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How World Leaders Can Solve Global Warming With Regenerative Farming

Climate
How World Leaders Can Solve Global Warming With Regenerative Farming

France, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the U.K., Germany and Mexico are among the more than two dozen countries that have so far signed on to what one day will likely be recognized as the most significant climate initiative in history.

France's 4/1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate puts regenerative food and farming front and center in the climate solutions conversation. This is why the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), our Mexico affiliate, Via Organica, IFOAM Organics International and more than 50 of our other activist allies across the globe have signed on in support of the initiative.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government is not yet on board with the plan—even though our country's toxic, fossil-fuel-based, heavily subsidized (with taxpayer money), degenerative industrial agriculture system is a primary driver of global warming.

A Global Problem, A Global Solution

Leaders from 190 countries convened in Paris on Nov. 30 for the 14-day COP21 Paris Climate Conference. This year, for the first time in more than 20 years of United Nations (UN) climate negotiations, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) set out to achieve something concrete: “a legally binding and universal agreement to make sure the Earth doesn't get warmer than 2°C above pre-industrial levels."

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—and by help, we mean direct a portion of the billions of dollars earmarked for climate solution projects to farmers who regenerate, not degenerate, the world's soils.

That's a game changer. But only if enough players get in game.

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The Plan is Here, The Time is Now

According to a Dec. 1 press release from the French agriculture minister's office:

This initiative intends to show that a small increase of 4/1000 per year of the soil carbon stock (agricultural soils, notably grasslands and pastures and forest soils) is a major leverage in order to improve soil fertility, resilience of farmers and contribute to the long-term objective of keeping the global average temperature increase below 2 degrees.

France's Agriculture Minister, Stéphane Le Foll, said that initiative partners, which so far include the UN, developed and developing states, international organizations, private foundations, international funds, NGOs, consumer and farmers' organizations, have committed to implementing appropriate soil management practices and to recognizing the importance of soil health for the transition towards productive, highly resilient agriculture.

Le Foll told the French media that the 4/1000 has become a global initiative, but it's just the beginning:

“We need to keep going and mobilize even more stakeholders in a transition to achieve both food security and climate mitigation thanks to agriculture."

Will the U.S. become one of those stakeholders? Or will our leaders side with the Monsantos and Bill Gates of the world and continue to promote an agricultural system that directly and indirectly contributes 50 percent (or more) of the greenhouse gas emissions that are burning up the planet? A system that has failed to feed the world, failed to reduce the use of toxic poisons, failed to bring prosperity to the world's small farmers, failed to produce healthy, nutritious food—a system whose successes can only be counted in terms of gross profits, shareholder value and political clout.

Whatever It Takes

President Obama, who attended the COP21, hasn't been shy about linking global warming to national security. The President recently told PoliticPro:

"If we let the world keep warming as fast as it is and sea-levels rising as fast as they are and weather patterns keep shifting in unexpected ways, then before long we are going to have to devote more and more and more of our economic and military resources not to growing opportunity for our people, but to adapting to the various consequences of a changing planet," Obama said. "This is an economic and security imperative that we have to tackle now."

If focusing on the economy and national security is what it takes to motivate Obama to tackle climate change, we're all for it. After all, global warming threatens to displace millions of people, many of whom already are in a struggle just to survive.

We're also all for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which is why we support the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan which requires states to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030. Absolutely, let's transition from an extractive, fossil fuel-intensive energy system to a clean, renewable alternative. That transition should be a vital part of any global strategy to mitigate climate change.

But reducing emissions solves only half of the problem. We also have to draw down the billions of tons of CO2 currently heating up the atmosphere. Unless we address the climate change elephant in the room—Big Ag—we will fail to solve the climate crisis.

Scientists estimate the world's soils have lost 50 to 70 percent of their carbon stocks and fertility. Modern chemical-intensive, factory-farm, GMO-based industrial agriculture is largely responsible for that loss. Left unchecked, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness will continue to destroy our soils, pollute our bodies and eventually take the whole planet down with them.

The French initiative is the most direct, most practical and only shovel-ready plan for reversing climate change.

We don't need and don't have time to wait for expensive, unproven techno-fixes à la Bill Gates, some of which haven't even made it to the prototype stage and many of which could come with unintended consequences.

We don't need a corporate-focused “Climate-Smart Agriculture" scheme that promotes business as usual.

And we definitely shouldn't put our faith in Monsanto's “carbon-neutral" but “poison-positive" plan.

What we need is to pressure President Obama to pledge U.S. support for France's 4/1000 Initiative, now. If we're going to subsidize any form of agriculture, it should be the regenerative, truly climate-friendly, health-friendly, farmer-friendly type.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association and a board member of Regeneration International.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association (U.S.) and Via Organica (Mexico) and a member of the Regeneration International Steering Committee.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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