Last year, the movement toward a cleaner, more sustainable food supply gained traction, from school lunches with antibiotic-free chicken to a new rating system for produce that goes beyond organics to take energy, water use and other sustainability factors into account. This year could herald even more changes in the way we eat. Fresh, affordable, local produce and antibiotic-free meat will reach more people than ever before. America is poised to figure out how to clamp down on shocking amounts of food waste; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should recognize the latest science and get dangerous chemicals out of food packaging; and young farmers will embrace a new climate-conscious paradigm in farming that makes healthy soil a priority.
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1. Sustainable Food for All, Not Just Foodies
Small and midsized farmers are being shut out of local food markets, while people in low-income communities nearby lack access to fresh, healthy food and suffer disproportionately from diabetes and obesity. 2015 could create a turning point for food equity.
School lunches could get better for millions of kids this year, as momentum builds around the new antibiotic-free chicken standard recently adopted by six of the largest districts in the nation. Improvements this year could feature fruits and vegetables grown with fewer pesticides and more regionally-sourced foods on the menu. On the other hand, watch for friends of the food industry in Congress—the ones who think pizza and French fries are vegetables—to attack the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) new school lunch standards this year.
Here in New York, the long-awaited Hunts Point wholesale farmer's market in the Bronx could move forward this year thanks to support from Governor Cuomo. The market will provide local farmers with access to one of the world's largest food distribution hubs and give local neighborhoods more fresh food. Next month in Brooklyn, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) will help sponsor the Food + Enterprise conference, a gathering designed to connect farmers and sustainable food entrepreneurs with investors interested in rebuilding healthy regional food systems. And this year NRDC and hunger relief organizations will work together to deliver fresh food from local farms, which might otherwise be wasted, to people who need food.
2. More Attention to Food Waste, and Less Food Wasted
In America, about 40 percent of the food we produce never gets eaten. It's a waste not only of the food itself, but all the land, water, energy and other resources that go into producing it. Several European nations have taken steps to raise public awareness of food waste and promote strategies for reducing it, and this year, the issue could finally get its due in the U.S. NRDC's food waste expert Dana Gunders is coming out with her much anticipated book, The Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook, this summer, full of practical tips to reduce food waste at home. And watch out for a big, attention-grabbing public awareness campaign to launch later this year that will have everyone talking about food waste—and taking steps to reduce it.
3. Battles over Chemicals in our Food Supply
Too often, the food we eat comes into contact with dangerous chemicals, from pesticides to toxins in canned-food linings. Government safeguards have failed to keep pace with the flow of chemicals into the food supply, and this year, the battle over stronger protections will heat up. The chemical industry is likely to push back against NRDC's effort to have the FDA revoke its approval for chemicals that disrupt the body's hormone system, such as PFCs, perchlorate and other harmful chemicals in food packaging.
NRDC will also fight the chemical industry in court to support California's decision to declare BPA, once commonly used in plastic baby bottles and still widely used in food packaging, a reproductive hazard.
4. Young, Climate-Conscious Farmers Lead a Soil Revolution
Increasingly plagued by extreme weather, a new crop of young, climate-conscious farmers are calling for a paradigm shift in farming: building climate resiliency by putting healthy soil first. Vibrant soil can retain more water and requires fewer chemical pesticides and fertilizers than soil depleted by conventional agriculture. Healthy soil can also store far more carbon than poorly-managed cropland or grazing land, which is a major plus for the climate.
2015 is the International Year of Soils, and the USDA will be highlighting a different benefit of healthy soil every month. Expect to hear more about innovative young farmers like Jonathan Cobb of Rogers, Texas, who recently wowed crowds at a SXSW Eco session (listen below), talking about how making soil health a priority saved his family farm after the 2011 drought nearly put him out of business.
Cobb and other young farmers are beginning to embrace techniques like using cover crops that protect soil between plantings, rotational grazing that tramples nutrients back into the soil, and other strategies that prioritize soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks to inventive farmers like Cobb who lead by words as well as example, 2015 could be the beginning of a soil revolution that will protect our food supply from the risks of climate change.
5. Antibiotic-Free Meat and Poultry Go Mainstream
Driven by consumer demand, more restaurants, grocery stores and food service companies are providing their customers with meat and poultry from animals raised without reliance on antibiotics. This could be the year that antibiotic-free meat goes mainstream.
Most animals raised for meat in this country are routinely given antibiotics, even when they're not sick. This practice contributes to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria—superbugs—which can't be knocked out by many common medicines. Antibiotics should be reserved for treating sick people and sick animals, not to promote growth or compensate for stressful, unsanitary conditions on livestock farms.
Consumers are demanding change, and getting it. While antibiotic-free meats account for about 5 percent of the market, sales are growing fast. By some estimates, sales in 2012 were up 25 percent over the 3 prior years, while total meat consumption declined.
Mainstream companies like Applegate, Panera Bread, Carl's Jr., Shake Shack and Chipotle all offer antibiotic-free options for consumers. Chick-Fil-A recently announced it would transition to antibiotic-free chicken over the next five years. Even poultry giant Perdue announced that it is raising 95 percent of its birds without antibiotics that are important to human medicine. These are encouraging announcements, and they should be backed up by independent third-party verification.
The dominoes are starting to fall. In 2015 consumers could usher in a new era of widely available, affordable, antibiotic-free meat—and help safeguard the effectiveness of antibiotics—for all.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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