Yes, Houston, we have a problem: Our oceans are dying.
As the brilliant futurist Buckminster Fuller used to point out, our Spaceship Earth is hurtling through space at a great speed.
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John W. Roulac, founder and CEO of the superfoods company Nutiva, has also founded five ecological nonprofit groups, including GMO Inside and the Nutiva Foundation. John has written four books, including Backyard Composting and Hemp Horizons.
Yes, Houston, we have a problem: Our oceans are dying.
As the brilliant futurist Buckminster Fuller used to point out, our Spaceship Earth is hurtling through space at a great speed.
The actor is a longtime advocate of environmental causes, and his film is surely helping to increase awareness of global warming and the challenges we face with climate chaos. In it, DiCaprio journeys from the remote melting regions of Greenland to the burning forests of Sumatra to the halls of the Vatican, exploring the devastating impact of climate change on the planet.
Before the Flood discusses how climate change is moving us rapidly into an era in which life on Earth might be much, much different. It does a great job describing the pressing problems we face. Yet, sadly, the film has a serious omission. It makes only passing mention of the food issue and almost no mention of soils or ocean acidification.
Carbon farming is the solution to climate change. It's time for us to de-carbonize our energy and re-carbonize our soils.
Too few people know that Monsanto and industrial agriculture are contributing more to climate change than Exxon, Chevron and the entire transportation industry combined. Not many understand that a large animal feedlot is just as environmentally destructive as a coal-fired power plant—if not even more damaging.
So why are so many concerned people not addressing the food-climate connection?
It's Time for a 100% Solution
As the planet surges toward an atmospheric 450 ppm, solar, wind and reducing extraction alone cannot slow the release of carbon emissions fast enough. Yet Before the Flood, along with most climate groups, preaches only half a game plan—a 50 percent solution that will, in fact, allow continued destruction.
The unfortunate reality is that the carbon-busting Congressional legislation that will be awaiting Trump's signature will make Exxon blush! Thus the need to sequester carbon into the soil using the power of plants and grazing animals is greater now than ever. Will those who are a part of the climate movement start spreading the word of this potential solution?
The oceans are dying from a massive carbon bomb. We need to balance the carbon cycle and reduce climate chaos without losing any more time. The scientific solution—carbon sequestration—is one already proven by 500 million years of R&D. The short film The Soil Story explains this process well in an easy-to-follow five-minute animated clip:
We can readily increase the scale of carbon farming—also known as regenerative agriculture. And the good news is that hundreds of millions of farmers on small plots the world over already know a thing or two about this beneficial farming methodology.
Growing sea kelp in the oceans is another innovative way to sequester carbon while producing food, feed and fuel. But for this to be possible into the future, we're going to have to help our seas.
A recent Huffington Post article, The Ocean Is Losing Its Breath—and Climate Change Is Making It Worse, states:
"From the waters off the Oregon coast, to the upwelling zones off Peru, to the Baltic and Black seas, Bay of Bengal, South China Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, to name but a few regions, so-called dead zones are on the increase. Low oxygen areas in the deep ocean are also expanding, primarily due to warming. ... For example, experiments have shown that reduced oxygen greatly limits the metabolic scope of fish, and their whole metabolism slows down. Feeding and growth can be greatly reduced."
Soil Health Equals Cleaner Air
It seems that many climate environmental groups have yet to understand the carbon cycle or to see the big picture of ecology, a situation I pointed out in a 2015 EcoWatch piece, Why Are Climate Groups Only Focused on 50% of the Solution? If they did, these organizations would be unfurling banners at Monsanto's giant pesticide factories and soil health would be discussed when talking about climate action.
A few weeks ago, I chatted with the founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, in the green room before he went on to the main stage at the annual Bioneers conference. In the course of our exchange, I realized that McKibben is so focused on fighting big oil and big coal that the idea of carbon sequestration as a solution isn't a part of his message.
Many 350.org members I've met show interest in this proven solution, yet prior to our discussions they've never heard about it. Except for a few rare mentions, the media has a virtual blackout on the subject. However, the Sierra Club is working on a new food climate campaign. Several people from the Sierra Club attended the second annual Soil Not Oil conference in Richmond, California, that Miguel Robles of Biosafety Alliance and I helped produce.
It seems as if, DiCaprio's Before the Flood team never thought to include in the documentary this solution that can actually reverse climate change. Instead, a professor interviewed in the film suggests that we switch from eating beef to chicken—without mentioning that 99 percent of all chicken on the market today is produced in a toxic, industrial, climate-killing manner. Also, there's a major difference between beef raised in metal pens and beef raised by letting cattle graze holistically.
The Solution is Literally Under Our Feet
Carbon faming is the solution to climate change. It's time for us to de-carbonize our energy and re-carbonize our soils.
Britain's Prince Charles gets it. A longtime champion of organic farming, he's joining a UK-France governmental initiative to improve the condition of global soils. Both governments are meeting with the prince to discuss the need to improve the health of soils worldwide.
Prince Charles has praised the French government's signature project on soil health, the 4/1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate, which seeks to increase the health and organic content of soils worldwide. The Initiative aims to do this by demonstrating that agriculture, and agricultural soils in particular, can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned. Those taking part in it will discuss how to restore degraded soils, improve the land's fertility and increase food security.
The Four per 1000 Initiative, launched by France at COP21 in Paris, is bringing together all willing contributors in the public and private sectors (national governments, local and regional governments, companies, trade organizations, NGOs, research facilities and others) under the framework of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda. Many countries have signed, yet sadly the U.S. was a no-show at the Paris COP 21 rollout. The U.S. Department of Agriculture could still champion this win-win solution for farmers, ranchers, eaters and—yes—earthworms.
Becoming a Carbon-Literate Society
It's time for humans to become more carbon-literate. The climate movement has done so much right, and its millions of participants would love to learn how they can be part of the solution by eating a diet that's regenerative and that returns carbon to the soil. It's a basic rule we learned in preschool: Put things back where they belong. We all have a huge opportunity to share this vital educational message.
Paul Hawken's Project Drawdown is showcasing one hundred of the best climate ideas, including planned animal grazing. His team's work demonstrates that land-based solutions give us the biggest bang for the buck in our climate fight. The organization's mission is to: reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere through efficiency and resource productivity; replace existing energy sources with low carbon renewable energy; and bio-sequester carbon dioxide through innovative farming, grazing and reforestation practices.
We can all make a difference, every day. Here is a list of seven positive options for human and planetary health:
1. Elect climate-aware leaders.
2. Educate climate leaders about soil's redeeming powers.
3. Avoid industrial meat and milk. Instead, choose pasture-raised meats while eating less meat and dairy overall ... or just go vegan.
4. Choose organic foods, which have a lower carbon footprint.
5. Plant more trees, shrubs and herbs, all of which help to sequester carbon.
6. De-invest in firms that promote industrial ag or coal and re-invest in green energy and organic farming.
7. Share this article!
Before the ink had dried on the COP21 climate agreement, many from the food movement were reflecting on the process and plans worked on in Paris.
In their co-authored Washington Post op-ed piece, A Secret Weapon to Fight Climate Change: Dirt, Michael Pollan and Debbie Barker wrote, “Unfortunately, the world leaders who gathered in Paris this past week have paid little attention to the critical links between climate change and agriculture. That's a huge mistake and a missed opportunity."
Before we explore the case of fraud in Paris, let's first review the definitions of fraud:
1. Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.
2. A person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.
Following decades of public misinformation, today we know that the tobacco industry committed fraud by attempting to disconnect lung cancer from the smoking of cigarettes. And the state of New York is now investigating ExxonMobil for allegedly misleading the public about climate change.
So, following along on this idea of fraudulence, why has virtually every COP21 media article repeated the mistaken idea that the only strategy to fight climate change is the failed one to stop burning fossil fuels?
Why Would Industrial Ag Cover Up This Inconvenient Truth?
Yes, tobacco and Big Oil have been well compensated for committing “deception intended to result in financial or personal gain." So it's vital for the public to identify the latest corporate shenanigans using deception and black hat PR to deceive public officials for financial gain.
These would be the giants of the industrial agriculture industry, including Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, McDonald's and the entire synthetic fertilizer industry—the corporations that have undercounted and misrepresented America's agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Committing Accounting Fraud by Stating 10 Percent GHG From Ag When It's Known to Be Above 25 Percent?
Sadly, thanks to Big Ag's backroom political dealings in Washington, DC, the USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have agreed on the ludicrous statement that agriculture contributed only about 10 percent of U.S. GHG emissions in 2013, when in fact it was more than 25 percent.
When this erroneous conclusion is corrected and the formerly hidden facts are well understood by policy leaders and the public, we'll be able to shift policies toward more regenerative, soil-honoring practices and then we'll see sales of pesticides and chemical fertilizers plummet.
It's plain to see why Monsanto and friends, via their high-level political appointees, influenced the U.S. and United Nations delegates at COP21. They eliminated agriculture and soils from the COP21 agenda and thus the final agreement—despite overwhelming evidence that soil sequestration (carbon farming) is the number one solution to stop the rise of CO2.
Luckily, There's a Secret Weapon
Barker and Pollan describe how “a third of the carbon in the atmosphere today used to be in the soil and modern farming is largely to blame." They point out that “practices such as the overuse of chemicals, excessive tilling and the use of heavy machinery disturb the soil's organic matter, exposing carbon molecules to the air, where they combine with oxygen to create carbon dioxide. Put another way: Human activity has turned the living and fertile carbon system in our dirt into a toxic atmospheric gas."
“It's possible to halt and even reverse this process," the writers add, “through better agricultural policies and practices." They go on to explain how “restoring carbon to the soil is not nearly as complicated as rethinking our transportation systems or replacing coal with renewable energy."
Watch Pollan's narration of Soil Solutions to Climate Problems video:
Ronnie Cummins and Katherine Paul of the Organic Consumers Association pursued this same point in their recent piece How World Leaders Can Solve Global Warming with Regenerative Farming. They describe how the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) set out to achieve “a legally binding and universal agreement to make sure the Earth doesn't get warmer than 2C above pre-industrial levels."
Quoting Cummins and Paul: “To meet that goal, the French government launched the 4/1000 Initiative which, distilled to simplest terms, says this: If, on a global scale, we increase the soil carbon content of the soil by .04 percent each year for the next 25 years, we can draw down a critical mass of excess carbon from the atmosphere and begin to reverse global warming."
Is the French initiative realistic? Yes, even by conservative estimates.
Industrial, degenerative farming practices—which include tilling, deforestation, wetlands destruction and the use of massive amounts of synthetic and toxic fertilizers and pesticides—have stripped 136 billion tons of carbon out of the soil and sent it up into the atmosphere. Using the French government's modest estimates, we can transfer, via enhanced plant photosynthesis, 150 billion tons of this carbon back into the soil in the next 25 years.
How do we achieve those numbers? All we have to do is help just 10 percent of the world's farmers and ranchers adopt regenerative organic agriculture, holistic grazing and land management practices ..."
For some reason, Greenpeace, 350.org and the climate movement think putting close to 100 percent of our policy and educational efforts into shutting down oil is our one last hope to stop climate change. This is madness. Can they really believe that fewer people will be driving cars in 2020 than in 2015? And don't they realize that every new hybrid or 100 percent electric car in its making will contribute as much greenhouse gas emissions as would driving a five-year-old Toyota?
On the brighter side, more and more people are now looking under their feet:
Dispatch From COP21: The Convenient Truth About Soil by Seth Itzkan and Karl Thidemann states: "Ohio State University scientist Rattan Lal refers to soil restoration as 'low-hanging fruit' and says it can serve as a bridge to climate safety during the transition to a non-fossil fuel economy. In a 2014 white paper, the Rodale Institute showed that regenerative organic farming could capture carbon dioxide in quantities exceeding global emissions."
Indeed, soils are the only suitable reservoir for the excess carbon in the atmosphere.
To achieve COP21's 1.5 degree Celsius target, it's pretty obvious that we need to lower CO2 back to below 350 ppm. Yet the Paris climate agreement makes it likely it will be more like 425+ ppm in the coming decades. Unless we look to the solution under our feet, we may be reading more stories in the New Yorker such as The Siege of Miami or in National Geographic's Seafood May Be Gone by 2048, Study Says.
COP21's plan will lead to 90 percent of the world's species disappearing by 2060 unless we sequester soil carbon and stop the ocean acidification (caused by excess carbon falling into the seas). As plankton die every year, the planet faces a looming oxygen shortage.
The Surge in Soil Interest Leads to a Tipping Point
Despite industrial ag's obfuscations, the good news story of soils couldn't stay hidden. 2015 will be remembered as the year of soil, for it brought numerous articles, videos and public figures speaking out on the timely topic. In California, 900 attendees of a Soil Not Oil conference all helped jump-start this growing movement to reverse climate change via soil sequestration.
And then, of course, there's the French “4 per 1000" announcement of a new program for carbon sequestration in agriculture.
“I am stunned," said Andre Leu, president of IFOAM Organics International, the world's leading organic farmers and producers association, based in Bonn, Germany. “This is a game changer, because soil carbon is now central to how the world manages climate change. After all the years of advocating for this at UN Climate Change meetings and being the lone voice in the wilderness, it has taken off so quickly and now is global, with numerous countries and key institutions supporting it. However this is true of all tipping points."
This article has posed some of the hard questions that we all need to be asking. In my forthcoming EcoWatch article in January 2016, I'll be presenting next steps for implementing the climate solution under our feet.
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As our planet's atmosphere races past 400 ppm of carbon dioxide and "climate chaos" weather becomes the norm, many hopes and concerns are being directed to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, to be held this December in Paris.
The elephant in the room in Paris—and it's quite a big elephant—is that for some reason the world's government leaders, and many climate groups, have omitted the planet's two leading carbon sinks, soils and oceans, from the main climate agenda. They now plan to discuss whether land use should even be part of the discussion.
Really? In this age of fascination with high technology, we choose to ignore the earthworm (tiller of the soil) and ocean plankton (our indispensable oxygen generator) at our peril. Did you know that two out of every three breaths you take come via phytoplankton? Relying primarily on solar, wind and hybrids as the solutions to climate change is a path toward disaster.
The good news is that we can help heal our acidic oceans, moderate the planet's erratic weather and produce abundant food by refocusing on soil sequestration (which, as a bonus, improves not just soil quality but also water-holding capacity) across farmlands, rangelands and forestlands.
My recent EcoWatch article provides an easy-to-understand overview on the potential of regenerative ag to solve the climate crisis, and gives links to organizations working on this vital issue. One country taking a positive step forward is France, which just announced an innovative plan to raise the amount of carbon in its soils by 0.4 percent a year. Why is the media not reporting this—especially since France is hosting the climate conference?
Today about 1 percent of the oceans' plankton dies annually from ocean acidification, which has increased by 30 percent in the past hundred years—mostly caused by industrial ag's high carbon pollution, with Exxon and transportation coming in as a distant second. We now know that 20 to 30 percent of all manmade greenhouse gases in the atmosphere come from industrial agriculture. The leading greenhouse gas emission sources contributing to that total are GMO corn and soy crops, centralized cattle and pig confinement operations and rice grown with synthetic fertilizers.
A recent study by University of Maryland researchers, reported as '“Green Revolution Changes Breathing of the Biosphere," detailed how a computer model linked stronger seasonal oscillations in carbon dioxide to intensive agriculture. (A note to those who represent Greenpeace, 350.org and other climate NGOs: Please reread the last two paragraphs; otherwise you might keep letting the main climate culprits go scot-free).
A Journey Well Traveled
When we discover a powerful truth on the personal or societal level, such as our need to redress the mistreatment of our soils, it's useful to reflect on how we arrived at that realization. Thousands of years ago, most societies—from Europe to Asia to what we now call the Americas—had a deep respect and caring for the Earth. Cultures from the Celtic to the Chinese to the Inca honored nature as a shared mythos that was central to daily life.
But by the last mid-century, people accepted that rivers in Ohio should be on fire, while also accepting pandemic air pollution. Then the flower children of the '60s and '70s rejected the supposed bounty of industrial food systems, and today the wellness revolution is stronger than ever. People are waking from the modern industrial-ag nightmare. That McDonald's is edging toward bankruptcy is one of the current signs that the times are indeed a-changin'.
Living in a Biological World
Paying attention to the health of our soils and oceans is now a matter of life and death. That may come as shock to most Americans, as our educational system and media teach us many things—except how the Earth works. We can learn how to be a doctor (except that they forget nutrition) or a carpenter (but they forget how forests grow) or a farmer (except that they forget the importance of soil health and earthworms) or an urban planner (but they forget how to conserve water). This hyperspecialization has yielded technocrats who don't understand the laws of nature.
We have spent trillions of dollars on failed nuclear power when we have the best nuclear reactor in the universe: the sun, which is wireless and 93 million miles away. From grade schools to universities, brainwashed thinking is still pervasive. Our challenge today is to educate enough people and leaders to shift our lifestyle before we irreparably damage the Earth's life-support systems.
Return the Carbon, Heal the Oceans
We were all taught in kindergarten to returns things to where they belong. Today the fate of 90 percent of all species depends on humanity returning excess atmospheric carbon to the soil. If we fall short in this imperative, the oceans will become so acidic that most plankton will die and those 90 percent of the planet's life forms will vanish. GreenWave, an innovative Connecticut-based firm, has a unique approach that works to restore oceans, communities and coastal economies by growing kelp, which thrives on converting CO2 into biomass.
If you don't believe that the oceans are in trouble, just read this 2010 piece from Germany's leading magazine Spiegel: "Phytoplankton's Dramatic Decline: A Food Chain Crisis in the World's Oceans."
Per the article's lead, plankton “is the starting point for our oceans' food chain. But stocks of phytoplankton have decreased by 40 percent since 1950 ... It is an astonishing collapse, say researchers, and may have dramatic consequences both for the oceans and for humans."
The New York Times also warns of the dying of our oceans in its article “Our Deadened, Carbon-Soaked Seas" by Richard W. Spinrad, chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to the British government's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As the article states:
“Ocean and coastal waters around the world are beginning to tell a disturbing story. The seas, like a sponge, are absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so much so that the chemical balance of our oceans and coastal waters is changing and a growing threat to marine ecosystems. Over the past 200 years, the world's seas have absorbed more than 150 billion metric tons of carbon from human activities. Known as ocean acidification, this process makes it difficult for shellfish, corals, and other marine organisms to grow and reproduce."
Last summer, a giant, toxic algae bloom was found to stretch all the way from Alaska to California.
Vera Trainer, a research oceanographer with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Washington State, told Reuters, “It's the longest-lasting, highest-toxicity, and densest bloom that we've ever seen." Trainer added, “A single clam can have enough toxins to kill a person." This toxic bloom has forced the crab season to be shut down in parts of the West Coast, and in California's Sonoma County this past summer, a golden retriever died moments after swimming in the Russian River and swallowing some of the blue-green algae.
The climate movement seems fixated on the melting poles and what might occur by 2100 with oceans rising by X amount of feet. The reality is that this will all become a moot point if the oceans become mostly biologically dead in the next several decades. Whales, dolphins, salmon and plankton are already disappearing in this great sixth extinction.
If the oceans die, humanity will have no future. I challenge any climate-change advocate who sits down to talk to Fox TV viewers to, instead of discussing the dangers of climate change, a warming Earth, and melting icebergs, talk about the simple fact that manmade CO2 is falling into the seas and causing ocean acidification, resulting in dying plankton, less oxygen to breathe, etc. Americans will be receptive to this perspective, as many feel a connection to the ocean even if they live far away from it.
For the forthcoming Paris talks, the link between soils and oceans is not on the agenda. This is due in part to a corruption of the political process by chemical giants like Monsanto, which wants to prevent people from discovering that its Roundup product kills soil life and diminishes carbon storage. Scientists at American or Canadian public universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) all realize that speaking such hard truths is a major career buzz kill. In fact, The Atlantic just published a piece on South Dakota-based USDA entomologist Jonathan Lundgren, who was forced off a plane while en route to give a talk on GMOs, bee health and pesticides.
Isn't it time for Monsanto to be charged with crimes of fraudulently subverting science and policy, as in Exxon's legal case? Many new groups, such as Kiss the Ground, producers of The Soil Story (full disclosure: I serve as an advisor, and Nutiva is a sponsor), are working to educate people on soils. Representatives of Kiss the Ground will be in Paris during the talks, with an art installation under the Eiffel Tower on soils and carbons.
The Soil Can Heal Us
We can still reverse this dire ecocide by paying close attention to farming diversity and the linkages between agriculture and the oceans and soils. The first meter of soil contains more carbon than does the entire atmosphere (even despite the overload at 400 ppm CO2). While climate chaos is scary and depressing to think about, the good news is that we have an app for it—one with 500 million years of proven R&D: soil sequestration using photosynthesis. Today we call this carbon farming, as well as regenerative agriculture, agro-ecology, permaculture or biodynamics. Carbon farming and other natural agricultural systems improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and sequestered into stable organic matter in the soil.
And the word is getting out. Consider the recent article "Restoring Global Soil Quality Is One of the Best Things We Can Do for Climate Change."
And in February 2016 the book The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops & Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation & Food Security, by Eric Toensmeier, will be published by Chelsea Green.
What One Person Can Do
1. Become educated on regenerative ag with these resources:
2. Make the majority of your food choices local and organic. Reduce your meat or dairy consumption (and do select pasture-raised products).
3. Stop consuming CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) meat and dairy products.
4. Stop investing in your 401K or mutual funds if they include Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Heinz, General Mills, Coke, Pepsi, etc.
5. Help spread the word about the power of soils to reverse climate change.
Perhaps Tom Newmark, a cofounder of the Carbon Underground Project, says it best: “Many NGOs view carbon and agriculture as the 'enemy.' The regenerative movement sees carbon as our friend, and agriculture as our natural ally to help our friend carbon return to the land."
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To the leadership at Greenpeace, Sierra Club, 350.org, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and all other climate groups:
Your organizations have worked very hard, collectively, to reduce world reliance on carbon-centric oil, gas and coal. Thanks to your work to reduce pollution, we certainly have a healthier planet. High praise is in order for the success of your valiant efforts in the face of corrupt vested interests.
Yet I, along with many others, must still ask: Will your plan win the race against time to avert climate chaos? Anyone paying close attention can see that, even if the world doubles the rate at which it's adopting wind, solar, bike lanes, electric cars and conservation, the excess carbon in our atmosphere and seas will still lead to intense climate chaos. For just one example, the temperature in Phoenix, Arizona, recently reached 117°.
Our society has focused close to 99 percent of our climate efforts on 50 percent of the needed game plan—i.e., reducing the release of atmospheric carbon. Yes, we need to decarbonize our energy. Yet equally important is the need to recarbonize our soils, to sequester the carbon so that we don't reach the tipping point of climate chaos. This is relatively new information for many people.
In his article “Soil Carbon Restoration: Can Biology Do the Job?," Jack Kittredge of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association provides an excellent report on the subject.
A recent EcoWatch article of my own provides an easy-to-understand overview, with links to organizations working on this vital issue.
Sometimes “group think" can stymie networks or organizations. Let me be especially direct. The current “half a game plan" or “50 percent solution" will in fact allow destruction of the planet, as solar, wind and reducing extraction alone cannot slow the carbon emissions fast enough as we surge toward an atmospheric 450 ppm.
The Link Between Monsanto, Industrial Ag and Ocean Health
Monsanto and industrial agriculture are contributing more to climate change than Exxon, Chevron and the entire transportation industry combined. Why keep that a secret? Millions of members of Greenpeace, Sierra Club, 350.org, Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) care deeply about the Earth, and yet have no clue about the elephant in the room.
The other untold secret is that Monsanto and the corporate media are not telling the world that we're rushing to an ocean apocalypse. I give credit to the NRDC for its 2009 Acid Test: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification, a powerful 21-minute video on ocean health narrated by Sigourney Weaver.
And, just as I'm writing this, I see that the NRDC is educating people on improving the cattle-grazing methods that impact our climate. A local Greenpeace chapter is also doing its part. The next time you think about stopping by Starbucks remember that millions of Starbucks lattes sold monthly directly correlate with the carbon-intensive industrial dairy production.
The sea is what makes life on this bountiful planet possible. The oceans are places of vast beauty and mystery. The one-two punch of warming sea temperatures and excess carbon falling from the atmosphere is creating the conditions whereby oceans are becoming too hot and too acidic to sustain ocean health.
A Monster Algae Bloom Takes Over the Pacific Ocean
This summer a giant, toxic algae bloom stretches all the way from Alaska to California. Vera Trainer, a research oceanographer with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Washington State, told Reuters, “It's the longest-lasting, highest-toxicity and densest bloom that we've ever seen."
Our acidic oceans (30 percent more so in the last 50 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are making it hard for creatures like lobsters and oysters to form their shells.
Before long, the burning of coal, continued heating of the globe and carpet bombing of industrial-ag greenhouse gas emissions into the ocean will lead to an end of the seas as we know them. Nuclear seepage and plastics are adding to the issue. So far, plankton is dying, starfish are dying and sea lions are dying. Crabs will be next. And, unless we bring carbon into balance, within a few short decades most whales will also perish. This month, 30 dead whales washed ashore in Alaska. Something is very wrong with our oceans.
The climate movement, United Nations and most governments have shaped the climate debate by framing the story as being about how hot the Earth will be, or how high the oceans will rise by 2050. Yet we seem to be ignoring the much greater eco-peril of ocean acidification and the vital role of soil in balancing planetary carbon.
If the whales and dolphins could speak, surely they would implore us to: “Change how you raise your food and produce your energy, so that we can all live in harmony on land and sea."
We see disinvestment campaigns for coal and big oil ... what about Monsanto or Syngenta? The climate groups give Monsanto a pass, shining little or no light on the death and destruction it causes—both in its toxic impact and in its huge contribution to climate change.
500 Million Years of Research and Development
The oceans are dying. We need to balance the carbon cycle and reduce climate chaos without losing any more time. The scientific solution is one already proven by 500 million years of R&D. It's called carbon sequestration. The Soil Story explains this process in an easy-to-follow five-minute animated clip with a sound track by Jason Mraz.
We can readily increase carbon farming—also known as regenerative agriculture. The good news is that hundreds of millions of farmers on small plots the world over already know a thing or two about this ecological farming methodology. Even the U.S. government is already working to help American farmers and ranchers increase soil carbon. Growing sea kelp is another innovative way to sequester carbon.
Collectively, your climate-focused groups annually publish millions of tweets, Instagrams, blogs, Facebook posts and press releases. But what percentage of the content is on that favorite “50 percent of the solution"—stop drilling and install more solar panels—and how much is on the Earth-based solution that returns carbon to the soil where it belongs? (I can tell you: Less than 1 percent proposes the latter solution). Imagine how much progress can be made by shifting your social-media focus to an elegant, win-win solution!
On a positive note, at least Greenpeace and Sierra Club are focusing on protecting ancient forests that sequester carbon. Funding is obviously an important issue. Groups may need to increase budgets, or allocate more to soil and oceans, to address these vital issues.
Becoming a Carbon-Literate Society
Yes, it's high time the climate movement became more carbon-literate. The movement has done so much right, and its millions of participants would love to learn how they can be part of the solution by eating a diet that's regenerative and that returns carbon to the soil. It's a basic rule we learned in preschool: Put things back where they belong. We all have a huge opportunity to share this vital educational message. Paul Hawken's Project Drawdown showcasing a hundred of the best climate ideas including planned grazing.
Many leaders of the growing carbon-farming movement will attend the Soil Not Oil Conference in Richmond, California, on Sept. 4-5, which will be live streamed on the web.
Also, Regeneration International is working on a November 2015 Paris event, to take place shortly before the world climate negotiations summit. Solar advocates and anti-Keystone-pipeline warriors can attend in order to become more carbon-literate, because today the U.S. is the most eco-illiterate society in the history of the Earth.
Soil fertility and natural systems are concepts as foreign to most Americans as the English language is to tribes of the Amazon. Many of these uninformed Americans are members of climate groups who look to your organizations for leadership—look to you to rise above the corporate corruption of Washington, DC, and Brussels, Belgium and provide the world with the wise council that is so desperately needed. We can do this!
Paris, Here We Come
As the CO2 in our atmosphere approaches 450 ppm and many leaders gather in Paris for climate talks, let's focus on a winning plan—one that both decarbonizes our energy and recarbonizes our soil. Some recent good news is that France supports combining food security and carbon sequestration in soils as part of a global Paris agreement to fight climate warming, as French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll recently announced.
The millennial generation, especially, must wear the mantle of leadership in these efforts, and those of us who are older must help them. The future of our planet is hanging in the balance.
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Who knew that a Starbucks latte has the power to harm a baleen whale?
People everywhere are realizing that the way we're raising food is impacting our natural world. Baby boomers voting with their dollars helped jump-start solar power. Now it's the millennials' turn to lead the way by supporting conscious food and beverage brands, along with the regenerative agriculture movement that counteracts carbon dioxide pollution.
For the health of our planet, we all need to shift to the compost, cover crops, crop rotation and planned grazing of “carbon farming." To learn more about carbon farming, visit Kiss the Ground, Regeneration International and the Soil Not Oil Coalition, which on Sept. 4-5 will host the 2015 Soil Not Oil International Conference in Richmond, California, with keynote speaker Dr. Vandana Shiva.
A Whole Lot of Killing Lattes
Yes, the millions of lattes sold monthly directly correlate with the carbon-intensive industrial dairy production that's overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide (CO2) at now over 400 ppm. Besides atmospheric and ocean-polluting nitrogen fertilizers, Starbucks' “Monsanto milk" suppliers rely on carbon-centric RoundUp pesticide, sprayed on the GMO crops fed to confined cows whose manure wastes contaminate local waterways and off-gas into the atmosphere. Regenerative farmers grow nitrogen-fixing cover crops, while conventional farmers inject synthetic fertilizers that release an air-polluting NOX gas nearly 400 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.
While the public's climate attention is focused on CO2 levels in the atmosphere, a far greater planetary threat is ocean acidification. The burning of oil and coal, along with the heedless agricultural practices of big agriculture with its huge carbon dioxide emissions, are devastating marine ecosystems. The Natural Resources Defense Council's YouTube film Acid Test shows how, when excess carbon falls into the sea, it adversely affects all oceanic life—from the tiny plankton now struggling to form their shells in acidified waters to the whales that feed upon those plankton.
Also, excess atmospheric carbon is causing ocean temperatures to drastically rise.
Is Starbucks Really Socially Responsible?
Starbucks, the iconic global coffeehouse chain, wears a veneer of corporate social responsibility. Ironically, its mermaid logo was chosen, more than 40 years ago, because Starbucks wanted a nautical theme to capture the seaport spirit of its Seattle headquarters. But the company's ethical behavior falls short of its image, and the Starbucks supply chain is now an oceanic disaster—a killing machine contributing to the acidic seawater now threatening marine life.
Given the company's location in majestic Puget Sound, it's sad that CEO Howard Shultz is ignoring science to do business in a way that's contributing to ocean acidity and causing the impending deaths of Pacific oysters, Coho salmon and Orca whales.
Did you know that Starbucks is a bigger purveyor of industrial dairy products than of coffee? Yes, the lattes sold by the chain make use of far more industrial milk than they do coffee beans, and people are waking up to this fact. Rocker Neil Young's latest album, The Monsanto Years, features lyrics declaring: “Yeah, I want a cup of coffee but I don't want a GMO; I like to start my day off without helping Monsanto."
By switching to organic milk, Starbucks could show leadership and help shift the nation away from its dangerous reliance on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Click here to urge Howard Shultz to make the switch.
Acidifying Our Way to an Ocean Apocalypse
Something's already horribly wrong with our oceans. In 2015, thousands of emaciated baby sea lions have washed up along the California coastline, and West Coast starfish are in a massive die-off.
The ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth's oceans, caused by the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere, is what's creating the ocean acidification that's wreaking these kinds of havoc.
Leading ocean scientists agree that acidification is killing off the algae that provide 66 percent of the planet's oxygen supply. Our acidic oceans (30 percent more so in the last 50 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are making it hard for creatures like lobsters and oysters to form their shells.
The crustacean states of Maine (lobsters) and Washington (crab) have already initiated ocean acidification advisory boards.
What's not being widely reported is the actual main source of the massive amounts of CO2 falling into the sea and causing acidification. Industrial agriculture, with meat and dairy enterprises the leading villains, releases more greenhouse gas emissions than Chevron, Exxon, and the transportation sector combined.
Will Starbucks take the high road and support the regenerative agriculture that works to sequester carbon back into the soil where it belongs? Otherwise, I have to ask: What will Starbucks shares be worth when all the fish are dead and our oxygen supply has been reduced by half? Let's not wait to find out.
Please voice your concerns on the Starbucks page.
John W. Roulac, founder and CEO of the superfoods company Nutiva, has also founded five ecological nonprofit groups, including GMO Inside and the Nutiva Foundation. John has written four books, including Backyard Composting and Hemp Horizons.
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[Editor's note: This article is part two of a two-part series. Read part one.]
We now know that 20-30 percent of manmade greenhouse gases in the atmosphere comes from industrial agriculture. Petrochemicals are for cars, not for the soil. By dumping ag chemicals onto our soils, we disrupt nature’s delicate balance of water, soil and air.
Carbon sequestration land practices include agriculture, forestry, wetland and range management systems that improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted to plant material and/or organic matter in the soil. Today excess carbon is falling into our oceans and creating acidic conditions that threaten plant and animal species. If we remove carbon from the atmosphere and oceans by way of regenerative organic agriculture practices, we will sequester carbon into the soil and expand the soil’s water-holding capacity. Building organic matter into the soil’s humus layer is essential for growing the healthful foods humanity needs.
As National Geographic has reported, “... relatively new research is finding that the introduction of massive amounts of CO2 into the seas is altering water chemistry and affecting the life cycles of many marine organisms.” This is disturbing the oceanic ecosystem in profound ways that include reducing the plankton that feeds whales and provides oxygen for humans.
The 2014 Rodale Institute report states, “Organically managed soils can convert carbon CO2 from a greenhouse gas into a food-producing asset.” Two major upsides to this approach are drought-proof soils and, thanks to more nutrient-rich foods, reduced healthcare costs.
Luckily, bloggers, activists and the booming pure food movement hold the promise of positive change. We need a coalition of educated and empowered people to make good dietary choices that also support living soils. Organic, nutrient-dense foods might cost more (buying in bulk helps), yet we can see how costly poor food choices are for our national health. And, as in the civil rights movement or any progressive movement for change, it’s time for us to stand up and make our voices heard. Keep blogging, tweeting, Pinteresting, Instagramming and posting on Facebook, as sharing is caring.
The San Francisco-based Biosafety Alliance will hold a major conference on carbon farming and climate change in Richmond, California, in September 2015, featuring such speakers as Vandana Shiva and Ronnie Cummins. The ministers of propaganda at Monsanto and other chemical companies are amping up their own social media campaigns, to tell us how they’re going to feed the world and increase food security through genetically engineered foods and chemical agriculture. Sales are down or flat for virtually every major American food company, so they’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fortify their misleading advertising and public relations campaigns.
Courtney White in his book Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country writes: "It is easy to forget that once upon a time all agriculture was organic, grass-fed and regenerative. Seed saving, composting, fertilizing with manure, polycultures, no-till and raising livestock entirely on grass—was the norm, not the exception as it is now.
“We all know what happened next: the plow, the tractor, fossil fuels, mono-crops, 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."
As delicate ecosystems are disrupted, and plant and animal species face extinction at an ever-increasing rate, the word is getting out that the current practices of chemical companies and industrial agriculture are harming billions of people.
Recently, large investment funds have responded to disinvestment advocates by selling off their holdings in Exxon, BP, Chevron and other carbon polluters, yet they still invest in Monsanto—a group that transgresses far beyond any oil company in its injury to the environment and society.
It’s time for everyone who cares about the future of food to unite in changing the failing industrial agriculture system. We have the opportunity to vote three times a day by eating organic whole foods instead of packaged, processed and convenient “food-like substances.” Vegans, it’s vital that you choose organic foods vs. Roundup-sprayed, hexane-processed soy cutlets. The fake, non-organic foods funded by the Silicon Valley are not life-enhancing. For those who eat meat, eggs and dairy products, it’s important to support pasture-based ranchers and suppliers, as these systems sequester carbon into the soil humus-sphere through intensive grazing. Meat eaters consider consuming 50 percent less meat, and at all costs we must avoid conventional suppliers that rely on toxic, high-GHG chemical fertilizers to grow carbon-intensive GMO corn and soy.
Industrial agriculture regards soil as merely a root-holding medium on which to apply petroleum products while manipulating genetics. Regenerative organic agriculture views soil as a holistic system, and understands the interconnected soil biology—teeming with the billions of bacteria and fungi that, along with earthworms and organic matter, indicate good health. Healthy soil yields healthy foods that, in turn, nourish a healthy society. Los Angeles-based Kiss the Ground Foundation is working on a powerful, new, five-minute Story of Soil video to educate the public on this vital issue.
Using short rotation with solar-powered mobile fencing, a new generation of ranchers is growing grass while building carbon and organic matter into the soil. The 12-minute video Soil Carbon Cowboys featured one such “grass rancher,” Gabe Brown, who increased the organic matter in his North Dakota pastureland from less than 2 percent to 8 percent in 20 years.
For annual crops, planting rotational cover crops like vetch or alfalfa, instead of using nitrogen fertilizers, is essential. Chemical nitrogen fertilizers release massive amounts of nitric oxides that are nearly 400 times worse than carbon dioxide. Some organic CAFO producers such as Horizon Organic Milk are clearly not regenerative, as they rely on factory farms to produce a large percentage of their milk.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statistics vastly underreport agriculture emissions at 10-12 percent total. Many researchers think agriculture is the source of more of these emissions than even transportation fuels. Organic is better than conventional, but organic plus regenerative is best, for it enhances soil fertility vs. merely maintaining it. (A big reason why the return of hemp farming is so vital is hemp’s deep taproot and nitrogen-rich leaves that build soil tilth).
Yet, as Tom Newmark of regenerative farming group the Carbon Underground says, “We need to both move forward in building soil life and conduct more science around carbon sequestration to share with policymakers and allies.”
The Way Forward
Many in the organic movement wonder about our NGO allies in the climate, ocean and forestry sectors. According to Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association, “With the mounting evidence of how regenerative organic agriculture is the number one solution for climate change, ocean health, and soil ecology via sequestering carbon, it’s time for the environmental movement to join forces. In fact, our survival depends on it.”
Trying to solve the entire problem by reducing global carbon via solar, wind and renewables has been a failure. One climate meeting after another ends with people throwing up their hands and declaring that we’re doomed because nations won’t agree to meaningful cuts. The message of drawing down carbon via regenerative agriculture warrants no mention in the glossy documents, nor even a tweet!
A recent Cummins “Letter from Lima” provides interesting background on the climate movement.
Yet a groundswell of people are beginning to realize that the way forward is to support regenerative organic farming and pasture-raised meat and dairy systems while simultaneously reducing animal consumption. As the Earth passes the 400-ppm carbon mark, noted author and environmentalist Paul Hawken declares, “Stabilization at 450, 500, 550 ppm is chaos—our goal should be drawdown.”
Which is better for the environment—to buy a Tesla and consume a standard American diet or to drive a used SUV and eat an organic diet with some pastured meat and dairy? Yes, it’s the latter, and of course even better is to eat an organic diet, walk or bike more, and drive a more energy-efficient car.
Soil, not oil, is the wise path forward. At the height of this information age of Google and the social media, the history of our planet is being written. Will it ultimately be said that the simple solution under our feet was shared around the digital campfire, and thus globally chosen by informed citizens of the Earth? Or will the annals read that this saving solution was ignored by all but a few? Did the 7 billion people on Planet Earth succumb to false messages from Monsanto, Exxon and self-serving apologists that GMO “better living through chemistry” food systems were best?
As you read this, a new generation of GMO 2.0 untested synthetic foods is being programmed in labs via “3-D food printing.” The fate of Earth’s life-support systems is hanging in the balance. Remember, as you start to reach for that box of non-organic cereal for your shopping cart: What we eat will impact the planet more than just about anything else we do. It’s late in the fourth quarter and there are no timeouts left, but—yes—we have the ball.
It’s time for us to revive the ancient wisdom of honoring the land, and in the process heal our atmosphere, our oceans, our humus-sphere and ourselves. Regenerative organic agriculture is the answer we need to create a food system that works for everyone. Are you ready to be part of this solution?
John W. Roulac, founder and CEO of the superfoods company Nutiva, has also founded five nonprofit ecological groups, including GMO Inside and the Nutiva Foundation. John has written four books, including Backyard Composting and Hemp Horizons.
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[Editor's note: This article is part one of a two-part series. Read part two.]
Many of us are now choosing to eat holistically grown foods. We want:
• more nutrition from our food.
• to create safer conditions for farmers and rural communities.
• to protect the water, air and soil from contamination by toxic agrochemicals.
While these reasons are important, one critical issue is missing from today's conversation about food. The concept is simple, yet virtually unknown. The solution to our global food and environmental crisis is literally under our feet.
If you take away only one thing from this article, I want it to be this quote from esteemed soil scientist Dr. Rattan Lal at Ohio State University:
Through the past hundred years, we've steadily increased our rate of digging up and burning carbon-rich matter for fuel. This is disturbing the oceanic ecosystem in profound ways that include reducing the plankton that feeds whales and provides oxygen for humans. And we're not just talking about the extinction of whales. As I'll detail in this article, even Maine lobsters could become a relic of the past.
We've severely disrupted the balance in the “carbon triad" by clearing rainforests, degrading farmland, denuding pasturelands, and burning coal and oil. The carbon triad? Yes; think of the three main carbon sinks: the atmosphere, the oceans and the humus-sphere. While I'm sure you're familiar with the first two, you might not know about the latter carbon sink. Humus is the organic component of soil. (Gardeners create it as compost.) The humus-sphere is made up of the stable, long-lasting remnants of decaying organic material, essential to the Earth's soil fertility and our ability to grow nutrient-rich crops.
Up until now, the big oil companies Exxon, Chevron and Shell have been perceived as the main climate villains. Yet a new and growing movement of “carbon cycle-literate" people and organizations now realize that Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and big ag are much worse. We now know that 20-30 percent of all manmade green house gases in the atmosphere comes from industrial agriculture. Chemicals are for cars, not for the soil. By dumping agricultural chemicals onto our soils, we disrupt nature's delicate balance of water, soil and air.
In his recent Huffington Post piece “Nature Wants Her Carbon Back," Larry Kopald writes, “How is it possible that with the entire planet focusing on reducing CO2 emissions we're not even paying lip service to the single largest contributor?"
Tom Newmark, ex-CEO of New Chapter and co-founder of the Carbon Underground Project, has said it best: “Many NGOs view carbon and agriculture as the 'enemy.' The regenerative movement sees carbon as our friend, and agriculture as our natural ally to help our friend carbon return to the land." The challenge is that the enemies of all things natural, i.e., Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, are culture jamming in hope that the regenerative message won't go viral.
Two of those three carbon sinks are maxed out, while the soil, where the humus-sphere resides, has lost most of its humus due to the use of industrial farming techniques and bad land-management practices. This leaves the soil as the primary sink where our excess carbon can be sequestered. Yet nature is abundant and forgiving. Recent research in the fields of wetland, pasture, forest and crop production has illustrated that, by changing our management strategies, we can create more nature-centric systems that improve our quality of life rather than degrading it.
Carbon Farming Defined
Carbon farming is an agricultural system implementing practices that improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted to plant material and/or organic matter in the soil. Today excess carbon is falling into our oceans and creating acidic conditions that threaten plant and animal species. If we remove carbon from the atmosphere and oceans by implementing the practices of regenerative organic agriculture, we'll sequester carbon into the soil and expand the soil's water-holding capacity. Building organic matter into the soil's humus layer is essential for growing the healthful foods humanity needs.
As a 2014 Rodale Institute report states, “Organically managed soils can convert carbon CO2 from a greenhouse gas into a food-producing asset." Two major upsides to this approach are drought-proof soils and, thanks to more nutrient-rich foods, reduced healthcare costs.
If this is the first you've heard about this idea, it's because the good news is just starting to trickle out. For example, the Marin Carbon Project's work with compost and rangeland was recently featured on the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The mission of the Carbon Cycle Institute (part of the Marin Carbon Project) is “to stop and reverse global warming by advancing natural, science-based solutions that remove atmospheric carbon while promoting environmental stewardship, social equity and economic sustainability." The institute is also focused on carbon-cycle literacy, a form of savvy still greatly lacking in the general population, by educating and empowering people to make more informed choices and to demand that elected officials do the same.
Recently the American Carbon Registry, a nonprofit organization that creates protocols for carbon usage, approved standards that would reward ranchers for land practices that sequester carbon. Rancher John Wick, a Carbon Cycle Institute founder, has said, “Our proposal is that there is a whole other paradigm—that agriculture practices can be . . . the art of transforming atmospheric carbon into biospheric carbon." As of this writing, I understand that Gov. Jerry Brown's office plans to visit Wick's ranch.
From the regenerative agriculture movement has also come a fascinating new book by Kristin Ohlson that I strongly recommend: The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet.