Let's Make 2018 the Year We Rise Up and Regenerate!
"...the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope." — Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays.
It was a soil scientist who reminded me recently of something we self-obsessed humans often forget: We don't need to worry about saving the planet. The planet will save itself.
Planet Earth will survive in one form or another, no matter what damage we humans inflict on it. The question is, will we survive with it?
Or will we destroy Earth's ability to sustain life, all life, as we know it?
We had that conversation sitting around a table in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where about 100 people from 22 countries gathered in September for the second Regeneration International (RI) General Assembly. We were there to evaluate what the group had accomplished since our last gathering in June 2015, when we launched RI, and what we wanted—and needed—to do next.
We came from different organizations, different countries, different backgrounds. We were scientists, farmers, activists, business leaders, policy wonks, writers.
Our concerns ranged from environmental pollution, health, food safety and food sovereignty to economic and social justice, the global refugee crisis and global warming.
We had come together to renew our commitment to the one movement that we believe has the power to address all our individual and collective concerns, the movement that holds the most hope for resolving the multiple and deepening global crises of hunger, poverty, crumbling political systems and climate change.
The Regeneration Movement. The movement that begins with healing our most critical resources—soil, water, air—through better farming and land management practices. And ends with healing our local communities and global societies and restoring climate stability.
A Movement By Any Other Name
When the founders (Organic Consumers Association is a founding partner) of RI first came together to formalize the organization, we struggled with the word "regeneration." It was too long. Not memorable. No sex appeal.
In the end, we decided it was the right word. Turns out, it was also the right time.
The word—and the movement—have taken off far faster than we anticipated, and spread farther than we dared hope.
Increasing numbers of farmers, consumers, environmental and animal welfare activists, economists and scientists are talking about the potential power of regeneration.
Many aren't just talking, they're doing.
In the U.S. where industrial agriculture has dominated (and degenerated) for far too long, a growing number of farmers are reclaiming their independence by returning to their roots.
In Maine, Wolfe's Neck Farm, recently renamed Wolfe's Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment, has not only gone regenerative, it has hired a scientist who's developing tools to measure how much carbon the farm is sequestering through its soil-management practices.
Consumers and citizen activists are directly and indirectly supporting organic, regenerative agriculture more than ever before.
Last year saw the citizens of Tonganoxie, Kansas, fed up with factory farms ruining their communities, take on Tyson, one of the largest factory farm operators (and largest polluters). They shut down Tyson's project.
An Idaho court just ruled against industrial agriculture by striking down most parts of an Idaho "ag-gag" law prohibiting undercover investigations at livestock facilities aimed at exposing animal abuse and violations of environmental laws.
At the federal level, despite the current pro-corporation administration, lawmakers are proposing new laws and programs to help more farmers transition from industrial to organic regenerative agriculture.
In an effort to fix the Farm Bill in a big way, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has introduced the Food & Farm Act. The bill focuses on programs designed to promote healthy food and reduce industrial agriculture's impact on the environment by providing greater assistance to producers of organic and regenerative food.
Representatives Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), recognizing that organic farming equals economic prosperity for struggling rural communities, recently introduced the Organic Farmers Access Act.
On the policy level, the Organic Consumers Association has always and will continue to advocate for policy reforms that shift agricultural subsidies and appropriations away from industrial monoculture commodity crop farming and industrial meat and dairy production toward support for farmers transitioning to an organic regenerative paradigm that improves public health, revives strong local economies, renews biodiversity, reduces environmental pollution and restores climate stability.
But we'll need an engaged consumer and citizen base to make this movement a success.
Consumers Will Drive the Transition to Regeneration
Concerns about chronic illness and rampant obesity have a growing number of consumers looking to change their diets.
Consumer demand is behind record sales of organic food in the U.S. and in other countries. But as consumers demand better quality and greater transparency, they're taking a more critical look at what organic means, and whether a product lives up to what has always been considered the gold standard—USDA organic.
Many organic producers do adhere to those standards. Unfortunately, some don't. Skepticism about "Big Organic" has led some consumers to look for more local suppliers, including farms they can inspect in person, in their own communities.
Distrust of big organic brands has also led to the creation of new certifications and standards for consumers who want to support regenerative producers. A collaborative effort with the Rodale Institute and other groups produced the new Regenerative Organic Standard (ROC). The Savory Institute recently announced its new Land to Market (L2M) Program. And earlier last year, the American Grassfed Association announced new standards for grass-fed dairy products.
As more consumers demand higher standards, brands will have to respond. After all, when McDonald's starts talking "regenerative" it signals a recognition—and validation—of consumers' changing preferences.
Exercising our purchasing power to move markets toward regeneration is one way consumers can propel the Regeneration Movement forward. We can also support policy change, at the local, state and federal levels, that supports the transition to regenerative agriculture.
But it will take more than that to scale up regeneration fast enough to restore Earth's health. It will take actively engaging in building the movement in our own communities—a call-to-action that both Organic Consumer Association and Regeneration International will emphasize and prioritize in 2018. (Sign up here for more information).
The future of the Regeneration Movement depends on all of us. Will we rise to the occasion?
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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