This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 4th of March 2019.
Jon Moore reporting!
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
We begin this week with a piece from Business Insider entitled: Cows are getting a bad rap and it’s time to set the record straight: Giving up meat won’t save the planet by Frank M. Mitloehner.
As the scale and impacts of climate change become increasingly alarming, meat is a popular target for action. Advocates urge the public to eat less meat to save the environment. Some activists have called for taxing meat to reduce consumption of it.
A key claim underlying these arguments holds that globally, meat production generates more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. However, this claim is demonstrably wrong, as I will show. And its persistence has led to false assumptions about the linkage between meat and climate change.
I’ve been suggesting for years that this part of the nonsense spread by the like of George Monbiot and others who really have no understanding of agriculture other than the CAFOs discussed in the previous episode. It gets worse, as we’ll see in an upcoming quote. The question I have and which I apply to all these sorts of conundra is: Who benefits?
Clearly ending animal agriculture is a vegan agenda. The Facebook page, Irish Generative Lant Trust shared a pic from Vegan Australia. Pic in the show notes. But I will quote:
You may have heard the term ‘regenerative grazing’ which has appeared in the media lately.It’s (sic) promotion may indicate the animal agriculture industry has increased its PR efforts in response to extensive criticism of the sector’s devastating environmental record.
The extensive use of pesticides, herbicides and the clearing of the Amazon for soybean agriculture to build tofu is apparently ok but I digress.
I think we can agree the CAFO system is an environmental disaster but going vegan isn’t the answer. Another point from this quote is the use of the term animal agriculture. This Henry Ford industrial approach to agriculture is where the current situation arose. Separating animals from plants in the production process has led to things taken to their logical conclusion with individuals describing themselves as hog farmers, wool producers and so on. While these things may be the main economic stream in an enterprise, the really good ones have an integrated mix of plant and animal production systems. Indeed I would argue they can’t actually be separated but are parts of a whole system. I would refer you to John Seymour’s Complete Book of Self Sufficiency. In particular his intro section on the webs of nature and their replication in an agricultural setting. They were seminal in my understanding as a 16 year old.
Back to the original piece.
A healthy portion of meat’s bad rap centers on the assertion that livestock is the largest source of greenhouse gases worldwide. For example, a 2009 analysis published by the Washington, DC-based Worldwatch Institute asserted that 51% of global GHG emissions come from rearing and processing livestock.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the largest sources of US GHG emissions in 2016 were electricity production (28% of total emissions), transportation (28%) and industry (22%). All of agriculture accounted for a total of 9%. All of animal agriculture contributes less than half of this amount, representing 3.9% of total US greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s very different from claiming livestock represents as much or more than transportation.
Again, who benefits? I’m not sure exactly but not the planet nor the people living on nor the biosphere.
In the same way one published article has led to antibiotics being routinely added to CAFO feeds yet the results have never been replicated so too do we have the meat equals GHGs “belief”.
Further from the article,
I pointed out this flaw during a speech to fellow scientists in San Francisco on March 22, 2010, which led to a flood of media coverage. To its credit, the FAO immediately owned up to its error. Unfortunately, the agency’s initial claim that livestock was responsible for the lion’s share of world greenhouse gas emissions had already received wide coverage.
To this day, we struggle to “unring” the bell.
Indeed it is very difficult to unring a bell. Paradigms can be shifted but it takes more than evidence, it would appear.
As the effects of climate change start to impact in more obvious ways, the future becomes a matter for more thoughtful discussion. From the piece: The future of farming in the era of climate change written By Micaela Hambrett of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
It has sparked concern among people like Nigel Gibson, who like many others have increasingly taken steps in their own suburban lives to prepare for the impacts of climate change.
But recent weather events have left Mr Gibson wondering if enough was being done for agricultural communities on a broader scale.
“Will farmers need to move or can they transition to other opportunities?” he asked ABC Central West NSW’s Curious project.
“I feel this is something no-one is talking about.”
There is some discussion going on around this subject but nowhere near enough. We need to look at a little history. The conservative side of politics in Australia has swallowed the Kool-Aid on the idea of laissez faire economics, as it is applied to agriculture. This does not extend to mining companies who can contribute to party finances but that’s another episode. Combine this with the notion that “the bush” votes to the right of centre and the major left of centre party, the Labor Party can see no need to support farmers except in times of emergency. This is a bipartisan position. No subsidies, money after floods, fires and during droughts. Subsidies do though extend to solar panel installation and include feedback tariffs above and beyond wholesale prices. So payments to encourage behaviour change are a thing.
Farming in the face of climate change adds another variable to the challenges of growing food. The lunacy of ignoring the agricultural sector until the ship hits the sand is almost beyond belief. There are reasons though. By not subsidising agriculture we can point to the US and the EU and say they are creating an uneven playing field. The US and the EU don’t care.
So given that the laissez faire approach to one sector of the economy, agriculture, doesn’t make any logical sense and that the Australian governments, State and Commonwealth, while not happy to do so, realise the political dangers of not providing support after natural disasters, a slight change in emphasis, could have the same funds poured into regenerative agricultural education. The same system which created rust free wheat varieties, developed Packham pears and defeated the Prickly Pear infestation could be used as it is trusted by those on the ground. They would have to admit their errors with regard to chemical based food production and explain why there is a need to more to regenerative agriculture but they are best placed to do so.
At present, one farmer per district seems to be the limit. No one wants to be the person who does things differently in case it fails. This is especially so if they are under debt pressures. Once that one farmer does succeed then for others to change would mean admitting they were wrong. Even in the depths of drought where the regenerative farms are green to their boundary fences and there’s dust on the other side, people are resistant to change.
So the CSIRO, the ag colleges, the rural science departments, the horticulture schools and the ag course in high school can make the difference. If we toss in some funding to cover the transition period, call it land management payments rather than agricultural subsidy and I think we have a model that would work. In the US and the EU and other places where subsidies already exist, tweaking the system to fund regenerative but not factory farming models in say a three to five year transition period and we would be sucking carbo out of the air, putting it in the soil and repairing our food webs and the wild ones too.
My thinking would be to pull funding from organic farms which simply follow the chemical industrial model but don’t use chemicals. I’ve seen registered enterprises using mini flamethrowers against weeds and as a consequence, the soil and the life below it. I know, it is almost unbelievable but there you go.
So, cows aren’t destroying the atmosphere, we can get carbon back in the soil and do it through the people who are at the coal face, lol, and experiencing the effects of climate change directly. They have the local knowledge, they have the financial incentives and we need this to happen.
And on that note I’ll draw this episode to a conclusion.
Remember: Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
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Thank you for listening and I’ll be back next week.
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Cows are getting a bad rap and it’s time to set the record straight: Giving up meat won’t save the planet
The future of farming in the era of climate change