Land and Food vs Corporate Rights and Dirty Fuels

This article is a summary by Margaret Flowers of  a session at the Democracy Convention in Madison, Wisconsin on August 26, 2011. The speaker is Ronnie Cummins of the  Organic Consumers Association.

Middle Eastern Oil Chiefdoms, China, India and Russia are buying up land around the world. As the climate crisis becomes manifest, more countries will face food and water shortages. And corporations are taking land or are pushing farmers to produce bio-fuels. What is the environmental impact of this to be?

More countries are on the brink of using up their water supplies. Saudi Arabia used to grow its own wheat and was self sufficient until their aquifer dried up. They have stopped growing wheat. And they now have water desalination plants because they are running out of drinking water.

The climate crisis is melting the glaciers which provide irrigation and drinking water for ½ billion people in India and Nepal, and the headwaters of those rivers are in Pakistan. We may see nuclear war between India and Pakistan over that. When water is not coming, it will lead to mass starvation. There is no way to stop it. We can only hope it takes longer before it occurs.

India is mining their aquifers. There are 2 types – one is recharged by rain and the other is called a fossil aquifer which isn’t recharged. Huge parts of Northern China are dependent on fossil aquifers or aquifers that are being over-pumped. This whole economic boom in India and China is dependent on a water system that will go bust. China and India are biological time bombs waiting to explode. China is buying more food on the world market. In the short term, these countries are buying land while Africans are experiencing food shortages. This won’t work. They will need a military occupation to hold those farm lands. This indicates a much larger problem. We need to think in global terms.

Transportation in the US uses a tremendous amount of fossil fuel. The average car journey in the US has 1.4 people and the average car gets 20 mpg. We are using 40% of the corn crop, GMO corn that is subsidized with billions of dollars of tax money, for bio-fuels. Bio-fuels are resource-intensive. You have to grow more corn than normal. Enough corn to feed 350 million people is going into our cars. This is 3% of the total gasoline use in cars. And we have to reduce fossil fuel use by 90% by 2050.

What is the solution? People can’t buy a $40k hybrid car and drive 1.4 people per trip.

Ethanol from corn is one of the worst ideas possible if you look at the carbon footprint. It is twice as bad as burning diesel. Why? To produce corn, you need fertilizers.  The nitrous oxide from fertilizers is 200 times more destructive than carbon dioxide. The environmental impact of the natural gas, herbicides, and transportation that are required, and the transformation of corn into ethanol is huge. Why are we doing it? The government listens to Monsanto, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.

Bio-fuels divide farmers from consumers. If we eliminate ethanol in the Midwest, farmers will be upset. They are trying to make a living. They have invested in expensive equipment and land.

Using ethanol lulls people into believing that they are doing something about the energy crisis and gas crisis. People think they are benefiting the environment, when it is worse for the environment. The latest GMO crop to be approved by Obama is an ethanol-ready corn. Even the Food corporations are saying don’t approve it because it will get into food supply and has the chemical profile of an allergen. It will get into food and will be very hard to get it out. Obama is worse than Bush when it comes to approving GMO entities. Ethanol-ready corn will only provide a 10% efficiency increase in producing ethanol.

Palm oil production in Malaysia is another example of land use that is having a tremendous negative environmental impact. Tropical rain forest is being destroyed to make oil. The rain forest is the best sequester of carbon gases, and is the medicine cabinet of the future. Palm oil is used in junk food and cosmetics.

The number one cause of greenhouse gas is industrial food farming production, processing, transportation and throwing food away instead of composting it, which produces methane.

The carbon footprint of the modern food production, processing and distribution system,  has been analyzed incorrectly at only around 35% of all greenhouse gases.The main cause of deforestation and draining wetlands is agriculture for bio-fuels.

The good news is that the 12 billion acres of cropland, if we start to manage them organically and sustainably, will take the carbon in the air and get it in the ground and significantly reduce greenhouse gases by at least 50ppm carbon. Methane is 10% of the problem. It is a short-lived gas in the atmosphere. If we shut down factory farms and do what San Francisco did, make recycling organic waste mandatory, we could stop the methane that is produced by humans. Nitrous oxide is nearly permanent, unfortunately, and 55% comes from using chemical fertilizers. The US puts 24 billion pounds of chemical fertilizer on the ground. It will kill Earth if we don’t stop this.

On the other hand, there are solutions. Decentralized bio-fuel production is a tool we will have to use. For example, farmers produced ethanol on their farms in the 1930s because of fuel shortages, and they only made essential trips. Will Allen in Vermont produces bio-fuel from sunflower oil. He sells the oil for $50 per gallon, but only to people who give him back the kitchen grease and he uses it to heat his greenhouses.

Bio-char takes peoples’ lands and turns them into tree plantations. Industrial bio-char production is not something we should support, but decentralized bio-char production is acceptable.  Bio-char is made when grasses or trees are turned into a fine type of charcoal by burning them in the absence of O2, like in a pizza oven. Add it to compost and it is an amazing soil fertility aid.  This is an example of natural bioengineering, a natural way to help us. It will be useful when the climate crisis hits – decentralized bio-char production can be used to restore the soils’ ability to sequester large amounts of carbon. One acre can sequester up to 7,000 pounds of carbon per year.

Another problem is bio-solids. It is made from sewage sludge, but it is sold as ‘organic’ and is used for growing food. When it is burned, it releases toxins into the air. Read here to learn more about bio-soilds.

We can turn this around. Take money out of Military-Industrial Complex and put it towards real national security – saving Earth. We have the solutions.

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