Re-thinking the Water Crisis: With a Little Creativity, We Can Meet Our Water Needs

The human brain is 95 percent water. Water makes up more than two-thirds of human body weight. Seventy-one percent of Earth’s surface is covered with water. Yet only 2.5 percent of Earth’s water is freshwater, of which only a small proportion is actually available to meet the needs of humans and animals. (Some of it is locked up in glaciers and ice, for example).

Water is life. We are at its mercy, vulnerable to its scarcity.

If you believe the headlines, we’re running out of water: “New NASA Data Show How the World Is Running out of Water,” Washington Post, 2016; “Water Crisis in Brazil: Why the Largest City in the Americas Is Drying out,” Humanosphere, 2015;  “Brazil’s Olympics Water Crisis Is a Constant Reality for Locals,” The Weekly Magazine, 2016; “Indian Water Crisis Shuts Down Multiple Power Plants,” POWER Magazine, 2016; “Hurricane Drought Hits a New Record,” Scientific American, 2016.

But how can that be? When the amount of water on the planet today is the same as it’s always been?

Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association,  talked to Vermont-based journalist Judith D. Schwartz about her new book, “Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World,” which introduces unlikely, revolutionary and simple solutions to inspire a re-framing of the way we think about, and are challenged, by water.

“All of the news that we hear about water these days seems to be bad news,” said Schwartz said. “We hear about droughts and wildfires (caused by parched landscapes), and depleted groundwater resources. The sense we get from what we hear is that this is all inevitable.”

But water scarcity and crisis aren’t inevitable, according to Schwartz.

“What I’d like to bring to the conversation is that this isn’t a case of bad environmental karma, brought on by we’ve been doing to the planet. This is the result of distorted water cycles. And once we understand that, there is much that we can do to restore the water cycle, not only on a very small local basis but also on large landscapes. Most of it does turn on the extent to which we are able to mimic natural processes.”

In her book, Schwartz provides examples of how people are already managing water by mimicking nature. For example, a couple harvests dew in the Texas desert to meet their needs, and those of their many guests. Farmers in rural Zimbabwe and Mexico are greening desertified land through Holistic Planned Grazing, an approach to livestock management that mimics natural systems. Their efforts have successfully restored the water cycle and local biodiversity, and allowed rural villagers to get off international food aid.

Another approach to managing water, one that has been gaining international traction since the COP21 Paris Climate Summit, involves revitalizing soils. One-third of our excess atmospheric CO2 can be attributed to huge losses of carbon in the soil, primarily due to destructive agriculture and land use practices such as deforestation, soil-tillage and leaving soil bare.

By disrupting the carbon cycle, we’ve also disrupted the water cycle, according to Schwartz. This is because carbon is essential to keeping water in the ground.

The failure to retain water has, in turn, altered climate dynamics. According to Australian soil microbiologist Walter Jehne, more than 90 percent of our climate is driven by hydrological processes. History is littered with cautionary tales of communities and even civilizations—the Mayans, Pacific Islanders, peoples of the Fertile Crescent—who depleted their soil or chopped down forests, only to suffer from floods and drought. The moral of the story: Carbon-rich soil and the plants it sustains help manage the water cycle, and the water cycle drives weather and climate.

Can we actually avert both a climate crisis and a water crisis by, at least in part, paying more attention to how we manage water?

Yes, says Schwartz. Farmers worldwide are choosing to work with the carbon cycle. If regenerative agriculture and land-use practices are adopted by farmers worldwide, we’ll eventually restore carbon to the soil, and also restore the Earth’s natural water cycles. Even better, in the process, we’ll provide abundant and nutritious food, and increase biodiversity on the land, and in our diets.

“Every 1-percent increase in soil carbon represents an additional 20,000 gallons per acre that the land can hold,” says Schwartz. That’s the size of a 28’ above ground swimming pool—and that’s a lot of water.

“If we planted trees at a sufficiently large scale it would improve climate. Even planting on a local scale can improve groundwater recharge,” ecologist Douglas Sheil says in “Water in Plain Sight.” Why not focus on growing carbon in the soil and re-vegetating our landscapes?

RI asked Schwartz what is stopping us from scaling solutions like this on a global level. “What stops us is imagination,” Schwartz said. “It’s because most of us, in particular people who make decisions, and the policymakers, are disconnected from the natural processes that govern the flow of water.”

So, what can each of us do? Beyond shifting our attention to what’s possible and appreciating how lush our landscapes can be, Schwartz says, “a very important thing is what food you buy, what clothing you buy and learning more about the practices that are generating the food and fiber that we use in our lives.”

Water in Plain Sight is a reminder that “every acre of land on the planet offers a choice, toward enhancement and health and complexity, or toward degradation. Like animals managed well, we can act upon the land in a positive way.”

Why is water vapor the most significant greenhouse gas? Why is the Syrian migration crisis a result of mismanagement of the land? Watch the video interview to learn more.

Water in Plain Sight- 9781250069917-1

Buy “Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World.”

Check out Judith D Schwartz’s first book, “Cows Save the Planet.”

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Article written by Alexandra Groome, Campaign & Events Coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

26 Regeneration Initiatives in Latin America

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In May (2016), over 50 people from across Mexico participated in a Regrarians training session in Sierra Gorda de Querétaro, México. The 10-day training session was led by Darren Doherty, a fifth-generation Bendigo region farmer, developer, author and trainer. Doherty has been involved in the design and development of nearly 2000 projects across six continents, in close to 50 countries.

I was fortunate to represent Regeneration International (RI) in this training session, which focused on practical methods for regenerating, restoring, rehabilitating, rekindling and rebooting landscapes.

The meeting brought together a diverse group of people, including permaculture practitioners who produce food in urban Mexico City,  ranchers working with cattle to restore vast expanses of desertified land in Chihuahua, consultants using keyline design as well as gabions, trincheras and berms to regenerate watersheds and small-scale farmers employing permaculture principles.

The key take away? Regenerative agriculture requires a combination of small-scale and large-scale solutions encompassing  a wide variety of practices and approaches. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. But all regenerative land use and agriculture solutions have one thing in common: They are geared toward restoring soil health and improving land in ways that ultimately lead to to productive landscapes and healthy communities and economies.

Following the training session, we compiled this list of 26 regeneration initiatives in Latin America.

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Alexandra Groome is Campaign & Events Coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

Chickens Can Save the Planet, too: An Interview with Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin

If you’re familiar  with the groundbreaking book “Cows Can Save the Planet,” you understand the role cattle can play in restoring the world’s soils and reversing the impacts of climate change.

But did you know that chickens, when raised in regenerative agroforestry-based systems, are proving to be key players in the regenerative revolution, too—especially when it comes to empowering the world’s 500 million small farmers?

In order to meet the world’s growing demand for chicken and eggs, the poultry industry has mercilessly worked to cut costs and increase supply. They’ve succeeded, but only at the expense of farmers, consumers, chickens and the environment. The current factory farm model of poultry production is unstable, toxic and heavily reliant on antibiotics, feed subsidies and abusive labor practices.

Luckily one man has dedicated his life to designing an alternative to toxic factory farms that can not only exceed current and future demand for healthy and humanely produced chicken and eggs, but also empower small farmers and restore  rural communities, local ecologies and our food system.

Regeneration International recently talked chickens and regeneration with Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin who, as Chief-Strategy Officer of the Main Street Project, is developing a poultry-centered regenerative agriculture system and leads a team that is changing how small farmers are producing food around the world.

Raised in the rainforests of Guatemala during the country’s brutal 36-year civil war, Reginaldo and his family remained well fed due to his father’s deep understanding of forest food systems. Surrounded by poverty and malnutrition, Reginaldo discovered that the key to agricultural abundance and true food security is regenerative agriculture. Determined to put his understanding of regenerative agriculture to use, he went on to study at what was then the top agriculture school  in Latin America, the Central National School of Agriculture (ENCA). It was here that  he learned to apply the systems thinking that has made conventional agriculture models so widespread and replicable to the regenerative agriculture model.

Today, Reginaldo is leading the team, the strategies, and designing the processes to take the Main Street Project’s poultry-centered regenerative agriculture system to large-scale. Having spent the past seven years perfecting the system with Latino migrant farmers in Northfield Minnesota, Reginaldo and his team at the Main Street Project are in the process of adapting and expanding their model for farmers in other U.S. States, Mexico and Guatemala.

Interview with Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin

(Watch the full interview above or on RI’s Youtube Channel)

RI: How did you first got involved with regenerative agriculture?

Haslett-Marroquin: I really came into this as a kid. I grew up in the rainforest with my brothers and sisters. When we started our farming system in the rainforest we did what everybody else did—you cut down the forest, you burn it and plant corn, black beans, soy beans and squash and all that. We only did it once, that I remember, before my dad said we are not going to make it, this is going to degenerate the ability of the soil to feed us. So we created a whole new system amidst everyone doing the opposite. And that is how I as a kid I became very interested in the biodynamics of these new ways of producing food, and later on, professionally learn about how much more efficient the regenerative systems our family developed were. That’s really where my beginnings were.

The [regenerative poultry] system that I am working on came as a result of trying to adapt to the current challenges that we are facing with climate change, with poverty, especially this almost unbelievable point we have gotten to with food security, even though almost every community in the world has the capacity to be food secure. Why have we not done like what we did growing up? We were poor, yes. But we were never food insecure. And now we have these massive institutions talking about food insecurity as the purpose for being while really food insecurity has continued to increase. That’s really what got me thinking. Is there a more strategic and simple way of thinking about it? And so poultry is an entry point that deals with those things head on and allows us to do larger-scale deployment of small farming systems and do them using the principles that I learned as a kid.

RI: So why poultry, is this something that was integrated into your family’s agricultural system in Guatemala?

Haslett-Marroquin: Yes and if you look at the whole world there is hardly any place on earth or a farmer on earth that doesn’t have some sort of familiarity with some kind of bird. Whether it’s pheasants, turkey, or chickens and even pigeons in Vietnam for example. Birds are the one type of livestock that unites  us globally. So if we are going to create a global movement that actually addresses some of these fundamental issues, and we are going to do it from the standpoint of regenerative agriculture—meaning socially, economically, and ecologically regenerative, highly scientific—we have to start with one thing that is common to most of the world. And that’s what chickens do.

RI: How does this system regenerate local economies and societies? What effect does it have on the supply chain?

Haslett-Marroquin: Let’s put it this way. The purpose of this is to produce a new system from which we can reengineer the way we grow and distribute food. And the way we supply those value chains and supply chains so that we can transform the kind of food consumers can have access to and transform the way farmers interact  with each other.

Conventional systems are engineered to be extractive—extractive of the labor of people, extractive of the natural resources of the soil, extractive of fossil resources—to be able to make it, in their words, more efficient in terms of productivity.

The economic regeneration of a system depends on the ripple effect of all of the economic transactions so that extraction does not happen. Rather than extraction, there is flow and balance of resources.

Ecologically, it is actually a matter of design. If we are going to design efficient systems, we have to work with the ecology. By restoring and regenerating the ecology this is how we achieve the economic returns that we seek. By organizing the economic returns so that they flow in a balanced way, we keep them from getting extracted from the families that need them to sustain and regenerate and continue to regenerate the system over time.

As you do those two things, the economic and the ecological, and achieve high levels of energy transformation efficiency, you also create  the social interactions which allow it to regenerate the ability of people to be with each other and learn more about how to live together. That is what is degenerating, our ability to understand who we are within the larger context of the world and food.

RI: Why does the world need this model?

Haslett-Marroquin: As you think of what conventional agriculture has delivered us, we see a lot of health problems on the consumer side. As a consumer, I don’t want to continue to purchase these cheap foods that are making all of us sick. Food-related diseases are huge and there is no need for it, because we can develop a new system.

We always start with the question “what if?” In this case, what if we don’t even need cheap food? What if the idea of cheap food is so misunderstood that it is more expensive at the end of the day because of the consequences of consuming it? What if what we really need is a reconnection between the consumers and farmers so that we can reengineer how food actually happens from the farm to the table, and how that energy gets reintegrated back into the system?

Just like consumers, farmers are suffering from lack of opportunity, ownership and control, access to resources, new technologies, because all of the ownership and control of the current food system is concentrated in the hands of a few powerful multinational corporations. So consumers need these systems because we need healthy food, accessible to everyone. And farmers, small farmers especially—over 70 percent  of the food in the world is producer by small farmers with under 5 hectares of land—this allows us to bring them back into the equation at a larger scale with more power, greater ownership and control, and to connect them more directly back to consumers. We need to regenerate the social connectedness between producers and consumers so that we can rebuild that trust and confidence that was lost as we gave up the ownership and control.

RI: How does the regenerative poultry project synchronize with the intentions of the 4p1000 initiative. And what opportunities does the initiative bring for Main Street Project and more broadly in Mexico and Latin America?

Haslett-Marroquin: Here’s how we connect this opportunity. 4p1000 is an ecological imperative. The idea of bringing back 4 for every 1000 particles of CO2 from the air into permanent storage and doing that on the basis of soil restoration is critical. But really that shouldn’t be the end goal. The end goal should be beyond that. When you think of just bringing that carbon back, think about why it was out there in the first place. Because there was irresponsible management of our soils. If we just bring it back because we built an economic opportunity for corporations to bring carbon back into the soil, we’ve lost again. Because the minute we stop paying those corporations to come up with solutions to problems they created in the first place, we are back to square one.

What our model  does is bring ownership and control of the 4p1000 initiative to communities. That is how we are going to win in the long term. That’s what is going to make it permanent and regenerative and sustainable and all of those things that we keep saying we want from this initiative.

Of the millions of farmers in Mexico who own less than 5 hectares [of land], if we took 5 for every 1000 for example, we could deploy enough production to supply 100 percent  of the eggs that Mexico consumes right now, totalling around 15,700 production units mimicking the one we have in San Miguel de Allende (Granjas Regenerativas). This allows us not only to restore soil and deliver on the 4p1000 initiative, but also allows us to do it on the basis of community engagement, rather than making it another business opportunity for the carbon traders. This is where we bring it to earth, so to speak, back to the soil.

RI: So you’re putting the power back in the hands of the small farmers.

Haslett-Marroquin: That would be the idea. If we don’t do that, we are really not going to change the way things are. What created the problem in the first place is greed, lack of interest and respect for nature. The folks who did that, the corporations who are responsible for that, it is not in their DNA to do otherwise. To think that somehow they are going to solve this problem is really naive. We have to do it on the basis of re-distribution of the ownership and control of the end result.

I believe in this case what we have done, is we’ve created a  very nice enterprise opportunity and design for small farmers, a way for them to get into this business in alignment with regenerative principles, and at the same time meet  all of the standards of the 4p1000 initiative.

I am happy that Mexico signed the 4p1000 agreement. This gives us a moral imperative. It gives an argument to be made for the fact that now Mexico has to deliver. It is not legally binding. Obviously these are voluntary commitments, but it does create the environment under which we can start this conversation about how do we change for real.

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Alexandra Groome is Campaign & Events Coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

Griffin Klement is the Organic Consumers Association Latin American Project Director.

The Carbon Underground: Reversing Global Warming

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“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current levels [398 ppm.] to at most 350 ppm ” ~ Dr. James Hansen

Reversing Global Warming

Since Dr. James Hansen, a leading climatologist, warned in 2008 that we need to reduce the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere to 350 parts-per-million (ppm) in order to preserve life on Earth, little has been done to get us there.

It’s getting late. If we’re going to preserve a livable Earth, we the global grassroots, must do more than mitigate global warming.

We must reverse it.

How?

Hint number one: not by politely asking out-of-control corporations and politicians to please stop destroying the planet.

Hint number two: not by pinning our hopes for survival and climate stability on hi-tech, unproven and dangerous, “solutions” such as genetic engineering, geoengineering, or carbon capture and sequestration for coal plants.

Hint number three: not by naively believing that soon (or soon enough) ordinary consumers all over the planet will spontaneously abandon their cars, air travel, air conditioning, central heating, and fossil fuel-based diets and lifestyles just in time to prevent atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from moving past the tipping point of 450 ppm or more of CO2 to the catastrophic point of no return.

We can reverse climate change by sequestering several hundred billion tons of excess CO2 using the “tools” we already have at hand: regenerative, organic farming, ranching and land use. And we can make this world-changing transition by mobilizing a vast green corps of farmers, ranchers, gardeners, consumers, climate activists and conservationists to begin the monumental task of moving the Carbon Behemoth safely back underground.

As thousands of farmers, ranchers, and researchers worldwide are demonstrating, by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and black soot, and qualitatively ramping up plant photosynthesis (i.e. the capacity of plants, trees, and grasses to move CO2 from the atmosphere through their roots into the soil) on billions of acres of farm land, range land, and forest, we can sequester enough CO2 to restabilize the climate.

Moving the Carbon Underground

We’re talking about mobilizing the global grassroots, not as passive observers, but as active participants, producers and conscious consumers, implementing and promoting on a mass scale, tried and true, low-tech, beneficial practices that naturally sequester enormous amounts of atmospheric carbon in the soil.

These traditional, regenerative practices include no till organic farming, planned rotational grazing (carbon ranching), composting of organic wastes, the use of cover crops, planting trees, and preserving and restoring forests, wetlands, riparian zones, grasslands, peat bogs, and biodiversity.

As Courtney White, author of the recent book, Grass, Soil, Hope, puts it:

” If land that is bare, degraded, tilled, or monocropped can be restored to a healthy condition, with properly functioning carbon, water, mineral, and nutrient cycles, and covered year-round with a diversity of green plants with deep roots, then the added amount of atmospheric CO2 that can be stored in the soil is potentially high.

“Globally… soils contain about three times the amount of carbon that’s stored in vegetation and twice the amount stored in the atmosphere. Since two-thirds of the earth’s land mass is grassland, additional CO2 storage in the soil via better management practices, even on a small scale, could have a huge impact.”

The noted food writer, Michael Pollan, in his introduction to White’s book, explains the basic concepts of plant photosynthesis and the benefits of regenerative agriculture:

“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, according to White-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.”

Wake Up Before It’s Too Late

If you are unfamiliar with the enormous impact of industrial food and farming and non-sustainable forest practices on global warming (chemical and energy-intensive, GMO, industrial food and farming practices generate 35 percent of global greenhouse gas pollution, while deforestation, often agriculture-driven, generates another 20 percent) and the concept of natural carbon sequestration through regenerative land use, please take a look at the comprehensive 2013 scientific study called “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late,” published by the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

And if you need a strong dose of good news, to counteract the typical gloom and doom message around the climate crisis, please read the 2014 Rodale Institute study on regenerative organic practices. See also: http://thecarbonunderground.org.

Given that hundreds of billions of tons of carbon originally sequestered in agricultural soils are now blanketing the atmosphere and cooking the planet, our life-or-death task is to move this massive “legacy load” of CO2 (now 50 ppm of CO2, likely to be 100 ppm in 20 years, past the danger zone) back underground, as soon as possible. This Great Sequestration will buy us the time we need to reduce fossil fuel use by 80-90 percent or more and reverse global warming.

Taking Down Factory Farms and Industrial Agriculture

Of course moving several hundred gigatons of CO2 back underground and reversing global warming will not be easy. Getting back to 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere will require nothing less than a global food and farming revolution: shutting down factory farms, boycotting genetically engineered foods, including factory-farmed meat and animal products, and putting billions of intensively confined farm animals back on the land, grazing, where they belong.

Restabilizing the climate means putting an end to gigantic GMO soybean and palm oil plantations and industrial timber operations. It means preserving tropical forests, and planting and nurturing hundreds of billions of native trees in deforested urban and rural areas.

Reversing global warming means putting an end to the energy-intensive, chemical-intensive, genetically engineered industrial food and farming system that is not only destroying public health, torturing animals, polluting the water, overgrazing pastures and rangelands, driving family farmers off the land, and destroying biodiversity, as well as pumping billions of tons of CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and black soot into the air.

Reversing climate change also means stopping industrial agriculture from continuing to dump billions of pounds of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the already heavily tilled, compacted, and eroded land-practices that destroy  the Earth’s natural ability to sequester vast amounts of carbon. These unsustainable farming, ranching, and land use practices, according to a leading world expert, Dr. Rattan Lal, have already caused the release of 25-70 percent (hundreds of billions of tons) of all the carbon originally sequestered in agricultural soils.

As a consequence of this decarbonization and destruction of the Earth’s topsoils, almost a quarter of all arable land on the planet is fallow. But as Dr. David Johnson of New Mexico State University has recently shown in a scientific study for Sandia Labs, by implementing regenerative organic practices, “The rates of biomass production we are currently observing in this system have the capability to capture enough CO2 (50 tons of CO2/acre) to offset all anthropogenic CO2 emissions on less than 11 percent of world cropland. Over twice this amount of land is fallow at any time worldwide.” ( The Soil Will Save Us, Kristin Ohlsen p. 233)

As the well respected author Kristin Ohlson commented to Dr. Johnson in a telephone conversation about this staggering assertion: “Aren’t you afraid to say this? Aren’t you afraid that saying that will let the oil and gas companies off the hook? As well as people burning down forests and all the rest of us with big carbon footprints? Aren’t you afraid?”

Ohlson continued: “I thought I could feel a wary shrug over the phone.”

Dr. Johnson then replied:  “I don’t see anything on the horizon that touches the effectiveness of this approach  We’re not going to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions anytime soon, because we depend too much on oil and gas, and the rest of the world wants our lifestyle. The whole idea is to get something that works right now, the world over, to make a significant impact on reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide.” ( The Soil Will Save Us, pp. 233-34.)

If industrial agriculture and GMOs are marginalized through mandatory labeling, marketplace pressure and public policy change, if fossil fuel consumption in all sectors is steadily reduced, and regenerative organic practices are put into action globally, with a focus on the 22 percent of the planet’s soils which are degraded and currently fallow, we will be able to sequester 100 percent of current, annual (35 gigatons) carbon dioxide emissions.

Small Farmers Can Cool the Planet

The world’s two and a half billion small and indigenous farmers and rural villagers currently manage to produce 70 percent of the world’s food on 25 percent of the world’s land. These so-called “subsistence farmers,” who have always struggled to survive, now find that climate change, the steady expansion of GMOs and industrial agriculture, and so-called “Free Trade” agreements, are making their farming and survival much more difficult. But these same small farmers, ranchers, pastoralists and forest dwellers, because they have, in most cases, retained traditional knowledge and practices, including seed saving and animal grazing, are open to adopting even more powerful regenerative organic practices. And of course these regenerative, climate-friendly, low-tech land-management techniques will also increase yields, reduce rural poverty, conserve water, improve soil health, and prevent erosion. Study after study has shown that small agro-ecological farms significantly out-produce industrial farms-while sequestering carbon.

The solution to climate change, desertification and world hunger is literally in the hands of the world’s two-and-a-half billion family farmers-but only if those farmers are supported by conscious consumers and activists, driving public policy, marketplace, and land-use reform on a global scale. This won’t happen unless we focus on economic justice and land-use reform. Investments and public funds, local to international, must be shifted from greenhouse gas-polluting factory farms and chemical-drenched genetically engineered crops to regenerative organic farming techniques that benefit small-scale and sustainable farmers, as well as consumers.

Land grabs and “free trade” agreements orchestrated by industrialized nations and multinational corporations must be stopped.

The Point of No Return

The U.S. and global climate movement desperately needs a more sophisticated (and international) strategy beyond just pressuring politicians, corporations, banksters, and the White House into shutting down coal plants, fracking and the tar sands pipeline. What we need is a holistic Zero Emissions/Maximum Sequestration strategy that can galvanize a grassroots army of hundreds of millions of small farmers and conscious consumers, not only in the U.S., but globally.

Although millions of misinformed and/or befuddled Americans remain in denial, a critical mass of the body politic is beginning to understand that global warming and climate chaos pose a serious threat to human survival. What they are lacking, however, is a coherent and empowering understanding of what is actually causing global warming, as well as a practical roadmap of how we-individually, collectively and globally-move away from the dangerous precipice where we find ourselves.

The only remaining significant disagreement among informed climate researchers centers on how long we can survive the still-rising 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere (485 ppm if we include other GHGs such as methane, nitrous oxide, CFCs and black soot). Current consensus seems to be 15-25 years before we reach a “point of no return” whereby climate change morphs into irreversible climate catastrophe.

Faulty Solutions. Flawed Strategy. The U.S.-based climate action movement, led by 350.org, has done an excellent job of protesting against the coal, oil and gas industries. This high-profile movement has also popularized the notion that fossil fuel consumption must be drastically slashed (by 80-90 percent) and replaced by renewable forms of energy, and that individuals and institutions must divest from the fossil fuel industry, making sure that 75 percent of fossil fuels reserves are left in the ground.

But strategic components of 350.org’s roadmap for change are seriously flawed.

First of all, 350.org’s reliance on over-simplified official statistics (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change–IGCC) on what is causing excess GHG emissions in the atmosphere (i.e. utilities, industry, transportation, and housing) fails to take into account the fact that our industrial food and farming system (production, transportation, processing, waste, and land use), including its impact on deforestation and the soil’s ability to naturally sequester CO2, are the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions.

Our climate dysfunctionality is in large part a function of how we farm and eat. Yet the most prominent voices in the climate movement continue to downplay, or ignore entirely, this fact.

Even the most optimistic climate activists admit that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will likely reach 450 ppm in the next several decades before leveling off. Unfortunately the climate movement up until now has offered no real strategy for how we can get from 450 ppm or more to the safe level of 350 ppm.

Even if the U.S., China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, the EU, and other nations stop all emissions sometime in the next 20 years, we will still have dangerous levels (450 ppm or more of CO2 and other greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere-levels that will gradually melt the polar icecaps, burn up the Amazon, spawn disastrous storms, floods, and droughts, and destroy agricultural productivity.

This is not just a basic error in analysis and a failure of imagination. It’s a “doom-and-gloom” formula that leaves us with little or no hope.

We, the members of the regenerative organics movement, invite you to educate yourself about the good news of regenerative organics and natural carbon sequestration. Please join and help us unite the climate movement, the organic movement, the animal rights, family farmer, and conservation movements into a mighty force for transformation and regeneration.

Join us and noted author Vandana Shiva under the banner of “Cook Organic, not the Planet,” at the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, or at one of the many local actions on that day, and at forthcoming U.S. and international gatherings.

The hour is late. But we still have time to turn things around by stopping the Carbon Criminals and Earth Destroyers and moving as quickly as possible toward a regenerative farming, ranching, and land use system capable of reversing global warming.

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

How Factory Farming Contributes to Global Warming

A growing number of organic consumers, natural health advocates and climate hawks are taking a more comprehensive look at the fundamental causes of global warming. And its led them to this sobering conclusion: our modern energy-, chemical- and genetically modified organism (GMO)-intensive industrial food and farming systems are the major cause of man-made global warming.

How did they reach this conclusion? First, by taking a more inclusive look at the scientific data on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—not just carbon dioxide (CO2), but also methane and nitrous oxide. Next, by doing a full accounting of the fossil fuel consumption and emissions of the entire industrial food and farming cycle, including inputs, equipment, production, processing, distribution, heating, cooling and waste. And finally, by factoring in the indirect impacts of contemporary agriculture, which include deforestation and wetlands destruction.

When you add it all up, the picture is clear—contemporary agriculture is burning up our planet. And factory farms or, in industry lingo, Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), play a key role in this impending disaster.

The science behind global warming is complex. Without question, coal plants, tar sands and natural gas fracking have contributed heavily to GHG pollution, the major cause of global warming. We must unite to shut down these industries. Similarly, consumer overconsumption of fossil fuels represents another big piece of the climate-crisis equation. We absolutely must rethink, retrofit and/or redesign our gas-guzzling cars and our energy-inefficient buildings, if we want to reduce fossil fuel use by 90 percent over the next few decades.

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Factory Farm Meat: Why Vegetarians, Ranchers and Conscious Omnivores Need to Unite

For the first time since the advent of industrial agriculture, the federal government is considering advising Americans to eat “less red and processed meat.”

That advice is the outcome of studies conducted by an independent panel of “experts” which was asked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for recommended changes to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

The February 19 “eat less red and processed meat” pronouncement by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) was reported widely in mainstream media. It set off a heated debate about whether or not consumers should eat meat, a debate that included the standard name-calling by factory farm front groups, including the Farm Bureau, denouncing consumers and environmentalists (and their alleged pawns on the DGAC) for being “anti-meat” and “anti-farmer.”

Unfortunately in its recommendations, the DGAC didn’t really come out and tell us the whole truth, which would go something like this: “Americans should eat less, or rather no red and processed meat from filthy, inhumane factory farms or feedlots, where the animals are cruelly crammed together and routinely fed a diet of herbicide-drenched, genetically engineered grains, supplemented by a witch’s brew of antibiotics, artificial hormones, steroids, blood, manure and slaughterhouse waste, contributing to a deadly public health epidemic of obesity, heart disease, cancer, antibiotic resistance, hormone disruption and food allergies.”

If the DGAC had really told us the truth about America’s red meat horror show (95 percent of our red meat comes from these Confined Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs), we’d be having a conversation about how we can get rid of factory farms, instead of a rather abstract debate on the ethics of eating meat.

With a real debate we could conceivably start to change the self-destructive purchasing and eating habits (the average American carnivore consumes nine ounces or more of toxic CAFO meat and animal products daily) of most Americans. Instead we are having a slightly more high-volume replay of the same old debate, whereby vegetarians and vegans, constituting approximately 5 percent of the population, tell the other 95 percent, who are omnivores, to stop eating meat. Nothing much ever comes of that particular debate, which leaves thousands of hard-working, conscientious ranchers, and millions of health-, environment- and humane-minded omnivores, out of the conversation.

I say thousands of “hard-working, conscientious,” ranchers are being left out of the conversation because I know lots of them.

North American cattle ranchers, for the most part, have no love for Cargill, Tyson, Monsanto, JBS, Smithfield, Elanco (animal drugs) or McDonald’s. Most of these ranchers practice traditional animal husbandry, conscientiously taking care of their animals from birth. They graze their cattle free-range on grass, as nature intended, before they’re forced to sell these heretofore-healthy animals at rock-bottom prices to the monopolistic meat cartel.

Before these hapless creatures are dragged away to hell, to be fattened up on GMO grains and drugged up in America’s CAFOs, their meat is high in beneficial Omega 3 and conjugated linoleic acids (LA), and low in “bad” fats.

Unfortunately by the time their abused and contaminated carcasses arrive, all neatly packaged, at your local supermarket, restaurant or school cafeteria, the meat is low in Omega 3 and good “fats,” and routinely tainted by harmful bacteria, not to mention pesticide, steroid and antibiotic residues. What was once a healthy food has now become a literal poison that clogs up your veins, makes you fat, and heightens your risk of heart attack or cancer.

I mention millions of “health-, environment-, and humane-minded” consumers being left out of the “meat versus no meat” conversation because, as director of the two million-strong, Organic Consumers Association, I talk and exchange emails with conscious consumers every day.

No organic consumer, vegetarian or omnivore I’ve ever encountered consciously supports the cruelty of intensive confinement for farm animals. Nor do they support feeding herbivores genetically engineered, herbicide-drenched grains, mixed with slaughterhouse waste. No one supports dosing factory farmed animals with antibiotics and hormones that then end up in your kid’s hamburger at school (unless it’s organic or 100-percent grass-fed.)

No one in their right mind, or at least no one who has ever experienced a factory farm first-hand or even read a book or watched a video about what’s going on, supports CAFOs. That’s why corporate agribusiness is working overtime to pass state “Ag Gag” laws making it a crime to take photos of CAFOs. That’s why the beef cartel and Big Food spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to keep you in the dark about CAFOs, about whether or not your food contains genetically engineered ingredients, and about the country-of-origin of your food.

If CAFO meat and animal products had to be labeled (a proposition I support wholeheartedly), the entire factory farm industry would collapse. If CAFO meat had to be labeled, not only in grocery stores but also in restaurants,

McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and the rest would immediately be on the phone, contacting ranchers directly to buy their grass-fed, healthy, free- range beef.

Before we go any further, let’s identify the real culprits in this CAFO horror show.

Four multi-billion dollar transnational companies—Tyson JBS, Cargill and Smithfield—produce about 85 percent of the factory farm meat in the U.S., making it difficult for ranchers to sell their livestock to anyone but the Big Four. And of course these same Big Four companies, along with their front groups such as the North American Meat Institute, are lobbying the government to ditch the 2015 dietary guidelines to “eat less red and processed meat” recommendation because they understand what that recommendation will do to their bottom lines.

But what the Big Four fear even more is the thought of consumers waking up to the horrors of factory farms, and the filthy, contaminated meat that comes out of these animal prisons.

Fortunately, demand for healthier, sustainably raised grass-fed beef is growing rapidly. Here in Minneapolis-St. Paul where I spend a good part of the year, there are now over 100 restaurants that offer grass-fed beef on their menus. Local co-ops and natural food grocery stores are barely able to keep up with the increasing consumer demand.

But unfortunately 95 percent of beef today still comes from factory farms and feedlots. Meanwhile most of the 100-percent grass-fed meat sold at restaurants such as Chipotle or Carl’s Jr. (a popular chain on the West Coast) is imported from Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay and Argentina, rather than produced here in the US. Why? It’s not because consumers don’t want healthier, more humanely raised 100-percent grass fed beef. It’s because Cargill and Big Food have monopolized the market by brainwashing the public into believing that cheap CAFO meat is OK, while controlling nearly all of the meat processing plants in the country.

The time has come to shift the American diet away from unhealthy, inhumane, GMO factory farmed food. But as Kendra Kimbirauskas of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP) pointed out at her TEDx talk in New York City recently, we, conscious consumers and farmers, “need to get on common ground” and stop “in-fighting over whether to eat ethical meat, go meat-free, or advocate for bigger cages…” As Kimbirauskas emphasizes, we need to enlist environmentalists in our anti-CAFO campaigning as well.

“As long as animals are in factory farms, they are polluting our environment”… And, Kimbirauskas added, “Those most impacted by the problem (farmers and rural people adjacent to CAFOs) need to be most visible in the fight to change It.”

Meat (along with eggs and dairy products) from factory farms is literally killing people with diet-related diseases. Factory farms are a disaster, not only for the animals, but also for the communities where manure and chemical fertilizers and pesticides pollute the air, the soil, streams, lakes, rivers and drinking water.

Factory farms and the GMO farms that supply them with animal feed are a disaster for the climate as well, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases, including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. The grasslands that support grass-fed beef, on the other hand, if grazed properly, sequester CO2 from the air and put it in the soil, while drastically reducing or eliminating altogether methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

It’s time to stop fighting among ourselves about whether or not to eat meat. Americans need to boycott all factory farmed meat and animal products. Period.

Beyond boycotting CAFO products, if consumers care about their health and the health of the planet, we need to reduce our consumption of sustainable grass-fed animal products to approximately three or four ounces a day (not nine ounces a day, the current average).

We are what we eat. We must get rid of factory farms and put the Earth’s billions of confined farm animals back outside on the land, grazing and foraging, where they belong.

***

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

A pilgrimage towards a nonviolent relationship with soil

I have just returned from a soil pilgrimage undertaken to celebrate the International Year of Soil and renew our commitment to a non-violent relationship with the earth, the soil and our society. On October 2, we started the pilgrimage from Bapu Kutir at Sevagram Ashram, Maharashtra. My fellow pilgrims were those who have contributed over half-a-century of their lives to build the organic movement — Andre Leu, president of International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM), Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) of the United States, and Will Allen, a professor and long-time organic farmer.

At Mahatma Gandhi’s hut, we took a pledge to stop the violence to the soil through chemical fertilisers and poisons and promote organic farming as ahimsa kheti. We dedicated ourselves to a transition from a violent, chemical, industrial agriculture that is destroying soil fertility and trapping farmers in debt through high-cost seeds and chemicals.

Vidarbha, for example, has emerged as the epicentre of debt-induced farmers’ suicides. It is also the region with the highest acreage of genetically modified organism (GMO) Bt cotton. Fields of non-Bt, native cotton — which is totally pest and weed-free — gives more yields than Bt cotton.

The Bt fields are being doused in pesticides because of pest outbreaks, since Bt is failing as a tool to control pests. Bt cotton fields are also being sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup, a known carcinogen to control weeds.

There is no regulation of the poisons being used. Most of the GMO cotton seed is being blended and labelled for sale as vegetable oil. We are being fed GMO cotton seed oil, even though GMOs are not allowed in food in India. And while toxic oils spread without regulation, the new food safety rules have shut down the ghani (virgin oil press) that sold healthy and safe oils like flax, groundnut, sesame and mustard.

The oilcake is being fed to our cows. Those who kill others in the name of cow protection are silent on the fight against the toxic giants who are poisoning our “gau mata”.

The pilgrimage concluded at the Agriculture College, Indore, which started as Albert Howard’s institute on organic farming that contributed to the famous Indore process of composting.

Mahatma Gandhi came to know of the Indore process when he visited London to attend the Round Table Conference. Gandhi and Howard have shown that we can have a peaceful and respectful relationship with the soil and with each other.

Howard was sent to India in 1905 by the British Empire to introduce chemical farming. When he arrived, he found the soils were fertile and there were no pests in the fields. He decided to make the Indian peasant his professor and wrote the book An Agricultural Testament, known as the bible of organic farming.

Organic farming is the original example of “Make in India”. Howard’s book helped spread the organic movement to the US through the Rodale Institute and to the UK through the Soil Association, finding its way to far corners of the world.

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The soil pilgrimage was our expression of gratitude to sources of organic farming in India — our fertile and generous land and Mother Earth that have sustained us for millennia.

Ecological and regenerative agriculture is based on recycling organic matter, and hence recycling nutrients. It is based on the Law of Return — giving nutrients back to the soil. As Howard wrote in The Soil and Health: “Taking without giving is a robbery of the soil and a banditry; a particularly mean form of banditry, because it involves the robbing of future generations which are not here to defend themselves.”

In taking care of the soil, we also produce more food on less land. Fertile soils are the sustainable answer to food and nutrition security. Organic agriculture is the only real answer to climate change.

The air pollution that has built up in the atmosphere is roughly 400 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide today. This is the reason for the greenhouse effect and climate chaos, including temperature rise. To cap the rise of temperature at two degrees centigrade, we need to reduce the carbon build up in the air to 350 ppm.

There is a need to reduce emissions and phase out fossil fuels, but it also requires reducing the stocks of excess carbon from the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil where it belongs. Here, organic, regenerative agriculture offers us the way out.

In the process, it also addresses food insecurity and hunger, reverses desertification, creates livelihood security by creating ecological security, and, therefore, creates the path to peace.

Above all, it allows a transition from the violent paradigm, structures and systems of capitalist patriarchy to the non-violent paradigm, structures and systems based on ahimsa, which include the well being of all.

Organic farming is the answer to drought and climate change. It is also a peace solution. If we do not respect the soil and our cultural diversity and if we do not collectively recommit ourselves to ahimsa, we can rapidly disintegrate as a civilisation.

For me, organic agriculture is the dharma that sows the seeds of peace and prosperity for all. It helps us break out of the vicious cycle of violence and degeneration, and create virtuous cycles based on non-violence and regeneration.

Just as humus in soil binds soil particles and prevents soil erosion, it also binds the society and prevents violence and social disintegration. Since humus provides food, livelihood, water and climate security, it also contributes to peace. Just as wet straw cannot be put on fire by a matchstick, communities that are secure cannot be put on fire by violent elements feeding on insecurity created by an economic model that is killing swadeshi and is only designed for global economic powers to extract what they want.

In taking care of the soil, we reclaim our humanity. Our future is inseparable from the future of the earth. It is no accident that the word human has its roots in humus — soil in Latin. And Adam, the first human in Abrahamanic traditions, is derived from Adamus, soil in Hebrew.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” We must never forget that ahimsa must be the basis of our relationship with the earth and each other.

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust.

Meet John D. Liu, the Indiana Jones of Landscape Restoration

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He’s known to some as the “Indiana Jones” of landscape degradation and restoration.

John D. Liu, ecosystem restoration researcher, educator and filmmaker, has dedicated his life to sharing real-world examples of once-degraded landscapes newly restored to their original fertile and biodiverse beauty. Liu is director of the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP), ecosystem ambassador for the Commonland Foundation and a visiting research fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

We recently sat down with Liu, the newest member of the Regeneration International (RI) Steering Committee. In this interview, Liu walks us through large-scale ecosystem restoration projects in China and Rwanda. We learn that when humans work with nature, degraded landscapes can be restored in a matter of years, and economies can be regenerated, putting food security and climate change mitigation within our reach.

In order to survive as a species, Liu explains, humanity must shift from commodifying nature to ‘naturalizing’ our economy.

Interview with John D. Liu, February 4, 2016

RI: What is the significance of the Paris Agreement, reached at the COP21 Climate Summit in December (2015), for the pioneers, such as yourself, of the landscape restoration movement?

Liu: There is now recognition of soil carbon, which was not the case in the past. The best and perhaps only way for humanity to massively affect carbon disequilibrium in the atmosphere is to restore natural ecological function of soils through the restoration of biomass, biodiversity and accumulated organic matter.

One of the things that I have been learning about, and that has most impressed me, is the difference between natural systems, which have huge organic layers, and human systems, which are massively degraded and actually have lost their organic material.

In Paris, we’ve started to turn the corner. Instead of just talking about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we’re now seeing [climate change] spoken about as a holistic problem. When you see it holistically, you find out that CO2 and GHG emissions are a symptom of systematic dysfunction on a planetary scale… Human impact on the climate is not simply emissions; it is degradation.

There is a way forward. That is why I am so excited about the early work I did in the Loess Plateau and in Ethiopia, Rwanda and other countries. When you increase organic matter, you increase biomass and you protect biodiversity. You get a completely different result than if you just totally destroy those systems. So I don’t think that the political agreements go far enough, but they are starting to reflect reality, which is better than before.

RI: In Paris, RI encountered skepticism about the potential power of regenerative agriculture and landscape restoration to restore climate stability and feed the world. Can you tell us about your experience with the Loess Plateau restoration project in China and how it impacted your perspective on the potential of restoration?

Liu: There was a moment in the mid-1800s when Thomas Malthus reported that the rate of agricultural increase was happening arithmetically while human population growth was logarithmic. He posited huge famine and this pushed the development of industrial agriculture. But what I’ve seen is that this is based on huge assumptions and those assumptions are basically false. If you think that you can get higher productivity by reducing hydrological function, or the natural fertility in the land or the biodiversity of a biome then you are just sadly mistaken. You can get higher yields of monocultures for a short time but you ultimately destroy the basic fundamental viability of the entire system. So you are creating deserts. This is what happened in the Loess Plateau and this is what happened in every cradle of civilization.

It isn’t inevitable that human beings degrade these systems; we simply have to understand them. It is our understanding, our consciousness of these systems that determines what they look like. What I’ve noticed is that degraded landscapes are coming from human ignorance and greed. If you change that scenario to one of consciousness and generosity, you get a completely different outcome. And that is where we have to go, where we need to go. We are required to understand this. We have to act now as a species on a planetary scale. This has to become common knowledge for every human being on the planet. This has been our mission for the past 20-some years.

RI: Apart from the ecosystem benefits, the Loess Plateau project also helped lift 2.5 million people in four of the poorest provinces in China out of poverty. Is that correct?

Liu: Well, there are different ways to look at it because the Loess Plateau project influenced more than just the project areas. It changed national policy. Some of the negative behaviors, such as slope farming, tree cutting or free ranging of goats and sheep—behaviors that were devastating to biodiversity, biomass and organic material—were banned nationwide because of the work done on the Loess Plateau.

Landscape restoration does not only change ecological function, it changes the socio-economic function and when you get down to it, it changes the intention of human society. So if the intention of human society is to extract, to manufacture, to buy and sell things, then we are still going to have a lot of problems. But when we generate an understanding that the natural ecological functions that create air, water, food and energy are vastly more valuable than anything that has ever been produced or bought and sold, or anything that ever will be produced and bought and sold – this is the point where we turn the corner to a consciousness which is much more sustainable.

RI: It’s almost as if a global paradigm shift is needed to start accounting for nature in the economy. ‘Naturalizing’ the economy as you would say.

Liu: We have to be very careful not to commoditize nature. We need to naturalize the economy. What this means to me is that natural ecological functions are more valuable than ‘stuff.’ When we understand that, then the economy is based on ecological function. And that is exactly what we need in order to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to ensure food security, and to give every individual on the planet equal human rights. Suddenly we are in another paradigm. It’s similar to the shift from flat earth to round earth paradigm.

We need to realize that there is no ‘us and them.’ There is just us. There is one earth and one humanity. We have to act as a species on a planetary scale because we will all be affected by climate change. We have to come together to decide: What do we know? What do we understand? What do we believe as a species?

RI: Tell us about your work in Rwanda.

Liu: Rwanda is an interesting case study because of the 1994 genocide. This sort of a situation is ground zero. It is a reset. Every family, every person was affected. In 2006, I was invited to Rwanda by the British government and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). What I saw in my travels were bare hillsides, erosion and sediment loads in river systems. I presented my findings to the president, prime minister, parliament, cabinet, ministries of environment and agriculture, universities and press. We put films on TV. I explained each of these natural systems and what you have to do to correct it. And at the same moment in time, everyone in Rwanda was talking about ecological function.

Several weeks later, the government wrote me a letter saying thank you for coming to Rwanda to share your experiences. Then they wrote me a second letter, in which  they said we believe you and we’re rewriting our land use policy laws to reflect that economic development in Rwanda must be based on ecological function.

The measures Rwanda has taken have led to regeneration. They had food security when there was famine in East Africa. They have had increasing use of renewable energies and lessening of dependence on fossil fuels. If human beings can go to hell yet they can somehow come back and work to build a fair, equitable and sustainable society, that is a good thing. We need to watch carefully how Rwanda develops, as a lesson for the world.

RI: Can you tell us about the widespread detrimental impacts that industrial agriculture is having, particularly with regards to loss of biodiversity? Why is biodiversity essential to sustain life as we know it?

Liu: Evolutionary trends favor more biodiversity, more organic matter. The industrial or degenerative agriculture model favors less biodiversity, less biomass, less organic matter. This disrupts photosynthesis, hydrological regulation and moisture, temperature and it artificially elevates evaporation rates. Industrial agriculture sterilizes soil with UV radiation. It is just wrongheaded.

Humans went down the wrong path. But once we begin to understand these evolutionary trends, we understand that we have to get back in alignment with them. That is where regenerative agriculture and landscape restoration come in. We’ve seen the results at large scale and we’ve seen them on a smaller scale. This is the way forward for sequestration of carbon, this is the way forward for fertile healthy soils, this is the way forward for food security this is the way forward for meaningful work for everyone. We understand this. This is the basis of wealth and sustainability for humanity.

RI: If there were one behavior or habit of humans that you could magically change, what would it be?

Liu: It is clear right now that economics is driving today’s problems. There are a lot of assumptions in economics that are simply false. Economics now says that extraction, manufacturing, buying and selling can create wealth. This is bullshit. We are creating poverty by doing this. We are creating degradation of the landscapes. So few people in a tiny minority are accumulating vast material possessions in this system, while billions of people are living in abject poverty at the edges of large degraded ecosystems. Others can no longer even stay in their homes, and millions of people are migrating to escape from the horrible conditions. Well this cannot work. This must change.

What I have noticed is that ecological function is vastly more valuable that extraction, production, consumption, and buying and selling things. What we really need to understand is: “What is money?” If I were going to leave one thing for the people to think about it is this: What is money? What is it? It is basically a storehouse of value, a means of exchange, and a trust mechanism. That means it is an abstract concept; it can be anything that we want it to be. If we say that money comes from ecological function instead from extraction, manufacturing buying and selling, then we have a system in which all human efforts go toward restoring, protecting and preserving ecological function. That is what we need to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to ensure food security, to ensure that human civilizations survive. Our monetary system must reflect reality. We could have growth, not from stuff, but growth from more functionality. If we do that and we value that higher than things, we will survive.

***

Alexandra Groome is Campaign & Events Coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

A Message from Paris: We Can Reverse Global Warming

“Humanity stands at the edge of an abyss. We have destroyed the planet, its biodiversity, our water and the climate, and through this destruction, we have destroyed the ecological context for our survival as a species. Ecological destruction and resource grab are generating conflicts, which are being accelerated into full-blown wars and violence. A context of fear and hate is overtaking the human imagination. We need to sow the seeds of peace—peace with the earth and each other, and in so doing, create hope for our future—as one humanity and as part of one Earth community.” – Vandana Shiva, Terra Viva, Pact for the Earth

November 26, 2015

Twenty-three years after the first United Nations Earth/Climate Summit in 1992, in the wake of a savage terrorist attack on November 13 that traumatized Europe, a multinational contingent of activists and stakeholders are gathered here for the COP 21 Climate Summit. A growing number of us here in Paris are determined to change the prevailing gloom and doom conversation on climate, and instead focus on practical solutions. Frustrated by the slow pace of global efforts to address climate change, angered by the “business-as-usual” arrogance of Big Oil, King Coal, industrial agribusiness and indentured politicians, a critical mass of the global grassroots appears ready to step up the pace and embrace a new solutions-based message and strategy that we in the organic movement call Regeneration.

Ten thousand of us took to the streets of Paris on November 28, peacefully defying the government ban on street demonstrations. I, along with a delegation of North American and Latin American Regeneration activists, joined the protest, holding hands with our French and European comrades in a human chain stretching for miles. Our section of the animated chain, punctuated with colorful homemade signs, T-shirts and banners, was designated “Solutions.” Lined up at the corner of Boulevard Voltaire and Allée du Philosophe, our boisterous group’s most popular chant, repeated over and over again in Spanish, English and French, drawing smiles and thumbs-up reactions from Parisians on the streets, was “El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido” (“The people united will never be defeated).”

Standing at the crossroads of a climate Apocalypse, a growing consensus appears to be emerging: We must not only phase out Big Oil, King Coal and industrial food and farming, and stop polluting the already supersaturated atmosphere and the oceans with additional greenhouse gases, but we must also strip out or draw down approximately 200 billion tons of excess CO2 already blanketing the atmosphere. And we must do this utilizing proven, “shovel-ready” regenerative organic farming and land use practices.

As of today, December 3, more than 50 national governments, activist organizations and stakeholder organizations (including the Organic Consumers Association and our Mexico affiliate, Via Organica) have signed on to the French government’s “4 Per 1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate” declaration. The declaration emphasizes that agriculture, and agricultural soils in particular, can play a crucial role in reversing global warming and increasing global food security.

Based on a growing body of farming practices and scientific evidence, the French government’s Initiative invites all partners to declare or to implement practical programs for carbon sequestration in soil and for the types of farming methods used to promote it (e.g. agroecology, agroforestry, conservation agriculture and landscape management). According to Andre Leu, president of IFOAM Organics International, the French Initiative on sequestering atmospheric carbon in soils via regenerative ag practices is “historic, marking the first time that international climate negotiators and stakeholders have recognized the strategic imperative of transforming and regenerating our global food and farming system in order to reverse global warming.”

Zero emissions are necessary, but not enough

Rejecting the standard discourse of 350.org and other climate groups that promote a tunnel-vision focus on “zero emissions by 2050” as the sole solution to stave off runaway global warming and climate catastrophe, a growing corps of Regenerators here in Paris, under the banner of “Refroidir la Planète” (“Cool the Planet”) and “Alimenter le Monde” (“Feed the World’) have begun to build a Regeneration International movement.

This movement is inspired by the practices of thousands of organic farmers, holistic ranchers, pastoralists and indigenous communities across the globe who are demonstrating that truly regenerative farming, grazing, forestry and land use practices, scaled up globally, sequestering in some cases up to 5-10 tons of carbon per acre per year,  literally have the potential to reverse global warming. The co-benefits of this massive recarbonization and regeneration of the soil, grasslands and forests include: reducing rural poverty, improving plant and animal health and food quality, increasing natural water storage in soils, building crop resilience restoring public health, and last, but not least, reducing global strife.

For those who have never heard of regenerative organic food, farming and land use, here’s a short fact sheet (pdf) and a longer annotated bibliography. This new Regeneration paradigm is based on the biological fact that healthy soils, grasslands and forests can literally draw down, through enhanced plant photosynthesis, enough excess carbon from the atmosphere to bring us back to pre-industrial levels of 280 parts per million of CO2.

As IFOAM states in a handout this week at the Paris Climate Summit: “We need to Reverse Climate Change—not just slow it down.” IFOAM goes on to explain:

We need to do more than just stop the increase in greenhouse gas emissions… We also have to drawdown the excess CO2 in the atmosphere to return the climate to the level where it should be—the pre-industrial level. Soils are the greatest carbon sink after the oceans, and hold significantly more carbon than the atmosphere and biomass combined. There is a growing body of published science indicating that regenerative farming systems, including organic agriculture, can strip significant amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester it into the soil as soil organic matter. The co-benefits of this regeneration include greater resilience to adverse weather events… better adaptation to climate change… and food security… Regenerative organic farming is based upon current good practices and is a low-cost, shovel-ready solution that does not require untested, potentially catastrophic, hugely expensive geoengineering or carbon capture and storage technologies.

IFOAM’s leaflet goes on to point out that regenerative farming and land use practices are not being put forward as a substitute for stopping fossil fuel emissions, but rather as an essential complementary strategy that is absolutely necessary: “Soil carbon sequestration… and eliminating food and farming emissions… cannot be used to justify continued greenhouse gas pollution… or business as usual… We need to reverse climate change, not just sustain current greenhouse gas levels.”

Regenerating the body politic: connecting the dots for a new “Movement of Movements”

 Global Regeneration requires a revolution, not only in our thinking, but in our heretofore tunnel vision, “my issue is more important than your issue,” “my constituency is more important than your constituency,” model of grassroots organizing. Disempowed, 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. We need to move beyond mere mitigation or sustainability concepts that simply depress or demobilize people to a bold new global strategy of Regeneration.

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.

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. As indicated above, the most encouraging development at the Climate Summit here in Paris is that a growing number of countries and activist networks are endorsing the French government’s .4% Initiative to pay farmers to move away from the climate destructive practices of industrial agriculture and to sequester carbon in their soils. But in order to truly 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 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.

Here are four things you can do to join the Regeneration Movement.

(1) Change the climate conversation in your local community or in your local organization from doom and gloom to one of positive solutions, based upon the Regeneration perspective.  Join our Regeneration International Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/regenerationinternational) Publicize and share strategic articles, videos and best practices. If you need to study up on how soil sequestration works, read and re-read this pamphlet (https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/soil-carbon-restoration-can-biology-do-job) and go through the major articles in our annotated bibliography (https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/regenerative-agriculture-annotated-bibliography)

(2) Join or help organize a local or regional Regeneration working group. If you’re ready to become a Regeneration organizer send an email to info@regenerationinternational.org

(3) Boycott “degenerate” foods. Regenerate your health and your diet. Get ready to join OCA and Regeneration International’s soon-to-be-announced global campaign and boycott against Monsanto, factory farms, GMO animal feeds, biofuels and so-called “Climate-Smart Agriculture.” One of the most important things you can do today and every day is to buy and consume organic, grass-fed, locally produced, climate friendly foods.

(4) Help organize and plan regeneration conferences and meetings. Make your plans now to attend our Regeneration International global climate and biodiversity Summit in Mexico City December. 1-3, 2016.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association http://www.organicconsumers.org/ (U.S.) and Via Organica http://viaorganica.org/ (Mexico) and a member of the Regeneration International org steering committee. He wrote this from the COP 21 Climate Summit, Paris, France, December 3, 2015

 

IFOAM Organics International: Why the French “4 Per 1000” Initiative?

France officially launches the “4 per 1000 Initiative” to combat climate change and feed the world through regenerative agriculture.

This video features Stéphane Le Foll, the French Minister of Agriculture and Andre Leu, President of IFOAM Organics International explaining the importance of the French “4 per 1000” Initiative to reverse climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil.

Check out the latest updates on the “4 per 1000” Initiative.

Watch More Videos on Regeneration International’s YouTube Channel