zaterdag 13 februari 2010
Friday 12 February 2010
by: Robert Naiman, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis
The United States and NATO are poised to launch a major assault in the Marjah District in southern Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians are in imminent peril. Will President Obama and Congress act to protect civilians in Marjah, in compliance with the obligations of the United States under the laws of war?
Few civilians have managed to escape the Afghan town of Marjah ahead of a planned US/NATO assault, raising the risk of civilian casualties, McClatchy News reported.
Under the laws of war, the US and NATO - who have told civilians not to flee - bear an extra responsibility to control their fire and avoid tactics that endanger civilians, Human Rights Watch noted. "I suspect that they believe they have the ability to generally distinguish between combatants and civilians," said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. "I would call that into question, given their long history of mistakes, particularly when using air power. Whatever they do, they have an obligation to protect civilians and make adequate provision to alleviate any crisis that arises," he said. "It is very much their responsibility."
"If [NATO forces] don't avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure," said an analyst with the International Crisis Group.
A report in The Wall Street Journal cast fresh doubt on the ability - and even on the interest - of US forces to distinguish combatants from civilians. "Across southern Afghanistan, including the Marjah district where coalition forces are massing for a large offensive, the line between peaceful villager and enemy fighter is often blurred," the Journal says. The commander of the US unit responsible for Pashmul estimates that about 95 percent of the locals are Taliban or aid the militants. Among front-line troops, "frustration is boiling over" over more restrictive rules of engagement than in Iraq, the Journal said - a dangerous harbinger of potential war crimes when the US is about to engage in a major assault in an area densely populated with civilians.
Today, AFP reported, military helicopters dropped leaflets over Marjah as radio broadcasts "warned residents not to shelter Taliban ahead of a massive assault." Doesn't this suggest that the invading US forces may regard any civilian alleged to be "sheltering Taliban" as a legitimate target, including women and children?
If the US assault in Marjah results in large scale civilian casualties, the US will have committed a major war crime. If the United States cannot protect civilians in Marjah, as the US is required to do under the laws of war, the assault should be called off. Under international law, every US citizen is legally obligated to work to bring about the compliance of the United States with international law. Raise your voice now, before it is too late.
vrijdag 12 februari 2010
Climate Catastrophe: Surviving the 21st Century by Ronnie Cummins and Will
"The catastrophic impacts of climate change are not only going to take
place in the distant future. They are taking place now."
- Vandana Shiva, Soil not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate
Climate Stabilization Requires a Cultural and Political Revolution
The climate, energy, and political catastrophe we are facing is
mind-boggling and frightening. Yet there is still time to save ourselves,
to move beyond psychological denial, despair, or false optimism. There is
still hope if we are willing to confront the hydra-headed monsters that
block our path, and move ahead with a decisive plan of action. The
inspirational message we need to deliver is that we're not just talking
about drastically reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas (GHG)
pollution, but rebuilding society, creating in effect a New Woman and a New
Man for the 21st Century. What we are witnessing are the early stages of a
mass grassroots consciousness-raising and taking back of power from
out-of-control corporations, banks, corporate-controlled media, and
politicians. This cultural and political revolution will empower us to to
carry out a deep and profound retrofitting of industry, government,
education, health care, housing, neighborhoods, transportation, food and
farming systems, as well as our diets and lifestyles.
The scale of human and physical resources needed to turn our current
suicide economy into a green economy is daunting, but absolutely necessary
and achievable. The only viable roadmap for survival-an 80-90% reduction in
fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050-means we must
force a drastic reduction in military spending (current wars and military
spending are costing us almost one trillion dollars a year). We must tax
the rich and the greenhouse gas polluters, and bring our out-of-control
politicians, banks, Federal Reserve System, and corporations to heel.
The good news, as Van Jones and others have pointed out, is that this 21st
Century green economy will not only stabilize the climate, but enable us to
retrain and reemploy the U.S. workforce, including low-income youth and
16-25 million unemployed workers, as building retrofitters, solar and wind
installers, recyclers, organic gardeners, farmers, nutritionists, holistic
health care providers, and other green economy workers.
Beyond Copenhagen: Civilization at the Crossroads
The negotiators and heads of state at the December 2009 Copenhagen Climate
negotiations abandoned the summit with literally no agreement on meaningful
greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane) reduction, and
little or no acknowledgement of the major role that industrial
(non-organic) food and farming practices play in global warming.
Unfortunately the statements and behavior of Copenhagen delegates, and the
enormous divisions between the Global South and the industrialized nations,
make it clear that galvanizing a legally binding international agreement to
drastically reduce greenhouse gas pollution will be a protracted and
China and the United States are equally and jointly responsible for more
than 40% of the current global climate destabilizing GHGs. China's
emissions arise from 20% of the world's population. U.S. emissions come
from 5%. Although China, India, Mexico, Brazil and other developing nations
are responsible for a growing discharge of GHGs, most of the greenhouse
gasses in the atmosphere and oceans today are directly attributable to the
United States and Europe's industrial and transportation emissions since
the early 1900s.
From an ethical, legal, and survival perspective, North America, E.U. and
Japan must lead the way. To avoid a disastrous rise in global temperature
(a literal climate holocaust), the wealthy, highly industrialized nations
must acknowledge the seriousness of the crisis, cut their emissions, and
stop playing blame and denial games with China, India, Brazil, Mexico,
South Africa and other developing nations. Major cuts by the developed
nations need to start now, and they need to be deep, not 7% as President
Obama proposed in Copenhagen, nor the 20% that the E.U. offered.
The hour is late. Leading climate scientists such as James Hansen are
literally shouting at the top of their lungs that the world needs to reduce
emissions by 20-40% as soon as possible, and 80-90% by the year 2050, if we
are to avoid climate chaos, crop failures, endless wars, melting of the
polar icecaps, and a disastrous rise in ocean levels. Either we radically
reduce CO2 and carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e, which includes all GHGs,
not just CO2) pollutants (currently at 390 parts per million and rising 2
ppm per year) to 350 ppm, including agriculture-derived methane and nitrous
oxide pollution, or else survival for the present and future generations is
in jeopardy. As scientists warned at Copenhagen, business as usual and a
corresponding 7-8.6 degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures means
that the carrying capacity of the Earth in 2100 will be reduced to one
billion people. Under this hellish scenario, billions will die of thirst,
cold, heat, disease, war, and starvation.
If the U.S. significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, other countries
will follow. One hopeful sign is the recent EPA announcement that it
intends to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
Unfortunately we are going to have to put tremendous pressure on elected
public officials to force the EPA to crack down on GHG polluters (including
industrial farms and food processors). Public pressure is especially
critical since "just say no" Congressmen-both Democrats and
Republicans-along with agribusiness, real estate developers, the
construction industry, and the fossil fuel lobby appear determined to
maintain "business as usual."
During the Bush years, scientific warnings and public demonstrations
against global warming were ignored or trivialized, even though many of our
protests were large and well organized. Now, in theory, we finally have a
Congressional majority and a President who claim to be willing to listen
and take action to stop global warming. But in order to get their
attention, and move from small change to major change, we are going to have
to turn up the volume. We have to stop thinking that things are going to
get better because Obama is right-minded. Things are going to get better if
and when we force Obama and our out-of-control politicians and corporations
to bend to the people's will.
Beyond Copenhagen: Making Polluters Pay
Instead of the weak "cap and trade" bill supported by Wall Street
speculators, and passed by the House, we need a real tax on GHG pollution.
Yes, we can and must directly rebate working class and poor people for
increased energy costs, but hundreds of billions of dollars in GHG and
corporate taxes annually must be earmarked over the next decade for green
infrastructure development, including a new electric grid, a mass
transition to organic agriculture, mass transit upgrades, deep retrofitting
of the nation's five million commercial and 83 million residential
buildings, and a crash program of alternative energy research and
We must continue to expose the worst greenhouse gas polluters, such as
utilities companies, petrochemical corporations, car manufacturers, coal
and mining companies, the construction industry, and corporate
agribusiness, and demand that they begin to retool their industries
immediately. We must move beyond polite protest and scattered dissent and
dramatically take our message to the streets and the corporate suites,
Congress, state legislatures, and our local governments.
The Deadly Greenhouse Footprint of American Consumers
We all know in general that cars, trucks, coal and power plants, household
heating and cooling, and manufacturing industries spew a majority of the
greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and the oceans. But did you know that
U.S. household use of fossil fuels (housing, transportation, and food)
accounts for 67% of total energy consumption and 67% of GHG's emitted? 1
Heating, lighting, and cooling our poorly insulated and designed 113
million homes and apartments and running our electrical and gas appliances
consumes 26.6% of total U.S. fossil fuels.
Cruising in our gas guzzling (averaging 22 miles per gallon) and
underutilized cars (average 1.4 passengers per journey) burns up another
23.4% of energy.
Eating highly processed and packaged foods and animal products, produced on
chemical and energy-intensive factory-style farms, transported over long
distances, and throwing our waste foods into the garbage (rather than
composting them) eats up another 17.3% of the nation's energy.
The average U.S. citizen generates 19.6 tons of climate destabilizing
greenhouse gases every year, more than twice as much as the European Union
and Japan (9.3 tons per capita), and 7.3 times as much as the developing
world (2.7 tons per capita).
The Tab for Saving the U.S. from Climate Chaos: $700 Billion a Year
The estimated costs over the next 40-50 years to replace coal and natural
gas with solar and wind in electricity generation, at current levels of
use, is $15 trillion (which is about the equivalent of U.S. GNP for one
year) . 2
We must reduce fossil fuel use by 80-90% in the nation's five million
commercial and 83 million residential buildings (which currently use up 40%
or 40 quadrillion BTUs of our total energy), including reducing building
size, changing lighting and windows, making wall, ceilings and floors as
thick and as airtight as possible (R-50 or R-60), and placing furnaces and
ductwork inside the retrofitted space. The estimated costs for this in
future decades will amount to another $10-15 trillion This figure is based
upon deep retrofitting costs of $50,000 per residential unit, and
$600,000-$2,000,000 per commercial building, with two million new more
compact units per year replacing old housing and business stock and meeting
new 90% fossil fuel reduction standards.
Converting from our current energy and chemical/GMO-intensive food and
farming system (which currently accounts for 35% of our greenhouse gases
and $800 billion in diet-related health care costs annually) to one which
is organic, relocalized, energy-efficient, and carbon sequestering, will
cost at least another $100 billion per year, or $5 trillion over 50 years.
Rebuilding our mass transit systems and reorganizing personal
transportation (5-15 people in high-mileage "smart jitneys" and electric
cars and vans instead of 1.4 passengers in gas guzzlers, along with a
massive increase in bicycle use) will cost us at least another $100 billion
a year, or $5 trillion over 50 years.
In other words we need to start redirecting $700 billion a year in federal
expenditures away from war and corporate welfare, offer training and jobs
in a giant green jobs program (similar to the Works Project Administration
program of the New Deal era in the 1930s), and build a new green,
full-employment economy. Where are we going to get this money? Not by
raising taxes on working people and the poor, but by taxing the rich and
the greenhouse gas polluting corporations, and guaranteeing loans from a
new citizen-controlled Federal Reserve and banking system.
A major part of this transition to an organic and low-carbon economy will
require innovative public and private financing for home, transportation,
food and farming retrofitting along the lines of the recent PACE (Property
Assessed Clean Energy) program in California. 3 Under this "Slow Money"
regime, homeowners, renters, businesses, and farmers can immediately start
to reduce their energy bills and carbon footprints and get their homes,
businesses, and farms retrofitted for no money down, with low-interest
costs being added to their mortgages and tax bills over an extended 30-40
Can we afford $700 billion per year? Obviously we can, although
shortsighted, unsustainable corporate profits will no doubt suffer. Keep in
mind that the Pentagon budget, not including the wars for oil and strategic
resources in Afghanistan and Iraq, will cost us over $700 billion dollars
this year. And don't forget that Obama and his advisors recently handed
over approximately $12 trillion in subsidies and grants to the Wall Street
criminals and pathological kleptomaniacs who rule our out-of-control
financial system. Clearly, what we are proposing is chump-change compared
to our recent corporate giveaways.
Honest businesses, homeowners, consumers, farmers and industries that
reduce their carbon footprint and help develop the green economy can and
should receive substantial tax credits. Speculators, mercenaries, toxic
polluters, and Masters of War can go to financial hell, where they belong.
The Hidden Greenhouse Gas Damage of Food Inc.
Although transportation, industry, and energy producers are significant
polluters, few people understand that the worst U.S. greenhouse gas emitter
is "Food Incorporated," industrial food and farming. Industrial farming
accounts for at least 35% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (EPA's
ridiculously low estimates range from 7% to 12%, while some climate
scientists feel the figure could be as high as 50% or more). Industrial
agriculture, biofuels, and cattle grazing-including whacking down the last
remaining tropical rainforests in Latin America and Asia for animal feed
and biofuels-are also the main driving forces in global deforestation and
wetlands destruction, which generate an additional 20% of all climate
destabilizing GHGs. In other words the direct and indirect impacts of
industrial agriculture and the food industry are the major cause of global
Currently conventional (energy and chemical-intensive non-organic) farms
emit at least 25% of the carbon dioxide (mostly from tractors, trucks,
combines, transportation, cooling, freezing, and heating), 40% of the
methane (mostly from animal gas, and manure ponds), and 96% of nitrous
oxide (mostly from synthetic fertilizer manufacture and use, the millions
of tons of animal manure from cattle herds, pig and poultry flocks, and
millions of tons of sewage sludge spread on farms). Per ton, methane is 21
times more damaging, and nitrous oxide 310 times more damaging as a
greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide , when measured over a one hundred year
period. Damage is even worse if you look at the impact on global warming
over the next crucial 20-year period. Many climate scientists now admit
that they have previously drastically underestimated the dangers of the
non-CO2 GHGs, including methane and nitrous oxide, which are responsible
for at least 20% of global warming. 4
A major portion of the CO2e (all GHGs not just CO2) emitted by industrial
farming comes from long distance transportation, heating, freezing, and
processing. So, the more you cook from scratch, buy locally, and eat raw
vegetables and fruits, the less CO2e you produce. The bottom line is that
we as a society are what we eat. In the oncoming era of climate chaos and
peak oil, we must make the transition to energy efficient, climate
adaptable, local and regional based organic farms, urban gardens, and
primarily vegetarian diets, or we will likely not survive.
Almost all U.S. food and farm-derived methane comes from factory farms,
huge herds of confined cows, hogs, poultry operations, as well as rotting
food waste thrown into land-fills instead of being separated out of the
solid waste stream and properly composted. To drastically reduce methane
releases we need an immediate ban on factory farms, dairies, and feedlots.
We also need mandatory separation and recycling of food wastes and green
garbage at the municipal level, so that that we can produce large
quantities of high quality organic compost to replace the billions of
pounds of chemical fertilizer and sewage sludge which are releasing GHGs,
destroying soil fertility, polluting our waters, and undermining public
Nearly all nitrous oxide pollution comes from dumping billions of pounds of
synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and sewage sludge on farmland (chemical
fertilizers and sludge are banned on organic farms and ranches), mainly to
grow animal feed. Since about 80% of U.S. agriculture is devoted to
producing meat, dairy, and animal feed, reducing agriculture GHGs means
eliminating the overproduction and over-consumption of meat and animal
Organic Farming and Ranching Can Drastically Reduce GHG Emissions
The currently catastrophic, but largely unrecognized, GHG damage from
chemical farms and industrial food production and distribution must be
reversed. This will involve wholesale changes in farming practices,
government subsidies, food processing and handling. It will require the
conversion of a million chemical farms and ranches to organic production.
It will require the establishment of millions of urban backyard and
If consumer pressure and grassroots mobilization geared toward changing
public policies cannot force U.S. factory farmers to change the way they
farm, process, and ship their products it will be almost impossible to deal
with catastrophic U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. 5 On a
very hopeful note, however, i f farmers do change, and make the transition
to organic farming, farm and ranch land can become a significant sink or
sequester pool for greenhouse gasses, literally sucking excess greenhouse
gases out of the atmosphere and the ozone layer and sequestering them
safely in the soil, where they belong.
Our planet has five pools or repositories where greenhouse gases are
absorbed and stored: the oceans, the atmosphere, the soils, the forests,
and hydrocarbon deposits. 6 Because U.S farm and forest soils are so
degraded from chemical-intensive, mono-crop farming practices and
over-logging they are only able to absorb and store half (or less) of the
carbon gases than they would be capable of if they were organically
managed. As a result of this reckless mismanagement, the atmosphere and the
oceans are absorbing the bulk of the greenhouse gases that normally would
be absorbed by farmland and forests. This has led to a catastrophic excess
of GHGs in both the oceans and the atmosphere. This excess has caused
changes in climate and extreme fluctuations in weather; including droughts
and torrential flooding. It also causes oceanic acidification, oceanic dead
zones, and dramatic declines in fish and crustacean populations.
Unfortunately, when they evaluate agricultural pollutants, pro-agribusiness
government bureaucrats in the EPA and USDA do not include many of the
greenhouse gas emissions. They do not take into account the transportation,
cooling, freezing, and heating of farm products as agricultural GHG
emissions, even though our food travels an average of 1500 miles to our
tables and is routinely frozen and cooled to ensure its deliverability.
They don't count the CO2 and "black carbon" particle emissions from trucks,
tractors, combines and other equipment used on farms. They don't count the
emissions from fertilizer manufacture or use, wasteful packing, sewage
sludge spread on farm and range land, or the methane emitted from factory
farms and the billions of tons of rotting, non-composted food in our
landfills and garbage dumps. Instead, they lump and thereby conceal all
these farm and food related GHG emissions under the categories of
industrial manufacture, transportation, or electrical use. As a result, the
public spotlight never shines on mounting agricultural, food, garbage, and
Because government officials deliberately fail to evaluate the real farm
and food-derived greenhouse gas emissions, they are free to act as if the
emissions coming from agriculture are not significant compared to the U.S.
total, even though they represent more than one-third of the total
pollutants. Consequently, most lawmakers and the public don't realize how
urgent it is to regulate and drastically curtail factory farm and Food
Chemical Fertilizer and Sewage Sludge: Silent Killers
The most damaging greenhouse gas poisons used by farmers and ranchers are
synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and municipal/industrial sewage sludge.
Obviously pesticide manufacture and use are also serious problems and
generate their own large share of greenhouse gases during manufacture and
use (more than 25 billion pounds per year). But, about six times more
chemical fertilizer is used than toxic pesticides on U.S. farms, and an
additional huge volume of sewage sludge is spread on farm and range land as
German chemical corporations developed the industrial processes for the two
most widely used forms of synthetic nitrogen in the early 1900s. But, until
World War II, U.S. use of synthetic nitrogen as a fertilizer was limited to
about 5% of the total nitrogen applied. Up until that time most nitrogen
inputs came from animal manures, composts and fertilizer (cover) crops,
just as it does on organic farms today. 8
During the Second World War, all of the European powers and the U.S.
greatly expanded their facilities for producing nitrogen for bombs,
ammunition, and fertilizer for the war effort. Since then, the use of
nitrogen fertilizer and bomb making capacity has soared. By the 1990s, more
than 90% of nitrogen fertilizer used in the U.S. was synthetic. 9
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average U.S.
nitrogen fertilizer use per year from 1998 to 2007 was 24 billion 661
million pounds. To produce that nitrogen the manufacturers released at
least 6.7 pounds of greenhouse gas for every pound produced. That's 165
billion, 228 million pounds of GHGs spewed into the atmosphere every year,
just for the manufacture of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. 10 And, most of
those emissions are nitrous oxide, the most damaging emissions of U.S.
Besides its greenhouse gas impacts, nitrogen fertilizer has other negative
environmental consequences. Two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply is
contaminated at high levels with carcinogenic nitrates or nitrites, almost
all from excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Some public wells
have nitrogen at such a high level that it is dangerous and even deadly for
children to drink the tap water. Nitrogen fertilizer is also the greatest
contributor to the infamous "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico, the
Chesapeake Bay, the coasts of California and Oregon, and 400 other spots
around the world. Since very little synthetic nitrogen fertilizer was used
before 1950, all of the damage we see today occurred in the last 60 years.
If we did an environmental impact statement on synthetic nitrogen
fertilizer today, we would never give it a permit for agricultural use.
Until it is banned for the production of food and fiber, we must impose a
high carbon tax on its manufacture and use. Unfortunately, at this point,
agriculture is excluded from even the weak cap and trade plan passed by the
House. So, although factory farming is responsible for more greenhouse
gases than any other U.S. industry, it will not be regulated under the
proposed legislation designed to limit greenhouse gases, unless we demand
it. We must demand that synthetic nitrogen fertilizer be highly taxed and
regulated in the short term, and phased out, as soon as possible. 11
We must also demand an end to the giveaway or sales of hazardous sewage
sludge in agriculture, gardening or forestry . Instead of sewage
sludge-contaminated and chemical-intensive farms, organic agriculture
produces safer, nutritionally superior, comparable crop yields during
normal weather, as well as much greater yields under drought and heavy rain
conditions, without the use of synthetic pesticides, sewage sludge, or
The Good News on Organics and Climate Change
The heretofore unpublicized "good news" on climate change, according to the
Rodale Institute 12 and other soil scientists, is that transitioning from
chemical, water, and energy-intensive industrial agriculture practices to
organic farming and ranching on the world's 3.5 billion acres of farmland
and 8.2 billion acres of pasture or rangeland can sequester up to 7,000
pounds per acre of climate-destabilizing CO2 every year, while nurturing
healthy soils, plants, grasses, and trees that are resistant to drought,
heavy rain, pests, and disease. And as we have noted, organic farms and
ranches provide us with food that is much more nutritious than industrial
farms and ranches-food filled with vitamins, anti-oxidants, and essential
trace minerals, free from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs),
pesticides, antibiotics, and sewage sludge.
In 2006, U.S. carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels (approximately 25%
of the world's total) was estimated at nearly 6.5 billion tons. If a 7,000
lb/CO2/ac/year sequestration rate were achieved on all 434 million acres of
cropland in the United States, nearly 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide
would be sequestered per year, mitigating close to one quarter of the
country's total fossil fuel emissions. If pastures and rangelands were
similarly converted to organic practices, we would be well on our way to
reversing global warming.
Toxic Sludge from Municipal Sewage Treatment Plants
Besides synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, unhealthy foods, pesticides, GMOs,
and climate and environmentally destructive factory farm meat, a serious
problem in the U.S. is the increasing use of hazardous sludge from sewage
treatment plants to fertilize farm and pasture land. Sixty percent of all
the sludge produced in the U.S. is currently applied to farmland that grows
food for cattle and people. Estimates range from eight billion to more than
100 billion pounds. 13
A critical mass of scientific studies indicate that municipal sewage sludge
routinely contains hundreds of dangerous pathogens, toxic heavy metals,
flame retardants, endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, pharmaceutical drugs
and other hazardous chemicals coming from residential drains, storm water
runoff, hospitals, and industrial plants. Poisonous sludge is currently
being spread on at least 70 million acres on 140,000 (non-organic) farms
and ranches across the U.S. So-called EPA "regulation" of sludge is among
the worst in the world. Unless we stop this dangerous practice, the sludge
industry will destroy millions of acres of farmland as well as urban land
we will need for future urban gardens. Sludge is also an increasingly
worrisome greenhouse gas emitter.
The Organic Movement Must "Get Political" and Become a Major Player
We must advocate and agitate, as well as "walk our talk" in our daily
lives. We must organize a U.S. and global mass movement for the conversion
of the world's 3.5 billion acres of farmland and 8.2 billion acres of
rangeland and pasture to organic production as soon as possible. Organic
regulations prohibit the use of synthetic nitrogen, pesticides, sludge,
antibiotics, artificial hormones, GMOs, and other environmentally
destructive, health-threatening, greenhouse gas emitting practices. Organic
must become the norm, not just the alternative. To facilitate a mass
transition to organic we must force the U.S. Congress, as well as local and
state governments, to fund a great "organic transition," including the
creation of thousands of cadres of organically trained extension agents,
and a million new urban, community, and school gardens. Thousands of U.S.
farmers have already made the transition to organic. Now a million more
need to do the same.
More and more farmers around the world are learning that they can
significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution and produce substantial, high
quality yields by switching to organic farming practices. While we develop
our alternative marketplace and pressure legislators and the regulators to
act, we must urge conscientious conventional farmers to use existing
federal Conservation Reserve, Conservation Security, EQUIP (Environmental
Quality Incentives Program), and special practice programs to help them
begin the switch to organic as soon as possible.
Restoring Climate Stability: Soil and More
U.S. farmers, as well as farmers all over the world, have known for at
least 200 years that they should replace lost soil fertility. Over the last
two centuries, numerous strategies were devised in the U.S. to replace soil
nitrogen and soil organic matter, without the use of chemicals. Many of
these strategies are widely used today by organic and biodynamic farmers.
As early as 1813, John Taylor lamented the loss of vegetable (organic)
matter in the soil and felt that we were destroying our precious soil
fertility by over cropping and sloppy farming practices. 14 Since the
1840s, fertilizer manufacturers and alchemists tried to convince farmers to
replace fertility with store bought chemicals. But, farmers were wary of
these products and the claims made by their salesmen.
Other scientists argued over the years that soil with high-organic matter
content was far more productive and fertile even in times of drought and
excess moisture. 15 As a result, U.S. farmers traditionally replaced their
organic matter with fertilizer crops, manure, and compost, and most did not
buy store bought fertilizer until the 1950s.
In 2007 and 2009, results similar to these conclusions were reported from
studies of the Morrow agricultural experiment plots at the University of
Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana (the oldest continuously planted U.S.
experimental farm plot). There, researchers found that continuous corn on a
synthetic nitrogen fertilized plot since 1955 suffered significant carbon
losses and soil nitrogen losses compared to pre-1955 when the plots were
fertilized organically with manure, fertilizer crops, and compost. 16
A significant factor in the decline of these soils was the loss of organic
matter, since soil organic matter both feeds soil microorganisms and the
miccorhizal fungi-both vital components of a healthy soil. Since 1950, the
soils of the major farming areas of the U.S. have been bombarded yearly
with vast quantities of soil-killing pesticides and synthetic fertilizers,
just as the Morrow plots were. The Morrow plot conclusions should be a
wake-up call to farmers and synthetic fertilizer consultants. Those
conclusions are that currently recommended fertilizer applications are from
40 to 190% excessive and that long-term fertility suffers when farmers
depend on synthetic fertilizers and don't replace lost organic matter
utilizing organic soil management.
On several chemically abused pieces of ground where we farmed, and with
cotton, vegetable, and corn farmers we have advised, we were able to
dramatically increase the soil organic matter in three or four years from
1.5% to 3 or 4%, effectively doubling the amount of GHG sequestration while
eliminating nitrate fertilizer runoff and emissions. Using a small amount
of compost and growing fertilizer crops in the fall and winter months and
cash-fertility crops in the spring and summer accomplished these increases.
Each percentage point increase in organic matter represents a major
increase in soil nitrogen, i.e., nitrogen produced by microorganisms
decomposing organic matter. Each percentage increase in organic matter also
enables the soil to absorb and store more carbon.
Beyond Factory Farm Beef, Pork, and Poultry
Along with changing the way we farm, we must also alter what we farm, and
what we eat. Our excessive dependence on meat is not sustainable over the
long term since, as we have noted, 80% of our agriculture is devoted to
producing animals, which is the least energy efficient food. To raise meat
on factory farms takes too many input calories (primarily fossil fuel), too
much acreage, too much nitrogen fertilizer, as well as hazardous
pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones, not to mention millions of acres of
genetically modified (GM) crops.
A few examples illustrate this point clearly. It takes 10 to 12 pounds of
grain (corn, wheat, soy, cottonseed) to produce one pound of marketable
feedlot beef (that is 5000 to 6000 pounds of grain to produce 500 pounds of
meat). It takes one gallon of oil to grow and ship the feed for one pound
of beef. It requires 78 calories of fossil fuel (mostly to grow the grain)
to produce one calorie of protein from feedlot-produced beef. 2500 gallons
of water are needed to produce a single pound of confinement beef.
We all need to eat less (or better yet none) of the non-organic fatty meats
that are grown in abusive feedlots, hog hotels, and poultry prisons. Just
reducing U.S. meat intake by a third would reduce agricultural greenhouse
gas emissions by one-third. And, if you replace the factory farm meat in
your diet with range fed organic meat you will reduce your personal carbon
footprint, strike a blow for humane treatment of farm animals, and improve
your health. Meat eaters don't necessarily have to stop eating meat, they
just need to understand which meat is safe and humanely raised (organic and
grass-fed), and sustainable.
Ultimately, if we change our eating habits, and curtail our Madison Avenue
and mass media-induced need to buy and consume so many clothes and consumer
products, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint. Whether or not
government bureaucrats and corporations change their behavior in the short
term will be determined by the strength of U.S. and global grassroots
movements . But we will never be able to build, motivate, and lead these
movements unless we first start walking our talk and create viable models
of organic conversion and green economics in our individual lives and in
our local communities.
On the other hand, changing our habits is not enough-we must demand that
the Obama administration act and impose a carbon tax, including a tax on
chemical agriculture. We need to demand much higher emission reduction
commitments, along with an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,
nationalization of the big banks and financial institutions, and a
restoration of democracy, starting with publicly funded elections. The
remaining TARP bank rescue money should go to kick-start green energy,
transportation, and sustainable agriculture projects, and to train and hire
the jobless to retrofit and build the new green economy. These are
strategic Main Street issues; communities want new green infrastructure,
healthy food, new industries, and new quality jobs.
A New Works Project Administration
A modern day Works Project Administration could train and employ a massive
green corps to create the green infrastructure and post-carbon economy.
When FDR created the Works Project Administration in the 1930s there were
about 60,000,000 workers in the labor market. Twenty-five percent, or
15,000,000 people were unemployed. Today, there are 154,400,000 workers in
the labor market. The Labor Department estimates that 10.3% of the
population is unemployed. Most analysts argue that the percentage is closer
to 16.5%. Whoever is right, and whether it is 15.9 million or 24.7 million,
more people are out of work now than during the Great Depression. And they
desperately need jobs and training, just like people did during the
Environmentalist Bill McKibben is right, we need to mobilize a grassroots
army to demand reductions in emissions and armies of workers to convert our
infrastructure to a green economy. That means you must text, twitter,
e-mail, and use FaceBook, Google, YouTube and other resources to get
educated about climate change. Once you understand the gravity of the
situation you will be able to change your habits, inform your friends, and
participate in climate change demonstrations. Get organized at the local
level and then coordinate your local efforts with nationwide networks such
as the Organic Consumers Association and www.350.org.
Your children and grandchildren are depending on you to make their world
livable. The hour is late.
Note: Contact these organizations or individuals for information and to
meet others in your community who are participating in efforts to reduce
our greenhouse gas emissions:
Organic Consumers Association: www.organicconsumers.org
Center for Food Safety/Navdanya: www.coolfoodscountdown.org
1. Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change .
Pat Murphy. New Society Publishers, pp. 120-127.
2.Ibid,, p. 85
3. "How innovative financing is changing energy in America" by Cisco
Devries. Grist, January 27, 2010.
4. "Los otros contaminantes que cambian el clima" by Jessica Seddon Wallack
and Veerabhadran Ramanathan. Foreign Affairs Latinoamerica. Vol. 9 Number
4, 2009. pp. 29-40
5. Nutrient Overload: Unbalancing the Global Nitrogen Cycle . Staff of
World Resources Program. 1998-1999
6. Agriculture and Climate Change: Impacts and Opportunities at the Farm
Level . A Policy Position Paper of the National Sustainable Agriculture
7. Three times more phosphorous and potash fertilizer are used than
pesticides, so farmers use about 8 times as many pounds of commercial
fertilizer as toxic pesticides.
8. Allen, Will, 2008. The War on Bugs, Chelsea Green, pp. 93-96, 144
9. Ibid., pp. 146-147
10.United States Department of Agriculture Fertilizer Use Statistics,
11. Until we stop being a military country, we will continue to make
synthetic nitrogen for bombs.
12. "The Organic Revolution, How We Can Stop Global Warming" by Ronnie
Cummins, and Alexis Baden-Mayer from the Organic Consumers Association.
October 19, 2009
13. The U.S. EPA estimates that 16 billion pounds of dry sludge are
produced each year and that one-half of that is applied to farmland.
Synagro (a division of the Carlyle Group), which is the largest distributor
of sludge, contends that about 135 billion pounds of sludge are applied to
14. Taylor, John Arator, 1813, Reprint 1977, The Liberty Fund,
15. Wells, David, 1852. Comparison of the Organic Matter Content of Soils
from Massachusetts and Ohio. Lawrence Scientific School, Harvard
16. R.L. Mulvaney, S.A Kahn and T.R. Ellsworth, Synthetic Nitrogen
Fertilizers Deplete Soil Nitrogen: A Global Dilemma for Sustainable Cereal
Production. Published in 2009 by The Journal of Environmental Quality. S.A
Khan, R.L. Mulvaney, T.R. Ellsworth, and C. Boast. The Myth of Nitrogen
Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration . Published in the
November/December 2007 issue of The Journal of Environmental Quality.
Cawood, Matt, 2009 Why Synthetic Nitrogen is Bad for Soil Carbon Published
in Stock and Land, Oct. 4.
Will Allen is an organic farmer, community organizer, activist, and writer
who farms in Vermont. He is a Policy Advisor for the Organic Consumers
Association. His book The War on Bugs was published by Chelsea Green in
2008. His website is www.thewaronbugsbook.com The farm website is
Ronnie Cummins is an organizer, writer, and activist. He is the
International Director of the Organic Consumers Association and co-author
of the book, Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for
Consumers . His organization's website is www.OrganicConsumers.org
Kate Duesterberg edited this article. She is an organic farmer who
co-manages Cedar Circle Farm, with Will Allen, in Vermont. She previously
worked as an organizer for Rural Vermont, coordinated the Center for
Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Vermont, and was the managing
director of the Sustainable Cotton Project.
Friday 12 February 2010
by: Leslie Thatcher, t r u t h o u t | Interview
Dean Baker. (Photo: Polipoint Press)
On Thursday, February 4, 2010, Leslie Thatcher spoke with economist and frequent Truthout contributor Dean Baker over the phone about his new book, "False Profits - Recovering From the Bubble Economy," as well as about the ongoing economic crisis and its possible remedies.
Leslie Thatcher, Truthout: Why this book now?
Dean Baker: It would have been six months sooner if I had had my way. I had no intention of writing anything like it, but I was so frustrated by the way the economy was being discussed. The vast majority of reporters and commentators missed the whole story of the creation of the housing bubble and now, even after the fact, we're still in a situation where obfuscation rules. Take the example of NPR's Planet Money: there's a really extensive effort to make it sound like it's a supernatural force that hit us, some kind of hurricane no one could have predicted, but to my mind, it's all really very very simple. I don't doubt Ben Bernanke is highly intelligent or that Larry Summers is really very smart. But these very smart people did something really stupid and the consequences were disastrous. It's bad enough that the bubble was not talked about while it was inflating, but now, even after it has burst, there's been no acknowledgement of the high level incompetence that brought us here.
In "False Profits," you lay out detailed plans for stimulating the economy and for effective regulation of the financial sector. The administration's just-out budget, the reconfirmation of Ben Bernanke as Fed chairman and the watered-down regulatory proposals out there suggest that so far your recommendations are falling on largely deaf ears.
It's a question of priorities. When the financial industry was on its back, the authorities were ready to move heaven and earth to save the banks, and there's no question that without what they did, the bulk - Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup - if not all of the big banks and many smaller ones would have gone under. This near-disaster for the financial industry was sold as something that urgently required fixing if we were not to have a second Great Depression. That was nonsense.
Undoubtedly, it was better to keep those institutions alive, but we should have handed the money over with real conditions. We don't allow al-Qaeda to run guns in the US; we could ensure that CEOs won't get paid more than $2,000,000 or some other benchmark: that's total compensation, including incentive pay, bonuses, stock options, etc. We know how to do this. It isn't rocket science. They put in some kind of wording about compensation, but I don't believe it has any real effect.
We could have changed the way the banks do business; we could have told them they had to write down principal on mortgages. Instead, we made sure they did not suffer any consequences for their actions. The Obama administration has not pulled out all the stops for the American people the way they have for the banks.
The public understands this. The public is exactly right. They may not understand the details; they may not know what a credit default swap is or an asset-backed security, but they see that the administration has moved heaven and earth to save Goldman and they don't see them doing that for the unemployed, for those losing their homes, for those facing medical bankruptcy.
I testified in front of Congress right before Larry Summers about my right to rent idea and Summers testified afterwards and said, it was a reasonable idea and everything, but that it would "interfere with the sanctity of contract."
On another occasion, Summers was asked by a Washington Post reporter about the short work week idea that's been used so effectively in Germany and elsewhere to reduce unemployment and Summers' response was "that's not the American way."
I don't know how he decided what's "the American way," but throwing people out of their homes and their jobs, that's the American way?
Returning to your quote about the sanctity of contract, I read a recent Baseline Scenario posting that argued, in effect, that would-be Hayek followers had destroyed the sanctity of contract and thereby the foundation of free market operation by creating unintelligible contracts ...
Simon Johnson has played a great role in these debates, not something one necessarily expects from a former IMF chief economist. He has played a particularly valuable role in the debate over the role of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
A contract that isn't intelligible - for example, an Adjustable Rate Mortgage contract written so the borrower really cannot understand that it will automatically adjust to a rate of interest that increases his mortgage payment by so much - is not a real contract. Arguably, this kind of fraud could just be fixed through the legal system if the courts would rule that it's not a valid contract and that the banks just gave away their money to the homeowners. A proper contract is supposed to involve a "meeting of the minds." There can be no "meeting of the minds" when one party cannot understand the terms of the contract - by design.
You have argued very eloquently against the deficit reduction panel proposed by the deficit hawks under the influence of investment banker Peter Petersen. Now that's been voted down in the Senate, but there will be a president's deficit reduction panel created by executive order charged with recommending policies to achieve "primary balance" by 2015. Where will this lead?
My guess is that there will be a lot of yelling and they'll end up coming up with nothing. The whole point is to find some back door way to cut Social Security and Medicare, because they know such cuts are hugely unpopular. This is one area where the Internet has been tremendously helpful in getting the word out, in preventing this kind of backdoor manipulation that can fool even well-informed, educated people.
For example, if you call for an "across the board spending cut of 10 percent," the average person might think that's a great idea, until you say, "what about cutting Social Security by 10 percent," which was implicit in the first recommendation. So they'll put something like that on the table and hope that by wrapping it up in some attractive language, they'll be able to disguise the objective of cutting Social Security and Medicare.
Although a recession is not the time to be preoccupied with getting the deficit down, the legitimate ways to do that are simple: cut military spending, reduce Medicare expenses by a real reform of the medical system, tax the very rich.
Any package for a 2015 balance would mean big cuts in Social Security and Medicare, so I just don't think that will happen.
Can you address why and how military spending no longer pulls the economy out of a recession?
Military spending still provides some stimulus, and given the context where we're well below full employment, we do need stimulus. However, suppose we took the $700 billion defense budget and spent it on improving homes and restoring infrastructure: that would provide more stimulus and more jobs.
Much military spending is capital-intensive, that is, it pays for equipment and defense contractor executive salaries, but doesn't provide many jobs for the dollars. Also, a lot of military spending goes overseas. Our bases overseas are partially supplied from non-US sources. There are simply many military expenditures that do not stimulate our economy.
You argue and I totally agree that we should be looking at effective stimulus rather than deficit reduction, but why is it that the same people who clamor most aggressively for deficit reduction never talk about health care reform as the deficit buster it could and should be?
I don't think it's a matter of crude corruption, but they literally don't think of these things. For example, drugs would be less expensive without patent protection: we've spent $250 billion in 2009, projected to go to more than $400 billion on prescription medications by the end of the decade, amounts that could be dramatically reduced without patent protection. American doctors earn twice what Western European doctors earn, but nobody sees that as a problem. American auto workers certainly don't earn twice as much as their Western European counterparts. Partly, it's a pure class issue at work. People who make and write about policy have friends and family who are doctors or who profit in some way from drug royalties. They don't want to argue that their friends and family shouldn't earn as much as they do.
What hopes do you have for financial sector reform?