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[Edit: I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this piece and especially to those who have shared their opinions. I forgot to mention, like I usually do, that I live in Finland. I am 6 hours ahead of EST at the moment (soon to be 7 again) and after replying to a few more comments, I will have to sign off for a while to attend to other matters. Enjoy your Sunday!]
[Edit 2: Just wanted to say thank you to everyone for sharing their opinions, I'll do one last run through the comments and see which ones I want to address. Then that will be that.]
[Edit 3: So I've scrolled through the comments this morning just to see how things went overnight. I won't be engaging with any more comments besides the small handful I just left. What a way to * all over my diary comment thread you all.]
The same way that livestock do not automatically degrade the environment, opposing GMOs does not automatically equate to an antiscience position. Quite frankly, the sheer number of absolutist positions on this website is beginning to drive me away.

I will admit that in the past, I was opposed to GMOs entirely, without equivocation. I even peddled my fair share of fear mongering anti-GMO memes. In the past year or so, I have moderated my position.

I no longer oppose all GMOs. I would rather see that each proposed genetically modified organism be properly assessed for its impact on our health and the environment. That said, I still oppose almost every GMO in food production or forestry.


Because GMOs address symptoms of at best poor, but oftentimes destructive, land use practices. GMOs do not target the root causes of the symptoms. Instead, they are marketed to the general public as a wonder-tech that will somehow overcome the failures of poor management. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow into the industry, dollars that we are constantly reminded are limited in number...

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Cowspiracy- the Sustainability Secret, a documentary ostensibly exploring the effects of livestock on the environment was released seven months ago. Somehow, perhaps due to being an expatriate, I missed the hoopla it generated.

Reviews normally have a short shelf life. After the initial furor has subsided, the public generally moves on to the next hot topic. Recognizing this reality, but still wanting to share my thoughts on the film and its themes, I have opted to write a detailed response rather than a review.

Cowspiracy is more than just a documentary seeking to break the silence of environmental organizations on these issues. The conclusion of the film has nothing to do with reforming these membership-driven organizations.  Instead, a panacea is offered: global adoption of a vegan lifestyle as "the only way to sustainably and ethically live on this planet with 7 billion other people." [-Kip Anderson 1:26:551 Emphasis added]

While the film's prime objective to reveal an unspoken masking of information about "animal agriculture" by well-known environmental NGO's is laudable, I was disheartened by the effort to build a case for vegan absolutism and the abandonment of focus on the "cowspiracy."

The film's absolutist position runs roughshod over nuance, presenting an exclusionary world-view as the only viable option. I believe that absolutism is almost always detrimental to public discourse. Over the years, I have made a conscious effort to temper my positions- not to meet in the middle- but to work with people who may not see eye to eye, but do share common cause.

That Cowspiracy would sink to absolutism, to the point where an interviewee, Mr. Howard Lyman, could state without a hint of objection: “You can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products [...] don’t call yourself an environmentalist [-Howard Lyman 1:16:42 Emphasis added]" hammered the final nail in the coffin of objectivity. This statement, taken in tandem with Mr. Andersen's closing remark, are the essence of barefaced absolutism.

For the sake of this diary, "vegan absolutism" is defined as the belief that veganism is "the only way to sustainably and ethically live on this planet."

1. Timestamps refer to my closest approximation of when the quotation appears in the film for those who wish double check my interpretation.

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Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 02:29 AM PDT

Are war crimes only for the defeated?

by FinchJ

Cross-posted from Humanitarian Left.
If so, what is the point of codifying them in the first place? Humiliation of the losing side?
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In an article up today over at The Guardian (in their infamous "Comment is Free" section), entitled "Why whale poo could be the secret to reversing the effects of climate change," Philip Hoare shares with his audience the recent studies that appear to reveal the global environmental engineering cetaceans could be capable of:

Not only do the nutrients in whale poo feed other organisms, from phytoplankton upwards – and thereby absorb the carbon we humans are pumping into the atmosphere – even in death the sinking bodies of these massive animals create new resources on the sea bed, where entire species exist solely to graze on rotting whale. There's an additional and direct benefit for humans, too. Contrary to the suspicions of fishermen that whales take their catch, cetacean recovery could "lead to higher rates of productivity in locations where whales aggregate to feed and give birth". Their fertilizing faeces here, too, would encourage phytoplankton which in turn would encourage healthier fisheries.
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(Cross posted from Permaculture News' forums. I usually don't cross post things, but this time I want to... well save time. I hope you all understand. I'll still check out the comments of course. I've also added some photographs just to make it a bit more appealing.)

Hey everyone,

It has been a very long time since I have posted anything here. I've been busy with a three month internship at an urban farming project in Helsinki, which is drawing to a close next week. I have a few different options ahead of me, but permaculture design remains at the heart of all of them.

20.5.2014 Kasavuori Espoo/Kauniainen, Finland.

Anyway, I thought I would share a talk I gave during an "Urban Farming School" day at the project. I had 45 minutes to explain some basic soil life, with an emphasis on mycorrhizal fungi and vermicompost. I exaggerated a bit with the percentage of plants that associate with mycorrhizae [estimates range from 80-95%] and made some other mistakes constantly (like calling them [mycorrhizae] all mushrooms even though I said that they aren't! [always]). Plus my body language was all rigid and wacky. But I think that adds to the fun?

[Hop across the intertwined worms for the remainder]

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Ray Archuleta, a conservation agronomist with the National Resource Conservation Service, spoke at the National Conference on Soil and Cover Crops in Omaha this year.

Ray delivered an authoritative and inspirational address to the conference about agroecology and the importance of holistic design in landscape management.

How do we learn from the more than 3 billion years of evolutionary knowledge embedded in nature when we observe a forest or prairie?

"It is covered 24/7, it is diverse, and they have animals in the system" -Ray Archuleta, conservation agronomist

Folks, this is agroecology going mainstream. This is everything we need going mainstream.

The UN knows it, governments know it, farmers are beginning to know it, but do you know it?

(Hint, spend some time with your favorite search engine and compare the returns for climate change & livestock versus returns for agroecology or agroforestry and get back to me on whether or not environmentalists are actually taking this seriously or not)

Some say that they don't need to know anything about farming, the land, or how human beings actually sustain their existence. They are wrong.

Changing the way we interact with the natural world- embracing it and working with it- will be the only way we can begin to regenerate this planet and solve the systemic problems of poverty, biodiversity loss, water shortages, and all the other plagues that stem from our culture of make believe.

The only way we will save ourselves is if people talk about this. If they spread the knowledge. If they embrace what innovative farmers, landholders, gardeners, and scientists have been demonstrating for decades now: diverse, integrated agroecosystems work. Acknowledging this may be difficult for some in environmental quarters due to the well-deserved abominable reputation CAFO operations have.

However, overcoming our instinctive disgust for an unethical, immoral, and unsustainable system is absolutely necessary if we are to embrace the polar opposite to those systems: agroecology. Agroecological systems work best when they are integrated with livestock. This has been demonstrated again, again, and again.

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What ties the threats of runaway climate change, biodiversity loss culminating in trophic collapse, increasing water scarcity, discrimination and intolerance, food insecurity leading to widespread malnutrition and hunger, and the malignant ennui burdening the minds of millions?

The answer, quite possibly, could be a combination of ecological boredom arising from an economic system which is rapidly destroying the biosphere we as a species depend upon.1

But while it is easy to heap the blame upon globalized financial capitalism, that answer may be all too simple.

Could the root cause of many of the enormous challenges facing humanity actually something else, something more ancient and nearly universal?

1. The concept of Ecological Boredom was brought to my attention while reading George Monbiot's columns preceding the release of his book Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding. You can find my attempt at a different kind of book review here on Daily Kos.

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This is going to be a short post this week because A) all weekend we have had a talkoot where I am interning and B) the content I am linking to is quite extensive. Talkoot does not exactly translate from Finnish, but it is basically when a community comes together to accomplish a task (usually laborious, much like a barn raising). We have been preparing the greenhouse and urban farm for winter and next years plans, so I have not had much time to write.

But, as you will see, perhaps my own writing this week will be rather unnecessary.

The quote from the title comes from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's Trade and Environmental Review 2013. This is the report that I had written as "under embargo" and did not have a link to for the last couple of weeks.1

Here is a quote from the Highlight tab regarding TER13:2

TER13, entitled Wake up Before it is Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate was released on 18 September 2013. More than 60 international experts have contributed their views to a comprehensive analysis of the challenges and the most suitable strategic approaches for dealing holistically with the inter-related problems of hunger and poverty, rural livelihoods, social and gender inequity, poor health and nutrition, and climate change and environmental sustainability - one of the most interesting and challenging subjects of present development discourse. [emphasis added]
Remember last week when I said that agroecology is the one field that is offering hope to combat and eliminate many of the ills we as humanity have been facing for a very long time now?

Well, here is a 300+ page report written by over 60 experts who are saying almost exactly that: if we adopt new methods of relating to the planet, we will see tremendous progress.

1. Those links have been fixed for a couple of days now. "Embargo" in UN speak means that it should not be quoted from in any media until the specified date.
2. UNCTAD TER 2013. Link. Click on "Full Report" to either view in your browser or you can "save as" to your hard drive.

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With increasing frequency, the global scientific and development community is extolling the "win win win" benefits of shifting human relationships with the planet towards agroecology. While now two years old, this report from the "UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food" had this to say about agroecology:1

“To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available,” says Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report, entitled “Agro-ecology and the right to food.”

“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live – especially in unfavourable environments,” he added.


“However, despite its impressive potential in realizing the right to food for all, agroecology is still insufficiently backed by ambitious public policies and consequently hardly goes beyond the experimental stage,” he points out. [emphasis added]

Even with all of the recent attention agroecology has been receiving, reporters of all stripes have been routinely ignoring developments in agroecology. I believe that the lack of coverage by those on the forefront of environmental reporting has much to do with the public's unfamiliarity with these issues. If environmentalists do not write about agroecology, what makes anyone expect that the corporate media will?

Two weeks ago, I challenged myself to write on a weekly basis to bring the hopeful message of agroecology to the Daily Kos community. Today marks the third such installation and will briefly look at the multitude of challenges that adopting agroecologcal methods has the possibility to reduce, eliminate, or even reverse. After reading, I believe that it will become all too clear why the corporate media cannot be trusted to bring this message forward to the public.

1. "UN expert makes case for ecological farming practices to boost food production, " UN News Centre, 8 March 2011

As always, I encourage readers to spend time with the material provided and think beyond what is commonly accepted.
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A recent article by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, co founder of the Institute of Science in Society (I-SIS), Paradigm Shift Urgently Needed In Agriculture – UN Agencies Call for an End to Industrial Agriculture & Food System, had this to say about agroecological restoration of land:1

Rehabilitation of degraded land has the potential to double the amount of agricultural land globally. As pointed out by David Pimental and Michael Burgess at Cornell University, New York [19], decades of unsustainable industrial agricultural practices have resulted in massive loss of top soil and land degradation. Worldwide, the 1.5 billion ha of land now under cultivation are almost equal in area to the amount that has been abandoned by humans since farming began. [emphasis added]
Regeneration of abandoned agricultural land- either for direct human use as intentional agroecosystems or, potentially, as rewilded areas- is shaping up to be, in my opinion, the greatest and most important work that humanity can undertake in an effort to accept our species' role and niche on earth.2

Unfortunately, when it comes to mainstream environmental reporting on climate change, land use, agriculture, and the future of our planet, agroecology is all too often left out of the picture. As stated last week, it is my goal to bring not only the overwhelmingly positive promise of agroecology to this community on a weekly basis, but also to speak about the role that livestock (of all kinds) play in these agroecosystems.

1. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Paradigm Shift Urgently Needed in Agriculture, reposted on Permaculture News. I-SIS has, and continues to be a voice  for "social responsibility and sustainable approaches in science." See About I-SIS for more information regarding this organization.
2. See: Introduction to Agroecology: "A Serengeti on Our Doorsteps"- George Monbiot and Rewilding the Earth for a brief background on the possibilities of Rewilding. I intend to revisit the subject again to clear up some of the issues surrounding my initial writing. Also see my diary on "Green Gold" for evidence of large-scale ecosystem regeneration.

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Is the changing climate we face today the result of human activity, or is it the result of cattle (Bos primigenius)?

Current environmentalist dogma declares that cattle, other livestock species (including chickens [Gallus gallus domesticus]), and ruminants in general are incompatible with a healthy ecosystem. Environmentalists routinely announce that science proves that a severe reduction in the number of livestock is absolutely necessary if we are to avoid climate disaster. It is also widely dismissed in these circles that livestock can actually play an integral role in regeneration of landscapes. The conclusion is that livestock always negatively impact the environment and that we must eliminate our consumption of any products derived from them.

Earlier this year I penned a few diaries on the subject of livestock and their relationship to the environment. The conclusion, based upon a wide body of evidence, is that livestock do not always have a deleterious effect on the environment and climate. In fact, when managed properly, livestock are essential to the health of agroecosystems.

This is what the UN had to say about these systems:

Small-scale farmers can double food production in a decade by using simple ecological methods, according to the findings of a new United Nations study released today, which calls for a fundamental shift towards agroecology as a poverty alleviation measure.

Agroecology applies ecological science to the design of agricultural systems that can help put an end to food crises and address climate-change and poverty. It enhances soils productivity and protects the crops against pests by relying on the natural environment such as beneficial trees, plants, animals and insects, according to the study. [emphasis added]

It is deeply disquieting to me to continue reading articles, diaries, and reports from environmentalists pronouncing livestock as a curse upon the earth. Rather than rightly decrying industrialized chemical agriculture (in all of its forms) and then offering multiple solutions, these dispatches continue to ignore the rapidly advancing field of agroecology. Environmentalist media should no longer deliberately disregard these advances.

It is, therefore, unconscionable for me to relent in bringing a more nuanced, hopeful, and inspiring message to this community.

From now on, in addition to my other writings on agroecology and permaculture, I will make it my mission to write weekly on the benefits of livestock integration into agroecosystems. I mean to do my best to dispel the false choices presented to us by current environmentalist dogma.

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"[...] rewilding offers a positive environmentalism. Environmentalists have long known what they are against; now we can explain what we are for. It introduces hope where hope seemed absent. It offers us a chance to replace our silent spring with a raucous summer." -George Monbiot emphasis added1

At first glance, rewilding and anything with the prefix "agro" would seem to be diametrically opposed to this goal. However, the concepts of rewilding and agroecology share the same fate: for either to become the "new normal," the other must be embraced. They are mutually reinforcing, revolutionary concepts which are absolutely essential if humanity is going to accept responsibility for its collective actions and begin to clean up this planet and fix the natural cycles we have broken before it is too late.

In this diary, I want to share how George Monbiot's Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding regarding his quest to alleviate his "ecological boredom" is not just an isolated case, how rewilding relates to agroecology, and how- taken together- the two concepts will be the foundation upon which a regenerative future must be built.2

Now that I have successfully talked up a high order, I want to encourage you to engage with my previous work here, as well as checking out the "Additional Resources" I have provided, for things I may have missed or for more detailed information.

1. A Manifesto for Rewilding the World, George Monbiot. Permaculture News. 28.05.2013.
2. George Monbiot also delivered a spirited talk on his book for 5x15, here. Time stamps refer to this talk. 5x15 Stories is presented in association with The Week.

Update: matching mole has brought to my attention that references 8 & 9 do not fully support the claims being made. I want the readers to know that in exchange for brevity (at the time of writing), I did not include the other references made in Feral for the interrelated actions of cetaceans acting as nutrient pumps and their effects on nutrient cycling. I also want to mention that much of what I write about requires piecing together recent findings to develop a holistic perspective of how these systems function. I recognize in doing so that many of those trained in the sciences will have their issues with drawing conclusions and connections. I encourage readers to stay skeptical, but to also engage with many of the topics I have raised here and elsewhere to get a bigger picture. Particularly when it comes to the sea and the concept of shifting baselines.
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