As a species, aside from the few remaining hunter gatherer tribes lucky enough to have been allowed to continue their ancestral ways, humans are completely dependent on agriculture.We rely on our inheritance of rich productive soil to produce not only food but also clothing, animal feed, turf, timber, and transport fuel. In the process we have mined and depleted our soils, depleted and polluted our precious aquifers and surface waters, created dead zones in our oceans. Additionally, we have seriously compromised biodiversity, upon which we depend for our very survival, through monocrop agriculture and deforestation to bring more land into agricultural production. In so doing we have created a industry that feeds poisons into the land destroying the delicate balance of healthy soil while simultaneously removing the animals from the land, thus depriving it of natural fertilisers and creating a massive waste problem from feedlot meat production.
It is clear that the system of industrial agriculture upon which we depend is itself dependent upon cheap, climate destroying, fossil fuels. As reported over at Worldchanging by Jonathan Foley, agriculture when taken as a whole, including deforestation, is responsible for at least 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, Mr. Foley reports that;
"The list of environmental impacts from agricultural land use goes on and on — and clearly threatens human well-being and the health of the biosphere as much as global warming. In fact, in a recent paper in Nature, a number of us documented “planetary boundaries" where large-scale environmental changes could result in catastrophic tipping points. Of those changes, an equal number were tied to climate change and CO2 emissions as were connected to land-use and agriculture.
From these newly revealed facts, it’s clear that we must consider multiple inconvenient truths. The future of our civilization and our planet requires that we simultaneously address the grand challenges of climate change and land use, ultimately finding new ways to meet the needs of our economy, our security and the environment. Anything less will be a complete catastrophe."
Vandana Shiva offers a solution. Excerpted from an article at the Organic Consumers Association website:
"The $1.2 billion the World Bank says will solve the food crisis in Africa is a $1.2 billion subsidy to the chemical industry," said Vandana Shiva, an Indian physics professor and environmental activist speaking at the forum in Modena.
"Countries are made dependent on chemical fertilizers when their prices have tripled in the last year due to rising oil prices," she said. "I say to governments: spend a quarter of that on organic farming and you've solved your problems."
She said industrial farming was based on planting a single crop on vast surfaces and heavy use of chemical fertilizers, a process that used 10 times more energy than it produced.
"The rest turns into waste as greenhouse gases, chemical runoffs and pesticide residues in our food," she said.
In contrast, organic farms could increase output by 10 times by growing many different species of plants at the same time, which helped retain soil and water, she said. "In a one-acre farm in India they can grow 250 species of plants," she said."
As we face the challenges of climate change with it's expected impacts on agriculture we are doing so with a weakened toobox. Couple this with the expected increases in human population and it is clear that the demands on agriculture will increase as we try to feed more people with a dwindling resource base. Here is Mr. Foley's take on that;
"Bridge the artificial divide between production agriculture and environmental conservation. We cannot solve these problems by boosting agricultural production at the expense of the environment, nor can we ignore the growing need for food in the name of preserving natural ecosystems. Instead, we must find ways to simultaneously increase production of our agricultural systems while greatly reducing their environmental impacts. This is not going to be easy. Yet, drawing on the lessons from recent research, including the successes and failures of local organic practice, combined with the efficiency and scalability of commercial agriculture, will be crucial. In recent years, for example, U.S. farmers — working with agricultural experts — have dramatically improved practices in the corn and soybean belt, cutting down on erosion, nutrient loss, and groundwater pollution, even as yields have continued to increase. As a first step, advocates of environmental conservation, organic farming and commercial agriculture all need to put down their guns and work toward solving the problems of food security and the environment — with everyone at the table.
Providing for the basic needs of 9 billion-plus people, without ruining the biosphere in the process, will be one of the greatest challenges our species has ever faced. It will require the imagination, determination and hard work of countless people from all over the world, embarked on one of the noblest causes in history."
What have you done today to lower your impact?
We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.
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