Today: a Rethink progress report, an interview with Mariel Nanasi from New Energy Economy & compelling research on how small, local farmers using sustainable, organic farming can feed the world…easily, repudiating agribusiness’ false claims.
After a few announcements and updates, we focus the entire post on sustainable, regenerative agriculture. Enjoy!
Rethink Continues Making Strides, So Does Report Card
Over the past week, Rethink has been making rapid progress. We’ve developed a draft of our bylaws, spoken with attorneys about the formation of our 501c3, had a tremendous conversation with one foundation ready to provide funding once we have our 501c3, and obtained our Employer Identification Number, a step necessary to forming a non-profit corporation in NM. Once we’ve finalized the bylaws and completed the formation of our initial board of directors, we will be ready to submit our application to the Secretary of State to become a NM non-profit and then will be ready to submit our application for becoming a 501c3.
We have also been identifying an array of excellent resources that will fuel our research and today we present one “brief” that gets pretty close to what we plan to develop in relation to about 10-12 policy initiatives. So, be sure to review below our analysis of the tremendous opportunity for creating local, regenerative food systems that address a multiplicity of challenges: soil erosion, food scarcity, child nutrition, reduction of methane emissions, reduction of water degradation from pesticides and industrial livestock runoff, acidification of our oceans, climate change and more. Great stuff.
Rethink-Transformation Study Group Huddle. Interested in finding out more about Rethink Our Democracy and roles available for volunteers with a few hours a month to offer, click here to register for our Rethink Huddle, Wednesday, April 21 from 6-7;30 pm. We need researchers, legislative activists, social media mavens, and people with tech skills to move our work forward.
We have also made great progress on the Report Card. We’ve finished tallying all the votes (thank you Michael Sperberg McQueen) and finished ed an outline of the report complete with our initial findings. What’s even more exciting, is we have scheduled interviews with nine legislators this week, to vet our findings and explore recommendations that might address some of the problems we’ve identified with the legislative process. We plan to interview at least 15 and perhaps 20 legislators before we are done with that process. And then the writing begins. Stay Tuned.
Democracy Collaborative and the “New Systems Project” Present Two Extraordinary Forums
We are huge fans of the Democracy Collaborative and the first of the two forums focuses on Cooperation Jackson. When Roxanne and I went on our 10,000 car trip to meet with leaders of progressive initiatives across the country, Cooperation Jackson was one of the most inspiring. The second forum, focused on alternative approaches to economic recovery, features David Korten, founder of YES! magazine and one of the writers who has consistently expressed the need for an alternative economic model to capitalism and a de-emphasis of using measures of unchecked economic growth as the way to assess our community health. Tune in. You won’t be sorry.
|Events this week highlight “New Systems Reader”You are invited to attend two events this week featuring authors and ideas from The New Systems Reader, the book that is igniting new debates about how we emerge from the multiple crises stoked by extractive capitalism and build a better economy in which all can thrive. Both events are virtual and free of charge.On April 21 at 5 p.m. Eastern/2 p.m. Pacific, Rep, Mark Pocan, D-Wisc.; New Systems Reader contributors Gar Alperovitz, co-founder of The Democracy Collaborative, and Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson; and other leading community organizers and academics will lead a discussion of “The Next System and the Academy: Systemic Crises, Movements, and Change in the 2020s.” George Mason University professor Ben Manski, the organizer of this event, is pioneering a “next system studies” curriculum at George Mason. The discussion is designed to address the question of how to make the most of “the possibility that from this period of systemic decay may emerge a next system that is more democratic, sustainable, and just. “Register for “The Next System and the Academy”|
|On April 23 at 1 p.m. Eastern/10 a.m. Pacific, New Systems Reader contributors Nia Evans (Ujima Boston), Emily Kawano (Wellspring Cooperative) and David Korten (author) will discuss “Alternatives to a Failed Economy” and their ideas for how we can emerge a better society and world from the COVID-19 pandemic. The panel will be a plenary session of the Post-Capitalism Conference co-organized by Cooperation Humboldt and hosted by Humboldt State University. The panelists will bring diverse perspectives to the singular challenge of how to usher in a post-capitalist economy. Register for “Alternatives to a Failed Economy”|
Retake Conversation with Mariel Nanasi, New Energy Economy Executive Director. We discussed Community Solar, Local Choice Energy, the Green Amendment and other energy/environment bills and how and why the legislature has such a difficult time passing any bills that challenge the utility or gas and oil industries. But for my money, the best part of the interview began at 30M03S once we were off the air with KSFR. Mariel outlined all that is at stake with the proposed Avangrid acquisition of PNM. You won’t have heard or seen this anywhere else and it really points to the critical importance of achieving energy independence and energy democracy. Listen up!
Today’s Santa Fe New Mexican published an extended piece on the Avangrid acquisition of PNM. It is a good primer to what is at stake. Retake will also publish analysis of the acquisition before the May 3 PRC hearings begin. Stay Tuned!
Industrial Agriculture: A Path to Famine with Local, Regenerative Farming as the Alternative
Most all of our readers understand the critical need to switch to renewable energy and eliminate our reliance upon the extractive coal, gas and oil industries. Our time is running out and our options narrowing to have any hope of averting a cataclysmic climate catastrophe within a very few decades. And with fire season upon us, and after another year of draught across the southwest and much of the US, we can expect weather events and fires to offer precursors of just how bad that catastrophe could be.
Today, we will review a range of studies that point incontrovertibly to another existential threat from another industry, agribusiness, whose large scale agricultural industry is also focused on short-term profit, consequences to the world population and the earth itself, be damned. Here too, we need a just transition, one that must abruptly move from agribusiness and its reliance on intensive monocropping, genetically modified seeds and foods, and devotion of inordinate acreage to produce feed for a massive cattle industry that is despoiling millions of acres annually.
Thankfully, there are science-based alternatives, supported by economic analysis that indicate that a switch to locally produced, regenerative agriculture could significantly reduce the climate footprint from food production, regenerate the soil that has been destroyed by industrial practices, deliver fresher, and more nutritious, insecticide-free food. And despite agribusiness claims to the contrary, a transition to regenerative agriculture not only can feed the world, it is the only alternative that can. As this piece will demonstrate, continued use of industrial agriculture will result in a parched earth, spoiled soil, and a continuously shrinking capacity to feed the world–quite literally, this is a feast or famine situation.
To put the challenge in context, we have relied on a number of research pieces and then provide six short video outlining the challenge and presenting a series of initiatives illustrating how regenerative agriculture can feed the world.
What is the problem?
The world population is projected to expand to 10 billion people by 2050, a major contributing factor to the challenge we face. In the 100 years from 1950 to 2050 we will have multiplied our world population five times, with a two billon person increase projected for the next 30 years.
The graphic at left describes the mantra of the agribusiness industry that to meet the demand resulting from a 2 billion increase in population will require us to increase food production by 50% by 2050. The need to increase food production by 50% is what drives industry insistence of our need to increase utilization of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, GMOs and intensive mono-cropping production practices. But as The Guardian, Science Direct and Resilience make clear, while we will very likely achieve the population growth projected, industry supported strategies to address that need are build upon a series of false assumptions and overlook alternatives that can address food security in the face of population increase both more economically and more sustainably.
The first problem with agribusiness assumptions is that it relies on increasing acreage devoted to agribusiness. Herein lies the first problem: Where to find the land?
“Finding that amount of land in suitable conditions would spell the end for many of the earth’s remaining forests, peatlands and wild areas, and release the carbon stored in them, hastening climate change.”From The Guardian: “Can We Ditch Intensive Farming and Still Feed the World?”
Compounding that challenge is that intensive, industrial agricultural practices are responsible for a myriad of environmental problems resulting from the intensive use of pesticides on crops, antibiotics on cattle and the largely unregulated runoff that spews into our seas. From Science Direct:
“The current intensification of agricultural practices is already resulting in the unsustainable degradation of soils. Major forms of this degradation include the loss of organic matter and the release of greenhouse gases, the over-application of fertilizers, erosion, contamination, acidification, salinization, and loss of genetic diversity. This ongoing soil degradation is decreasing the long-term ability of soils to provide humans with services, including future food production, and is causing environmental harm.”From Science Direct: “Soil and the Intensification of Agriculture for Global Food Security”
“Soil and the Intensification of Agriculture for Global Food Security” does an excellent job of using scientific research to outline the other challenges faced from the increased need to produce food to ensure global food security:
- Land devoted to biofuel production. In the last 20 years we have experienced a six-fold increase in the demand for biofuel, mostly ethanol, with ethanol production consuming tens of millions of hectares of cropping area. Researchers expect that ethanol demand will not increase as greatly as demand for food. What’s more, while total ethanol use of cropping area only represents only 2% of the world’s cropping area, there are other environmental consequences resulting from the intensive farming techniques used in this industry, including degradation of the soil and greenhouse gas release.
- Population growth will vastly expand land devoted to urban expansion. Currently agriculture utilizes 1600 million hectares of land, but between now and the year 2040, it is predicted that the amount of land occupied by urban areas will increase, from 213 million ha in the year 2000 (1.6% of ice-free land) to 621 million ha (4.7%) by the year 2040 (van Vliet et al., 2017). This will quite obviously reduce the amount of land available for food production especially given that most urban expansion will occur on land that is very favorable for food production.
- Increase in waste production. While not directly related to food ;production, an increase in population will correspond with an increase in the production of waste that must be disposed somewhere and in many areas of the world the landfills housing this waste pose other threats to our land. From Science Direct: “Where waste is disposed to landfill, these sites are often a serious source of contamination, not only contaminating the soils themselves but also the surface and subsurface water sources. Indeed, it is known that landfill sites are major sites of pollution for heavy metals, poorly degradable organic compounds, and other pollutants, impacting on soil and human health (Eugenio et al., 2018).”
- Degradation of soil is also a consequence of agribusiness’s deployment of intensified farming techniques. From Science Direct: “it is estimated that, overall, 33% of soils are presently moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, salinization, acidification, contamination, or compaction (FAO and ITPS, 2015) and that 52% of agricultural land is already moderately or severely affected by soil degradation (ELD, 2015). Indeed, the loss of soil due to degradation is assumed to cost the world US$400 billion per year (ELD, 2015). Accordingly, it is predicted that land degradation over the next 25 years could potentially reduce global food productivity by 12%, increasing food prices by 30% (ELD, 2015).”
- Decrease in organic matter in the soil. Intensive agriculture greatly reduces the amount of organic matter produced in the soil and over time “acidifies” the soil. The loss of organic matter results in an increase in the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, degrades the soil, and decreases the capacity of the soil to retain “green water” which provides 90% of the water needed to grow crops. Not a good combo.
- Over Application of Fertilizers. To meet demands for food production, agribusiness has relied upon intensive application of of fertilizers, mostly nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Deploying these fertilizers has expanded our food production, from Science Direct: “Society has become so reliant on synthetic N fertilizers that it is estimated that the lives of approximately half of the world’s population are made possible by the synthetic N fertilizers produced using the Haber-Bosch process (Erisman et al., 2008).” However, this comes with significant consequences, as the efficacy of these fertilizers decreases markedly over time with over half of nitrogen fertilizers unused by the plants themselves and thus released into the environment with multiple negative consequences including: 1) increased acidification of the soil, 2) increased emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas global warming potential 298 times higher than carbon dioxide; 3) required consumption of fossil fuels in production of the fertilizers and 4) eutrophication of oceans, a process that by decreasing the amount of oxygen in the water increasingly kills off fish.
There are still other consequences from agribusiness’s intensive farming techniques, including soil erosion, soil contamination, soil and ocean acidification, and negative impacts on our health, as the fertilizers and insecticides utilized have been shown to significantly contribute to cancers and other preventable health conditions. Taken together, it is quite clear that allowing agribusiness to continue its unsustainable practices is simply not an option.
While Science Direct does an excellent job of outlining the consequences of agribusiness practices, the solutions it points to are modest and somewhat wedded to mainstream corporate and scientific thinking. Their suggestions for policy are tepid at best, largely asking agribusinesses to be more judicious in application of insecticides and fertilizers and to identify ways to reduce the negative impacts of their agribusiness practices. It is only in their final passage they identify a far more sustainable strategy, organic farming, before quickly qualifying that acknowledgment.
“It is briefly worth mentioning the role of organic agriculture, which is increasingly gaining favor particularly in developed countries. From the perspective of the soil, the focus of organic agriculture on organic fertilizers has been shown to have a range of benefits due to the associated increase in soil OM. In addition, organic agriculture on average requires 15% less energy than conventional systems (Clark and Tilman, 2017). However, it is also well established that organic agricultural systems have consistently lower yields and require 25–110% more land to produce the same quantity of food, have lower yield stability, and have a 37% have greater eutrophication potential (Clark and Tilman, 2017; Knapp and van der Heijden, 2018). Thus, it is clear, where possible, that the beneficial aspects of organic agricultural systems should be blended with the beneficial aspects of conventional systems in order to achieve optimal outcomes for both soil and society.”From Science Direct: “Soil and the Intensification of Agriculture for Global Food Security”
The problem with the projections about organic agriculture being unable to meet projected food production needs, is that traditional researchers, the UN, and the agribusiness share the same faulty methodology in projecting future food demands, and fails to consider the degree to which our current over supply of food drives down prices and makes development of local organic and sustainable agriculture more challenging. As reported by Resilience the methods used by industry, the UN and far too many policy makers, grossly overstates current and projected demands for food, creating the evidence to justify increased use of pesticides, GMOs, fertilizers, etc. From Resilience, “Agriculture’s Greatest Myth:
“Often, they [food] are in huge surplus, even in the hungriest countries. Farmers will tell you they are going out of business because, as a result of these surpluses, prices are low and continuously falling. Indeed, declining agricultural prices are a broad trend continuing, with the odd blip, for over a century, and applying to every commodity. This downward trend has continued even through a recent biofuel boom designed to consume some of these surpluses (de Gorter et al., 2015). In other words, the available data contradict the likelihood of food shortages. Despite the rising global population, food gluts are everywhere.”From Resilience, “Agriculture’s Greatest Myth
A key element in promoting the myth that small, local, sustainable agriculture can’t feed the world, is the false assumptions made by scientists, researchers and the agribusiness industry to predict future demand for food. The most used methodology, GAPS (Global Agriculture Perspectives System), routinely incorporates assumptions that generate a false sense of crisis in the food supply. These false assumptions and the fabricated food supply crisis are used by agribusiness to double down on the very strategies that are entirely unsustainable: intense use of pesticides, fertilizers, mono-cropping, and GMOs.
In a peer reviewed, study Jonathan Latham identified four false assumptions that are central to GAPS and other food system models that drive industry alarmist projections.
- Assumption I: Biofuels should be counted as part of our demand for increased “food” production. Biofuels in no way are part of our “food” systems, but are a key player in the energy and plastics industries. For food security analysis, we should not be including as part of our demand for food, production of biofuels. This is clearly an assumption generated with the intent of both bolstering a food crisis mentality and securing cropping area for the production of ethanol for biofuels, a practice that needs to be curbed.
- Assumption II: Current agribusiness food production systems are optimized for productivity. As the data from Science Direct makes clear, current practices are not only not maximizing current output, they are also depleting our resources in ways that will limit the arable land available for effective food production and require our sustained addiction to chemical-based agriculture.
- Assumption III: Current tools like GAPS correctly estimate potential food yields. Latham cites as one example GAPS food production for rice at levels vastly lower than what is routinely being achieved today. Latham suggests that this is likely the case in how these predictive models calculate the yield potential of other foods being produced. Clearly, if food production yields were captured more accurately, the demand for food would be decreased.
- Assumption IV: Annual global food production is approximately equal to global food consumption. Upwards of 40% of all food winds up in storage due to a glut in supply or degrades in transit from intercontinental shipments of food. The GAPS tool doesn’t incorporate the adoption of strategies that are more local that can deliver food to markets much more efficiently and with far less waste.
Taken together the GAPS and the other measurement models deployed throughout government and industry vastly underestimate potential crop yields while significantly exaggerating future food demand. As long as these methods to measure future food demand guide agricultural priorities and as long as industry lobbyists prevail in utilization of pesticides, fertilizers, mono-cropping and GMOs to meet a artificially generated crisis, more sustainable practices such as those described below, will have great difficulty in coming to scale. And as Latham concludes, those creating these measures are the same folks at the policy table, and they are stakeholders in an agribusiness that is entirely focused on short-term profits, profits that are increased with government subsidies that would be more appropriately offered to expand regenerative food production.
The Guardian’s “Can we ditch intensive farming – and still feed the world?” poses the question of whether we can feed the world without use of agribusiness’s intensive farming approach and then offers a resounding yes. The Guardian cites facts, figures and models outlining the efficacy of organic farming, regenerative livestock production, and other innovations as urban gardening, to address food scarcity in a sustainable way.
Indeed, The Guardian notes that “there are more than 570m farms worldwide; more than 90% are run by an individual or family and rely primarily on family labour. They produce about 80% of the world’s food.” This simple fact reveals the real role that agribusiness plays in “agriculture:” production of biofuels and feed for a continuously expanding demand for meat.
Indeed, even the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, which too often has sided with international agribusiness interests, has concluded:
“FAO considers investment in smallholder production ‘the most urgent and secure and promising means of combating hunger and malnutrition, while minimizing the ecological impact of agriculture.’ ”From The Guardian: “Can we ditch intensive farming – and still feed the world?”
The Guardian goes on to identify a key factor in producing conditions that would allow local organic gardening to feed the world: significant reduction of meat consumption, freeing arable land from producing corn, hay and alfalfa to undergo regeneration and production of produce.
“Rob Percival, head of policy at the Soil Association, says organic farming can feed the world, if consumption patterns are adjusted to encourage those who can afford meat to eat less of it. ‘We need an urgent shift in both production and consumption if we’re to avert the worst consequences of climate change, including a dietary shift towards less and better meat,’ he says.”From The Guardian: “Can we ditch intensive farming – and still feed the world?”
After laying out how urban gardening, organic food production, regenerative grazing, efficient use of technology, and other innovations can be deployed as an alternative to agribusiness’s intensified farming, The Guardian concludes:
“Our reliance on artificial fertiliser and intensive farming techniques did not happen overnight, but took decades. Along the way, these methods revolutionised farming and enabled huge population growth and economic growth. We now have a wealth of scientific evidence that shows that continuing down the same path would risk runaway climate change, the extinction of species vital to human life, pollution of our water and air, and the death of our soils.”From The Guardian: “Can we ditch intensive farming – and still feed the world?”
I was going to lay out in narrative form, many of the innovations that are described in The Guardian and other research reviewed for this post, but I decided that the post is long enough and I’d relieve you of reading, as the videos below do such an excellent job of reinforcing what we have learned above. The videos provide compelling examples of an array of regenerative, sustainable and local agriculture practices that can free us of our reliance on a corporate model of farming that is exploitive, extractive and unsustainable.
Over and over again, we will find in Rethink work, how the profit motive and the capitalist system that supports it relies upon false assumptions, misinformation and a public that very often never sees the counter arguments to industry and may not have necessary bandwidth for sorting out truth from fiction. Hence, the importance of Rethink’s work ahead.
In the beginning of the post, I noted that this post would approximate what a Rethink brief would look like. What is missing and what will be the work ahead, are interviews with local stakeholders and with their input and direction, the formulation of specific plans for how NM could adopt some of the practices you will see in the videos below. For now, this piece is a research brief, but going forward we want to transform research into applied partnerships that will implement the principles and practices outlined in the brief. So there is more work to be done…and we can’t abandon the project.
A Video Series Outlining the Vast Potential of a Sustainable Approach to Agriculture
The videos below dramatically depict the dire impact of industrial agriculture and the alternatives that can free us from this industry. If you are looking for inspiration and hope, viewing these videos would be worth your time. If you don’t have time to view them all now, please save this post and come back when you can. And if you want to limit your viewing time, I’d recommend the first video from Anna Lappe, the third video on urban farming (amazing, inspiring), and the last video on regenerative grazing and small scale meat production. Watch on!
Anna Lappé & Food MythBusters:
Do we really need industrial agriculture to feed the world?
This is such an excellent clip outlining first the reasons why industrial farming is unsustainable and then how small, local farmers can feed the world. This is an excellent video to share with someone who may not get how critical the transition to local sustainable farming can be and how achievable it is.
Anna Lappé & Food MythBusters:
Myth of Choice: How Junk-Food Marketers Target Our Kids
The title says it all. If you have adult kids who have kids, this would be an excellent video to share with them.
Urban Farming: An Astonishing View of What Is Possible
This is so inspiring, a PBS episode that offers example after example of model urban farming programs operating across the nation, even one piece on a NYC beekeeper and an aquaponics operation constructed in an abandoned warehouse. Working with local sustainable farming advocates to bring one or more of these models to scale in NM, will be one of the goals of Rethink Our Democracy.
How Sustainable Local Agriculture Can Feed the World
As the video shows, the rejection of industrial agriculture and a return to organic, sustainable farming can regenerate “dead” soil and return nitrogen to the atmosphere..
Regenerative Grazing & Reduces the Carbon Foot
Outlines the significant contribution of industrial beef, how subsidies sustain an unsustainable process. The video also outlines how regenerative grazing can significantly reduce methane release.
As we saw in the Roundhouse, due to industry lobbying, good ideas often do not pass into law. Our challenge will be to assemble strong coalitions, assemble compelling evidence and respected researchers to present alternatives to that misinformation to individual legislators and during Interim Hearings. Significant education will be needed to foster the kind of understanding of what is at stake and what is possible.
In solidarity, hope and gratitude,
Paul & Roxanne