Category Archives: Runaway Climate Change

The End of the Known World?

Tipping point:  “The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, tipping point, like the Chinese characters for crisis that combine danger and opportunity, describes where we are as a species. On the one hand, our climate is approaching a point of no return where it tips from ‘change’ — which is already evident, particularly in South Florida where I live — to ‘chaos’ about which we can only offer educated guesses, none of them good.  On the other hand, we have unprecedented opportunities to reverse the damage caused by capitalism gone rogue, and see the fruits of our effort in our lifetime, and/or in the lives of our children and theirs.

boiling-waterDon’t expect to find guidance in political promises that continue to insist we can have infinite growth on a finite planet. Generally, scientific papers do a better job in framing the problem than in pointing to solutions.  For some — my spouse and I, for example — the thing we can do is right under our feet: soil to be healed, food to be grown, and forests to be started.  We are enrolled in an introductory permaculture course this month at the renowned Mounts Botanical Garden, about which more later.

In Soil Not Oil, physicist/environmental activist/author, Vandana Shiva, builds a clear relationship between healthy soil and our survival as a species.  Could it really be that simple?   “Every step in building a living agriculture sustained by a living soil is a step toward both mitigating and adapting to climate change,” she writes.   James Hansen makes a similar urgent argument for sequestering carbon in the soil.  And Rodale Institute’s White Paper on regenerative agriculture points out:

Excess carbon in the atmosphere is surely toxic to life, but we are, after all, carbon-based life forms, and returning stable carbon to the soil is a tonic that can support ecological abundance.

What if we reject options like geothermal engineering or methods of extracting fuels from photosynthesis or seawater for the risky business they are.  What if enough of us put our attention on reclaiming land to plant trees and grow food? Where’s the downside?

As the documentary, Growing Cities, points out, Americans have reverted to this simple idea in times of crisis.  The Victory Gardens of World War II come to mind, and Michelle Obama’s anti-0besity campaign that includes a vegetable plot on the grounds of The White House.  Then, when ‘happy days are here again,’ we ‘forget’ how powerful these choices make us and surrender to the ease of supermarket shopping and Big Ag dominated food system.  The good news: skills may lie dormant, but they don’t go away.

One of the projects of Transition Totnes, the UK’s first Transition Town,  was to interview elders about their life experiences of an earlier, slower time.  People who grew up during the Depression and World War II are an ever-shrinking group now, but there are plenty of 70- and 80-somethings with good memories of growing up on a farm or living in small towns where everyone knew each other by name and often worked together in some common enterprise.

I am thinking about the series of interviews FAU professor and performance artist, Sherryl Muriente, conducted with elders in the Italian town of Artena, subject Regeneration City, a documentary about The International Society of Biourbanism summer school in July 2013.  She uncovered among the nonnas of Artena a tradition of bread baking that had all but disappeared, and was able to revive it in an inspiring local festival.  (A second screening of the film was held in Lake Worth last weekend.) This could be a great project for any Transition Town in the making, and, nonna that I am, feel ready to work both ends of the interview.

Degrowth is far from a popular idea in my circles (yet), but it could be that better days are ahead if we can let go of the world we’ve been conditioned to accept and open ourselves to the one that is possible, and possibly superior, to this one. Samuel Alexander, founder of The Simplicity Collective, thinks so.  He makes a persuasive case for a degrowth economy, one that achieves a steady state within the Earth’s biophysical limits:  “Renewable energy cannot sustain an energy-intensive global society of high-end consumers. A degrowth society embraces the necessity of “energy descent”, turning our energy crises into an opportunity for civilisational renewal.”  This is also at the heart of Transition’s energy descent philosophy.

Self-identified ‘degrowth activist,’ Charles Eisenstein is eloquent on the subject. From The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible: “When any of us meet someone who rejects dominant norms and values, we feel a little less crazy for doing the same. Any act of rebellion or non-participation, even on a very small-scale, is therefore a political act.”

 

 

End Factory Farming; Stop Runaway Climate Change

Will Allen, organic farmer ~ Change Your Diet ~ Buy Local

… the largest elephant in the room of climate chaos is our food and farming system. And hardly anyone is talking about it … We need to change our food habits. We need to stop eating factory-farmed meat and milk products. Since over 90 percent of all non-organic meat, dairy and eggs in the U.S. come from factory farms, we need a nationwide boycott and marketplace pressure, in the form of a CAFO labeling campaign.

Will-Allen-01-200x200Will Allen, Ph.D., organic farmer/teacher/activist and author of The War on Bugs, isn’t one to mince his words, and his keynote at the second Healing Our World and Ourselves Conference at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Vero Beach last week, documented exactly what kind of mess we are in and what we have to do to get out of it.

Like Vandana Shiva and the permaculture community, Allen delivers a clear message: since agriculture as it is currently practiced is “the single largest contributor of greenhouses gases,” we must eliminate the products of factory farms and create new markets for local, organic, sustainable agriculture by voting with our food dollars. That such a shift in diet could also eliminate some of the diseases of the so-called rich world is already in the popular culture via books (Michael Pollan. “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.) and television shows (the ubiquitous Dr. Oz).  (And yes, it will reduce belly fat.)

Compared to some of the latest techno fixes for “energy shortfalls” (some euphemism!) that come across my desk regularly, e.g. the moon as a solar plant, the switch to organic, locally-sourced crops and humanely-raised livestock seems like a reasonable strategy. The myth that organic food is too costly has been debunked, see my post Externalities.  And it wins the taste test, hands down.  But it would be naïve to imagine that Big Ag will give up without a fight, any more than Big Oil will suddenly switch to renewables.

What to do?  For one thing, you might post the link (see below) to Will Allen’s article to your social media circles.  You could pay a virtual visit to Cedar Circle Farms and see how he is training the next generation of farmers.  Perhaps you can fund a scholarship or two while you’re at it.  Educate yourself on the subject (see More Reading).  If you want to join the next march against Monsanto, have at it!  But look into your own eating and food-sourcing habits first.  With a 4°C warmer world already looming, we can’t afford the decades it took to make cigarette smoking decidedly uncool, or to get folks to routinely recycle.

Here are a few more things you can do today: check labels in your own pantry of staples and make a plan to eliminate all GMOs; don’t eat or minimize consumption of processed foods; ask your supermarket for more organic produce; let the meat and dairy departments know you want products from pastured, humanely raised livestock.

Here are a few things you can do in the coming weeks/months:  Go meatless as much as possible (here’s a great recipe for Hummus); grow something, however limited your space.  It just feels good; when you buy organic produce, SAVE YOUR SEEDS; compost your vegetable wastes; get familiar with the laws in your community – on the books or unspoken – against backyard vegetables and/or small livestock.   You don’t know until you check.  For example, most of us think we don’t have the right to solar panels if we live in an HOA.  Actually, this is not true.  Use your farmers markets to support the farmers and ranchers in your area.  Get to know your farmer.  Some, like our CSA Kai-Kai Farms, use pesticide-free sustainable methods, but are not certified organic.  We trust them.  That’s good enough for us.

If you have an idea for a good PSA on this or related topics, let me know.  If the idea of using social media to spread the word lights you up, let’s collaborate.  Let’s plant some virtual seed bombs around our neighborhoods and get this started.

More reading:

Climate Chaos: Boycott Genetically Engineered and Factory-Farmed Foods, Will Allen and Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association
Cedar Circle Farm
USDA Organic
Food Growing Summit 2014
Beyond Pesticides