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By Ronnie Cummins. This article was first published on Organic Consumers.
“It is easy to forget that once upon a time all agriculture was organic, grassfed and regenerative. Seed saving, composting, fertilizing with manure, polycultures, no-till and raising livestock entirely on grass—all of which we associate today with sustainable food production—was the norm in the ‘old days’ of merely a century ago, not the exception as it is now. Somehow, back then we managed to feed ourselves and do so in a manner that followed nature’s model of regeneration.
“We all know what happened next: the plow, the tractor, fossil fuels, monocrops, nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, feedlots, animal byproducts, e. coli, CAFOs, GMOs, erosion, despair—practices and conditions that most Americans today think of as ‘normal,’ when they think about agriculture at all.
“Fortunately, a movement to rediscover and implement ‘old’ practices of bygone days has risen rapidly, abetted by innovations in technology, breakthroughs in scientific knowledge, and tons of old-fashioned, on-the-ground problem-solving.” – Courtney White, The Carbon Pilgrim, Nov. 16, 2014
A critical mass of climate scientists have warned us repeatedly that we must reduce the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere to 350 parts-per-million (ppm) in order to preserve life on Earth.
Unfortunately the business-as-usual behavior of out-of-control corporations, indentured politicians and hordes of mindless consumers, continues to lead to billions of tons of CO2 and greenhouse gases (GHGs) being pumped into our already (398 ppm) supersaturated atmosphere and ocean. By the time major reductions in fossil fuel use take effect—in 20 years, if we’re lucky—it could be too late. By then, we will likely have reached 450 ppm or more, approaching the point of no return, where serious climate instability morphs into climate catastrophe.
While climate scientists sound their alarms on the global warming front, agronomists and hunger experts warn of equally catastrophic events. They tell us that unless we embark on a global campaign to reduce the damages of industrial agriculture, restore soil fertility (especially on the 22 percent of potential arable lands now eroded or desertified), improve crop quality and food nutrition, and conserve water, we face increasing rural poverty, starvation, and permanent food and water wars, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where the majority of the world’s population live.
These looming disasters—climate catastrophe, and rural poverty, starvation, and food and water wars—are not entirely unrelated. And neither are their solutions.
We can reverse (not just mitigate) global warming. And while we’re at it, we can also restore soil fertility, eliminate rural poverty and hunger. We can do this by sequestering several hundred billion tons of excess CO2 from the atmosphere, using the traditional, time-tested tools we already have at hand: regenerative organic farming, ranching and land use.
What will it take to make this world-changing transition to a livable Earth?
First, we need to change the climate discussion from the one presently centered narrowly on fossil fuel emissions and reductions, to one that is also focused on carbon sequestration. Next, we need a global, supercharged grassroots movement. This will mean mobilizing a vast corps of farmers, ranchers, gardeners, consumers, climate activists and conservationists—North and South—to begin the monumental task of moving the Carbon Behemoth safely back underground.
Changing the climate conversation
Up until now, too much of the discussion surrounding global warming and the climate crisis has been cloaked in gloom and doom. The fact is, we have the power to reverse, not just mitigate, global warming. Or, we should say, the world’s 2.8 billion small farmers and rural villagers, with the cooperation of conscious consumers, have that power.
We know, from a critical mass of scientific data, that the qualitatively enhanced plant photosynthesis which is a byproduct of regenerative organic farming, ranching and land use practices, can remove several hundred billion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and safely store this carbon where it belongs, in the living soil.
If we implement regenerative agriculture practices on a global scale, we can buy the time we need to reduce fossil fuel use by 80-90 percent over the next few decades. At the same time, we can also reverse rural global poverty and deteriorating public health.
Our immediate task therefore is to spread this profound message of hope and agricultural transformation, framing the regenerative organic solution appropriately for each country, each region, each continent, and ultimately each person. What this means in practice is that most regions, nations and people, including many climate change deniers, will respond more intensely or more positively to different frames or dimensions of our message.
For instance, those individuals or groups concerned about global warming will be interested in regenerative agriculture as a way to avert a climate disaster. Others, who are less focused on global warming, but consider themselves to be environmentalists, will respond more positively to our message that regenerative agriculture can preserve biodiversity, forests and the health of our oceans. The capacity of regenerative agriculture to restore soil fertility, protect crops from drought and other climate events, is a message that will pique the attention of farmers. While many communities, regions and nations may be more motivated by the message that regenerative agriculture practices can help reduce rural poverty, eliminate hunger and malnutrition and preserve water.
It’s not necessary that everyone, everywhere agrees 100 percent on all of the potential benefits of regenerative organics—that goal is neither practical nor necessary to building a movement. What is important is that we identify the different messages that will motivate different segments of the population, and then build upon our shared concerns. Through a diversity of messages and campaigns we can build the largest grassroots coalition in history—for our survival, and the survival of the future generations.
Where do we start? How do we build this global Movement? How do we change the climate discussion from one presently centered narrowly on fossil fuel emissions and reductions to one that is also focused on carbon sequestration? How do we supercharge the global grassroots and avert the impending climate catastrophe, mass starvation, resource depletion and endless wars?
Building a global grassroots movement
We don’t have the time or the space here for a full Manifesto and Global Plan of Action, but here are seven preliminary steps we need to take in 2015, The Year of the Soil.
1. Form Climate Solution/Carbon Underground working groups in each region, nation and continent. The purpose of these working groups will be to qualitatively broaden the discussion and connect the dots between the climate, natural health, food, farming, forestry, ocean, water, biodiversity, justice, peace and hunger movements so that we begin to acknowledge the common causal roots and solutions to our Global Crisis.
These working groups must not only steadily spread the message, utilizing mass media as well as alternative online media outlets, but must also begin to build alliances and coalitions, linking willing “live wire” activists, organizations, networks and campaigns (both online and on the ground) locally, regionally, nationally, and across continents. We will recruit our collaborators from the different farm, campesino, environmental, animal rights, natural health, organic, forest, justice, anti-war and climate movements, who are willing to connect the dots between all the issues, and address climate solutions, not just the problems. Working groups in every nation must consciously and deliberately recruit leading activists, writers, researchers and campaigners from all strategic sectors. While building new alliances, these groups will publicize, over and over again the transformational message that regenerative organic farming, ranching, and land use can not only reverse global warming and improve public health, but also begin to reverse rural poverty, hunger, increase soil fertility, farm animal health, farm productivity, biodiversity, and rural prosperity.
In addition to organizational allies, we will need to form scientific research and education groups in each region (as well as globally) to compile, translate, and distribute case studies and peer-reviewed articles, as well as popular education articles, videos, and social media posts for the general public.
2. Regionalize and globalize the Movement, building from current best practices in each region, nation and continent, and accelerating and publicizing regenerative organic farming, ranching, and land use projects in each area. The solution to global warming will involve, first and foremost, educating, supporting, funding and mobilizing the world’s 2.8 billion small farmers, ranchers, pastoralists and forest dwellers to adopt regenerative agricultural, forest and land use practices, with a priority on the regions of the world where soils and grasslands are most eroded and degraded, and in many cases where rural poverty is most serious.
To supercharge this Movement, global networks like Via Campesina, Consumers International, IFOAM, Savory Institute regional hubs, and relevant farm and indigenous organizations will need to cooperate, sharing best practices and technical advisors, supported by national and international organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Oxfam.
In the Americas, priority areas for sequestration include the Southwest and Western United States, Mexico, Central America and the most degraded soils of South America. Other priority areas will include most of Africa and Asia, especially India and North China.
3. Wage a multi-faceted global public education campaign starting with the UN Declaration of 2015 as “The Year of the Soil.” This campaign should be designed to educate and mobilize the maximum number of people, given the different objective and subjective conditions in each region, nation, and continent. This will involve launching solidarity campaigns in every community, region, and nation, mobilizing resources from the United Nations, and national and regional governments, philanthropic organizations and businesses.
4. Launch a massive local-to-global campaign against factory farms and factory-farmed foods. This campaign must emphasize the mortal threats posed by Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which house about 70 percent of all farm animals on the Earth—threats to human health, the environment, climate stability, animal welfare, and small farmers, ranchers and forest dwellers.
We must use this campaign to develop public education, public policy reforms, and create mass-market rejection of factory farmed and industrially produced foods, in every region and nation, while creating mass- market demand for grass-fed, pastured, humanely produced meat and animal products, and locally and regionally produced organic grains, fruits and vegetables. Just as the global anti-GMO movement has demonized Monsanto and the genetic engineering industry, we must also demonize the largest consumer of Monsanto’s products—factory farms.
5. Join ranks with the climate movement to phase out fossil fuels ASAP. Replacing our industrial, energy- and toxic chemical-intensive modern food and farming system with regenerative, organic farming, ranching, forest, and wetlands restoration practices is the number one solution to not only mitigating, but reversing global warming and rural poverty and strife.
It is dangerous, disempowering and irresponsible to talk about eliminating greenhouse gas emissions and dismantling the fossil fuel industry without also talking about maximizing natural carbon sequestration through agro-ecological agriculture and regenerative land use practices. There’s no way we will ever get back to 350 ppm of CO2 without a global food, farming and land use revolution that literally sucks downs and sequesters in the soil 50-100 ppm of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, utilizing enhanced plant photosynthesis and regenerative grazing practices.
On the other hand, it is equally dangerous and irresponsible to pretend that regenerative organics can solve the climate and environmental crisis without taking down the Carbon Criminals and their Fossil Fuel Empire. We must all become climate activists, as well as regenerative food, farm and forest activists. We must work together to drastically reduce fossil fuel use; to implement fundamental energy conservation policies in the housing, transportation, utilities and industrial sectors; to put an end to destructive “extreme energy” extraction and export practices such as mountaintop removal, deep sea, tropical rainforest and arctic oil drilling, tar sands production, and fracking; and to convert as rapidly as possible to renewable forms of energy. Our literal survival depends upon uniting the climate, food, environmental and economic justice movements—both North and South.
6. Join ranks with local, region, national and international forest movements and the ocean conservation movements to stop the destruction of the Earth’s tropical, temperate, and boreal forests, as well as wetlands, surface waters and the oceans. Just as we must work with the global climate movement, we must also interface with and support local and global conservation movements. This will require connecting the dots, by emphasizing the destructive role modern industrial agriculture plays in deforestation and the pollution of surface and ground waters, and our oceans.
7. Unite with the natural health movement. Most experts agree that despite advances in modern medicine (or perhaps in part because of them), as a population, we face a serious health crisis. This is particularly apparent in western nations, where there is plenty of food—but much of that “food” is highly processed, nutrient-deficient junk food.
If there is one theme that unites every segment of the human population, it is that we want ourselves, and our families, to be healthy. Yet the food produced by our modern industrial agriculture system detracts from, rather than enhances, our health. By transitioning to organic, regenerative agriculture practices we can vastly improve our health and our financial well-being, by reducing obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, autism, and other chronic diseases, while at the same time reducing medical expenses globally by trillions of dollars.
The hour is late. We are facing the life or death challenge of our lives. Each and every one of us must join the global Movement to drastically reduce greenhouse emissions and move, as rapidly as possible, to a sustainable economy and agriculture based upon renewable energy and natural carbon sequestration.
We have no choice, ethically or existentially, but to expose, shame, and divest from the climate criminals, get rid of corrupt politicians, boycott offending companies and retrofit our profoundly non-sustainable transportation, housing, agriculture, military-industrial, and utilities infrastructure. We must all become climate hawks, peace activists, conscious consumers, environmental conservationists, and advocates for renewable energy.
But most important of all we must become advocates and campaigners for regenerative organic farming, ranching, and land use.
Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica.