converted thousands of low-input traditional farmers to the use of chemicals that they never used before?

A global ‘Regeneration Revolution’ is under way.

In the 1970s, Robert Rodale, son of American organic pioneer J.I. Rodale coined the term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’ to distinguish a kind of farming that goes beyond simply “sustainable.”

According to the Rodale Institute:

Regenerative organic agriculture improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them. It is a holistic systems approach to agriculture that encourages continual on-farm innovation for environmental, social, economic and spiritual well-being.

Regenerative organic agriculture “takes advantage of the natural tendencies of ecosystems to regenerate when disturbed. In that primary sense it is distinguished from other types of agriculture that either oppose or ignore the value of those natural tendencies.” Regenerative organic agriculture is marked by tendencies towards closed nutrient loops, greater diversity in the biological community, fewer annuals and more perennials, and greater reliance on internal rather than external resources. Regenerative organic agriculture is aligned with forms of agroecology practiced by farmers concerned with food sovereignty the world over.”

We opened this piece by stating that we agree with Vilsack—the word “sustainability,” in the context of food and food production, has led to consumer confusion.

But we don’t like where Vilsack is headed. He told PoliticoPro:

“In recent years, Consumers have raised concerns about conventional agricultural practices, which has led to the growth of organic, GMO-free foods and ‘natural’ products, often at the expense of the reputation of conventional products. I think it’s going to be incumbent on us to have a common understanding of what [sustainability] means to better serve the interests of agriculture as a whole and consumers.”

At the “expense of the reputation of conventional products”? Is Vilsack referring to the well-earned bad reputation of products (those containing GMOs and toxic pesticides, perhaps?) produced using degenerative, rather than regenerative, practices?

A “common understanding” of what sustainability is might better serve the interests of Monsanto and the agribusiness corporations—but it will do little to serve the interests of small farmers and consumers.

The number one driver behind rising sales of organic foods is consumer concern about health, especially pesticides, growth hormones and GMOs. But as scientists issue increasingly dire warnings about the climate, and people throughout the world connect the dots between industrial agriculture and global warming, there is a growing contingent of farmers and consumers who want to do more.

An increasing number of farmers want to grow food and raise animals using organic and regenerative farming and grazing practices that are not only better for human health, but that also cool the planet, feed the world, heal the soil, foster food sovereignty and strengthen communities.

And consumers want to purchase those products, knowing that their production generated healing, not harm.

It’s a Regeneration Revolution. And it goes well beyond “sustainability.”

André Leu is president of IFOAM Organics International, and on the steering committee of Regeneration International.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association, and on the steering committee of Regeneration International.

Regeneration: Global Transformation in Catastrophic Times

Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention…. It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster.  – Pope Francis, Papal Encyclical “Laudato Si,” June 18, 2015

Regenerate—to give fresh life or vigor to; to reorganize; to recreate the moral nature; to cause to be born again.” (New Webster’s Dictionary, 1997)

A growing number of climate, food, environment, health and justice advocates are embracing and promoting a world-changing concept: regeneration.

What is regeneration? And why are a so many public figures, including Pope Francis, calling for regeneration or revolution, rather than “halfway measures” such as sustainability or mitigation?

The inconvenient truth of course is that our degenerate “profit-at-any-cost” global economy is killing us. The living Earth—our soils, forests and oceans—and the “rhythms of nature” are unraveling. Greed and selfishness have displaced sharing and cooperation. Land grabs, Empire-building, resource wars, and out-of-control consumerism have become the norm.

Catastrophic times demand radical solutions. It’s time for change, big change.

Our heat-trapping, climate-disrupting, fossil fuel-intensive, industrial agriculture-and deforestation-induced CO2 monster in the sky, now approaching 400 parts per million (ppm), is the most serious threat humans have ever faced. Either we take down King Coal and Big Oil and switch to renewable energy, and simultaneously move, literally suck down, several hundred billion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and naturally sequester this CO2 in the soil and forests—through regenerative farming, grazing and land use practices—or we are doomed.

According to activist and author Vandana Shiva, “Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.”

But just what do we mean by Regenerative Agriculture?

Solving the Soil, Food and Health Crisis

The international community has set itself three important goals: to stop the loss of biodiversity, keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and ensure everyone has the right to adequate food. Without fertile soil, none of these objectives will be achieved. – Soil Atlas: Facts and figures about earth, land and fields, Heinrich Boll Foundation, 2015

The loss of the world’s fertile soil and biodiversity, along with the loss of indigenous seeds and knowledge, pose a mortal threat to our future survival. According to soil scientists, at current rates of soil destruction, (i.e. decarbonization, erosion, desertification, chemical pollution), within 50 years we will not only suffer serious damage to public health due to a qualitatively degraded food supply characterized by diminished nutrition and loss of important trace minerals, but we will literally no longer have enough arable topsoil to feed ourselves. Without protecting and regenerating the soil on our four billion acres of cultivated farmland, 14 billion acres of pasture and rangeland, and 10 billion acres of forest land, it will be impossible to feed the world, keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or halt the loss of biodiversity.

Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals, healthy forests, healthy oceans, rivers and lakes, healthy people, a healthy climate . . . our physical and economic health, our very survival as a species, depends upon whether or not, and how quickly, we can carry out a global campaign of Regeneration.

According to a recent policy proposal by the French government, we need to increase plant photosynthesis and carbon sequestration in global soils by at least 0.4 percent each year if we are to head off runaway global warming.

Tom Newmark of the Carbon Underground explains the basic concept of Regeneration:

There is a technology that exists today that will suck excess CO2 out of the atmosphere. That technology is called photosynthesis. When I look outside my office window I see plants. Through photosynthesis, plants convert sunlight, CO2 and water to carbohydrates and oxygen. Plants are sucking tens of billions of tons of CO2 and creating plant sugars/carbohydrates. Some plant sugars we eat and some pass through the plant and get converted into humus, soil organic matter. This isn’t rocket science. This is a biological fact.

The soil itself is the largest available sink for CO2. There is more carbon currently sequestered in the living soils of the planet (2,700 billion tons), than there is in the entire atmosphere and biotic community combined (plants, and trees).The bad news is that by ripping up the soil through industrial agriculture abuse, we’ve put excess CO2 into the atmosphere.

The good news is that if we farm and ranch in harmony with carbon cycles, we can put carbon back in the soil—quickly. Scientists say that we can get back to 350 ppm in 10 years. All we have to do is increase soil organic matter in all grasslands on the planet by one percent. That is all we need to do to bring it back to 350 ppm. Nature can fix this problem that humans have created.

Along with educating ourselves and our community, we must utilize marketplace pressure to change our degenerate food and farming systems. We must boycott the fossil fuel-emitting, soil-destroying, climate-destructive products of industrial agriculture and the junk food industry. We must support those farmers and businesses whose products regenerate our health, our soils and our forests. Marketplace pressure, public education, and public policy change must go hand-in-hand.

A recent article in the Guardian summarizes Regenerative Agriculture this way:

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.

The benefits of raising and grazing beef cattle, sheep, goats, dairy cows, poultry and pigs “in ways that mimic nature” are many. These practices are more humane, they rebuild soil fertility and they sequester carbon in the soil.

But there’s another important benefit to these techniques, one that is driving consumers away from factory farm foods. These practices produce animal products that are qualitatively healthier than CAFO products, because they are higher in Omega 3 and “good” fats, and lower in animal drug residues and harmful fats that clog arteries, destroy gut health and cause cancer.

Our agricultural soils have lost 25-75 percent of the soil carbon they once held in storage before the onslaught of industrial agricultural and destructive land use practices. The most important task of our generation is Regeneration: to put this dislodged, heat-trapping atmospheric carbon back into the soil and forests, where it belongs.

The Climate Crisis: Halfway Solutions Are Not Enough

Unfortunately, the current climate change movement up until now has focused almost exclusively on reducing fossil fuel emissions. There has been little or no mention of the critical role soil and forests play as carbon sinks or repositories for excess CO2 in the atmosphere.

Reducing fossil fuel emissions to zero over the next few decades, as called for by climate activist leaders such as Naomi Klein and 350.org, will solve half the problem, but only half. By the time we reach zero emissions under this “50-percent solution” scenario, sometime around 2050, even the most optimistic projections are that already have passed the “danger zone” of 450 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, a level that will likely detonate runaway global warming, and catastrophic climate change.

So widespread is this fixation on fossil fuel emissions that even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the upcoming Paris Climate Summit have yet to recognize soil and soil regeneration practices as important carbon sinks. Yet there is a growing body of scientific evidence to support the idea that Regenerative Organic Agriculture, grazing, reforestation and land use practices, scaled up globally, could not only mitigate, but actually, over several decades, reverse global warming.

We need to embrace the regenerative “100-percent solution” if we want to get back down to the safe level of 350 ppm or lower, as soon as possible. And we need to pressure the IPCC and national governments to acknowledge the importance of carbon sequestration through regenerative land use practices.

A number of critics have told me and others that we should not talk about natural sequestration of CO2 in the soil, nor the enormous regenerative potential of organic food, farming and forestry, because this “positive talk” will distract people from the main task at hand, drastically reducing fossil fuel emissions and taking down King Coal and Big Oil. Of course we need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels, extractivism and over-consumption into conservation, sustainable living and renewable energy. We must all become climate activists and radical conservationists.

But we must also become advocates of Regenerative Organic Agriculture and forest/land use.

Unite the Food, Forest and Climate Movements

The large and growing anti-GMO, organic food and natural health movement must begin to think of itself as a movement that can fix not only the world’s health and hunger crisis, but the climate as well.  Given that the degenerate GMO, factory farm and industrial food and farming system as a whole (production, chemical crop inputs, processing, transportation, waste, emissions, deforestation, biofuel/ethanol production) is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions, surpassing even the transportation, utilities, housing and industry sectors, climate activists need to start thinking of themselves as food, farming and natural health activists as well.

There will be no organic food, nor food whatsoever, on a burnt planet. Nor will there ever be a 90-percent reduction in greenhouse gas pollution without a transformation of our food and farming and land use practices, both in North America and globally.

We must begin to connect the dots between fossil fuels, global warming and related issues, including world hunger, poverty, unemployment, toxic food and farming, extractivism, land grabbing, biodiversity, ocean destruction, deforestation, resource wars, and deteriorating public health. As we regenerate the soil and forests, and make organic and grass-fed food and fiber the norm, rather than just the alternative, we will simultaneously develop our collective capacity to address all of the globe’s interrelated problems.

The extraordinary thing about de-industrializing food and farming, restoring grasslands and reversing deforestation—moving several hundred billion tons of carbon back from the atmosphere into our soils, plants and forests—is that this regeneration process will not only reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate, but will also stimulate hundreds of millions of rural (and urban) jobs, while qualitatively increasing soil fertility, water retention, farm yields and food quality.

Regeneration holds the potential not only to restore forests and grasslands, recharge aquifers, restore and normalize rainfall, but also to address and eliminate rural malnutrition, poverty, unemployment and hunger.

So who will carry out this global Regeneration Revolution?

Of course we must continue, and in fact vastly increase, our pressure on governments and corporations to change public policies and marketplace practices. But in order to overturn “business-as-usual” we must inspire and mobilize a vastly larger climate change coalition than the one we have now. Food, climate, and economic justice advocates must unite our forces so we can educate and mobilize a massive grassroots army of Earth Regenerators: three billion small farmers and rural villagers, ranchers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, urban agriculturalists, and indigenous communities—aided and abetted by several billion conscious consumers and urban activists.

The time is late. Circumstances are dire. But we still have time to regenerate the Earth and the body politic.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica. He is also a member of the steering committee for the newly formed Regeneration International.

Which Future of Food and Farming

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During the last half-century, agriculture and food systems lost their way, in the darkness and fog created by corporations that made chemicals for warfare, through myths and paid propaganda – that poisons and synthetic chemicals are necessary to feed the world. For the industry it was a matter of extending their sources of profits long after the war was over. For the planet and people, the costs have been tragically high. 75% of the earth’s biodiversity, soils, water have been destroyed, the climate has been destabilised, farmers have been uprooted, and instead of nourishing us, industrial food has become the biggest cause of disease and ill health.

For all the destruction it causes, the industrial food system produces only 30% of the food eaten by people. If we travel further down that road, we will have a dead planet and no food.  We can not eat propaganda; We eat soil, we eat water, we eat biodiversity. And when these vital resources are destroyed, our food security is destroyed.

There is, however, another road to food security. The road that was abandoned by research institutes and governments under the influence of giant chemical corporations (now seed and Biotechnology Corporations). This is the road of agroecology .This is the road with small farms, which still produce 70% of the food in spite of a century of a war against small farms. This is the road that rejuvenates our soils, biodiversity and water systems, that stabilises the climate, that produces health and well being . It is not a road less travelled when looked from the perspective that most people in the world are small farmers, that small farms produce most of the food we eat. Small farms also strengthen local economies instead of extracting profits for the few.

It is only less travelled in the dominant paradigm, in the fantasy created by corporations to sell their poisons and patented GMOs. In reality, good farming, which produces good food, is based on the care of the soil and on the intensification of biodiversity and ecological processes. An industrial model of food production is neither efficient nor sustainable. It is not efficient because it uses ten units of inputs – largely fossil fuel based – to produce one single unit of food. This ineffective and inefficient system is destroying ecosystems and the planet, as well as creative, meaningful and dignified work in agriculture. This is why it is not sustainable. It eats into the ecological foundations of agriculture.

Even tough the evidence is clear that ecological farming produces more and better food, using fewer resources, and rejuvenating soil, biodiversity and water in the process, corporate spin doctors continue to fog our thinking about the future of food and farming with new propaganda – “sustainable intensification”, “smart agriculture”, “climate smart agriculture”. This is nothing more than spin, another attempt to hide the failures of their technology and a push to keep agriculture addicted to their toxic, and carcinogenic, chemicals. Dependence on toxic chemicals and GMOs is ecologically and economically non sustainable for the earth and people.

It is ecologically non sustainable because it is destroying soil integrity and soil fertility. Any agriculture system that destroys fertile soils is non sustainable because soil is the foundation of agriculture. Contrary to PR claims, industrial monocultures use more land to produce less food, bad food. They produce nutritionally empty commodities, most of which go to biofuel and animal feed. Only 10% of the corn and soya is used directly as human food. This is not, by any stretch, a food system.It is also economically non-sustainable because it is based on 10 times more costs of inputs- such as chemicals fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, and GMO and nonrenewable seeds – than the returns farmers are getting from what they produce. It is designed to trap farms in debt, remove them from the landand appropriate their assets. And it is not working . A recent example is the failure of 60% of the Bt cotton in Punjab driving 15 farmers to suicide.[1]

Pesticides and GMO Bt Cotton were supposed to control pests. Instead they have created new pest epidemics never seen before. Pesticides and Bt are pest creating technologies, not pest control technologies. The excuse used to push Bt technology was pest control and reduced pesticide use – it has, quite clearly, failed miserably.

Organic farming is the alternative that gets rid of poisons and pests. On our recent Soil Pilgrimage we saw fields of desi organic cotton completely pest free -brimming, instead, with life. The Punjab experience of failure of Bt should help in the transition to an Organic India 2020. And it should stop the insane proposal of putting Bt in straight varieties, which will endanger resilient native varieties by putting the pest creating trait into India’s desi varieties.

Poisons are poisons. And they are not controlling pests. Chemical intensive, external input intensive, capital intensive agriculture is “non sustainable intensification”, not “sustainable intensification”  because it is cannibalising the land and the farmer.

What is being referred to as “Smart Agriculture” and “Climate Smart Agriculture” is designed to make farmers and society dumb by giving up their intelligence, their knowledge, their skills, and then forcing them to buy “data” which becomes yet another external input leading to more dependence on corporations, more control bycorporations, and more failures in agriculture. Data controlled by distant, centralized systems is not the intimate knowledge of the soil, of the biodiversity, of farm animals that an ecological farmer has. After having caused epidemics of food based diseases, the players in the industrial food system are betting on Big data -pushing “Information Obesity”, not knowledge, not intelligence, which are both living, participatory processes. “Climate Smart Agriculture” is actually “Climate Stupid Agriculture”. It is the next hasty step down the road that leads to guaranteed destruction of the earth and society. And the stupidity is evident in Monsanto’s failing fortunes. Beyond a point, spin and bullying cannot sustain a business.[2]

“Climate Smart Agriculture”, and genetically modified crops are based on seeds pirated from third world peasants. As I have written in Soil, not Oil, 40% of the Green House Gas emissions come from an industrialised, globalised model of agriculture. Having contributed to the creation of the climate crisis, corporations who have profited from industrial agriculture are attempting to turn the climate crisis into an opportunity to control stolen climate resilient seeds and climate data, while attempting to criminalise Climate Resilient, Organic Agriculture. Monsanto now owns the world’s biggest climate data corporation and soil data corporation. Armed with proprietary big data, Monsanto intends to profit from the climate crisis which has already claimed thousands of lives. The worse it gets, the better it is for Monsanto; mitigating the crisis would not be profitable to climate deniers like Monsanto.

1500 patents on Climate Resilient crops have been taken by corporations like Monsanto. Navdanya/Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, have published the list in the report “Biopiracy of Climate Resilient Crops: Gene Giants Steal Farmers Innovation”.  With these very broad patents, corporations like Monsanto can prevent access to climate resilient seeds in the aftermath of climate disasters through patents – which grant an exclusive right to produce, distribute, sell the patented product. Climate resilient traits are not created through genetic engineering, they are pirated from seeds farmers have evolved over generations.

For thousands of years farmers, especially women, have evolved and bred seed – freely in partnership with each other and with nature, to further increase the diversity of that which nature has given us and adapt it to the needs of different cultures. Biodiversity and cultural diversity have mutually shaped one another over time.

Along coastal areas, farmers have evolved flood tolerant and salt tolerant varieties of rice – such as “Bhundi”, “Kalambank”, “Lunabakada”, “Sankarchin”, “Nalidhulia”, “Ravana”,”Seulapuni”,”Dhosarakhuda”. After the Orissa Supercyclone Navdanya could distribute 2 trucks of salt tolerant rices to farmersbecause we had conserved them as a commons in our community seed bank.

Every seed is an embodiment of millennia of nature’s evolution and centuries of farmers’ breeding. It is the distilled expression of the intelligence of the earth and intelligence of farming communities. Farmers have bred seeds for diversity, resilience, taste, nutrition, health, and adaption to local agro-ecosystems.  In times of climate change we need the biodiversity of farmers varieties to adapt and evolve. Climate extremes are being experienced through more frequent and intense cyclones which bring salt water to the land. For resilience to cyclones we need salt tolerant varieties, and we need them in the commons.

The Intelligent , responsible road to the future of food and farming is based on the deep awareness that the earth, the farmers, and all people are intelligent beings. And we grow food sustainably through care for the soil and the seed, not through exploitation and privatised profits. If we can look through the degenerate Public Relations Fog, we can find our way to the road that will ensure we rejuvenate the planet, we regenerate the soil, and we ensure the well being of all.

Sources

[1] “Whitefly destroys 2/3rd of Punjab’s cotton crop, 15 farmers commit suicide“, by Subodh Varma & Amit Bhattacharya, October 8 2015

[2] “5 Reasons Monsanto Is Crashing and Burning,” by Eric Blair, October 7, 2015

Meet the ‘Regenerators’

Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association and Dr. Vandana Shiva of Navdanya, discuss how the newly formed Regeneration International Communication Network will help to promote the benefits of regenerative organic agriculture and counter the growing global push for industrial agriculture based on GMOs and the increased use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers.

Ronnie Cummins:

The governments and large businesses of world are failing to solve the climate crisis, failing to solve the crisis of poverty, the crisis of environmental degradation, the crisis of values and ethics. If governments and corporations can’t solve the problem, we the people are going to have to solve the problem.

Vandana Shiva:

What we are talking about, is regenerating a new democracy, regenerating new economies, regenerating agriculture which is at the heart of the problem, but can be heart of solution. Everyone eats, most people in world are farmers, so this is an invitation to everyone to join. Everyone loves freedom, rather than being controlled by fraudulent and criminal corporations.

Climate Catastrophe: Surviving the 21st Century

“The catastrophic impacts of climate change are not only going to take place in the distant future. They are taking place now.”

– Vandana Shiva, Soil not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis

Climate Stabilization Requires a Cultural and Political Revolution

The climate, energy, and political catastrophe we are facing is mind-boggling and frightening.  Yet there is still time to save ourselves, to move beyond psychological denial, despair, or false optimism. There is still hope if we are willing to confront the hydra-headed monsters that block our path, and move ahead with a decisive plan of action. The inspirational message we need to deliver is that we’re not just talking about drastically reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution, but rebuilding society, creating in effect a New Woman and a New Man for the 21st Century. What we are witnessing are the early stages of a mass grassroots consciousness-raising and taking back of power from out-of-control corporations, banks, corporate-controlled media, and politicians. This cultural and political revolution will empower us to carry out a deep and profound retrofitting of industry, government, education, health care, housing, neighborhoods, transportation, food and farming systems, as well as our diets and lifestyles.

The scale of human and physical resources needed to turn our current suicide economy into a green economy is daunting, but absolutely necessary and achievable. The only viable roadmap for survival-an 80-90% reduction in fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050-means we must force a drastic reduction in military spending (current wars and military spending are costing us almost one trillion dollars a year). We must tax the rich and the greenhouse gas polluters, and bring our out-of-control politicians, banks, Federal Reserve System, and corporations to heel.

The good news, as Van Jones and others have pointed out, is that this 21st Century green economy will not only stabilize the climate, but enable us to retrain and reemploy the U.S. workforce, including low-income youth and 16-25 million unemployed workers, as building retrofitters, solar and wind installers, recyclers, organic gardeners, farmers, nutritionists, holistic health care providers, and other green economy workers.

Beyond Copenhagen: Civilization at the Crossroads

The negotiators and heads of state at the December 2009 Copenhagen Climate negotiations abandoned the summit with literally no agreement on meaningful greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane) reduction, and little or no acknowledgment of the major role that industrial (non-organic) food and farming practices play in global warming. Unfortunately the statements and behavior of Copenhagen delegates, and the enormous divisions between the Global South and the industrialized nations, make it clear that galvanizing a legally binding international agreement to drastically reduce greenhouse gas pollution will be a protracted and difficult struggle.

China and the United States are equally and jointly responsible for more than 40% of the current global climate destabilizing GHGs. China’s emissions arise from 20% of the world’s population. U.S. emissions come from 5%. Although China, India, Mexico, Brazil and other developing nations are responsible for a growing discharge of GHGs, most of the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and oceans today are directly attributable to the United States and Europe’s industrial and transportation emissions since the early 1900s.

From an ethical, legal, and survival perspective, North America, E.U. and Japan must lead the way. To avoid a disastrous rise in global temperature (a literal climate holocaust), the wealthy, highly industrialized nations must acknowledge the seriousness of the crisis, cut their emissions, and stop playing blame and denial games with China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and other developing nations. Major cuts by the developed nations need to start now, and they need to be deep, not 7% as President Obama proposed in Copenhagen, nor the 20% that the E.U. offered.

The hour is late. Leading climate scientists such as James Hansen are literally shouting at the top of their lungs that the world needs to reduce emissions by 20-40% as soon as possible, and 80-90% by the year 2050, if we are to avoid climate chaos, crop failures, endless wars, melting of the polar icecaps, and a disastrous rise in ocean levels. Either we radically reduce CO2 and carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e, which includes all GHGs, not just CO2) pollutants (currently at 390 parts per million and rising 2 ppm per year) to 350 ppm, including agriculture-derived methane and nitrous oxide pollution, or else survival for the present and future generations is in jeopardy. As scientists warned at Copenhagen, business as usual and a corresponding 7-8.6 degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures means that the carrying capacity of the Earth in 2100 will be reduced to one billion people. Under this hellish scenario, billions will die of thirst, cold, heat, disease, war, and starvation.

If the U.S. significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, other countries will follow. One hopeful sign is the recent EPA announcement that it intends to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Unfortunately we are going to have to put tremendous pressure on elected public officials to force the EPA to crack down on GHG polluters (including industrial farms and food processors). Public pressure is especially critical since “just say no” Congressmen-both Democrats and Republicans-along with agribusiness, real estate developers, the construction industry, and the fossil fuel lobby appear determined to maintain “business as usual.”

During the Bush years, scientific warnings and public demonstrations against global warming were ignored or trivialized, even though many of our protests were large and well organized. Now, in theory, we finally have a Congressional majority and a President who claim to be willing to listen and take action to stop global warming. But in order to get their attention, and move from small change to major change, we are going to have to turn up the volume. We have to stop thinking that things are going to get better because Obama is right-minded. Things are going to get better if and when we force Obama and our out-of-control politicians and corporations to bend to the people’s will.

Beyond Copenhagen: Making Polluters Pay

Instead of the weak “cap and trade” bill supported by Wall Street speculators, and passed by the House, we need a real tax on GHG pollution. Yes, we can and must directly rebate working class and poor people for increased energy costs, but hundreds of billions of dollars in GHG and corporate taxes annually must be earmarked over the next decade for green infrastructure development, including a new electric grid, a mass transition to organic agriculture, mass transit upgrades, deep retrofitting of the nation’s five million commercial and 83 million residential buildings, and a crash program of alternative energy research and development.

We must continue to expose the worst greenhouse gas polluters, such as utilities companies, petrochemical corporations, car manufacturers, coal and mining companies, the construction industry, and corporate agribusiness, and demand that they begin to retool their industries immediately. We must move beyond polite protest and scattered dissent and dramatically take our message to the streets and the corporate suites, Congress, state legislatures, and our local governments.

The Deadly Greenhouse Footprint of American Consumers

We all know in general that cars, trucks, coal and power plants, household heating and cooling, and manufacturing industries spew a majority of the greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and the oceans. But did you know that U.S. household use of fossil fuels (housing, transportation, and food) accounts for 67% of total energy consumption and 67% of GHG’s emitted? 1

Heating, lighting, and cooling our poorly insulated and designed 113 million homes and apartments and running our electrical and gas appliances consumes 26.6% of total U.S. fossil fuels.

Cruising in our gas guzzling (averaging 22 miles per gallon) and underutilized cars (average 1.4 passengers per journey) burns up another 23.4% of energy.

Eating highly processed and packaged foods and animal products, produced on chemical and energy-intensive factory-style farms, transported over long distances, and throwing our waste foods into the garbage (rather than composting them) eats up another 17.3% of the nation’s energy.

The average U.S. citizen generates 19.6 tons of climate destabilizing greenhouse gases every year, more than twice as much as the European Union and Japan (9.3 tons per capita), and 7.3 times as much as the developing world (2.7 tons per capita).

The Tab for Saving the U.S. from Climate Chaos: $700 Billion a Year

The estimated costs over the next 40-50 years to replace coal and natural gas with solar and wind in electricity generation, at current levels of use, is $15 trillion (which is about the equivalent of U.S. GNP for one year). 2

We must reduce fossil fuel use by 80-90% in the nation’s five million commercial and 83 million residential buildings (which currently use up 40% or 40 quadrillion BTUs of our total energy), including reducing building size, changing lighting and windows, making wall, ceilings and floors as thick and as airtight as possible (R-50 or R-60), and placing furnaces and ductwork inside the retrofitted space. The estimated costs for this in future decades will amount to another $10-15 trillion This figure is based upon deep retrofitting costs of $50,000 per residential unit, and $600,000-$2,000,000 per commercial building, with two million new more compact units per year replacing old housing and business stock and meeting new 90% fossil fuel reduction standards.

Converting from our current energy and chemical/GMO-intensive food and farming system (which currently accounts for 35% of our greenhouse gases and $800 billion in diet-related health care costs annually) to one which is organic, relocalized, energy-efficient, and carbon sequestering, will cost at least another $100 billion per year, or $5 trillion over 50 years.

Rebuilding our mass transit systems and reorganizing personal transportation (5-15 people in high-mileage “smart jitneys” and electric cars and vans instead of 1.4 passengers in gas guzzlers, along with a massive increase in bicycle use) will cost us at least another $100 billion a year, or $5 trillion over 50 years.

In other words we need to start redirecting $700 billion a year in federal expenditures away from war and corporate welfare, offer training and jobs in a giant green jobs program (similar to the Works Project Administration program of the New Deal era in the 1930s), and build a new green, full-employment economy. Where are we going to get this money? Not by raising taxes on working people and the poor, but by taxing the rich and the greenhouse gas polluting corporations, and guaranteeing loans from a new citizen-controlled Federal Reserve and banking system.

A major part of this transition to an organic and low-carbon economy will require innovative public and private financing for home, transportation, food and farming retrofitting along the lines of the recent PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program in California. 3 Under this “Slow Money” regime, homeowners, renters, businesses, and farmers can immediately start to reduce their energy bills and carbon footprints and get their homes, businesses, and farms retrofitted for no money down, with low-interest costs being added to their mortgages and tax bills over an extended 30-40 year period.

Can we afford $700 billion per year? Obviously we can, although shortsighted, unsustainable corporate profits will no doubt suffer. Keep in mind that the Pentagon budget, not including the wars for oil and strategic resources in Afghanistan and Iraq, will cost us over $700 billion dollars this year. And don’t forget that Obama and his advisors recently handed over approximately $12 trillion in subsidies and grants to the Wall Street criminals and pathological kleptomaniacs who rule our out-of-control financial system. Clearly, what we are proposing is chump-change compared to our recent corporate giveaways.

Honest businesses, homeowners, consumers, farmers and industries that reduce their carbon footprint and help develop the green economy can and should receive substantial tax credits. Speculators, mercenaries, toxic polluters, and Masters of War can go to financial hell, where they belong.

The Hidden Greenhouse Gas Damage of Food Inc.

Although transportation, industry, and energy producers are significant polluters, few people understand that the worst U.S. greenhouse gas emitter is “Food Incorporated,” industrial food and farming. Industrial farming accounts for at least 35% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (EPA’s ridiculously low estimates range from 7% to 12%, while some climate scientists feel the figure could be as high as 50% or more). Industrial agriculture, biofuels, and cattle grazing-including whacking down the last remaining tropical rainforests in Latin America and Asia for animal feed and biofuels-are also the main driving forces in global deforestation and wetlands destruction, which generate an additional 20% of all climate destabilizing GHGs. In other words the direct and indirect impacts of industrial agriculture and the food industry are the major cause of global warming. No strategy for reducing excess greenhouse gases back to the “safe” level of 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere can be successful without drastically reducing emissions from industrial agriculture and sequestering billions of tons of greenhouse gases in the soil through organic and sustainable farming, ranching, land restoration, and forestry practices-driven in part by mas consumer demand for products that are organic, sustainable, and climate friendly.

Currently conventional (energy and chemical-intensive non-organic) farms emit at least 25% of the carbon dioxide (mostly from tractors, trucks, combines, transportation, cooling, freezing, and heating), 40% of the methane (mostly from animal gas, and manure ponds), and 96% of nitrous oxide (mostly from synthetic fertilizer manufacture and use, the millions of tons of animal manure from cattle herds, pig and poultry flocks, and millions of tons of sewage sludge spread on farms). Per ton, methane is 21 times more damaging, and nitrous oxide 310 times more damaging as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, when measured over a one hundred year period. Damage is even worse if you look at the impact on global warming over the next crucial 20-year period. Many climate scientists now admit that they have previously drastically underestimated the dangers of the non-CO2 GHGs, including methane and nitrous oxide, which are responsible for at least 20% of global warming. 4

A major portion of the CO2e (all GHGs not just CO2) emitted by industrial farming comes from long distance transportation, heating, freezing, and processing. So, the more you cook from scratch, buy locally, and eat raw vegetables and fruits, the less CO2e you produce. The bottom line is that we as a society are what we eat. In the oncoming era of climate chaos and peak oil, we must make the transition to energy efficient, climate adaptable, local and regional based organic farms, urban gardens, and primarily vegetarian diets, or we will likely not survive.

Almost all U.S. food and farm-derived methane comes from factory farms, huge herds of confined cows, hogs, poultry operations, as well as rotting food waste thrown into land-fills instead of being separated out of the solid waste stream and properly composted. To drastically reduce methane releases we need an immediate ban on factory farms, dairies, and feedlots. We also need mandatory separation and recycling of food wastes and green garbage at the municipal level, so that that we can produce large quantities of high quality organic compost to replace the billions of pounds of chemical fertilizer and sewage sludge which are releasing GHGs, destroying soil fertility, polluting our waters, and undermining public health.

Nearly all nitrous oxide pollution comes from dumping billions of pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and sewage sludge on farmland (chemical fertilizers and sludge are banned on organic farms and ranches), mainly to grow animal feed. Since about 80% of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing meat, dairy, and animal feed, reducing agriculture GHGs means eliminating the overproduction and over-consumption of meat and animal products.

Organic Farming and Ranching Can Drastically Reduce GHG Emissions

The currently catastrophic, but largely unrecognized, GHG damage from chemical farms and industrial food production and distribution must be reversed. This will involve wholesale changes in farming practices, government subsidies, food processing and handling. It will require the conversion of a million chemical farms and ranches to organic production. It will require the establishment of millions of urban backyard and community gardens.

If consumer pressure and grassroots mobilization geared toward changing public policies cannot force U.S. factory farmers to change the way they farm, process, and ship their products it will be almost impossible to deal with catastrophic U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. 5 On a very hopeful note, however, if farmers do change, and make the transition to organic farming, farm and ranch land can become a significant sink or sequester pool for greenhouse gasses, literally sucking excess greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and the ozone layer and sequestering them safely in the soil, where they belong.

Our planet has five pools or repositories where greenhouse gases are absorbed and stored: the oceans, the atmosphere, the soils, vegetation (plants, especially perennial plants and forests), and hydrocarbon deposits. 6 Because U.S farm, pasture, rangelands, and forest soils are so degraded from chemical-intensive, mono-crop farming practices and over-logging they are only able to absorb and store half (or less) of the carbon gases than they would be capable of if they were organically managed. As a result of this reckless mismanagement, the atmosphere and the oceans are absorbing the bulk of the greenhouse gases that normally would be absorbed by farmland and forests. This has led to a catastrophic excess of GHGs in both the oceans and the atmosphere. This excess has caused changes in climate and extreme fluctuations in weather; including droughts and torrential flooding. It also causes oceanic acidification, oceanic dead zones, and dramatic declines in fish and crustacean populations.

Little understood is the fact that the potential for CO2 storage in our soils (where carbon sequestration content is now one-half or less lower than before the advent of the industrial revolution) is three times greater than our current 389 ppm CO2-laden atmosphere. According to Dr. James Hansen, the world’s leading expert on climate change, 50 ppm of this excess carbon (as well as excess methane and nitrous oxide)  could be sucked down and stored in the soil over the next 50 years utilizing organic and sustainable land management (farming, ranching, and forestry) practices.

Unfortunately, when they evaluate agricultural greenhouse gas pollutants, pro-agribusiness government bureaucrats in the EPA and USDA do not include many of the ten quadrillion Btus of fossil fuel energy energy consumed by our industrial food, farming, and ranching system, nor the corresponding greenhouse gas emissions. They do not take into account the transportation, cooling, freezing, and heating of farm products as agricultural GHG emissions, even though our food travels an average of 1500 miles to our tables and is routinely frozen and cooled to ensure its deliverability. They don’t count the CO2 and “black carbon” particle emissions from trucks, tractors, combines and other equipment used on farms. They don’t count the massive energy use (four quadrillion Btus) in  kitchens and restaurants to store and prepare industrial, highly processed food. They don’t count the emissions from fertilizer manufacture or use, wasteful packing, sewage sludge spread on farm and range land, or the methane emitted from factory farms and the billions of tons of rotting, non-composted food in our landfills and garbage dumps. They vastly underestimate the massive release of CO2 and other GHGs from farm, pasture, and rangelands that have been destroyed (losing their capacity to sequester billions of tons of carbon in the soil) by chemicals, GMOs, and non-sustainable grazing practices. Instead, they lump and thereby conceal all these farm, ranching, and food related GHG emissions under the categories of industrial manufacture, transportation, or electrical use. As a result, the public spotlight never shines on mounting agricultural, food, garbage, and sludge pollution.

Because government officials deliberately fail to evaluate the real farm and food-derived greenhouse gas emissions, they are free to act as if the emissions coming from agriculture are not significant compared to the U.S. total, even though they represent more than one-third of the total pollutants. Consequently, most lawmakers and the public don’t realize how urgent it is to regulate and drastically curtail factory farm and Food Inc.’s emissions.

Chemical Fertilizer and Sewage Sludge: Silent Killers

The most damaging greenhouse gas poisons used by farmers and ranchers are synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and municipal/industrial sewage sludge. Obviously pesticide manufacture and use are also serious problems and generate their own large share of greenhouse gases during manufacture and use (more than 25 billion pounds per year). But, about six times more chemical fertilizer is used than toxic pesticides on U.S. farms, and an additional huge volume of sewage sludge is spread on farm and range land as well. 7

German chemical corporations developed the industrial processes for the two most widely used forms of synthetic nitrogen in the early 1900s. But, until World War II, U.S. use of synthetic nitrogen as a fertilizer was limited to about 5% of the total nitrogen applied. Up until that time most nitrogen inputs came from animal manures, composts and fertilizer (cover) crops, just as it does on organic farms today. 8

During the Second World War, all of the European powers and the U.S. greatly expanded their facilities for producing nitrogen for bombs, ammunition, and fertilizer for the war effort. Since then, the use of nitrogen fertilizer and bomb making capacity has soared. By the 1990s, more than 90% of nitrogen fertilizer used in the U.S. was synthetic. 9

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average U.S. nitrogen fertilizer use per year from 1998 to 2007 was 24 billion 661 million pounds. To produce that nitrogen the manufacturers released at least 6.7 pounds of greenhouse gas for every pound produced. That’s 165 billion, 228 million pounds of GHGs spewed into the atmosphere every year, just for the manufacture of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.10 And, most of those emissions are nitrous oxide, the most damaging emissions of U.S. agriculture.

Besides its greenhouse gas impacts, nitrogen fertilizer has other negative environmental consequences. Two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply is contaminated at high levels with carcinogenic nitrates or nitrites, almost all from excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Some public wells have nitrogen at such a high level that it is dangerous and even deadly for children to drink the tap water. Nitrogen fertilizer is also the greatest contributor to the infamous “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, the coasts of California and Oregon, and 400 other spots around the world. Since very little synthetic nitrogen fertilizer was used before 1950, all of the damage we see today occurred in the last 60 years.

If we did an environmental impact statement on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer today, we would never give it a permit for agricultural use. Until it is banned for the production of food and fiber, we must impose a high carbon tax on its manufacture and use. Unfortunately, at this point, agriculture is excluded from even the weak cap and trade plan passed by the House. So, although factory farming is responsible for more greenhouse gases than any other U.S. industry, it will not be regulated under proposed EPA regulations designed to limit greenhouse gases, unless we demand it. We must demand that synthetic nitrogen fertilizer be highly taxed and regulated in the short term, and phased out, as soon as possible, with cover crops, compost and compost tea (as currently utilized in organic farming and ranching) providing a viable substitute. 11

We must also demand an end to the giveaway or sales of hazardous sewage sludge in agriculture, gardening or forestry. Instead of sewage sludge-contaminated and chemical-intensive farms, organic agriculture produces safer, nutritionally superior, comparable crop yields during normal weather, as well as much greater yields under drought and heavy rain conditions, without the use of synthetic pesticides, sewage sludge, or chemical fertilizer.

The Good News on Organics and Climate Change

The heretofore unpublicized “good news” on climate change, according to the Rodale Institute 12 and other soil scientists, is that transitioning from chemical, water, and energy-intensive industrial agriculture practices to organic farming and ranching on the world’s 3.5 billion acres of farmland and 8.2 billion acres of pasture or rangeland can sequester up to 7,000 pounds per acre of climate-destabilizing CO2 every year, while nurturing healthy soils, plants, grasses, trees and animals that are resistant to drought, heavy rain, pests, and disease. And as we have noted, organic farms and ranches provide us with food that is much more nutritious than industrial farms and ranches-food filled with vitamins, anti-oxidants, and essential trace minerals, free from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), pesticides, antibiotics, and sewage sludge.

In 2006, U.S. carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels (approximately 25% of the world’s total) was estimated at nearly 6.5 billion tons. If a 7,000 lb/CO2/ac/year sequestration rate were achieved on one-half to all 434 million acres of cropland in the United States, 800 million to 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide would be sequestered per year, mitigating one-eight to one quarter of the country’s total fossil fuel emissions. If U.S. pastures and rangelands were similarly converted to organic and “carbon ranch” practices (high-density rotational “mob” grazing being the most advanced range restoration and carbon sequestering technique), and these practices were spread across the globe, we would be well on our way to reversing global warming. The massive CO2 sequestration potential of organic farming and ranching are literally our lifeline to survival, buying us the precious time we need to move to a carbon neutral, alternative energy economy.

According to Courtney White of the Quivira Coalition, thousands of ranchers and pastoralists around the world are already demonstrating that “carbon ranching” can bring about a Great Sequestering of greenhouse gases, utilizing (1) high-density, planned grazing systems; (2) restoration of riparian zones and wetlands; (3) removal of excess woody vegetation and replacement with perennial grasses; (4) conserving land from further urban development; (5) organic, no-till farming practices; and (6) management of public and private land for long-term econlogical and economic sustainability.

Toxic Sludge from Municipal Sewage Treatment Plants

Besides synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, unhealthy foods, pesticides, GMOs, and climate and environmentally destructive factory-farmed foods, a serious problem in the U.S. is the increasing use of hazardous sludge from sewage treatment plants to fertilize farm and pasture land. Sixty percent of all the sludge produced in the U.S. is currently applied to farmland that grows food for cattle and people. Estimates range from eight billion to more than 100 billion pounds. 13

A critical mass of scientific studies indicate that municipal sewage sludge routinely contains hundreds of dangerous pathogens, toxic heavy metals, flame retardants, endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, pharmaceutical drugs and other hazardous chemicals coming from residential drains, storm water runoff, hospitals, and industrial plants. Poisonous sludge is currently being spread on at least 70 million acres on 140,000 (non-organic) farms and ranches across the U.S. So-called EPA “regulation” of sludge is among the worst in the world. Unless we stop this dangerous practice, the sludge industry will destroy millions of acres of farmland as well as urban land we will need for future urban gardens. Sludge is also an increasingly worrisome greenhouse gas emitter.

The Organic Movement Must “Get Political” and Become a Major Player

We must advocate and agitate, as well as “walk our talk” in our daily lives. We must organize a U.S. and global mass movement for the conversion of the world’s 3.5 billion acres of farmland and 8.2 billion acres of rangeland and pasture to organic production and grazing as soon as possible. Organic regulations prohibit the use of synthetic nitrogen, pesticides, sludge, antibiotics, artificial hormones, GMOs, and other environmentally destructive, health-threatening, greenhouse gas emitting practices. Organic must become the norm, not just the alternative. To facilitate a mass transition to organic we must force the U.S. Congress, as well as local and state governments, to fund a great “organic transition,” including the creation of thousands of cadres of organically trained extension agents, and a million new urban, community, and school gardens. In the next Farm Bill, we must eliminate all subsidies to farmers and ranchers except for land stewardship, soil-building subsidies based upon the amount of carbon-sequestering organic matter added to the soil. Thousands of U.S. farmers and ranchers have already made the transition to organic food production and soil and climate-friendly rotational grazing. Now a million more need to do the same. The fate of human civilization hangs in the balance.

More and more farmers around the world are learning that they can significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution and produce substantial, high quality yields by switching to organic farming practices. While we develop our alternative marketplace and pressure legislators and the regulators to act to fundamentally reform the 2012 Farm Bill, we must urge conscientious conventional farmers to use existing federal Conservation Reserve, Conservation Security, EQUIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), and special practice programs to help them begin the switch to organic as soon as possible.

Restoring Climate Stability: Soil and More

U.S. farmers, as well as farmers all over the world, have known for at least 200 years that they should replace lost soil fertility. Over the last two centuries, numerous strategies were devised in the U.S. to replace soil nitrogen and soil organic matter, without the use of chemicals. Many of these strategies are widely used today by organic and biodynamic farmers.

As early as 1813, John Taylor lamented the loss of vegetable (organic) matter in the soil and felt that we were destroying our precious soil fertility by over cropping and sloppy farming practices. 14 Since the 1840s, fertilizer manufacturers and alchemists tried to convince farmers to replace fertility with store bought chemicals. But, farmers were wary of these products and the claims made by their salesmen.

Other scientists argued over the years that soil with high-organic matter content was far more productive and fertile even in times of drought and excess moisture. 15 As a result, U.S. farmers traditionally replaced their organic matter with fertilizer crops, manure, and compost, and most did not buy store bought fertilizer until the 1950s.

In 2007 and 2009, results similar to these conclusions were reported from studies of the Morrow agricultural experiment plots at the University of Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana (the oldest continuously planted U.S. experimental farm plot). There, researchers found that continuous corn on a synthetic nitrogen fertilized plot since 1955 suffered significant carbon losses and soil nitrogen losses compared to pre-1955 when the plots were fertilized organically with manure, fertilizer crops, and compost. 16

A significant factor in the decline of these soils was the loss of organic matter, since soil organic matter both feeds soil microorganisms and the miccorhizal fungi-both vital components of a healthy soil. Since 1950, the soils of the major farming areas of the U.S. have been bombarded yearly with vast quantities of soil-killing pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, just as the Morrow plots were. The Morrow plot conclusions should be a wake-up call to farmers and synthetic fertilizer consultants. Those conclusions are that currently recommended fertilizer applications are from 40 to 190% excessive and that long-term fertility suffers when farmers depend on synthetic fertilizers and don’t replace lost organic matter utilizing organic soil management.

On several chemically abused pieces of ground where we farmed, and with cotton, vegetable, and corn farmers we have advised, we were able to dramatically increase the soil organic matter in three or four years from 1.5% to 3 or 4%, effectively doubling the amount of GHG sequestration while eliminating nitrate fertilizer runoff and emissions. Using a small amount of compost and growing fertilizer crops in the fall and winter months and cash-fertility crops in the spring and summer accomplished these increases. Each percentage point increase in organic matter represents a major increase in soil nitrogen, i.e., nitrogen produced by microorganisms decomposing organic matter. Each percentage increase in organic matter also enables the soil to absorb and store more carbon, from 3,000-7,000 lbs. or more of CO2 per  year per acres.

Beyond Factory Farm Beef, Pork, and Poultry

Along with changing the way we farm, we must also alter what we farm, and what we eat. Our excessive dependence on (non-organic, non-rotationally grazed and grass-fed) meat, fed on monoculture annual grains (as opposed to perennial grasses) is not sustainable over the long term since, as we have noted, 80% of our agriculture is devoted to producing animals, which is the least energy efficient food. To raise meat on factory farms takes too many input calories (primarily fossil fuel), too much acreage, too much nitrogen fertilizer, as well as hazardous pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones, not to mention millions of acres of genetically modified (GM) crops.

A few examples illustrate this point clearly. It takes 10 to 12 pounds of grain (corn, wheat, soy, cottonseed) to produce one pound of marketable feedlot beef (that is 5000 to 6000 pounds of grain to produce 500 pounds of meat). It takes one gallon of oil to grow and ship the feed for one pound of beef. It requires 78 calories of fossil fuel (mostly to grow the grain) to produce one calorie of protein from feedlot-produced beef. 2500 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of confinement beef.

We all need to eat less (or better yet none) of the non-organic fatty meats that are grown in abusive feedlots, hog hotels, and poultry prisons. Just reducing U.S. meat intake by a third would reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by one-third. And, if you replace the factory farm meat in your diet with range fed organic meat you will reduce your personal carbon footprint, strike a blow for humane treatment of farm animals, and improve your health. Meat eaters don’t necessarily have to stop eating meat, they just need to understand which meat is safe and humanely raised (organic and grass-fed), and sustainable.

Ultimately, if we change our eating habits, and curtail our Madison Avenue and mass media-induced need to buy and consume so many clothes and consumer products, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint. Whether or not government bureaucrats and corporations change their behavior in the short term will be determined by the strength of U.S. and global grassroots movements. But we will never be able to build, motivate, and lead these movements unless we first start walking our talk and create viable models of organic conversion and green economics in our individual lives and in our local communities.

On the other hand, changing our habits is not enough-we must demand that the Obama administration act and impose a carbon tax, including a tax on chemical agriculture.  We need to demand much higher emission reduction commitments, along with an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, nationalization of the big banks and financial institutions, and a restoration of democracy, starting with publicly funded elections. The remaining TARP bank rescue money should go to kick-start green energy, transportation, and sustainable agriculture projects, and to train and hire the jobless to retrofit and build the new green economy. These are strategic Main Street issues; communities want new green infrastructure, healthy food, new industries, and new quality jobs

 A New Works Project Administration

A modern day Works Project Administration could train and employ a massive green corps to create the green infrastructure and post-carbon economy. When FDR created the Works Project Administration in the 1930s there were about 60,000,000 workers in the labor market. Twenty-five percent, or 15,000,000 people were unemployed. Today, there are 154,400,000 workers in the labor market. The Labor Department estimates that 10.3% of the population is unemployed. Most analysts argue that the percentage is closer to 16.5%. Whoever is right, and whether it is 15.9 million or 24.7 million, more people are out of work now than during the Great Depression. And they desperately need jobs and training, just like people did during the Depression.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben is right, we need to mobilize a grassroots army to demand reductions in emissions and armies of workers to convert our infrastructure to a green economy. That means you must text, twitter, e-mail, and use FaceBook, Google, YouTube and other resources to get educated about climate change. Once you understand the gravity of the situation you will be able to change your habits, inform your friends, and participate in climate change demonstrations. Get organized at the local level and then coordinate your local efforts with nationwide networks such as the Organic Consumers Association and www.350.org.

Your children and grandchildren are depending on you to make their world livable. The hour is late.

Note: Contact these organizations or individuals for information and to meet others in your community who are participating in efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions:

Organic Consumers Association

Center for Food Safety/Navdanya

www.350.org

References:

1. Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change. Pat Murphy. New Society Publishers, pp. 120-127.

2.Ibid,, p. 85

3. “How innovative financing is changing energy in America” by Cisco Devries. Grist, January 27, 2010. http://www.grist.org/article/2010-01-26-how-innovative-financing-is-changing-energy-in-america#comments

4. “Los otros contaminantes que cambian el clima” by Jessica Seddon Wallack and Veerabhadran Ramanathan. Foreign Affairs Latinoamerica. Vol. 9 Number 4, 2009. pp. 29-40

5.Nutrient Overload: Unbalancing the Global Nitrogen Cycle. Staff of World Resources Program. 1998-1999

6.  Agriculture and Climate Change: Impacts and Opportunities at the Farm Level. A Policy Position Paper of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. 2008

7. Three times more phosphorous and potash fertilizer are used than pesticides, so farmers use about 8 times as many pounds of commercial fertilizer as toxic pesticides.

8. Allen, Will, 2008. The War on Bugs, Chelsea Green, pp. 93-96, 144

9. Ibid., pp. 146-147

10.United States Department of Agriculture Fertilizer Use Statistics, 1998-2007

11. Until we stop being a military country, we will continue to make synthetic nitrogen for bombs.

12. “The Organic Revolution, How We Can Stop Global Warming” by Ronnie Cummins, and Alexis Baden-Mayer from the Organic Consumers Association. October 19, 2009 http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_19404.cfm

13. The U.S. EPA estimates that 16 billion pounds of dry sludge are produced each year and that one-half of that is applied to farmland. Synagro (a division of the Carlyle Group), which is the largest distributor of sludge, contends that about 135 billion pounds of sludge are applied to farmland.

14. Taylor, John  Arator, 1813, Reprint 1977, The Liberty Fund, Indianapolis

15. Wells, David, 1852. Comparison of the Organic Matter Content of Soils from Massachusetts and Ohio. Lawrence Scientific School, Harvard University.

16. R.L. Mulvaney, S.A Kahn and T.R. Ellsworth, Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizers Deplete Soil Nitrogen: A Global Dilemma for Sustainable Cereal Production. Published in 2009 by The Journal of Environmental Quality. S.A Khan, R.L. Mulvaney, T.R. Ellsworth, and C. Boast. The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration. Published in the November/December 2007 issue of The Journal of Environmental Quality. Cawood, Matt, 2009 Why Synthetic Nitrogen is Bad for Soil Carbon Published in Stock and Land, Oct. 4.

Will Allen is an organic farmer, community organizer, activist, and writer who farms in Vermont. He is a Policy Advisor for the Organic Consumers Association. His book The War on Bugs was published by Chelsea Green in 2008. His website is www.thewaronbugsbook.comthe farm website is www.cedarcirclefarm.org

Ronnie Cummins is an organizer, writer, and activist. He is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association and co-author of the book, Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers. His organization’s website is www.OrganicConsumers.org

Kate Duesterberg edited this article. She is an organic farmer who co-manages Cedar Circle Farm, with Will Allen, in Vermont. She previously worked as an organizer for Rural Vermont, coordinated the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Vermont, and was the managing director of the Sustainable Cotton Project.

Food Fight 2015: Taking Down the Degenerators

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If governments won’t solve the climate, hunger, health, and democracy crisis, then the people will…  Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.
Dr. Vandana Shiva, speaking at the founding meeting of Regeneration International,
La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica, June 8, 2015

Degenerate—(verb) to decline from a noble to a lower state of development; to become worse physically and morally; (noun) a person of low moral standards; having become less than one’s kind…”.  – New Webster’s Dictionary, 1997 Edition

Welcome to Degeneration Nation.

After decades of self-destructive business-as-usual—empire-building, waging wars for fossil fuels, selling out government to the highest bidder, lacing the environment and the global food supply with GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, toxic sweeteners, artery-clogging fats, and synthetic chemicals,  attacking the organic and natural health movement, brainwashing the body politic, destroying soils, forests, wetlands, and biodiversity, and discharging greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere and the oceans like there’s no tomorrow—we’ve reached a new low, physically and morally.

Distracted by know-nothing media conglomerates and betrayed by cowardly politicians and avaricious corporations, homo sapiens are facing, and unfortunately in many cases still denying, the most serious existential threat in our 200,000 year evolution—catastrophic climate change, compounded by deteriorating public health and the dictatorial rise of political elites and multinational corporations such as Monsanto.

Unless we move decisively as a global community to transform our degenerative food, farming and energy systems, we are doomed.

To reverse global warming and restabilize the climate, we will need not only to slash CO2 emissions by 90 percent or more, taking down King Coal and Big Oil and converting to renewable sources of energy, but we must also simultaneously remove or draw down 100-150 ppm of the excess (400 ppm) CO2 and greenhouse gases that are already overheating our supersaturated atmosphere. How do we accomplish the latter? Through regenerative agriculture and land use.

Fortunately, this is possible because more and more consumers are connecting the dots between what’s on their dinner plates and what’s happening to Planet Earth. They, along with environmentalists, animal rights, food justice, climate and health activists, have created a global grassroots movement aimed at dismantling our destructive, degenerative industrial food and farming system. And despite Big Food’s desperate attempts to maintain the status quo, this powerful movement is escalating the war on degeneration.

Under siege, Big Food fights back

On the food, natural health and anti-GMO fronts, our battles for a new regenerative (non-GMO, non-chemical, non-factory farm, non-fossil fuel) food, farming and land use system are educating and energizing millions of people. The profits of the big junk food, chemical, and GMO corporations are falling, while demand for organic and climate-friendly grass fed foods continues to skyrocket.

In the last quarter Monsanto’s profits fell by 34 percent, while the company’s highly publicized attempt to buy out agri-toxics giant Syngenta fell flat, in no small part due to the “worst corporation in the world” reputation that the global Millions Against Monsanto Movement has managed to hang around Monsanto’s neck.

In the U.S., the growing power of the anti-GMO movement has forced the passage of a game-changing mandatory GMO labeling law in Vermont. The Vermont law will go into effect July 1, 2016, forcing national brands to either remove GMOs from their products or label them. The Vermont law will also make it illegal to label GMO-tainted foods as “natural.” Many national brands have already begun removing bogus “natural” or “all natural” claims from their packaging.

Consumer pressure on Whole Foods Market (WFM) has likewise forced the organic and natural products giant to declare that all 40,000 foods, including meat and take-out, in WFM stores will have to be labeled as GMO or GMO-free by 2018.  Other chains, such as the rapidly growing Natural Grocer, have already gone GMO-free.

While a number of major food brands and chains, such as Hershey’s and Chipotle’s, have already begun removing GMOs from their products, the impending Vermont law has created panic among the Biotech Bullies, with Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association attempting to ram through the passage of the draconian, highly unpopular DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act (H.R. 1599) in Congress, even though 90 percent of Americans want GMO foods labeled.

The DARK Act will nullify the Vermont GMO labeling law and take away the long-established constitutional right of states to label foods and regulate food safety. But such a blatant attack on states’ and consumer rights will also likely create a major backlash. Even the mass media has warned that the forced passage of the DARK Act, either through Congressional vote, or more likely, a back-room-deal rider inserted into a Federal Appropriations bill, will likely enrage health- and environmentally conscious consumers. As Fortune magazine reports, Big Food may indeed be able to ram through the unpopular Dark Act, but this outrageous maneuver will likely lead to “a classic case of winning the battle and losing the war.”

The global grassroots swarm: next steps

Now that we’ve stung Monsanto and Food Inc. (corporate agribusiness) with thousands of campaigns, boycotts, protests, litigation and legislative efforts, what are our next steps in the great 2015 Food Fight?

  1. Defeat the DARK Act in the U.S. Every major anti-GMO and alternative food and farming network in the U.S. is now mobilizing against the DARK Act, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives 275-150. We must mobilize, as never before, to stop this outrageous bill in the Senate. But we must also be prepared for dirty tricks, a secret rider inserted into one or more Congressional Appropriations Bills that will not require an open debate or vote in the Senate. And if, despite all our efforts, the DARK Act becomes law, we must be prepared to carry out our own skull-and-crossbones labeling by aggressively testing all of the major (non-organic) U.S. food brands, including meat and animal products, and by exposing the GMOs, pesticide residues, antibiotics, hormones and growth promoters that make these degenerate foods unfit for human consumption. Following our exposure of Food Inc.’s dirty little secrets, we must then launch an ongoing boycott to drive these foods off the market.
  2. Expand and deepen our message. We need to change our campaign message from “Boycott and Ban GMOs” to “Boycott and Ban GMOs, as well as the toxic chemicals, animal drugs and factory farms that are an integral part of the industrial/GMO food and farming system.” GMOs in processed foods are a major threat to our health and the environment, but they are only part of the problem of our degenerate food system. Polls consistently show that U.S. consumers are equally alarmed by the toxic pesticides, antibiotics and synthetic hormones in non-organic foods. We need to emphasize that GMOs are pesticide delivery systems, and that GMOs are not only found in most processed foods and beverages, but they are also found in nearly all non-organic, non-grass fed meat and animal products. Every bite of factory-farmed meat, dairy or eggs, every sip of factory-farmed milk, not only contains GMOs, but also the toxic pesticides, antibiotics and animal drugs that are slowly but surely destroying public health. We also need to point out that every time you pull up to the gas pump, you are filling up your tank with not only greenhouse gas-emitting gasoline, but Monsanto’s chemical-intensive, soil destroying GMO corn ethanol as well.
  3. Frame the overall fight as degenerative food, farming and land use, versus regenerative agriculture and land use. Even before GMOs hit the market in 1994, in the form of Monsanto’s Bovine Growth Hormone, America’s industrial food and farming system was terrible for human health, the for the environment, farm animals and rural communities. If we somehow managed to get rid of all GMOs tomorrow, our (non-organic) food system would still be degenerating our health, biodiversity, water quality, and most importantly, our climate. The industrial food and farming system, with its destructive deforestation and land use, is the number one cause of global warming and climate disruption. But at the same time as we expose the hazards of industrial food and farming we must spread the good news that regenerative agriculture is not only better for our health, but that it can fix the climate crisis as well, by sequestering in the soil several hundred billion tons of excess atmospheric carbon over the next two decades. We need to Cook Organic, not the Planet. This requires a new message, and a broader coalition beyond simply “GMO-free.”
  4. Get ready to go to war. Given how desperate Monsanto and Big Ag have become, we must prepare for any eventuality. The reason Big Food and Big Biotech are escalating the war against consumer choice and food safety is because a critical mass of the public no longer believes the lies. Monsanto and Big Food understand full well that they are losing the battle for the hearts and minds and consumer dollars of the majority, not only in the U.S. but globally. That’s why they are pushing the DARK Act and negotiating secret international trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, deals that would take away consumer rights to label and ban GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics and other dangerous animal drugs. This is no longer simply a food fight, but a war. We need to step up our public education, grassroots mobilization and most importantly, our marketplace pressure and boycotts.
  5. Link together the food, farm, forest, climate and economic justice movements. The climate crisis, even though many people don’t understand this yet, is the most important issue that humans have ever faced. The food and farm movement needs to move beyond single-issue campaigning to challenge the entire system of industrial agriculture, junk food, ethanol production and factory farming. We need to educate people to understand that industrial food and farming, GMOs, destructive deforestation and land use, and mindless consumerism are the major causes of global warming and climate destabilization. There will be no GMO-free, or organic food on a burnt planet. At the same time the climate movement must move beyond its 50-percent solution (reducing and eliminating fossil fuel emissions), to the 100-percent solution of zero emissions plus maximum carbon sequestration in the soils and forests through regenerative organic agriculture, planned rotational grazing reforestation, and land use.

The hour is late, but we, the global grassroots, still have time to mobilize and act, to regenerate the system before it further degenerates us.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica

The Crisis: Regeneration or Degeneration?

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‘If governments won’t solve the climate, hunger, health, and democracy crises, then the people will.‘ – Dr.Vandana Shiva, speaking at the founding meeting of Regeneration International, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica, June 8, 2015.

When literally billions of people, the 99 percent, are hungry or struggling to survive with justice and dignity; when the majority of the global body politic are threatened and assaulted by a toxic environment and food system; when hundreds of millions are overwhelmed with chronic health problems; battered by floods, droughts, and weather extremes; when endless wars and land grabs for water, land and strategic resources spiral out of control; When indentured politicians, corporations and the mass media conspire to stamp out the last vestiges of democracy in order to force a “Business-as-Usual” paradigm down our throats, it’s time for a change, Big Change.

It’s time to move beyond degenerate ethics, farming land use, energy policies, politics and economics. It’s time to move beyond “too little, too late” mitigation and sustainability strategies.

It’s time to inspire and mobilize a mighty global army of Regenerators, before it’s too late.

Connecting the dots

Melting polar ice caps, dying oceans, global warming? The corporate take-over of governments, commerce and the world food supply? The loss of the world’s fertile, life-sustaining soil and biodiversity, along with the loss of indigenous seeds and knowledge?

Dis-empowed, exploited people, overwhelmed by the challenges of everyday survival, don’t have the luxury of connecting the dots between all the issues and focusing on the Big Picture. It’s the job of Regenerators to globalize the struggle, to globalize hope and connect the dots between issues, communities and constituencies. Our guiding principle must be that everyone, everywhere can potentially be energized and mobilized, i.e. regenerated, by a “Do-it-Yourself Movement” that “tells it like it is,” that moves beyond mere mitigation, and instead offers a global roadmap and a holistic menu of regenerative solutions to our most pressing food, farming, health, climate, political and economic problems.

Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy climate . . . our physical and economic health, our very survival as a species, is directly connected to the soil, biodiversity, and the health and fertility of our food and farming systems.

Regenerative organic farming and land use can move us back into balance, back to a stable climate.

The regenerative bottom line for survival and well-being is that we must not only move away from oil, coal, gas and nuclear energy toward renewable sources of energy. We must also move several hundred billion tons of excess, climate- destabilizing carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil, where it belongs.

How do we do this?

Spreading the word

Although we don’t have the time or the space to go into great detail now, I, and others have begun to describe in detail how regenerative food, farming and land use practices, scaled up to the global level, can fix the climate and supercharge soil fertility and food nutrition over the next two decades.

In order to survive we must all become evangelists of Regeneration. We must explain the basic principles and practices of soil regeneration and natural carbon sequestration to everyone who will listen.

As Michael Pollan, North America’s most prominent food author, explains:

Consider what happens when the sun shines on a grass plant rooted in the earth. Using that light as a catalyst, the plant takes atmospheric CO2, splits off and releases the oxygen, and synthesizes liquid carbon–sugars, basically. Some of these sugars go to feed and build the aerial portions of the plant we can see, but a large percentage of this liquid carbon—somewhere between 20 and 40 percent—travels underground, leaking out of the roots and into the soil. The roots are feeding these sugars to the soil microbes—the bacteria and fungi that inhabit the rhizosphere—in exchange for which those microbes provide various services to the plant: defense, trace minerals, access to nutrients the roots can’t reach on their own. That liquid carbon has now entered the microbial ecosystem, becoming the bodies of bacteria and fungi that will in turn be eaten by other microbes in the soil food web. Now, what had been atmospheric carbon (a problem) has become soil carbon, a solution—and not just to a single problem, but to a great many problems.

Besides taking large amounts of carbon out of the air—tons of it per acre when grasslands are properly managed… that process at the same time adds to the land’s fertility and its capacity to hold water. Which means more and better food for us…

This process of returning atmospheric carbon to the soil works even better when ruminants are added to the mix. Every time a calf or lamb shears a blade of grass, that plant, seeking to rebalance its “root-shoot ratio,” sheds some of its roots. These are then eaten by the worms, nematodes, and microbes—digested by the soil, in effect, and so added to its bank of carbon. This is how soil is created: from the bottom up.

By all accounts, our planet is in deep trouble, and headed for worse. Sustaining a dying planet or mitigating catastrophic climate change is not an option. We must change the conversation about the climate crisis from “mitigation” to “reversing” global warming, by organically regenerating the soil, grasslands and forests. Even if the world moves to zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and “sustains” or stabilizes atmospheric CO2 at 480-500 ppm, we will still desperately need to remove 100 ppm or more of CO2 from the atmosphere in order to avert runaway global warming, mass starvation, and chaos.

A Movement is launched

In the first week of June, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and our global allies organized the founding meeting of Regeneration International, a global alliance designed to supercharge the global grassroots, the network of networks trying to feed the world and reverse climate change through regenerative organic food and farming.

The meeting took place in the spectacular rainforest area near the still-active Arenal Volcano on a tropical Biodynamic organic farm in Costa Rica, attended by scientists, activists, farmers, environmentalists and business leaders, representing non-profits, universities and corporations from 21 nations.

Sixty global leaders participated in an intensive three days of workshops, presentations and late-into-the-night conversations. We shared ideas, (organic) food, and the common belief that so far, our governments, healthcare systems and global non-profits are failing us when it comes to real solutions to climate change, hunger, health and economic security.

We shared a sense of urgency, and a spirit of hope.

Urgency because, behind the scenes, many climate-change ”experts”  admit that if we achieved zero carbon emissions tomorrow, we’d still go over the climate-disaster cliff. As evidence, one presenter quoted NOAA Senior Scientist, Susan Solomon:

The severity of damaging human-induced climate change depends not only on the magnitude of the change but also on the potential for irreversibility. This paper shows that the climate change that takes place due to increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.

A spirit of hope, because, as the farmers, activists and scientists among us confirmed, we actually do have the capacity to reverse climate change, and eliminate global poverty, hunger, health, economic injustice and environmental devastation.  The answer lies in the soil—in promoting organic, regenerative agriculture and land use that sequesters carbon, produces higher yields of more nutritious foods, and strengthens local economies.

Regeneration International—next steps

With a formal steering committee composed of Vandana Shiva (India writer and activist) Hans Herren (Millenium Institute), Andre Leu (IFOAM/Organics International), Steve Rye (Mercola.com), Ronnie Cummins (Organic Consumers Association), and Tom Newmark (The Carbon Underground), Regeneration International has embarked on a wide range of activities, including the global mapping of regenerative activists and campaigns, best practices, alternative and mass media contacts, a translations bureau, a global media and communications team, and a science peer review committee.

Activities over the next six months will include a mass March Against Monsanto protest and rally in Washington, D.C. on the day after World Food Day, October 17; participation in the alternative climate summit in Paris December 1-10; and the drawing up of national Regeneration Charters in every country following the Paris Summit.

We left the first Regeneration International conference energized, and ready to start regenerating.

We agreed on a plan to expand on the existing science around carbon sequestration through organic regenerative agriculture, and to reach out far and wide to the global scientific community, to connect scientists all over the world.

We agreed on a plan to mobilize farmers and activists globally, to advance regenerative organic farming and grazing practices and techniques, and to share best practices for adapting techniques to different climates and cultures.

We are developing a global media and communications plan, to counter the corporate-funded messages that focus almost exclusively on industrial, GMO agriculture as a solution to world hunger, and emissions reduction as the solution to global warming. Our plan will promote the science around the relationship between nutritionally sound food and health, and around carbon sequestration through organic, regenerative agriculture.

Plans are being developed, test projects are under way, commitments have been made, energy is high, and urgency is on all of our minds.

Because we are running out of time.

In his book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, David Montgomery writes that the history of dirt suggests that how people treat their soil can impose a life span on civilizations, that Rome didn’t so much as fall, but crumble:

A common lesson of the ancient empires of the Old and New Worlds is that even innovative adaptations cannot make up for a lack of fertile soil to sustain increased productivity. As long as people take care of their land, the land can sustain them.”

Ancient civilizations never came face-to-face with global warming. Today, global warming is in our face. And according to a growing number of scientists, we are running out of time.

Will we regenerate our soils, our food, our health, our economies, and our spirits? Or will we continue to degenerate, to stumble down the path toward destruction?