Global Warming: An Organic Future, or No Future

The following is excerpted from Ronnie Cummin's essay Beyond the Darkest Hours, Grassroots Rising.

World leaders abandoned UN climate talks in Copenhagen without a binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. At 387ppm, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere already exceeds the dangerous tipping point of 350ppm. If we reduce CO2 to 350ppm, temperatures will increase 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, making life on the planet difficult, but still possible.

If we continue with business as usual, in 2100 the level will be 965ppm CO2 (+ 8.6 F). If the world acts on proposals for CO2 reduction confirmed in Copenhagen, in 2100 the level will be 770ppm CO2. That's the best-case scenario right now, a seven degree Fahrenheit average temperature rise, which some predict could come as early as 2060, in time for you or your children to experience Climate Hell first-hand. Unless we reverse global warming, the Earth, which is expected to have nine billion people in 2050, will have a carrying capacity for only one billion.

One way or another, humanity will return to organic agriculture, because it is the only farming system that can supply the world with sufficient quantities of healthy food in the emerging era of global warming, erratic weather, declining fossil fuels, and water scarcity. There is no other way.

If we act sooner rather than later, organic agriculture can mitigate and reverse climate change by:

1) Drastically reducing the global industrialized food system's 44-57% share of global greenhouse gas emissions, and

2) Sequestering billions of tons of CO2 in the soil.

If we convert the world's 3.5 billion acres of farmland to organic, we can sequester 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If we also organically manage the world's 11 billion acres of pastures, rangelands, and forests we can potentially sequester 100% of greenhouse gas emissions. Organic transition could buy us time to reduce fossil fuel use by 90% and retrofit our economy, transportation, and housing to renewable, clean energy.

As it stands, corporate agribusiness, industrial forestry, the garbage and sewage industry and agricultural biotechnology have literally killed the climate stabilizing capacity of the Earth's living soil. Industrial agriculture and forestry have eroded and depleted the soil food web, annihilating soil microorganisms and destroying plants, trees, and soil's natural capacity to clean the atmosphere and sequester CO2. This climate-disrupting ecocide is a direct result of the suicidal use of billions of pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, soil destroying pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, insecticidal GMO crops, factory farm waste, and toxic sewage sludge. We need to stop this deadly attack on the planet's soil food web and make organic land management the norm, rather than just the green alternative.

In the US, we throw away 40% of our food each year. Production of that wasted food accounts for more than one-quarter of our total annual freshwater consumption and equates to 300 million barrels of oil. Even worse, this enormous volume of non-composted food waste rotting in landfills emits tremendous amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 20-70 times more damaging than C02.

About 80 gallons of water per day per person goes down the drain into our vast and ill-designed sewage system, much of it flushed down the toilet. Household sewage is mixed with hospital and industrial toxins and pathogens, pharmaceuticals, and storm water, lawn and farm run-off. After "treatment," the wastewater is declared "safe," and billions of pounds of toxic sludge are left behind.

Instead of isolating and containing America's toxic sewage sludge as hazardous waste, industry and city governments save money by renaming this toxic sludge "biosolids" and spreading it on non-organic land across the country. One of the most outrageous practices is the sale or giveaway of toxic sewage sludge as "organic fertilizer".

The EPA claims that the toxic chemical poisons, heavy metals, pathogens, hormone disruptors, pesticides, and pharmaceutical drug residues routinely contained in sewage sludge are diluted to "acceptable levels." In 1998, the Organic Consumers Association and the organic community successfully fought to keep toxic sewage sludge out of national organic standards, but we now need to ban sewage sludge on non-organic land as well.

In the organic future, valuable organic matter in the waste stream will neither be wasted nor mixed with other garbage or toxins. It will be made into a valuable genuinely organic fertilizer. This is the only way we can replace the 24 billion pounds of chemical fertilizers applied to non-organic farms every year in the U.S.

Zero waste recycling and the creation of an abundant, affordable supply of organic compost is an essential part of our organic future. This means taking apart the toxic sewage sludge industry and banning the nitrate fertilizers that are killing the soil and destabilizing the climate.

Read more from Ronnie Cummins in Organic Bytes, the free weekly e-newsletter of the Organic Consumers Association.