2015 is the year of soil. Bringing the soil to the center of our consciousness and our planning is vital for the life of the soil, but also for the future of our society. History provides ample evidence that civilizations which ignored the health and well-being of the soil, and exploited it without renewing its fertility, disappeared along with the soil.
Indian civilization has sustained itself over thousands of years because it revered the soil as sacred and inviolable. It treated it as Mother Earth.
The Atharva Veda invokes the prayer to prithvi, the Earth:
“Let what I dig from thee, O Earth, rapidly spring and grow again.
O Purifier, let me not pierce through thy vitals or thy heart"
Today's dominant policies and laws seem to be saying the opposite to the Earth—“We will dig so deep and so violently, we will bulldoze so brutally, on such a large scale and at such a high speed, that we will tear through your vitals and your heart, ensuring that nothing can grow from you again."
Both ecological science and our ancient wisdom teaches us that all life depends on soil. But we are now unthinkingly adopting the illusion that human progress is based on how fast we can destroy, bury and consume the soil.
Uncontrolled urbanization, mega mines, superhighways and gigantic infrastructure projects are the burial grounds of fertile soil. We are forgetting that life grows from soil, not concrete and tarmac.
It is only our farmers who are practicing ecological agriculture, returning organic matter to the soil and growing soil fertility, and, through it, the foundation of our food and our future. In practicing organic farming, they also conserve water and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus addressing climate change. Money might grow from speculative real estate development, but not life. Multiple “clashes of civilization" are taking place in India today around soil and land.
There is a clash between what Aristotle called “chrematistics," the art of money-making, and “oikonomia," the art of living. The clash is between the soil and Earth centred agrarian economies of peasant societies and the money-centered speculative economies which are obsessed with the art of money making, with no respect for the democratic rights of people whose land is being grabbed, or for the soil that has sustained our civilization over millennia.
This intense clash is because the government wants to forcefully and undemocratically appropriate land from the farmers and hand it over to builders and speculators.
A war against land and people has been declared through the land acquisition ordinance which, by reversing the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, takes us back to the colonial law of 1894.
There is a clash between two views of history on the land question. There is a false, linear view of history that projects human progress as moving from agriculture to industry to service economies. A more realistic view recognises that history moves in cycles.
At the national level, history of land is not a linear history of dispossession, but a cyclical history of land grab and land reform.
The British created the zamindari system, which led to violence, injustice and famines. Peasants started movements like Tebhaga after the great Bengal famine, and movements for land reform and land rights based on “land to the tiller" philosophy. West Bengal had its Operation Barga, India introduced “land ceiling," a limit on the ownership of land, and land reform along with land distribution made Independent India a land of hard working, sovereign and proud small farmers.
The land grab ordinance is, in fact, a new zamindari, aimed at reversing all that Independent India put in place to protect—land, food security, the sovereignty of small farmers and the country. But it is more than a reversal because the context is different. In today's context, unjust laws passed undemocratically for land acquisition have far more impact because the activities are more destructive ecologically and socially. Removal of the clauses for consent in the land ordinance is an assault on democracy. Removal of the food security clauses is a reckless and irresponsible action forfeiting the future. Has the government been so blinded by corporate “chrematistics" that it cannot see the damage this will do to life of the soil, the “oikonomia," the vital food economy of the peasants? Has it been so deafened by the voice of those whose only objective is profits and money-making, that it cannot hear the screams of a dying soil and the people of the soil—the tribals and peasants?
A new Singapore-style capital is proposed for Andhra Pradesh at the cost of Rs 100,000 crore. About 100,000 acre of prime farmland on the banks of the Krishna river is being grabbed from small farmers who, with one acre land, earn more than Rs 30,000 per month. Former Indian Administrative Service officer Devasahayam reports how the government is describing the concrete jungle it is planning as being “full of life and economic activity," implying that farming that feeds people is a “lifeless activity!"
Globally, young people are moving back to the land, driven both by crisis of unemployment and by frustration with the urban corporate life which might bring money, but no satisfaction. Young people from banks and software companies are coming to Navdanya to learn how to be organic farmers and make a living from the land. After the banks and information technology (IT), it is soil and land that holds the future.
We already have a scarcity of land and fertile soil. To bury this scarce and precious resource on the basis of an outmoded view of history, progress and development is not enlightened policy-making. There is not enough land in the country for the limitless appetite for mining, urbanisation and industrialisation. While profiteering from land in a globalised economic system based on the false idea of limitless growth might inspire current policies, land and fertile soils set their own ecological limits. There are also social and political limits to how much dispossession, injustice, violence and destruction of democracy a society can bear. Protests against land grab and the land law are growing across the country. If they are violently crushed, as in the tribal areas, violent conflicts will intensify. In the worst case scenario, if the fabric of the soil and society are ruptured beyond repair, we will disintegrate as a civilization, as is happening to so many societies around us.
We can avert the collapse of our civilization if, in this year of soil, we collectively and democratically commit ourselves to protecting and rejuvenating the soil and, thus, our future.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.