I have to admit, I'm very frustrated. I'm frustrated because we have an easy, totally possible solution in sight for reducing emissions and sequestering carbon via agriculture, and it doesn't look like anyone's interested in doing it. Scratch that statement actually. LOTS of people are interested in doing it. Multinational corporations aren't interested in doing it, and as a result, powerful nations like our own aren't interested in doing it.
Put very simply, there are two ways to grow food:
Method #1: Let nature do the heavy lifting. Nourish the microbes in the soil (and larger soil life too like earthworms and bugs) and they will do the work for you. They will bring nutrients to the plants, compete with and prey on pests, and make the soil the right texture to hold and absorb water. If there's a lot of rainfall, that rain will be able to trickle all the way down into the groundwater. The soil will hold water too, so if there's a drought, you'll have reserves of water to help you out. This form of agriculture is superior in its ability to resist heat, cold, drought, flood, pests, and disease - AND it puts more nutrients in the food.
Method #2: Kill all of the soil life and replace its functions with man-made technologies like pesticides, fertilizer, tilling, and irrigation. The only problem here is that we don't perfectly understand what all of the soil microorganisms do, so it's hard to recreate their functions. Furthermore, where we do understand what we do, we can't always recreate their functions perfectly, and we can't always do it without harmful side effects like pollution.
Here's the catch - and you can guess how this is playing out in Copenhagen - Method #1, if used on all of the world's cropland, has the ability to sequester 40% of the world's carbon emissions. Method #2 is really, really, really profitable for a lot of corporations.
When you use Method #2, which I will refer to as Industrial Ag, you often buy your seeds, you definitely buy your petroleum-based fertilizer unless you have a big bunch of manure handy, and you also buy pesticides. You might need to pay to irrigate (if not for the water, then for the electricity), and you need to use a lot of oil to operate your farm machinery.
When you use Method #1, which I will refer to as Agroecological Ag (i.e. using ecology to grow food), you don't need to buy so much stuff. You might still buy seeds. In fact, you might need to buy more seeds because now you need to plant cover crops that will fix nitrogen into the soil (in place of the petroleum-based fertilizer you're no longer using). You still need some oil, but you need a LOT LESS of it. 2/3 less, actually. You don't need petroleum-based fertilizer or pesticides anymore. Hopefully you can use natural rainfall instead of irrigation. In short, there are a number of large, powerful companies who have just lost your business. (Note: Synonyms for Agroecological Ag include Organic, Sustainable, or Regenerative Ag... each has their own nuances in their meanings, but they are used frequently as synonyms.)
And THAT, my friends, is the problem right there. It all comes down to money, plain and simple. Enormous multinational corporations like Monsanto, DuPont, Exxon Mobil, etc, don't want to lose the business of an entire nation of farmers. In fact, they want quite the opposite. They are looking to nations that still do not use their products (mostly in Africa) and they see new markets. They see a potential to make MORE money by expanding industrial ag to places where it does not yet exist.
These corporations actually have a very clever line about why we shouldn't switch to agroecological methods. They say, "Well, it's a nice idea, but you can't feed the world that way! Do you want people to starve?" And, as good liberals, we say NO, of COURSE we don't want people to starve. It's like holding a gun to our heads. Buy our products or else people will starve! There's another way they say this too. They say "If you go all organic, you need to use more land to grow the same amount of food." The CEO of the biotech firm Syngenta made news for saying this a week or two ago. He was asked if organics were better for the environment and he said no, they are actually WORSE because they require 30% more land to grow the same amount of food and that results in deforestation. That's a lie.
Here's the truth about that. First of all, we won't starve. Scientists found that if the entire world switched to agroecological methods using only the land cultivated now, we could produce enough food to feed everybody and we could even feed a growing global population. They also found that we'd have enough nitrogen to grow food agroecologically. In the U.S. where we use a lot of agrochemicals, we'd see a very slight decrease in productivity. However, in the developing world, where they DON'T use very many chemicals to grow their food, they would see an 80% INCREASE in the amount of food produced.
The other thing to note is that growing more food will not by itself end world hunger. How do we know this? Because we've already tried and it didn't work. In the past 50 or so years, we've increased the amount of food produced per capita, yet hunger went UP. The reason is because we have consolidated ownership of the means of production, squeezing out the smallholders who were struggling to feed themselves in the first place. They've had to move to even more marginal land, land that is going to be the first to suffer from the effects of the climate crisis, and that makes them even LESS able to feed themselves.
In other cases, we've sold smallholders industrial farming inputs like hybrid or GMO seeds, petroleum-based fertilizer, and pesticides. That worked for a little while until it didn't work anymore (that's the very definition of unsustainable!). Part of the problem was environmental, and part of it was social/economic/governmental. In the past, farmers were given free seeds and later they were told to buy them. Or in the past, farmers were protected by trade barriers and then their governments joined the WTO and made them compete on the world market.
So those are the true causes of hunger in the world, and the climate crisis is making it worse. The U.S. has indicated it would agree to limiting temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius, but climate scientists say that a 2 degree increase worldwide means a 3.5 degree increase in Africa. Africans are calling that a death sentence, as it would severely limit their ability to produce food on a continent that already suffers from epidemic hunger. The less developed countries are calling for limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Meanwhile, the U.S. (and multinational corporations) say that the answer to world hunger is increasing crop yields via industrial ag. As I've noted, we've tried that and it doesn't work. But also - that would result in increasing climate change, not decreasing it. Agroecological methods of farming can sequester carbon into the soil at the rate of 1% per year, whereas industrial methods deplete carbon from the soil at the rate of 1% per year. I think it's obvious which direction we need to go in.
And THEN there's the whole topic of factory farmed meat and its contributions to the climate crisis (an estimated 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the FAO). That's actually connected to this same topic of growing crops, as the result of our enormous monoculture farms of corn and soybeans are cheap inputs for factory farms and the large quantities of meat they churn out for us to eat. But I'll have to save that for a later day.
At this point, I hope you are as angry and as frustrated as I am. The answers are there, they are easy, and they are possible. They just aren't what we're doing.
There are actually 2 action alerts available right now from the Organic Consumers Association on this very topic:
If you wish to continue following this issue, I invite you to do so on my blog. We cover a wide range of topics on there, from Copenhagen and climate change to food safety to backyard chickens to sophisticated French cooking (thanks to Asinus Asinum Fricat). In short, anything related to food and agriculture is fair game. However, this topic - the profiteering of multinational corporations at the expense of our environment, our health, and our very ability to exist on this planet - is a particular concern of mine and I do cover it regularly.
Climate Change Reality Blogathon: Dedicated to our dear friend Steve of JohnnyRook's Climaticide Chronicles
4:00a A Siegel, Climate Change Reality: THE Progressive Crisis
7:00a Senator Jeff Merkley, Climate Change Reality: The Stakes in Copenhagen
8:00a Senator John Kerry, Climate Change Reality: The Senate Debate
9:00a Pete Altman, Climate Change Reality: The Voices of Reason are Prevailing over ClimateGate
4:00a A Siegel
9:00a Pete Altman
10:00a Keith Schneider
10:30a Jean-Pascal van Ypersele
12:00p Daniel J Kessler
1:00p Mike MacCracken
2:00p Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse
3:00p Bruce Nilles