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The Solution Under Our Feet: How Regenerative Organic Agriculture Can Save the Planet

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Chemical Ag Is the World's Leading Problem, and—Yes—We Have an App for That

We know our oceans are polluted by chemical fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture, which has caused more than 500 dead zones such as the Mississippi Delta. Even more disturbing is the rarely acknowledged fact that chemical fertilizers and confined animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) give off more greenhouse gases (GHGs) than all transportation methods combined. As this carbon falls into the sea, our oceans' pH balance is thrown off.

On Nov. 14, 2014, the Canadian CBC News reported on the alarming issue of the rise in ocean temperatures, quoting Kevin Friedland, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service in Narragansett, R.I., as saying: "For the northeast shelf, that summer half of the year will increase on the order of two months."

Scientists are actively investigating another potential effect of warmer temperatures that's happening right now—a dramatic dip in the spring bloom of phytoplankton in the Gulf of Maine: “In 2013, the spring bloom was so poorly developed it was below detection thresholds used by scientists."

Did you know that two out of every three breaths you take come via ocean phytoplankton? And that phytoplankton is currently in steep decline due to ocean acidification? Many researchers think that within only a few decades planet oxygen levels will have dropped dramatically. 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." Remember: plankton is the main food source for whales. Thus, as the plankton dissipates, the whales will disappear.

Unfortunately, the government, the media and even climate-change groups are quiet on this vital issue. The silence is perplexing. All the regulatory agencies of the federal government, and even the alternative media, have so far failed to bring to the fore this concern. It's time we focused on soil, not oil.

On a note of hope, the United Nations, on its Dec. 5, 2014, inaugural World Soil Day, called for 2015 to be the International Year of Soils. Also, acclaimed author Michael Pollan recently gave a keynote speech (see below) at the New York Times Food for Tomorrow conference (Pollan's key points are summarized in the last 5-6 minutes) in which he stated: “There are two faces of the climate-food system connection: how food is a key driver of climate change, responsible for between 20 to 30 percent of greenhouse gases, and then the very hopeful research on how changes in agriculture hold the potential not just to mitigate these impacts, but to actually help remove carbon from the atmosphere in large quantities. Climate change changes the 'how to feed the world' question in important ways, rendering many of the traditional arguments—for higher productivity at all costs—moot."

Another positive venture is the XPRIZE Ocean Health project, a two-million-dollar global competition challenging teams of engineers, scientists and innovators (even surfers and schoolkids) all over the world to create and use pH sensor technology that will “affordably, accurately and efficiently" measure ocean chemistry. They're testing 18 technologies for use in a new Cloud-based app to provide real-time monitoring of oceans. The Culver City-based group is funded in part by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen and Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, and the pH sensor project is headed by Wendy Schmidt (the wife of Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt).

As chemical companies, the oil industry and the media ignore the fact that our oceans are becoming more acidic from excess carbon, Terrie Klinger, Professor of Marine Affairs at the University of Washington, comments, “We can attribute the problems in the oyster hatcheries to the increased carbon in the ocean." The acidification of the seas is also especially detrimental to organisms, such as coral reefs, that secrete shell material.

Recently the state of Maine received a state-mandated report that appeared in Maine's Press Herald article of Dec.1, 2014, titled “Study committee calls for Maine to act on ocean acidification."

An excerpt: “Maine should increase research and monitoring into how rising acidity levels in oceans could harm the state's valuable commercial fisheries, while taking additional steps to reduce local pollution that can affect water chemistry.

“The Legislature created the commission this year in response to concerns that, as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen, the oceans have become 30 percent more acidic because oceans absorb the gas."

Researchers are concerned that organisms that form shells—everything from Maine's iconic lobster to shrimp and the tiny plankton that are key links in the food chain—will find it more difficult to produce calcium carbonate for shells in the more acidic seawater. They worry that the acidification could intensify as carbon levels rise and the climate warms.

China, India and Indonesia are creating dozens of new coal-burning power plants. In fact the Wall Street Journal recently reported that India plans to double the number of coal plants by 2020. If we fail to correct the course we're on, this proliferation of carbon will destroy not only oyster and crab populations but also the phytoplankton that provides more than 60 percent of all oxygen on the planet. While these issues are complex, simply changing your diet is one of the most powerful counteractive measures you can take.

To be continued in Part Two, in which the focus will be on creating viable solutions regarding carbon and food production as well as shifting demand for how our food is grown.

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