Climate Action in Amherst


The Climate March in New York City is over…

Now what?

In my last blog, I suggested that the big news coming out of the United Nations Climate Summit in N.Y. City –  following the largest climate change march in history is……. what WILL NOT happen.

Tonight I attended a meeting in Amherst to help think about “whats next?”  The organizers from 350Massachusetts and Climate Action Now in Western Massachusetts offered us several options for getting involved.  Here are a few:

1.  Divest UMass – The UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign (Divest UMass for short) is a dedicated student-led campaign organizing to confront the present and future issues created by climate change.  Here is how to GET INVOLVED.

2.  Divestment Massachusetts – College students, people of faith, environmentalists, economists, unions, mothers, and others converged on the State House on Sept. 10 to support S. 1225, a bill that requires MA to divest from fossil fuels!  To support the effort to divest sign here – Divest Massachusetts from Fossil Fuels.

3. Mothers Out Front are mothers, grandmothers, and other caregivers who can no longer be silent and still about the very real danger that climate change poses to our children’s and grandchildren’s future.  To connect to the Amherst group, go to; Amherst Mothers Out Front.

4. No Fracked Gas in Mass is working to stop the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in Massachusetts and to promote expanded efficiency and sustainable, renewable sources of energy and local, permanent jobs in a clean energy economy.  Here are some suggestions on what you can do!

5. Climate Action Plan in Springfield – support the community actions of our neighbor to the south (and the biggest polluter in Western Mass).  Help us to plan the march from the North End of Springfield to Springfield City Hall on October 20!  Join the planning meeting October 1, 2014 at 6:00 pm at the South Congregational Church, 45 Maple Street, in Springfield.


Many people are motivated to take action around climate change out of anger or fear, and this is a powerful force.  For those of us who are motivated out of love for all of creation and concern for our sisters and brothers living in poverty, you are invited to join us on Saturday, October 4 from 2:00-4:00pm to learn from each other and ask…..

So…. what would Francis do?

For those of you who agree with Pope Francis, who tells us that environmental degradation is the “sin of our time,” join us to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis at the Newman Catholic Center at UMass on Saturday, October 4 from 2:00-4:00pmin the Burke Lounge for a program titled From St. Francis to Pope Francis to You – Creating a Climate for Solidarity.

This workshop and discussion will focus on climate change from the perspectives of “the two Francises” – St. Francis and Pope Francis.  If you are curious about the Catholic position on climate change and its impact on the poor, PLEASE JOIN US!


Here is something else you can do right now!

Write a letter or send and email to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy like this one:

SUBJECT: Docket ID:  EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602 – Support Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants

Dear Administrator McCarthy:

As someone who takes climate change seriously, I have committed myself to advocate on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable, and all of Creation.  

Unfolding climate change caused primarily by our consumption of fossil fuels threatens both the planet and poor people. In light this,I believe that the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants (Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule) can help limit damaging greenhouse gas emissions, uphold human life and dignity and demonstrate a greater respect for the planet.

At the same time, I urge the EPA to offer clear guidance to states on how to protect low-income individuals and families from undue suffering under potential energy rate hikes.  Additionally, I encourage the EPA to work with policymakers to help workers impacted by the Plan transition to other employment.

If such steps to protect poor and vulnerable populations are taken seriously, then I support the Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule, Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602.


Send the email to:

Or send a letter to:

USEPA Headquarters
William Jefferson Clinton Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W.
Mail Code: 1101A
Washington, DC 2046


Want to stay connected, please join the Climate Action Now Weekly Newsletter and update alerts:

Catholics and Climate Change

Speculation to Advocacy: Reducing Carbon Pollution

In advance of a community conversation at the University of Massachusetts Catholic Newman Center on Saturday, October 4, 2014 from 2:00pm –  4:00pm, this article is being shared to help us think about “what would Francis do” about climate change?

For information on the public workshop and discussion,

From St. Francis to Pope Francis to You – Creating a Climate for Solidarity

see: Facebook Events Page.

poltheoPublished September 12, 2014 by Daniel DiLeo in Political Theology Today

In his Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between two facets of human intellect: “speculative intellect which directs what it apprehends, not to operation, but to the consideration of truth; while the practical intellect is that which directs what it apprehends to operation” (I, q. 79, a. 11). Although each aspect has unique characteristics, Aquinas insists that the speculative and the practical “are not distinct powers” but together constitute the fullness of human intellect (I, q. 79, a. 11, s.c.). In other words, speculation and application are two sides of the same coin.

For political theologians, it is often a challenge to translate abstract speculation into concrete political advocacy. Although there are likely many reasons for this reality, it is a situation with which we should not be satisfied. It is always necessary, therefore, to identify and take action in situations where a direct connection between the speculative and the practical exists. One such opportunity arose earlier this summer with respect to climate change mitigation, and political theologians should now advocate around the proposed policy.

carbonClean Power Plan and U.S. Catholic Bishops

On June 2, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the Clean Power Plan by which to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. The EPA is accepting public comments about the Plan until mid-October, and Republicans in Congress are working to block, interfere with, and/or otherwise eviscerate the Agency’s proposed carbon pollution standards.

The Catholic Church has explicitly and repeatedly recognized climate change as a moral issue that threatens to compromise the commitments of Catholic Social Teaching (to learn more, visit the Catholic Climate Covenant). As such, the Church continues to call on persons of faith and goodwill to address this issue through both individual efforts and coordinated public policies.

Shortly before the release of the Clean Power Plan, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as chair of its Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. There, the Archbishop highlighted the USCCB’s awareness that “the best evidence indicates that power plants are the largest stationary source of carbon emissions in the United States, and a major contributor to climate change” (indeed, carbon dioxide is the most pervasive greenhouse gas, and fossil fuel power plants—which account for 38% of U.S. carbon pollution—are the largest collective domestic source of this pollution).

In light of this reality, Archbishop Wenski emphasized that “the USCCB recognizes the importance of finding means to reduce carbon pollution.” Towards this end, the Archbishop insisted that carbon pollution standards be guided by key aspects of Catholic teaching: “Respect for Human Life and Dignity, Prudence on Behalf of the Common Good, Priority for the Poor and Vulnerable, Social and Economic Justice, Care for Creation and Participation.”

On July 30, 2014, Archbishop Wenski followed this initial letter to the EPA with another that he co-authored with Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Chair of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace. There, the two bishops declared: “We … welcome the setting of standards to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants and thereby mitigate climate change. We support a national standard to reduce carbon pollution and recognize the important flexibility given to states in determining how best to meet these goals.” Towards this end, the bishops reiterated the ethical criteria for carbon pollution standards that the USCCB articulated in its May letter to the EPA. Finally, the bishops “call[ed] upon our leaders in government and industry to act responsibly, justly and rapidly to implement such a [national carbon pollution] standard.”

Catholic Advocacy around Carbon Pollution Standards

In light of the Clean Power Plan and the Catholic bishops’ advocacy around a national carbon pollution standard for existing power plants, political theologians have a distinct opportunity to practically engage in an active policy debate. Although their contributions to the discussion might take several forms, there are two immediate steps that political theologians are able to take. First, political theologians can submit faith-based public comments to the EPA. In addition, political theologians can contact their elected officials and urge them to support a national carbon pollution standard for existing power plants that is animated by Catholic teaching.


In his 1990 World Day of Peace Message, St. John Paul II recognized that “the ecological crisis is a moral issue” (emphasis in original). Guided by this awareness, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI asserted in his encyclical Caritas in veritate that “the Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere” (# 51). The current debate around the Clean Power Plan is a unique opportunity within which to bring Christian theology to bear on an active policy debate. As such, I urge political theologians to, at the very least, submit faith-based comments about the proposal to the EPA and let their elected officials know that they support a national carbon pollution standard guided by Catholic teaching.

Original Post


Daniel R. DiLeo is a Flatley Fellow and Ph.D. student in theological ethics at Boston College. His interests lie at the intersection of Catholic social thought, virtue ethics, political theology, environmental ethics and economic justice. He is especially focused on the issue of climate change and discernment of how Catholic theological ethics can contribute to deliberations about national climate policy. He has worked as Project Manager for the Catholic Climate Covenant since 2009, and was also a Mission Intern at the Catholic Health Association from 2009-2011. He is also a regular contributor to Millennial Journal.



Can the U.S. celebrate the International Year of Family Farming (without embarrassment)?

iyffThe United Nations declared 2014 as the International Year of the Family Farming (IYFF) and approved the following objectives:

  1. Promote policies in favor of the sustainable development of Family Farming by adopting concrete and operative measures and strategies, making budgetary allocations in support of Family Farming.
  2. Re-enforce the legitimacy of the farming associations to represent the interests of Family Farming in support of the making of farming policies.
  3. Increase awareness among civil society of the role of Family Farming.
  4. Achieve recognition of the role of women in Family Farming and of their rights.
  5. Advocate and defend an international economy of food products based on rules which foster development and food security in all countries.
  6. Promote investigation associated with sustainable rural development giving it human and financial resource.

fafo_2014_02To achieve these objectives, representatives of Farmers’ Organizations five continents met in Abu Dhabi on January 21-22, 2014, with the intention of developing specific policy recommendations.

In the statement agreed during the meeting, the participants reaffirmed that “Family Farming can and must become the cornerstone of solid sustainable rural development, conceived of as an integral part of the global and harmonised development of each nation and each people while preserving the environment and natural resources”.

“However, for this to be achieved Family Farming requires genuine public support which is non-existent today in most countries. A support which ensures the access to and control of land, water and other natural resources, to nearby markets, credit, investment and agricultural extension as well as equitable responses to the specific needs of rural women and youth”, emphasize farmers’ leaders.

Family farming organizations agreed on five main demands to be forwarded to decision makers during the IYFF-2014.

farmersunionIn spite of the support for this effort by the National Farmers Union in the U.S., the track record of U.S. policy has been anti-farmer for the past 60 years.  Wenonah Hauter writes in Foodopoly, “After World War II, farmers became the target of subtle but ruthless policies aimed at reducing their numbers, thereby creating a large and cheap labor pool.  In more recent times, federal policy has been focused on reducing the number of farms as labor has been replaced by capital and technology.” 

U.S. federal farm policy has been markedly pro agri-business and anti family farmer, in spite of the rhetoric of U.S.D.A. administrators.  While this policy has resulted in cheap food (consumers in the U.S. expend less than 10% of their income on average toward food) the effect on all other aspects of society such as public health, environmental quality, rural community vitality, and the economic viability of the family farm has been decidedly negative.

It will take a remarkable turn around in public policy in the U.S. if we intend to participate in the celebration that is the International Year of Family Farming! 

To learn more and support the New England chapter of the National Farmers Union, please consider joining this progressive voice in support of family farms.

joinFor a more complete story see: Will the International Year of Family Farming slow the “cancerous” growth of industrial farming?

Seeds on seeds on seeds: Why more biodiversity means more food security

By Gary Naban  – Posted in Grist

It is puzzling that Monsanto’s Vice President Robert Fraley recently became one of the recipients of the World Food Prize for providing GMO seeds to combat the effects of climate change, just weeks after Monsanto itself reported a $264 million loss this quarter because of a decline in interest and plummeting sales in its genetically engineered “climate-ready” seeds. And since Fraley received his award, the production of GMO corn has been formally banned by Mexico, undoubtedly seen as one of Monsanto’s major potential markets.

seed-savingThe World Food Prize, offered each year on World Food Day, is supposed to underscore the humanitarian importance of viable strategies to provide a sustainable and nutritious food supply to the billions of hungry and food-insecure people on this planet. Ironically, what is engaging widespread public involvement in achieving this goal is not Monsanto’s GMOs, but the great diversity of farmer-selected and heirloom seeds in many communities. Why? Because such food biodiversity may be the most prudent “bet-hedging” strategy for dealing with food insecurity and climate uncertainty.

Consumer demand in the U.S. has never been stronger for a diversity of seeds and other planting stock of heirloom and farmer-selected food crops, as well as for wild native seeds. One of the many indicators that the public wants alternatives to Monsanto is that more than 150 community-controlled seed libraries have emerged across the country during the last five years. And over the last quarter century, those who voluntarily exchange seeds of heirloom and farmer-selected varieties of vegetables, fruits, and grains have increased the diversity of their offerings fourfold, from roughly 5,000 to more than 20,000 plant selections. During the same timeframe, the number of non-GMO, non-hybrid food crop varieties offered by seed catalogs, nurseries, and websites has increased from roughly 5,000 to more than 8,500 distinctive varieties.

And yet, these grassroots efforts and consumer demand are largely being overlooked by both governments and most philanthropic foundations engaged in fighting hunger and enhancing human health. Even prior to the partial U.S. government shutdown, federal support for maintaining seed diversity for food justice, landscape resilience, and ecosystems services had begun to falter. Budget cuts have crippled USDA crop resource conservation efforts and the budgets for nine of the 29 remaining NRCS Plant Materials Centers are reportedly on the chopping block. As accomplished curators of vegetable, fruit, and grain diversity retire from federal and state institutions, they are seldom replaced, leaving several historically important collections at risk.

It is as if Washington politicians and bureaucrats were failing to recognize a simple fact that more than 68 million American households of gardeners, farmers, and ranchers clearly understand: Seed diversity is as much a “currency” necessary for ensuring food security and economic well-being as money. These households spend on average hundreds of dollars each year purchasing a variety of seeds, seedlings, and fruit trees because of their concern for the nutritive value, flavor, and the quality of food they put in their bodies. While it should be obvious that, without seeds, much of the food we eat can’t be grown, few pundits recognize a corollary to that “food rule.” Without a diversity of seeds to keep variety in our grocery stores and farmers markets, those who are most nutritionally at risk would have difficulty gaining access to a full range of vitamins, minerals, and probiotics required to keep them healthy.

However, despite what portions of the government and agribusiness don’t seem to fathom, consumer involvement in recovering access to diverse seed stocks since the economic downturn began in 2008 has been nothing short of miraculous. Some call it the “Victory Garden effect,” in that unemployed and underemployed people are spending more time tending and harvesting their own food from home orchards and community gardens than they have in previous decades. Public involvement in growing food has increased for the sixth straight year, according to the National Gardening Association. But even financially strapped gardeners are not shirking from using their limited resources to purchase quality seeds of heirloom and farmer-selected vegetables. The Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, reports that its sales of seed packets have nearly doubled over the last five years. Another nonprofit focused on heirloom and wild-native seeds — Native Seeds/SEARCH of Tucson — saw its seed sales triple since the end of 2009. And there are between 300 and 400 other small seed companies supported by consumers in the U.S. that offer seeds by mail-order, by placing seed packets racks in nurseries and groceries, or via on the internet.

Nevertheless, the U.S. may now be approaching the largest shortfall in the availability of native and weed-free seed at any time in our history due to recent climate-related catastrophes scouring our croplands, pastures, and forests. While a few large corporations focus on a few varieties of corn, soy, and other commodity crops, there is unprecedented demand for diverse seeds to be used for a great variety of human and environmental uses in this country, and elsewhere.

It has become painfully clear that America needs to recruit and support a whole new cohort of dedicated women and men to manage seed growouts, nurseries, and on-farm breeding and crop selection efforts for the public good. To further evaluate crop varieties for their capacity to adapt to climate change, we will certainly need many more participants in such endeavors than a charismatic Johnny Appleseed or two. They must stand ready to harvest, grow, monitor, select, and store a diversity of seeds for a diversity of needs in advance of forthcoming catastrophes. And they must value acquiring and maintaining a diversity of seedstocks, much as a wise investor relies on a diversified investment portfolio. Diverse and adapted seeds are literally the foundation of our food security infrastructure. Without them, the rest is a house of cards.

seeds of successFortunately, courageous efforts have been initiated to rebuild America’s seed “caring capacity.” The collaborative effort known as Seeds of Success, which is part of an interagency Native Plant Materials Development Program, has trained dozens of young people at the Chicago Botanic Garden to collect seeds of hundreds of native species over the last few years. In the nonprofit sector, Bill McDorman of Native Seeds/SEARCH has organized six week-long Seed Schools around the country that have trained more than 330 gardeners and farmers to be seed entrepreneurs.

Elsewhere, Daniel Bowman Simon, now a graduate student at Columbia University, has helped hundreds of low-income households (eligible for USDA Food and Nutrition Program assistance) to use their “SNAP” benefits to purchase diverse seeds and seedlings of food crops at farmers markets in order to produce not just one meal, but many. In light of recent unjustified critiques of the SNAP program during farm bill debates, it is surprising that fiscal conservatives did not acknowledge how providing financially strapped families with seedstock may be one of the most cost-effective means of reducing food insecurity over the long haul. It is tangibly giving the poor the “means to fish” rather than a single meal of a fish. With more than 8,150 farmers markets in the U.S. today, compared to 1,775 in 1994, the potential for this seed dissemination strategy to help meet the nutritional needs of the poorest of the poor has never been greater.

Regardless of whether U.S. states ever require GMO labeling or ban GMOs entirely as Mexico has done, there is abundant evidence that we need to shift public investment — from subsiding market control by just a few “silver bullet” plant varieties, whether genetically engineered or not, to supporting the rediversification of America’s farms and tables with thousands of seedstocks and fruit selections. Instead of spending a projected forty to one hundred million dollars on developing, patenting, and licensing a single GMO, perhaps we should be annually redirecting that much public support toward further replenishing the diversity found in our seed catalogs, nurseries, fields, orchards, pastures, and plates. With growing evidence of the devastating effects of climate uncertainty, now is not the time to put all of our seeds into one basket.

Gary Paul Nabhan is the author of the recent book, Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land. He is a permaculture designer and orchard-keeper in Patagonia, Ariz., and is widely recognized as a pioneer in the local-food movement and grassroots seed conservation.

Original Post

Eating grass fed beef is good for the planet

Published: Saturday, Jul. 6, 2013 – Sacramento Bee

Eating meat is bad for the planet, right? That hamburger you’re contemplating for lunch comes from a cow that, most likely, was raised within the industrial agriculture system. Which means it was fed huge amounts of corn that was grown with the help of petroleum, the carbon-based substance that has helped drive Earth’s climate to the breaking point. In industrial agriculture, petroleum is not only burned to power tractors and other machinery used to plant, harvest, and process corn – it’s also a key ingredient in the fertilizer employed to maximize yields.

Eating beef is particularly environmentally damaging: Cows are less efficient than chickens or pigs at converting corn (or other feed) into body weight, so they consume more of it than other livestock do. As a result, the industrial agriculture system employs 55 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of beef. Meanwhile, livestock production is responsible for much of the carbon footprint of global agriculture, which accounts for at least 25 percent of humanity’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Despite its large carbon footprint, the agricultural sector is invariably overlooked in climate policy discussions. The latest example: In his 50-minute speech on climate change last week, President Barack Obama did not even mention agriculture except for a half-sentence reference to how farmers will have to adapt to more extreme weather.

Perhaps no one has been more influential in popularizing the environmental critique of industrial agriculture than Michael Pollan. His 2006 best-seller, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” revealed how corporate profits, misguided government policies and an emphasis on convenience have given Americans food that is cheap but alarmingly unhealthy for those who eat it, not to mention the soil, air and water relied upon to produce it.

These days, however, Pollan is delivering a deeper yet more upbeat message, one he shared in an interview while promoting his new book, “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.” (Disclosure: Pollan and I have been friendly colleagues since we met at Harper’s in the early 1990s, when he was executive editor.) Now, instead of just exposing the faults of the industrial agricultural system, Pollan is suggesting radical new ways to make agriculture work for both people and the planet.

Technology is central to Pollan’s vision, but, he says, “We have to think about what technology means. Does it only mean hardware and intellectual property? If we limit it to those two definitions, we’re going to leave out a lot of the most interesting technologies out there, such as methods for managing the soil and growing food that vastly increase agricultural productivity and sequester carbon but don’t offer something you can put into a box.” And why call even seemingly old-school methods “technology”? Because, he says, “technology has so much glamour in our culture, and people only want to pay for technology.”

With the right kind of technology, Pollan believes that eating meat can actually be good for the planet. That’s right: Raising livestock, if done properly, can reduce global warming. That’s just one element of a paradigm shift that Pollan and other experts, including Dennis Garrity, the former director general of the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi, Kenya, and Hans Herren of the Millennium Institute in Washington, D.C., are promoting. They believe that new agricultural methods wouldn’t just reduce the volume of heat-trapping gases – they would also, and more importantly, draw down the total amount of those gases that are already in the atmosphere.

“Depending on how you farm, your farm is either sequestering or releasing carbon,” Pollan says. Currently, the vast majority of farms, in the United States and around the world, are releasing carbon – mainly through fertilizer and fossil fuel applications but also by plowing before planting. “As soon as you plow, you’re releasing carbon,” Pollan says, because exposing soil allows the carbon stored there to escape into the atmosphere.

One method of avoiding carbon release is no-till farming: Instead of plowing, a tractor inserts seeds into the ground with a small drill, leaving the earth basically undisturbed. But in addition to minimizing the release of carbon, a reformed agriculture system could also sequester carbon, extracting it from the atmosphere and storing it – especially in soil but also in plants – so it can’t contribute to climate change.

Sequestering carbon is a form of geoengineering, a term that covers a range of human interventions in the climate system aimed at limiting global warming. It’s a field that is attracting growing attention as climate change accelerates in the face of continued political inaction. Last month, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million, its highest level since the Pliocene Epoch 2.6 million years ago (when a warmer planet boasted sea levels 30 feet higher than today’s – high enough to submerge most of the world’s coastal capitals). Meanwhile, human activities, from driving gas-guzzlers to burning coal to leveling forests, are increasing this 400 ppm by roughly 2 ppm a year.

The case for geoengineering begins with the recognition that the most widely discussed “solutions” to global warming – such as riding a bike rather than driving a car and making electricity from wind rather than natural gas – address only the 2 ppm part of the problem while leaving the 400 ppm part untouched. To be sure, reducing the 2 ppm of annual emissions growth is absolutely necessary – it just doesn’t go far enough. At 400 ppm, global warming is already contributing to a mounting litany of record-breaking weather. In the last year, the United States alone has suffered its hottest summer on record, its worst drought in 50 years, and the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, Superstorm Sandy. Globally, the list of climate-related extreme weather events is much longer.

What’s more, even if annual emissions of greenhouse gases drop to zero, global temperatures will keep rising and climate impacts keep intensifying for decades to come, thanks to the inertia of the climate system. The only way to possibly reduce impacts in the years ahead is to address what is fundamentally driving them: the 400 ppm of CO2 currently in the atmosphere.

According to Pollan, photosynthesis is “the best geoengineering method we have.” It’s also a markedly different method than most of the geoengineering schemes thus far under discussion – like erecting giant mirrors in space or spraying vast amounts of aerosols into the stratosphere to block the sun’s energy from reaching Earth. Whether any of these sci-fi ideas would actually work is, to put it mildly, uncertain – not to mention the potential detrimental effects they could have.

By contrast, we are sure that photosynthesis works. Indeed, it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that photosynthesis is a major reason we humans can survive on this planet: Plants inhale CO2 and turn it into food for us, even as they exhale the oxygen we need to breathe.

What does all this have to do with eating meat? Here’s where Pollan gets positively excited. “Most of the sequestering takes place underground,” he begins.

“When you have a grassland, the plants living there convert the sun’s energy into leaf and root in roughly equal amounts. When the ruminant – e.g., a cow – comes along and grazes that grassland, it trims the height of the grass from, say, 3 feet tall to 3 inches tall. The plant responds to this change by seeking a new equilibrium: it kills off an amount of root mass equal to the amount of leaf and stem lost to grazing. The discarded root mass is then set upon by the nematodes, earthworms and other underground organisms, and they turn the carbon in the roots into soil. This is how all of the soil on earth has been created: from the bottom up, not the top down.”

The upshot, both for global climate policy and individual dietary choices, is that meat eating carries a big carbon footprint only when the meat comes from industrial agriculture. “If you’re eating grassland meat,” Pollan says, “your carbon footprint is light and possibly even negative.”

Some, but not all, of Pollan’s analysis here resembles the holistic management of grasslands advocated by Allan Savory, a biologist from Zimbabwe whose TED talk earlier this year provoked widespread interest. Savory has his critics, though, including James McWilliams, a historian at Texas State University, who wrote in Slate that the most comprehensive scholarly analyses of holistic grazing found that it did not improve plant growth or, by implication, carbon sequestration.

For his part, Pollan emphasizes that switching from corn-fed to properly grazed cows brings other benefits as well. Sequestering carbon improves the soil’s fertility and water retentiveness, thus raising food yields and resilience to drought and floods alike. Says Pollan: “I’m a believer in geoengineering of a very specific kind: when it is based on bio-mimicry” – that is, it imitates nature.

Pollan calls this approach “open source carbon sequestration.” He emphasizes that more research is needed to understand how best to apply it, but he is bullish on the prospects. Using photosynthesis and reformed grazing practices to extract atmospheric carbon and store it underground “gets us out of one of the worst aspects of environmental thinking – the zero-sum idea that we can’t feed ourselves and save the planet at the same time,” Pollan says. “It also raises our spirits about the challenges ahead, which is not a small thing.”

• To read previous articles in the “Views on Food” series, go to Mark Hertsgaard has written about climate change for outlets including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Time and The Nation. A fellow of the New America Foundation, he has authored six books, including “HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.”

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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Twelve Reasons Why Globalization is a Problem

Globalization seems to be looked on as an unmitigated “good” by economists. Unfortunately, economists seem to be guided by their badly flawed models; they miss  real-world problems. In particular, they miss the point that the world is finite. We don’t have infinite resources, or unlimited ability to handle excess pollution. So we are setting up a “solution” that is at best temporary.

Economists also tend to look at results too narrowly–from the point of view of a business that can expand, or a worker who has plenty of money, even though these users are not Continue reading

Meat industry under scrutiny as horsemeat scandal spreads

London (CNN) — A frozen food producer caught up in a scandal over horsemeat found in beef products in the United Kingdom, Sweden and France said Saturday it will sue the Romanian producer it blames for the problem.

horsemeatThe French arm of Swedish frozen food firm Findus said it would file a legal complaint Monday against the unnamed Romanian business. Findus said it had been told that its products were being made with French beef, not Romanian horsemeat.

“We were deceived,” said a Findus France statement. “There are two victims in this affair: Findus and the consumer.”

Also, the British arm of Findus said Saturday said it was considering legal action against Continue reading

Six Economic Steps to a Better Life and Real Prosperity for All

Wednesday, 23 January 2013 09:28 By Gar Alperovitz and Steve Dubb, AlterNet |

Money sprout

We’ve got to break out of the old ways of thinking about the economy.

Most activists tend to approach progressive change from one of two perspectives: First, there’s the “reform” tradition that assumes corporate control is a constant and that “politics” acts to modify practices within that constraint. Liberalism in the United States is representative of this tradition. Then there’s the “revolutionary” tradition, which assumes change can come about only if the major institutions are largely eliminated or transcended, often by violence.

But what if neither revolution nor reform is viable?

Paradoxically, we believe the current stalemating of progressive reform may open up some unique strategic possibilities to transform institutions of the political economy over time. We call this third option evolutionary reconstruction. Like reform, evolutionary reconstruction involves step-by-step nonviolent change. But like revolution, evolutionary reconstruction changes the basic institutions of ownership of the economy, so that the broad public, rather than a narrow band of individuals (i.e., the “one percent”) owns more and more of the nation’s productive assets.

1. A People’s Bank

One area where this logic can be seen at work is in the financial industry. At the height of the financial crisis in early 2009, some kind of nationalization of the banks seemed possible. It was a moment, President Obama told banking CEOs, when his administration was “the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” The president opted for a soft bailout, Continue reading

Global food crisis will worsen as heatwaves damage crops, research finds

Harvests will fall dramatically during severe heatwaves, predicted to become many times more likely in coming decades

FROM:, Sunday 13 January 2013 13.00 EST

water crisis, california, drought, wheat crops

Sprinklers water crops in Bakersfield, California, during a heatwave.

The world’s food crisis, where 1 billion people are already going hungry and a further 2 billion people will be affected by 2050, is set to worsen as increasing heatwaves reverse the rising crop yields seen over the last 50 years, according to new research.

Severe heatwaves, such as those currently seen in Australia, are expected to become many times more likely in coming decades due to climate change. Extreme heat led to 2012 becoming the hottest year in the US on record and the worst corn crop in two decades.

New research, which used corn growing in France as an example, predicts losses of up to 12% for maize yields in the next 20 years. A second, longer-term study published on Sunday indicates that, without action against climate change, wheat and soybean harvests will fall by up to 30% by 2050 as the world warms.

“Our research rings alarm bells for future food security,” said Ed Hawkins, at the University of Reading, who worked on the corn study. “Over the last 50 years, developments in agriculture, such as fertilisers and irrigation, have increased yields of the world’s staple foods, but we’re starting to see a slowdown in yield increases.”

He said increasing frequency of hot days across the world could explain some of this slowdown. “Current advances in agriculture are too slow to offset the expected damage to crops from heat stress in the future,” said Prof Andy Challinor, at the University of Leeds. “Feeding a growing population as climate changes is a major challenge, especially since the land available for agricultural expansion is limited. Supplies of the major food crops could be at risk unless we plan for future climates.”

Hawkins, Challinor and colleagues examined how the number of days when the temperature rose above 32C affected the maize crop in France, which is the UK’s biggest source of imported corn. Yields had quadrupled between 1960 and 2000 but barely improved in the last decade, while the number of hot days more than doubled.

By the 2020s, hot days are expected to occur over large areas of France where previously they were uncommon and, unless farmers find ways to combat the heat stress that damages seed formation, yields of French maize could fall by 12% compared to today. Hawkins said there will be some differences with other crops in different locations, but added: “Extreme heat is not good for crops.”

The second study is the first global assessment of a range of climate change impacts, from increased flooding to rising demand for air conditioning, of how cutting carbon emissions could reduce these impacts, published in Nature Climate Change. “Our research clearly identifies the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions – less severe impacts on crops and flooding are two areas of particular benefit,” said Prof Nigel Arnell of the University of Reading, who led the study, published in Nature Climate Change.

One example showed global productivity of spring wheat could drop by 20% by the 2050s, but such a drop in yields is delayed until 2100 if firm action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

River flooding was the impact which was most reduced if climate action is taken, the study found. Without action, even optimistic forecasts suggest the world will warm by 4C, which would expose about 330m people globally to greater flooding. But that number could be cut in half if emissions start to fall in the next few years. Flooding is the biggest climate threat to the UK, with over 8,000 homes submerged in 2012.

Another dramatic impact was on the need for air conditioning as temperatures rise. The energy needed for cooling is set to soar but could be cut by 30% if the world acts to curb emissions, with the benefit being particularly high in Europe. However, climate action has relatively little effect on water shortages, set to hit a billion people. Just 5% of those would avoid water problems if emissions fall.

“But cutting emissions buys you time for adaptation [to climate change’s impacts],” said Arnell. “You can buyfive to 10 years [delay in impacts] in the 2030s, and several decade from 2050s. It is quite an optimistic study as it shows that climate policies can have a big effect in reducing the impacts on people.”

Ed Davey, the UK’s secretary of state for energy and climate change, said: “We can avoid many of the worst impacts of climate change if we work hard together to keep global emissions down. This research helps us quantify the benefits of limiting temperature rise to 2C and underlines why it’s vital we stick with the UN climate change negotiations and secure a global legally binding deal by 2015.”

Worried about GMO pollen contamination? USDA recommends insurance

By Tom Laskawy


One of the big debates in agriculture right now involves “coexistence” between farmers who use genetically modified or GMO seeds and those who don’t. This is far more than an academic debate; in question is the risk of “contamination” of conventional or organic crops by GMO crops. The wind, insects, and even the farmers themselves can inadvertently cause this type of cross-pollination, and it puts organic farms at risk of losing their organic status and conventional farmers at risk of losing sales to countries that don’t allow imports of GMO foods.

The risk of such “transgenic” contamination has grown along with the market share of biotech seeds developed by Monsanto and DuPont — to the point that around 90 percent of corn, 90 percent of soy, and 80 percent of cotton grown in the U.S. is genetically Continue reading