Call of the Reed Warbler – Charles Massy in conversation with Costa Georgiadis

6 08 2018

I have a new hero……. forget renewable energy, the next revolution will be, must be, regenerative farming…..  or we are truly stuffed.

Charles Massy OAM Author and radical farmer’s new book ‘Call of the Reed Warbler’ explores transformative and regenerative agriculture and the vital connection between our soil and our health. According to Massy, we need a revolution — he believes that human health, our communities, and the very survival of the planet depend on it. Charles is coming to the Library to talk about how he believes a grassroots revolution can save the planet, help turn climate change around, and build healthy people and healthy communities, pivoting significantly on our relationship with growing and consuming food.

Charles is in conversation with Costa Georgiadis, nature lover and host of ABC’s Gardening Australia. Filmed: State Library of New South Wales, Sat 9 Dec 2017 Supported by: The Saturday Paper, Friendly Farms

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Eating for a Better World

15 07 2018

Many thanks to Jacqueline who found this excellent “must read” piece on our farming predicaments….. Since buying a farm myself, I am totally convinced everything written here is accurate, and that until people wake up to themselves about this, we will continue on our road to the edge of the cliff with everyone arguing about how much faster we should be going….

Lifted from this excellent website….

“The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.”
—Teju Cole

It is not surprising that there are growing numbers of vegans and vegetarians worldwide who are becoming dogmatic about their food choices. Many aspects of the hyper-synthetic cityscapes we inhabit are disorienting to mammals such as ourselves. Over the last hundred years, our food systems have undergone drastic change. Food — that basic, life-igniting, community-building element — has become completely outsourced, processed, industrialized, and bland. Worse, animals are distorted and abused beyond recognition to produce it.

The meat we come across in cities looks less and less like a part of the animal it came from, and more like another factory product packaged in layers of thick plastic. We have become detached from the mutualistic relationships we have formed with animals over thousands of years. We are conceptually isolated from trophic cascades. Eating animals in this context surely feels like cheating, since the only models we have for our relationships with them are our relationships with other people.

One by one, city dwellers awaken to the fact that their chicken no longer tastes or looks like chicken and that their bodies are dulled by the meat of the crippled, hormone- and antibiotic-stuffed animals we breed. They begin to feel a visceral, intellectual, and moral repulsion towards the animal products that everyone eats so flippantly.

The slaughtering of animals used to take place within a relationship. There was little room for cowardice, since the act of killing was personal. The hunter looked into the eyes of the deer and was changed by that gaze. The farmer lived in close proximity with her cattle and understood that her own well-being depended on that of her animals. The cook knew how to calm her chicken before she twisted its neck, and let no part of the animal go to waste. The shepherd risked his life to defend his herd. Everyone who ate was intimate with the cycles that brought food to the plate. Ritual mediated relationships, providing for a way for people to both honor and eat the world around them.

Now we are divorced from these processes. Veganism is another reaction to this isolation, and indeed could have only emerged within it.

An urbanite looking for alternatives easily comes across veganism, a mainstream option made attractive through popular books and films and charming cafes in every major city. When continuing to eat feedlot meat and eggs from enslaved chickens becomes impossible, veganism beckons with a practicable solution. But subjective health claims and moral appeals that harness the disgust response too often blind vegans to the many nuances that determine our food culture. It can also blind them to more exciting, systemic antidotes to the plethora of fatal faults in our food systems.

Agriculture that is running off a cliff

Industrial agriculture has wrought many miracles. It has allowed developed countries to produce more food on less land and with fewer people. But it has achieved this wonder by making fertilizer and pesticides out of fossil fuels, eroding topsoil, and reducing the variety of plants in our diet. In other words, we are paying for our cheap food and our disconnection from the land with degraded landscapes and monotony.

Most plants for human consumption today are grown in monocultures. The first step to making a monoculture is to strip a plot of land of its community of plants and animals. This rich web of life is replaced by a single species — a high-yield crop — and every other organism is policed out of the perimeter by chemical and mechanical aggression. The soil, shorn of its cover, languishes and the microorganisms and fungi within it perish. The carbon formerly contained in the soil is released into the atmosphere. To make this impoverished medium keep producing, farmers are obliged to inject it with massive amounts of synthetic nitrogen, a fertilizer that is manufactured from natural gas. So much gas now escapes from fracking sites that it makes ruminants’ emissions pale into insignificance.

The fertilizer then runs off the beaten land into waterways and oceans, where it destabilizes natural ecosystems, rendering them practically barren. Our planet’s oceans are pockmarked by 146 of these dead zones where marine life has been completely choked out.

Photo credit: Wageningen University

Harnessing the genius of nature

But there is another way of doing agriculture, one that turns organic waste into fertilizer and builds soil rather than eroding it. It goes by many names, but we like to call it regenerative agriculture, because it is a way of eliciting food from the land while simultaneously enhancing its ability to produce food for us in the future. It requires fewer inputs but more intelligence. In this sort of system, the farmer is not an industrial conqueror, forcing food from the land until it gives up in exhaustion. Instead, the farmer observes nature and the tendencies of the land. With this knowledge, she leverages its genius, tilting natural ecosystems this way or that to both make them richer and ensure that they produce yields that humans can eat.

These yields are more nutrient dense and often more delicious than their conventional counterparts, coming as they do from vibrant communities of plants and animals expressing their nature in concert. These production systems, when properly managed, regenerate the soil, endowing it with higher quantities of minerals such as magnesium and calcium, which are then transported by fruits, vegetables, and meat into our bodies.

This portrait of food production may sound fantastical, but it is in fact in the mould of nature, which has no trouble making something from nothing, and where thriving ecosystems become more verdant and diverse over time. However, if we want to stick around for the feast on this warming planet, we need to find ways to produce our food that are as generative and enduring. Were it implemented widely, regenerative farming could capture more carbon dioxide than we emit, as demonstrated by the Rodale Institute. So in addition to providing food for human consumption, agriculture plays a central role in addressing climate change.

As it happens, animals are essential to many — if not all — of the cleverest systems that humans have devised for deriving food from landscapes while preserving them. Just as animals are keystones in the rainforest and the wild grasslands, they vitalize agricultural processes as well.

On farms that produce crops, it makes a lot of sense to keep animals that can convert vegetable waste into protein-dense food. In turn, their manure fertilizes crops and their pecking can aid pest control, reducing the need for industrial inputs. Animals raised in this manner have the opportunity to graze on good pastures, enjoy social lives, breathe fresh air, and bathe in the light provided by our star, all while making agriculture more sustainable.

In some geographies, the best way to support the richness of the land and produce food is not by imposing crops, but by properly managed grazing. If the land is water-restricted, the most sensible way to make food is often to use ruminants to convert grass — which humans cannot eat — into nutrient-dense food. This leaves more water in the rivers and aquifers and stimulates the growth of grasses that not only feed cattle but store carbon in the ground.

Photo credit: Phillip Capper

Shades of green

If you are a vegan who only eats plants that come from regenerative, polycropped, organic food systems, it’s certain that your diet has a claim to higher moral ground than the average diet. If you eat this way and also occasionally buy local animal products from food production systems that caringly integrate animals into regenerative landscapes, your claim is much stronger. But if you are not paying careful attention to where your plants come from, how they’ve been processed, or how far they have traveled, it’s likely that for all your efforts you are not improving the lot of animals overall, and neither are you saving the world.

Even if you are persuaded by the environmental arguments, you may have a problem with the idea of killing animals. But if you think deeply, you might find that the immoral thing is not necessarily to deliberately take life. The immoral thing is to live in a way that destroys nature, which industrial agriculture does. In this context, the focus on the welfare of individual domesticated animals might be an extension of the modernist tendency to simplify and discriminate. The morality of living, eating, and dying is more complex than two-word slogans can prescribe. If we care about animals — wild or domesticated — we have to think in terms of entire ecosystems.

If you’re a vegan who eats food from monoculture fields where farm workers are routinely poisoned by synthetic inputs; if you eat food that comes packaged in layers of plastic that choke marine life after they are discarded into the ocean; if your nuts and quinoa are flown in from Brazil on the wings of fossil fuels — then are you really more moral or are you simply disconnected?

Eating to support life

Veganism is perhaps the gateway-par-excellence into conscious eating. In fact, people often feel better when they switch to a vegan diet, especially if it marks the first time they are thinking deliberately about what they are putting into their bodies. But it’s not clear whether the initial benefits that are sometimes felt come from being plant-exclusive or from the elimination of certain toxic foods that were formerly in the diet. It’s also been extensively documented that fasting from particular foods and nutrients for a period of time has health benefits, so long as those periods punctate a diet that is on the whole well-balanced.

There is reason to believe that animal protein—besides having played a leading role in human evolution—is necessary for excellent health. Even so, the debate about whether perfect human health can be achieved without animal products is unsettled. But what is certain is that our croplands and grasslands yearn for the reintegration of animals, and we’re past the point in ecological history where we can afford to not use every good method we’ve got to restore land and habitats. Providing a market for the right kind of animal products is a way to finance the good farmers doing the hard work of regeneration. We can channel our ancestral, vivid appetites into economies that support life.

Veganism is insufficient to maintaining a world where animals of every stripe have space and opportunity to flourish. To build that world, we have to stop cooking the planet by burning fossil fuels to fly out-of-season food around the globe. We have to put more carbon in the ground where it can support life instead of threatening it. We have to stop buying food that comes wrapped in plastic, which later ends up in landfills and oceans. We have to stop poisoning landscapes and people with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. We have to stop tearing down ecosystems to install monocultures. We have to stop destroying living soil and start creating more of it. Lovingly incorporating animals into regenerative food landscapes is a powerful way to do this, a means of creating a world where life can thrive.

People who reject factory farmed meat are already awake to the damage being caused by industrial farming — and what is more, they are willing to change their lifestyles to unplug from destructive systems. But there are solutions that go deeper and ultimately make a lot more sense, ones that produce good instead of simply abstaining from harm. They offer a way of eating that is active, delicious, and embedded. If we take a good hard look at our relationships with our ecosystems and eat accordingly, we might actually be able to save the world, as the vegan slogan goes.

If you care about people, animals, and the environment, we invite you to steep in these questions for a bit:

  • Is my food in season?
  • How is my food processed?
  • How is the food I buy packaged and where does the packaging go after I discard it?
  • How far has my food traveled?
  • Is the water used in its production sourced and managed in an ecologically sensible way?
  • Is the soil that produced the food languishing or becoming more fecund?
  • Does the landscape it was produced on provide habitats for a variety of wildlife?
  • How are the people involved in the production, transportation, and sale of my food living? Are they treated fairly?

It’s likely that the only way to know the answers will be to get out of the city and meet some farmers. This takes more time that most modern humans are accustomed to dedicating to food provision, but a trip out into the countryside might also ease your alienation.

Either way, we hope you enjoy your food and your place in the trophic cascade of life and death.

Instagram:

Follow us @trophictales

Learn more:

Silvopasture — Project Drawdown

Managed Grazing — Project Drawdown

Regenerative Agriculture — Project Drawdown

Livestock and the transition to sustainable agriculture — FAO

Save our soils: Why dirt matters — University of Melbourne

Don’t abstain from meat, buy good meat — Ariel Greenwood

Permaculture, all grown up — Chris Newman

Levels of Regenerative Agriculture — Terra Genesis

An Animal’s Place — Michael Pollan

The Omnivore’s Dilemma — Michael Pollan

The Third Plate — Dan Barber

Farms we love:

Milkwood Farm — Koanga InstituteRodale InstituteNew Forest Farm — Freestone Ranch — Stone Barns Center FarmPolyface FarmPasturebirdKul Kul FarmRoebuck FarmLa Pateria de Sousa — Zaytuna Farms — Whole Systems Design —Labranto — Proyecto Deveras





The best way to save the planet?

18 06 2018

This amazing piece of information just came across my newsfeed, and it encapsulates everything I believe in and want to practice on the Fanny Farm….  There are great embedded videos in this, and it will take you some time to get through it, but it’s really worth the effort… the Roots of Nature site is fantastic, and I will go through it once the building phase here is over….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The best way to save the planet? Stop listening to George Monbiot!

We can’t and shouldn’t try to calculate the value of living systems by only using reductionist science that is centuries behind explaining the true wonder of mother nature and her balanced systems.

POSTED BY CAROLINE GRINDROD ON JUN 16, 2018

In his last article and in the other regenerative agriculture and holistic management hate mail currently spewing from George Monbiot – is an unrelenting desire to reduce our food production systems down to simple numbers. Numbers which conveniently support his idea of a vegan utopia.

This sort of mechanistic analysis only makes sense for de-natured food systems where all-natural processes have been ‘knocked out’ and what’s left is a lifeless medium in which a plant can put down roots. In our modern ‘Frankenstein’ agriculture N + P + K = a food plant, which will survive if you exterminate all pests (also known as wildlife) with pesticides, all fungi (one of the most important organisms for carbon sequestration) with fungicides, and all weeds (also known as wildflowers) with herbicides.

George Monbiot Meat
This ‘efficient’ yet highly vulnerable chemical agriculture system is what mostly produces the plant foods that George insists is all we should eat. A lot of the plants are also fed to our Frankenstein livestock fattened in sheds in horrible and unethical conditions. I’m with George 100% that this practice is completely unacceptable and totally inefficient, but the WHOLE of this chain of production is utterly anti-nature, regardless if it’s animals or humans eating the product.

Let’s not overlook that in any food production system – especially those run by large profit-driven corporations like the companies who will be making those yummy fake meat burgers  – there’s a lot of waste crop that doesn’t make the grade for human consumption which makes up a significant part of what is fed to livestock. This isn’t factored into his number crunching.

We can all cherry pick reductionist science to back up our most closely held viewpoints. George accuses free range steak of being ‘more damaging’ than even conventional meat based on the land required to produce a KG of grass-fed steak. These accusations are based on the ridiculous idea that a living animal on a living system should be quantified using this calculation;

Total methane emissions = number of animals x lifetime of animal x methane emissions per head per day.

 

Thinking of a cow as a ‘meat machine’ highlights the extent of the issue of using reductionist science for making decisions about food. But as explained in this great piece and its relevant links  much of the methane emitted by cattle as part of a properly managed grazing system is oxidised and countered by the processes in the healthy living soils that the animals themselves enhance.

George Monbiot seems to think of a cow as a machine that belches unacceptable levels of methane into the atmosphere, yet overlooks the huge increase in methane that would be generated by the introduction of beavers into rewilded landscapes. As we can see in this systematic review of the literature, wetlands, which are promoted by beavers making dams, may sequester some carbon but the methane they release could overall make their GHG contribution more than if the land were to be left as grazing land.

Luckily as holistic managers, we understand that it would be ridiculous to judge the beaver based on science that is taken out of context and will probably soon be out of date anyway. I’m all for regenerating a fully functional habitat and would love to see beavers introduced back into our Wilderculture sites to improve overall ecosystem function; especially the water cycle. But if you applied the same thinking that claims cows cause global warming to beavers, they could be considered a bad idea along with any other wild herbivores that inevitably burp methane.

 

regenerative agriculture

 

George seems to understand nothing of the very serious health concerns associated with eating a vegan diet. Please watch the video below for a better understanding of why animal food are so important for fighting disease.

 

 

I think the reason why George Monbiot very obviously doesn’t ‘get’ regenerative agriculture and seems to have no grasp at all of what is involved in holistic management, is that he sees nature on one side of the fence and agriculture on the other.

By segregating and exploiting agriculture to feed humans so we can ‘give back’ land to nature, we further alienate ourselves from ‘the’ environment. Shouldn’t it be ‘our’ environment? Eventually, nobody will care; we’ll end up eating factory made products and forget any responsibility we have for our food systems and how they impact nature and people.

George Monbiot thinks of rewilded land in terms of ecosystems, yet doesn’t apply any of the same logic to farmed land and the food systems he recommends. He’s missing the point totally – probably because he repeatedly shuns any offer to learn more about it – that holistic management is based on a framework that helps us increase the effectiveness of the ecosystem processes.

In holistic management, we use tools – that sometimes include livestock – to build a healthier ecosystem that supports the greatest range of species possible, including predators. For us Holistic Managers, we consider predators, and diversity as a barometer of how well we managing our land.

 

 

Conservation organisations have highlighted that one of the biggest threats to species and habitats is the fragmentation and isolation of species in reserves; they’re like islands in a sea of degraded farmland. My dream, through our Wilderculture work, is to have farms that are even better than our current nature reserves for wildlife and provision of ecosystem services. These farms will also produce highly nutritious meat and other plants, in greater volume than the current low baseline, as a ‘by-product’ from the use of livestock to improve habitat. I would LOVE to have the problem of trying to protect my livestock from wolves and lynx one day, this would mean our environment is enormously productive and resilient to climate fluctuations.

George assumes that all holistic managers use fences and exclude predators from grazing land, which is simply not true. We learn and fully understand that we can’t have a healthy ecosystem without creating the functions of the predator-prey relationship – it’s a ‘key insight’ of holistic management!

 

 

In many of the dry-land ranches holistic planned grazing (a procedure we sometimes use in holistic management) the livestock are herded and fences aren’t used at all. When we do use fences, it is simply to mimic the function of a bunched and moving herd of wild herbivores where herding is impractical. Cattle in our Wilderculture work and in many of the African holistic management systems encourage the regeneration of a kind of wood pasture/savannah landscape – exactly that most likely to have prevailed before man had such a significant influence on the landscape.

 

 

For those who want to understand more about Holistic Management and see some of the farmers managing over 40 million hectares using this tried and tested framework, this short documentary explains it well. Or you can join me on an hour-long webinar explaining more.

 

 

We assess our land through four windows; the water cycle, the mineral cycle, the energy flow and community dynamics. Increasing function in these can increase productivity dramatically; good for the farmer, good for wildlife.

Those who judge everything based on reductionist empirical evidence will assume this is too simplistic a metric to use. Don’t be fooled. The more I learn about the most updated soil and climate science from globally respected experts such as Jason Rowntree,  Walter JehneChristine JonesElaine InghamDavid JohnsonRichard Teague – who, unlike some more ‘confused’ grazing researchersare on the right side of the now-called ‘soil revolution’ – the more I appreciate the simple elegance of this method of assessment. Reading ecosystem processes at the soil surface encapsulates the incredible and complex natural balancing system at play, in a way that science can’t yet fully accommodate.

But some of the better newer science also suggests we shouldn’t look at food systems through a single ‘window’. This article is a great and full explanation of why carbon sequestration and methane oxidation cannot be separated out from the – sometimes more important – climate change mitigating functions of a food production system.

 

The four ecosystem processes.

 

The water cycle – we assess and improve how well the water passes into and is retained within the soil and utilised by plants avoiding drought and flood. A poor water cycle reduces the ability of our planet to cool itself, drastically reduces productivity in all growing systems and reduces the ability of soil to sequester carbon.

The mineral cycle – can your plants access minerals and recycle through a living soil food web then back to the soil quickly so more plants can grow? If it does then, we can drop all the fertilisers, chemicals and medicines from agriculture – the biggest contributor to the agricultural Carbon footprint AND the biggest cost drain on farmers.

Energy flow – How effectively are you using sunlight energy and passing it through the ecosystem system for the benefit of all organisms including those that will eventually feed humans. By getting more plants photosynthesizing per every Metre squared we are making more food; for microbes in the soil, for livestock, for wildlife and eventually us. If solar energy flow is not effective you will be using fossil fuel energy; that’s expensive and destructive.

Community dynamics – How effectively are you harnessing the highest successional state within the land you manage to balance our and reduce pests, maximise nutrient uptake, seed rainfall and make all land (agricultural or ‘wild) more resilient to climate change and wild fire?

 

 

In George’s articles, he refers to one of the conclusions of this report; ‘It shows that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution that are caused by food production.’

In Richard Young’s (Sustainable food trust) superb response he highlights the many problems with using global averages to back up a highly Westernised viewpoint. The above figures neglect to understand that when farmers pioneer land they will assess the production capabilities of a given area and cultivate the lower, flatter and most accessible for crop (plant food) production and use the higher more inaccessible or less productive areas for grazing animals. it’s just common sense.

 

Of course, you’re going to get fewer calories and protein from these vast areas of uncultivated land, they wouldn’t sustain effective plant food production anyway!

 

Why do you think there are no vegan traditional cultures on the 2/3 rds of the planets habitable land that have long dry seasons? You simply don’t find large numbers of vegans anywhere in the world where there aren’t fancy-pants health food stores! All the traditional peoples of dry-land cultures have to rely on the milk, eggs, meat and blood of animals to survive.

Let’s imagine a modern-day land pioneer deciding what to grow on his land, it will illustrate why simply selecting an ‘efficient’ grain crop may not be the brightest of ideas!

You stumble across a hundred acres of wild and diverse savannah grassland and ‘grab it.’ You’ve got two choices;

1) You decide to grow just soya beans; it’s the most efficient source of food you can grow in terms of protein production and yield. Somehow you find the money to buy the seed.You need to plough the land to minimise competition and establish the crop; this kills most of the creatures that live here. Because you’re fighting nature to grow a monoculture (nature abhors bare ground and monoculture) you must use chemicals to suppress the weeds, disease, and bugs that are making a ‘bee’ line for the easy target you have provided them.

The soil has degraded releasing its valuable Carbon into the atmosphere reducing the capacity to absorb and retain precious water, and the soil micro-organisms so vital for oxidising methane and cycling nutrients have been destroyed.

The soil structure is damaged, and the liquid carbon pathway no longer functions so the plants will need inorganic fertilisers to grow – the most energy-intensive element of agriculture. 60% of those fertilisers will be lost to the rivers and streams causing havoc in water ways and oceans.

You will need to irrigate the land because, bare soil (what you have created) gets hotter and loses water through evaporation very quickly and is prone to drought and flood damage.

You could eat all this soya bean product and possibly survive – for a while at least, but there are serious health concerns about eating copious amounts of soy, or plant foods – especially the modern processed types. (see the note at the foot of the article)

Between 40 – 70 nutrients are known to be needed for health and disease resistance, not only will we get pretty bored of eating soy products, it would inevitably lead to disease and malnutrition.

The land will eventually become so degraded that no amount of chemical helps will allow a successful crop to grow – it’s not a good long-term plan – you’ll end up with a desert.

 

 

2) Alternatively, you could maintain the diverse, living savannah and allow all the wildlife to co-exist.Within your 100 acres, you can run a herd of twenty or more cattle by bunching them and moving them to mimic the natural large herds of grazers that pass through the land. You’re going to team up with your neighbours to make bigger groups, so you can allow areas of land to rest for longer.

You can milk the cows which produce a healthy and nourishing protein source all year round along with an amazing array of health benefits and you can kill a cow or a wild animal occasionally for meat.

You can use the wild herbs and roots for food and grow small areas of crops in mixed rotation to avoid pest burdens and soil degradation, the manure from the animals replenished the fertility of this land.

The entire system provides all the nutrients you need to thrive and requires NO agricultural fertilisers, chemicals or livestock medications.

This system is flood and drought resistant and can go on forever supporting the families who choose to live there.

So, in a fuller context, Georges soy-based scenario isn’t sounding quite so attractive! One of the best examples of scenario two operating at a significant food production scale is regenerative agricultural hero Gabe Brown who, in this great video below, shows an photograph of some soil before and after a woodland was cleared and then cropped with soy for 17 years – it’s scary!

 

 

George Monbiot is using the current unsustainable agricultural model – which I completely agree must change – to justify a move to a plant-based model with some vague notion that we will get better at producing plants organically without the need for livestock.

As Mark Palmer, an experienced organic agricultural advisor explains in his excellent article, producing food from an animal-free cropping system is not as simple as George would like it to sound.

My colleague Georgia and I have written a whole series of articles on how to eat in ways that regenerate land and recover human health whilst still producing enough food to nourish a growing population; we cover them fully in our ‘Wilderove approach’ the eco-omnivore approach to saving the planet.

 

Dumbing down the complexity of the discussion to a statement like ‘eating vegan is less harmful to the planet’ is absurd!

 

As I have highlighted in my article ‘I run a meat business but I’m glad more people are becoming vegan’ I would be happy to leave George alone to enthusiastically convert more people to veganism. I admire anyone who’s willing to make a change for the sake of the planet, even, if in my view, it’s misguided. At least it’s a move away from some of the cruel agricultural practices that are the current norm.

But sadly, George Monbiot seems to have made it his life’s greatest mission to undermine the efforts of regenerative agriculture practitioners like myself who farm alongside wildlife, help mitigate climate change and produce healthy food for all humans (not just middle-class ones with access to a whole foods store!) And, in particular, he seems hell-bent on destroying the reputation of a man; Allan Savory, whom I feel will one day be remembered as one of the greatest positive change-makers of our time.

We holistic managers and regenerative farmers are a small but growing movement of empowered, skilled, experienced and passionate individuals who WILL keep trying to save this beautiful planet regardless of the unrelenting application of limited thinking and significant influence against our cause.

 

 

So, in my humble and un-scientific opinion, one of the most damaging practices in land management today is the widespread promotion of GM.

I mean George Monbiot!

Caroline Grindrod

 

Taken from Weston Price Web site; • High levels of phytic acid in soy reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Phytic acid in soy is not neutralized by ordinary preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and long, slow cooking. High phytate diets have caused growth problems in children. • Trypsin inhibitors in soy interfere with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders. In test animals soy containing trypsin inhibitors caused stunted growth. • Soy phytoestrogens disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women. • Soy phytoestrogens are potent antithyroid agents that cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease. • Vitamin B12 analogs in soy are not absorbed and actually increase the body’s requirement for B12. • Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for vitamin D. Fragile proteins are denatured during high temperature processing to make soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein. Processing of soy protein results in the formation of toxic lysinoalanine and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines. Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods. Soy foods contain high levels of aluminum which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.

 





Extinction vs. Collapse: Does it matter?

9 05 2018

Hot on the heels of the Mayer Hillman “we’re doomed” article, and the “collapse or not to collapse” video posted here, along comes this piece with links to a remarkable number of articles posted here over the past few months……. It’s hard to not start feeling that there’s a growing awareness everything’s going pear shaped. Lots of links here to follow up, if you haven’t slashed your wrists.

By 

sam millerClimate twitter – the most fun twitter – has recently been relitigating the debate between human extinction and mere civilizational collapse, between doom and gloom, despair and (kind of) hope. It was sparked by an interview in The Guardian with acclaimed scientist Mayer Hillman. He argues that we’re probably doomed, and confronting the likelihood that we’re rushing toward collective death may be necessary to save us.

The headline alone provoked a lot of reactions, many angered by the ostensible defeatism embedded in Hillman’s comments. His stated view represents one defined camp that is mostly convinced of looming human extinction. It stands in contrast to another group that believes human extinction is highly unlikely, maybe impossible, and certainly will not occur due to climate change in our lifetimes. Collapse maybe, but not extinction.

Who’s more right? Let’s take a closer look.

First, the question of human extinction is totally bounded by uncertainty. There’s uncertainty in climate data, uncertainty in models and projections, and even more uncertainty in the behavior of human systems. We don’t know how we’ll respond to the myriad impacts climate change is beginning to spark, and we don’t know how sensitive industrial civilization will be to those impacts.

We don’t really know if humans are like other apex predators highly sensitive to ecological collapse, or are among the most adaptable mammals to ever walk the earth. One may be inclined to lean toward the latter given that humans have colonized every ecological niche on the planet except Antarctica. That bands of people can survive in and around deserts as well as the Arctic as well as equatorial rainforests speaks to the resilience of small social groups. It’s why The Road is so disturbingly plausible; there could be a scenario in which basically everything is dead but people, lingering in the last grey waste of the world. On the other hand, we’ve never lived outside of the very favorable conditions of the Holocene, and past civilizational and population collapses suggest humans are in fact quite sensitive to climatic shifts.

Famed climate scientist James Hansen has discussed the possibility of “Venus syndrome,” for instance, which sits at the far end of worst case scenarios. While a frightening thought experiment, it is easily dismissed as it’s based on so many uncertainties and doesn’t carry the weight of anything near consensus.

What’s more frightening than potentially implausible uncertainties are the currently existing certainties.

For example:

Ecology

+ The atmosphere has proven more sensitive to GHG emissions than predicted by mainstream science, and we have a high chance of hitting 2°C of warming this century. Could hit 1.5°C in the 2020s. Worst-case warming scenarios are probably the most likely.

+ Massive marine death is happening far faster than anyone predicted and we could be on the edge of an anoxic event.

+ Ice melt is happening far faster than mainstream predictions. Greenland’s ice sheet is threatening to collapse and already slowing ocean currents, which too could collapse.

+ Which also means predictions of sea level rise have doubled for this century.

+ Industrial agriculture is driving massive habitat loss and extinction. The insect collapse – population declines of 75% to 80% have been seen in some areas – is something no one predicted would happen so fast, and portends an ecological sensitivity beyond our fears. This is causing an unexpected and unprecedented bird collapse (1/8 of bird species are threatened) in Europe.

+ Forests, vital carbon sinks, are proving sensitive to climate impacts.

+ We’re living in the 6th mass extinction event, losing potentially dozens of species per day. We don’t know how this will impact us and our ability to feed ourselves.

Energy

+ Energy transition is essential to mitigating 1.5+°C warming. Energy is the single greatest contributor to anthro-GHG. And, by some estimates, transition is happening 400 years too slowly to avoid catastrophic warming.

+ Incumbent energy industries (that is, oil & gas) dominate governments all over the world. We live in an oil oligarchy – a petrostate, but for the globe. Every facet of the global economy is dependent on fossil fuels, and every sector – from construction to supply chains to transport to electricity to extraction to agriculture and on and on – is built around FF consumption. There’s good reason to believe FF will remain subsidized by governments beholden to their interests even if they become less economically viable than renewables, and so will maintain their dominance.

+ We are living in history’s largest oil & gas boom.

+ Kilocalorie to kilocalorie, FF is extremely dense and extremely cheap. Despite reports about solar getting cheaper than FF in some places, non-hydro/-carbon renewables are still a tiny minority (~2%) of global energy consumption and will simply always, by their nature, be less dense kcal to kcal than FF, and so will always be calorically more expensive.

+ Energy demand probably has to decrease globally to avoid 1.5°C, and it’s projected to dramatically increase. Getting people to consume less is practically impossible, and efficiency measures have almost always resulted in increased consumption.

+ We’re still setting FF emissions records.

Politics

+ Conditions today resemble those prior to the 20th century’s world wars: extreme wealth inequality, rampant economic insecurity, growing fascist parties/sentiment, and precarious geopolitical relations, and the Thucydides trap suggests war between Western hegemons and a rising China could be likely. These two factors could disrupt any kind of global cooperation on decarbonization and, to the contrary, will probably mean increased emissions (the US military is one of the world’s single largest consumers/emitters of FF).

+ Neoliberal ideology is so thoroughly embedded in our academic, political, and cultural institutions, and so endemic to discourse today, that the idea of degrowth – probably necessary to avoid collapse – and solidarity economics isn’t even close to discussion, much less realization, and, for self-evident reasons, probably never will be.

+ Living in a neoliberal culture also means we’ve all been trained not to sacrifice for the common good. But solving climate change, like paying more to achieve energy transition or voluntarily consuming less, will all entail sacrificing for the greater good. Humans sometimes are great at that; but the market fundamentalist ideology that pervades all social, commercial, and even self relations today stands against acting for the common good or in collective action.

+ There’s basically no government in the world today taking climate change seriously. There are many governments posturing and pretending to take it seriously, but none have substantially committed to a full decarbonization of their economies. (Iceland may be an exception, but Iceland is about 24 times smaller than NYC, so…)

+ Twenty-five years of governments knowing about climate change has resulted in essentially nothing being done about it, no emissions reductions, no substantive moves to decarbonize the economy. Politics have proven too strong for common sense, and there’s no good reason to suspect this will change anytime soon.

+ Wealth inequality is embedded in our economy so thoroughly – and so indigenously to FF economies – that it will probably continue either causing perpetual strife, as it has so far, or eventually cement a permanent underclass ruled by a small elite, similar to agrarian serfdom. There is a prominent view in left politics that greater wealth equality, some kind of ecosocialism, is a necessary ingredient in averting the kind of ecological collapse the economy is currently driving, given that global FF capitalism by its nature consumes beyond carrying capacities. At least according to one Nasa-funded study, the combination of inequality and ecological collapse is a likely cause for civilizational collapse.

Even with this perfect storm of issues, it’s impossible to know how likely extinction is, and it’s impossible to judge how likely or extensive civilizational collapse may be. We just can’t predict how human beings and human systems will respond to the shocks that are already underway. We can make some good guesses based on history, but they’re no more than guesses. Maybe there’s a miracle energy source lurking in a hangar somewhere waiting to accelerate non-carbon transition. Maybe there’s a swelling political movement brewing under the surface that will soon build a more just, ecologically sane order into the world. Community energy programs are one reason to retain a shred of optimism; but also they’re still a tiny fraction of energy production and they are not growing fast, but they could accelerate any moment. We just don’t know how fast energy transition can happen, and we just don’t know how fast the world could descend into climate-driven chaos – either by human strife or physical storms.

What we do know is that, given everything above, we are living through a confluence of events that will shake the foundations of civilization, and jeopardize our capacity to sustain large populations of humans. There is enough certainty around these issues to justify being existentially alarmed. At this point, whether we go extinct or all but a thousand of us go extinct (again), maybe that shouldn’t make much difference. Maybe the destruction of a few billion or 5 billion people is morally equivalent to the destruction of all 7 billion of us, and so should provoke equal degrees of urgency. Maybe this debate about whether we’ll go completely extinct rather than just mostly extinct is absurd. Or maybe not. I don’t know. What I do know is that, regardless of the answer, there’s no excuse to stop fighting for a world that sustains life.


Samuel Miller McDonald: Born and raised in Northern Michigan, Sam is currently pursuing a PhD at University of Oxford in political geography and energy. His background can be found here. Tweet here.





The banality of the Anthropocene

25 05 2017

It is often said that the biggest mistake humanity ever made was move from hunting-gathering to agriculture. This is easy to say with 20/20 hindsight and 10,000 plus years after the fact, but in my opinion, the biggest mistake we ever made was adopt fossil fuels, and misuse them. There’s no doubt fossil fuels have brought us many improvements, but I find it difficult to not wonder whether the advantages actually outweigh the disadvantages…….

Combine the two, and we have industrial farming. Now there was a major mistake. This insightful article from the Resillience website discusses this at length, and I recommend sharing it widely. Wherever you see written ‘Iowa’, insert wherever you live, because it’s appropriate for almost anywhere on the globe these days…. enjoy.

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Heather Anne Swanson

Heather Swanson

I want to propose an Anthropocene territorialization and a subject-making project in which anthropologists might want to engage. The territory of which I write is a place called Iowa.

There are plenty of troubling things about the Anthropocene. But to my mind, one of its most troubling dimensions is the sheer number of people it fails to trouble.

For many living in precarious situations, the Anthropocene is already life-altering, life-threatening, and even deadly. It comes in the form of a massive flood or a rising tide that takes their homes away. Or as an oil well that poisons the river on which they depend.

But for others, especially the white and middle-class of the global North, the Anthropocene is so banal that they do not even notice it. It is the green front lawn, the strip-mall parking lot, the drainage ditch where only bullfrog tadpoles remain.

Iowa lies at the heart of this banal Anthropocene. The Anthropocene, here, is wholesome. It is the cornfield and the industrial pig farm. It is the 4-H county fair and eating hot dogs on the Fourth of July. It is precisely this banality, this routinized everydayness (see Arendt 1963), that makes the Iowa Anthropocene so terrifying.

I write of Iowa not from the outside, but from a place of connection. I, too, am Iowa. Without it, I would not be where I am. My mother and father were born and raised in Iowa, and its mid-twentieth-century agricultural modernization and postwar dreams for better futures propelled their upward mobility. It allowed them to get off the farm and become the first people in their families to go to college. Iowa’s industrial agriculture and its surpluses thus made my own scholarly career possible.

Indeed, we are all implicated in Iowa. We are all entangled with the everyday violences of industrial agriculture and nationalist projects in a way that substituting an organic latte for the hot dog or shopping at Whole Foods won’t solve. We cannot make ourselves clean. The urbanized coasts are made possible by the production of the heartland. New York is standing on Iowa (cf. Moore 2010).

How is it that Americans, especially white middle-class ones, learn not to notice such entanglements, to not be affected? How do we learn not to see the damage around us?

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Barn along Highway 1, south of Fairfield, Iowa. Photo by Ken K.

Iowa is objectively one of the most ruined landscapes in the United States, but its ruination garners surprisingly little notice. Less than 0.1 percent of the tallgrass prairie that once covered much of the state remains. You’ve seen the Anthropocene J-curves: the rise of atmospheric CO2, human population growth, and dammed rivers, to name a few (Steffen et al. 2015). The decline in Iowa prairie makes a reverse J. Between 1830 and 1910, Iowa lost a whopping 97 percent of its prairie acreage. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The reorientation of Iowa’s landscape toward capitalist agricultural production has resulted in the obliteration of worlds that once occupied it. The American Indians who carefully tended the prairie through burning and bison management have been forced out of the state. Nearly every acre has been privatized. Today Iowa ranks forty-ninth out of the fifty U.S. states in public land holdings.Ninety-nine percent of its marshes are gone. The level of its main aquifer has dropped by as much as three hundred feet since the nineteenth century, largely due to the extraction of irrigation water. Water quality is a mess, too. Between 2010 and 2015 more than sixty Iowa cities and towns had high nitrate levels in drinking water due to the leaching and run-off of agricultural fertilizers. And those same fertilizers wash down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, where they have created an aquatic dead zone the size of Connecticut.

Few people, either within or beyond Iowa, notice the profundity of these changes. When my uncle, a farmer in northeast Iowa, gazes out at his cornfields, he does not see the annihilation of the prairie, the loss of the bison, or the displacement of American Indian communities. He does not notice the contamination of groundwater, even though he had to redig his well a few years ago due to bacterial seepage from a nearby pig farm. He simply shrugs off such things and wonders what the crop prices will be next year.

Blindness proliferates: when my uncle becomes blind to the violence of his own corn, he becomes blind to others in neighboring farmhouses, in the neighboring towns, in neighboring states. He cannot see Standing Rock, and he cannot see why Black Lives Matter might matter to him.

It isn’t exactly his fault that he doesn’t notice. White middle-class American subjectivities are predicated on not noticing. They are predicated on structural blindness: on a refusal to acknowledge the histories we inherit. As Deborah Bird Rose (2004) has shown in the case of Australian settler colonialism, dreaming of futures requires blindness to the past.

Michel Foucault’s work reminds us that the discourses that shape our subjectivities are not just words; they are also the bricks of the prison, the institutional form of the clinic (see Hirst 1995). But we have failed to see that they are also the monocrop cornfield. Iowa’s landscape infrastructure produces us and the Anthropocene. The cornfield is an assemblage that brings the so-called common good of progress and nationalist growth into being. It produces grain futures markets and cheap hamburgers. How can we better see its terrors and erasures?

One of these terrors is that there are countless Iowas beyond Iowa. I currently live in Denmark, where I am a member of a research project called Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA). One of my colleagues, Nathalia Brichet, uses the term “mild apocalypse” to draw attention to the normalized degradation of Danish landscapes. In the midst of Denmark’s rolling fields and highly managed forests, the Anthropocene continues to be stubbornly hard to see.

Donna Haraway has called for curiosity as both scholarly method and political practice, as an antidote to these learned blindnesses. In her book When Species Meet (Haraway 2008), she becomes curious about who and what she touches when she reaches out to pet her dog. That curiosity becomes a radical practice of tracing and inheriting histories, such as the dog-herding practices of livestock-based Australian colonization efforts and the making of purebred dogs. But in a world of structural blindness, such kinds of curiosity do not come naturally. They must be cultivated. But how? How, in the words of Joseph Dumit (2014), do we wake up to connections?

Can we imagine corollaries to Bible study meetings or consciousness-raising groups in which people would be encouraged to trace the histories of the landscapes they inhabit, a process that might draw them into new ways of seeing themselves and their worlds? I imagine such practices as a multispecies analogue to Foucauldian genealogy (see Foucault 1970). Might exploring the genealogies of Iowa cornfields, for example, denaturalize them and counter the power of their banality? Might they enable Iowans and all of us to become more curious about the conditions of our own subjectivities and, in turn, how we might transform the landscapes with which they are entangled? This is the important work of making curiosity more common, of troubling the Anthropocene.

References

Arendt, Hannah. 1963. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Viking Press.

Dumit, Joseph. 2014. “Writing the Implosion: Teaching the World One Thing at a Time.” Cultural Anthropology 29, no. 2: 344–62.

Foucault, Michel. 1970. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Pantheon. Originally published in 1966.

Haraway, Donna. 2008. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hirst, Paul. 1995. “Foucault and Architecture.” In Michel Foucault: Critical Assessments, Volume 4, edited by Barry Smart, 350–71. New York: Routledge.

Moore, Jason W. 2010. “‘Amsterdam is Standing on Norway’ Part One: The Alchemy of Capital, Empire, and Nature in the Diaspora of Silver, 1545–1648.” Journal of Agrarian Change 10, no. 1: 33–68.

Rose, Deborah Bird. 2004. Reports from a Wild Country: Ethics for Decolonization. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.

Steffen, Will, Wendy Broadgate, Lisa Deutsch, Owen Gaffney, and Cornelia Ludwig. 2015. “The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration.” Anthropocene Review 2, no. 1: 81–98.





The Trouble with Permaculture

4 10 2016

With the recent passing of Bill Mollison, much has been published on the interweb about Permaculture; While Glenda was here for nine days, I didn’t spend much time at this laptop, preferring to help her set her own stamp on the Fanny Farm and using her very able gardening skills to get stuck into some planting…. and fixing the goose tractor in readiness for the acquisition of more birds, but there will be time for that some place else on this site.

Having published Samuel Alexander’s epitaph for Bill Mollison by merely copying and pasting the Conversation article, I didn’t bother following the links therein; luckily, Greg Bell did, and posted a couple in a comment he left here, many thanks Greg…. as he says in his comment, “Those two “here” links to critiques of permaculture are the two most important things I’ve read all year (and they, in turn, link to even more)……

The first link is to Resilience.org and bears the same title as this entry. Fascinating reading indeed, as are the comments below it.