Five Solutions That Might Save Us
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We are all suffocating and exterminating ourselves as the result of our tendencies to see nature as the enemy and allow chemical companies to trick us into believing we can control it. Now, what can we all do about it? We must restore the earth's natural ability to absorb and store carbon. Going organic will not only do that, it will also heal many other major ills as well: the poisoning of our children, our water, our wildlife, and our world.
For more than two decades the Farming Systems Trial (FST) at the Rodale Institute has been studying what happens over time to plants and soil in both organic and synthetic-chemical farming systems. The most surprising finding of all has been that organically farmed soil stores carbon. A lot of carbon. So much, in fact, that if all the cultivated land in the world were farmed organically it would immediately reduce our climate crisis significantly.
There are five clear and fairly straightforward things that need to happen, and each sector of society has an important job to do.
1. Government: Ban Agricultural Chemicals and GMOs
We need to demand that the government stop rewarding businesses that harm people and the planet by giving them subsidies and tax breaks and easing regulations. We need to demand that the government be on the side of the American people. We owe it to future generations to put aside our philosophical differences and partisan politics and, for once, unite for what is right for America and for the world.
The government must stop subsidizing chemical farming. We need to completely overhaul the farm bill to encourage as many farmers as possible to transition to organic as quickly as possible. We need to reorient the incentives so that the prices of organic foods and agricultural fibers reflect their real costs and are affordable.
The tax structure should be aimed at taxing polluters at the highest rates and giving tax breaks to the people and companies that are doing the right things. We need to reverse the model to incentivize businesses to do the right things. We need to levy major taxes and penalties for the contamination chemical companies have caused. When their products become more expensive--so consumers have to pay more to harm their health and destroy the environment--their use will decline. That idea is a lot closer to true free-market capitalism than what we now have. (Forget crazy cap-and-trade schemes, keep it simple!) Or, we could just ban them completely. That would be best.
Now, more than ever, we need regulations that protect all of us. We need fair trade regulations that protect people we will never see or meet, but who make things we use every day. We need health regulations that protect children around the world from chemicals that harm them. We need global agreements that enable us all to work together to solve the climate, energy, health and food crises--next to them, the global financial crisis pales in comparison.
We need to be global leaders (not babies or bullies!). Whenever I hear politicians, pundits, or corporate leaders say that we won't make changes unless China and India agree to "go first," I am ashamed of our country. First, we created the problem. And even the poorest among our poor have it much better than the poor people of India and China. Second, and most important, true leaders go first.
We need to keep the USDA organic standards pure. Even now, lobbyists are working hard to weaken the organic rules so chemical companies can sell their toxic products to farmers and get the higher prices commanded by organic foods. Keeping the USDA Organic seal pure requires constant vigilance. It's time that we acknowledge these companies as the bullies that they are and have the courage and integrity to stand up to them to protect our organic standards and make them better. Without the unifying focus of organic, we will continue to run willy-nilly from cause to cause, trying to solve all of our problems piece by piece. They can't be solved in isolation.
We need to encourage all elected officials to make the tough calls to cut programs that aren't working so we can spend money on things that do work--and pay off the national debt. We need to acknowledge that when the government does not subsidize education, business interests will step in to fund research and education as extensions of their marketing budgets. We shouldn't allow the chemical companies to underwrite 4-H and Future Farmers of America clubs. We shouldn't allow them to control our land-grant research universities with their funding. We shouldn't allow biotech companies to obstruct independent research! We should not allow them to advertise to influence children.
I don't mean to suggest that these changes will come easily or without protest. But I take heart in a precedent for this sort of change. At one time, tobacco companies ruled the world and people smoked anywhere they wanted to--on planes, at work, in restaurants, in schools. Doctors appeared in ads promoting cigarette brands. When my first daughter was born in 1982, my hospital roommate smoked in the presence of our newborn babies! Now, although cigarettes remain on the market, it is almost impossible to smoke in a public place. We don't have the 50 years it took to gradually wrest control from the tobacco companies. (It took 70 years for the research that showed smoking caused cancer to be taken seriously, a period over which millions and millions of people died.) This time, we need to be bold, decisive, and undeterrable.
2. Farmers: Supply the Organic Demand!
As any addict knows, there is no halfway. You are either hooked and at the mercy of your drug, or you are free and clear. Gaining your freedom from the chemical companies might hurt for a little while, but what freedom isn't worth fighting for? Pick up your shovels and pitchforks and fight for your freedom! Demand that the government fund and support your transition to organic. Demand that chemical companies stop intimidating you and controlling your life.
We need all farmers to go organic, to break their addiction to the false lure of getting higher profits with synthetic-chemical farming. Every single farmer, large or small, local or international, needs to change. If American farmers don't make the switch, we will be importing even more of our food from other countries.
No one gets filthy rich farming, whether they use chemicals or organic methods, are industrial-scale or family farms, large or small (they might have gotten really rich 50 or 100 years ago, but those days are gone). But you can get rich in a different way--and experience the true feeling of wealth that comes from knowing you are doing something good. As corny as it sounds, at the end of the day, it's all about love: Love for the land and family, love for the life, love for nature and heritage and tradition. Love for food. Love for the children you want to see grow and be healthy and inherit a healthy, love-filled world.
I know farmers can find the courage to step off the treadmill that is leading them to nowhere they really want to go. I know farmers can find the strength to stand up for what is right for the land, their families, and their futures. I know they can and will.
3. Business: Create Innovative Solutions
The business community needs to support and enrich people and the planet--not the other way around. There is a movement growing around the idea that businesses can be leaders in making positive change for the world. It started with the concept of social responsibility and now has names like conscious capitalism and natural capitalism. Many successful companies now reflect this fresh modern ethic--companies such as Patagonia, Stonyfield Farm, Nature's Path, Organic Valley and, yes, Whole Foods.
While businesses--or, more accurately, the people who run them--have done some pretty bad things over the centuries, they've also done a lot of good. We need to sort out what we want to keep and what works from what we don't need anymore and what's holding us back. This is an exciting time for entrepreneurs--there are so many challenges in need of creative and innovative solutions. It's a great opportunity for inventors, investors, and idea people to find good things that work well and make them available to people on a wide scale.
4. Economists: Measure Strength, Not Growth
At the root of our global economic crisis and our agricultural mistakes is the belief that we can and must grow at all times. When, inevitably, growth slows down or stops, everyone panics, and fear makes it all worse. The true crime of Wall Street and our economic model is that they instilled the expectation and valuation of constant growth rather than the recognition of the cycles inherent in nature and the valuation of long-term strength.
5. Everyone: Demand Organic
Organic is something we can all partake of and benefit from. When we demand organic, we are demanding poison-free food. We are demanding clean air. We are demanding pure, fresh water. We are demanding soil that is free to do its job and seeds that are free of toxins. We are demanding that our children be protected from harm.
We all need to bite the bullet and do what needs to be done--buy organic whenever we can, insist on organic, fight for organic, and work to make it the norm. We must make organic the conventional choice and not the exception available only to the rich and educated.
All of us have to stand together and stand strong for food that is safe and affordable for all. Alone, we are tiny ripples in a pond. Together, we are the waves that can turn stone into sand. Together, we can create a delicious and healthy future for everyone. We still have a choice of the future that will be ours, but we need to make our choice quickly.
Excerpted with permission from Organic Manifesto © 2010 by Maria Rodale, published by Rodale Press, New York, NY. Available in stores or visit www.rodalestore.com.
Rebuilding Your Local Food Chain by Michael Pollan
The Organic Factor
The Wisdom of Organic Agriculture
Revisioning Agriculture for the 21st Century
Jeffrey Smith on the dangers of genetic engineering in our food supply
Lester Brown on environmental change
Learning Universal Responsibility by The Dalai Lama
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