Climate change and a new agricultural system

This week, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a long-awaited report on land, climate change and agriculture.* The report’s findings confirm that the agriculture and food systems on which we now depend are no longer viable. 

Individual consumer choices in the global north, about what to eat, won’t be enough to get rid of a bad system, nor will they be enough to build a just transition to a better one.

Image result for agroecological and regenerative agriculture

Regenerative agriculture can make farmers stewards of the land again. Rock Hills Ranch in South Dakota uses managed grazing techniques to maintain healthy, diverse plant communities in its pastures. Credit: Lars PloughmannCC BY-SA

While much of the media coverage of the new IPCC report on land and agriculture focus on diet, the report needs to be understood as saying this: we (in protein-rich countries, at the very least), must replace our current large-scale industrialized systems of agriculture and food production with those based on agroecological and regenerative practices. Food security and agricultural resilience, in the face of a changing climate, depend on this.

From IATP’s perspective, replacing our current industrialized system requires dismantling the power of large-scale corporate agribusiness to manipulate markets, drive consumer demand, and influence everything from our food safety regulatory system to the rules laid down in international trade agreements.

For agroecological and regenerative systems sector-wide, we must achieve widespread public understanding of the productive, environmental, and economic legitimacy of these systems; invest heavily in them, in the farmers designing them and in the rural communities in which they prosper; and reawaken ourselves to the cultural and societal significance of our agriculture and food systems.

Globally, industrialized agriculture now emits extraordinarily high levels of GHG emissions as a sector. In our 2018 in-depth report, Emissions Impossible, IATP and GRAIN calculated total GHG emissions by a corporation, rather than by country. This gave us new insights into the astonishing lack of accountability for GHG emissions of the world’s largest 35 meat and dairy corporations. Responsible for the design, promotion, perpetuation and performance of large-scale industrialized agricultural systems of meat and dairy production, these corporations must also be accountable for their role in perpetuating, or curbing, climate change, system-wide.

It is imperative not to confuse large-scale industrialized meat and dairy corporations with agroecological and regenerative livestock producers, whose vision and practice is precisely what is needed. Fueling that confusion is the entanglement (at some point in their supply chains), of large, vertically integrated corporations with producers of all kinds and sizes. Vertical integration and corporate concentration in agribusiness is another tough problem to solve. We can start by enforcing what is left of antitrust laws and stopping more mega-mergers.

It is imperative, too, that we think far beyond single-note dietary changes. For example, consumer campaigns focused on the importance of reduced meat consumption should not rest their case with individual consumer choice, but instead, recognize the role of corporate influence in the system, as well as promoting the importance of livestock to regenerative agricultural systems. A simplistic “no meat” message can too easily and swiftly fall into a populist and misdirected movement harmful to farmers worldwide who are, right now, responsibly building our agroecological and regenerative agricultural systems.

Plant-based diets that continue to rely on agricultural inputs that are themselves high emitters of GHGs (such as fertilizer), pollutants and toxic chemicals are of no use. Nor are plant-based diets dependent on GMOs. Nor are plant-based diets that depend on the continued exploitation of farm labor, farmers forced to sell their commodities for less than the cost of production, and inequity in their ability to purchase and hold farmland. There is the possibility that the choice to eat less meat, (or none at all), could be erroneously seen by those who make it, as an act that naturally leads to agriculture that is good for the land, for farmers, for ecosystems, for consumers. Just not so.

The shift from agrarian societies to industrial, to digital, has come at a high cost when it comes to the general public’s knowledge of agriculture. The value of that loss cannot be over-estimated when it comes to consumer campaigns and the role they can and must play in promoting the system changes we need for a just transition to sustainable agriculture, sector-wide.

The wildly expanding market for organic food tells us that consumers can and do understand the importance of what they eat as individuals, yet it remains unclear how and if this market growth signals a much-needed change in societal values when it comes to the land and the people who farm it. We certainly are not seeing a change in values reflected in the apparent market growth for fake meat, for example. We do not need more unregulated start-up fake meat labs designed to exploit our addiction to fast food. We already know that the societal cost of fast food is much too high a price to pay for private profits gained. What we do need is a consumer u-turn of sorts, away from one-note dietary panaceas, and toward recognizing and insisting on the extraordinary and unimaginably crucial diversity of the ecological and biological systems necessary for the food that sustains life.

Consumers will not understand how agricultural systems work (and what we must do to maintain them), without being taught. Agribusiness will not cede power without the strong insistence of the public and political will. Farmers will not change their practices with no support to do so and little role in defining what a just transition to sustainable and resilient agriculture and food systems should look like.

All of these changes require the responsibility of people committed to our civic role in governance, mindful of the stakes, confident in our role’s legitimacy in a democracy, and tenacious in our determination to get it right. SOURCE

 

Modern vegetables and fruits are significantly less nutritious than even a generation ago

Image result for fruits and vegetables soil

If you want to eat food that is nutrient-dense, and optimally nutritious (and if you have any interest whatsoever in growing food), you’re going to love this month’s WHOLE Life Action Hour interview with Erik Cutter.

Erik is a regenerative urban farmer and chef with a background in biochemistry and oncology, who starred in the award-winning film, The Need To GROW. His passion is helping people to replenish their bodies with the most nutrient-packed foods on the planet.

In the modern world, we face a “double whammy” nutritional crisis. Our soil is increasingly depleted, resulting in dramatically lower levels of critical nutrients in our crops, including protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C, and others. And our food is so hyper-processed that most of the nutrition is stripped out of it by the time it reaches our dinner plates. But the good news is, you can turn all this around — contributing to a healthier planet while saturating your body with the full spectrum of nutrients you need to thrive. Join Erik Cutter, renowned urban farmer, and health advocate, to find out how you can heal your body, and your world — deliciously!

SOURCE

Canada treats mining companies like the goose that laid the golden egg. What we get in return looks more like a goose egg.

View of Greek mine site

Mining enjoys massive government support in Canada. Politically, it’s treated as a preferred development option for remote communities and Indigenous peoples. Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall once said, “The best program for First Nations and Métis people in Saskatchewan is not a program at all—it’s [uranium mining company] Cameco.” The law backs this up. Mining companies still have rights to “free entry” in much of Canada, since mining is legally considered the “highest and best” use of land. Though these laws are being challenged by First Nations, today prospectors can stake claims and even drill or trench without any consideration for other land users, or in some cases, even private landowners.

There are also financial incentives to mine. The federal and provincial governments and territories spend hundreds of millions on road and power corridors to support mining projects, while supporting training for mining skills that are often not highly transferrable. Already low corporate tax rates are further reduced by accelerated capital cost allowances and deductions for exploration and development costs. “Flow-through” shares allow mining companies to pass exploration costs onto investors as tax deductions. And while they’ve been slowly getting better, Canadian jurisdictions still dramatically undercharge mining companies when it comes to setting aside money to clean up spills or for long-term environmental monitoring and rehabilitation.

All of this is justified publicly by the creation of jobs, contribution to GDP and exports—and taxes paid. Mining does create “good pay” jobs, though more of these are displaced from other sectors than the industry will admit. Mining does generate export earnings and boost GDP, though economists will argue about whether these really represent development, especially when what is being exported is raw materials with little value added. So, what of the taxes?

On paper, mining operations pay corporate tax and sales tax, among others, along with royalties (sometimes called “mining tax”) intended to compensate the state for the permanent loss of whatever resource is being extracted. Depending on the audience, mining companies will either brag or complain about the amount of tax they pay. They rarely explain how those amounts are calculated, much less compare them to what they might have had to pay if it weren’t for the lowered tax rates, tax holidays and exemptions. More egregiously, they also like to take credit for the taxes that their workers pay.

James Wilt, writing in The Narwhal in July last year, found that Canadian governments collect a smaller percentage of mineral value than almost any other jurisdiction in the world. There are a number of explanations for this, ranging from low tax rates to grace periods and tax holidays, as mentioned, to using a variable base for calculating royalties. Canada is unusual internationally, for example, in the extent to which it charges royalties based on profits rather than on the amount of mineral extracted, allowing for deductions and “profit-shifting” to diminish the amount owed.

In an extreme example, the CBC’s Rita Celli reported in May 2015 that in 2013-14, De Beers Canada paid the Ontario government $226 in royalties from its Victor Mine in Attawapiskat, the only diamond mine in the province. “The diamond royalty stirred a huge debate when the Ontario government suddenly introduced it in 2007,” wrote Celli. “Then-premier Dalton McGuinty promised it would enrich all Ontarians. He promised the money would be used to hire more nurses and keep class sizes small in schools.”

The low figure was due to De Beers having been allowed to write down its capital investment against the royalties. Tom Ormsby, De Beers’ vice-president of external and corporate affairs, told Celli the company started to pay millions in 2014. Its reports under Canada’s Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act (ESTMA), in force since 2015, show it paid US$15.8 million in royalties in 2016 (on earnings of US$79 million) and US$11.3 million in 2017 (on earnings of US$205 million). The mine closed in early 2019. In other words, the mine probably generated almost nothing for the province for the entire first half of its production, and probably less than $100 million over its 11-year life.

Any assessment of the millions in taxes and royalties from mining operations has to include the overall value of the resource, as they remove many times more millions of dollars’ worth of metals. Any honest calculation also has to include not only the overall flow of money to governments, but also the subsidies, costs and liabilities, including social disruption and damage to local economies and the environment.

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Internationally, the Canadian government takes the promotion of Canadian mining companies very seriously indeed. This is demonstrated by the fact that while Canadian and international civil society has been pushing for almost two decades for restrictions on the international activities of Canadian companies, the federal government has refused to recognize that illegal activity and human rights and environmental abuses are even happening, much less restrict them—or enforce the sole piece of legislation we do have, the anti-bribery Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.

At the same time, Canada provides massive support for transnational mining investment, both politically and economically. It helps explain why so many mining companies are domiciled in Canada, even if they have no Canadian operations, or even no Canadian directors, and regardless of who actually owns the majority of their shares.

Our embassies contribute “economic diplomacy,” which includes pressuring foreign governments to support favourable legislation and policies and helping build relationships between mining executives and foreign officials, such as mining ministers and state presidents. Canadian diplomats also provide support directly to companies, going so far as to help them comply with regulations and apply for permits. Even our development aid is skewed toward rewarding countries and regions that are willing to host Canadian mining projects, and assisting governments in administering mining laws so as to smooth the way for Canadian investment.

Economic support is both direct (investment from the Canada Pension Plan and Canadian Investment Fund for Africa, for example, or loans and political risk insurance from Export Development Canada) and indirect. Canada has built a massive network of tax treaties, bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements that all serve to facilitate and protect Canadian investment, as well as allowing profits to be shifted through subsidiary companies to avoid taxation. It’s all perfectly legally, if you do it right.

The result is a ballooning offshore pool of wealth sitting in tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions in the Caribbean, Channel Islands, and even some U.S. states—wealth that is not taxed to benefit the countries it was extracted from, or even the country that worked so hard to facilitate it (in this case, Canada). Governments that try to protect their own people and ecosystems from mining destruction face the threat of multimillion-dollar lawsuits through arbitration provisions in those investment agreements.

To pick just one example, Eldorado Gold has been struggling for years to overcome committed local opposition to its planned Skouries open-pit gold mine in Halkidiki, northern Greece. Local people opposed to the massive project have raised objections over the destruction of a forest that is of immense cultural and historic significance—it is where local partisans gathered to strategize and mobilize against the fascists, and now serves as a focus for tourism, beekeeping, etc.—and the contamination of freshwater supplies (the ore is loaded with arsenic, among other things).

Chart showing Eldorado Gold profits from sites

They have also questioned the promised benefits for the Greek state—with good reason. A study led by the Dutch organisation SOMO (the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations) found the company has structured its investment with tax avoidance in mind. Subsidiaries in the Netherlands will allow Eldorado to shift profits from Greece to the Netherlands and Barbados, minimizing exposure to taxes and leaving Greeks with little to show for the mine’s ecological, social and economic disruption. SOMO calculated this arrangement had cost Greece 1.7 million euros in lost tax in 2013-14 alone (nearly $2.5 million based on the exchange rate at the time).

A look at Eldorado Gold’s payments to governments, as disclosed under ESTMA, shows that as of 2018, the company made significant payments in Turkey, where most of its gold production is, but nowhere else. Not even Canada, where it is supposedly headquartered, but also where it now operates the Lamaque Mine outside of Val-d’Or, Quebec.

What we don’t know is how much the company should have paid in the absence of what the accountants call “aggressive tax planning,” or what the rest of us call tax dodging. Nor does this accounting show how much has been set aside as security bond for closure, cleanup, and possible spills and accidents.

It makes sense that Turkey, as the primary host of Eldorado Gold’s operations, should benefit most. It’s an open question whether the country benefits enough to compensate for the loss of its gold-bearing ore, not to mention the various forms of damage occasioned by mining or the liabilities it leaves behind. And it’s more than likely that the company has minimized its exposure to Turkish taxes.

But at the same time, there is clearly no direct return for Canada from all of the support we provide. If share value increases or the company pays dividends we can benefit as shareholders—through our pensions, RRSPs or the Canada Pension Plan. But clearly the loot is mostly being scooped up by others: well-paid company executives, the banks that finance all of this, and the legal, accounting and investment houses.

At the end of the day, the notion that mining is good for Canada is pretty dubious. The reality within Canada is much more complex than our governments and most of the media are willing to admit. In other parts of the world, the reality is that Canadian mining primarily benefits the mining companies, their local backers, and their financiers. Its contributions to “host” countries are variable and on balance generally negative. Despite all the effort from public officials, Canada hardly benefits at all. It’s past time we started to dismantle the legal, regulatory, financial and political support that feeds and sustains this false narrative. SOURCE

The Answer to Climate-Killing Cow Farts May Come From the Sea

Methane is an especially potent greenhouse gas. A modest feed additive could provide a big leverage effect.


Cristina Byvik

One day in January 2014, police rushed to a farm in Rasdorf, Germany, after flames burst from a barn. They soon discovered that static electricity had caused entrapped methane from the flatulence and manure of 90 dairy cows to explode.

Headline writers had a field day. But the incident pointed to a serious problem: Ruminant livestock, mostly cattle, account for 30 percent of all global methane emissions, pumping out 3 gigatons of the gas every year in their burps, farts, and manure. Methane is an especially potent greenhouse gas: During its 12-year lifespan after being released, it traps 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, and its effect on global warming over a century is 34 times that of CO2. According to the United Nations, reducing methane emissions from cows could be one of the quickest ways to slow climate change.

Methane traps 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide.

The United States government has done little to curb this potent pollution, which makes up 36 percent of the country’s methane emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency’s AgStar program trains farmers to turn animal waste into biofuel using anaerobic digesters, but it is optional—8,000 farms could implement it, but only about 250 have done so.

Ermias Kebreab, an animal science professor at the University of California–Davis, has spent 15 years studying alternative ways to reduce livestock effusions. Three years ago, he heard that researchers at Australia’s James Cook University had mixed bacteria from cows’ digestive systems with red seaweed and discovered a drastic decrease in methane production. Their lab experiment suggested that reformulating a cow’s diet to contain 2 percent seaweed could reduce its methane emissions by 99 percent.

Kebreab tried to replicate those results with actual animals. His team mixed varying levels of Asparagopsis armata, a type of red seaweed, into the feed of 12 dairy cows over a two-month period. The results were shocking: When the cattle’s chow consisted of just 1 percent seaweed, their methane emissions went down 60 percent. “In all the years that I’ve worked in this area, I’ve never seen anything that reduced it that much,” Kebreab says. MORE

These U.N. Climate Scientists Think They Can Halt Global Warming for $300 Billion. Here’s How

People pave straw checkerboard barriers to prevent and control desertification in Linze County of Zhangye City, northwest China's Gansu Province, on March 12, 2019. Linze County is located on the border of Badain Jaran Desert. In recent years, local authority continues to promote anti-desertification efforts, and a total of about 45,000 acres of trees have been planted.People pave straw checkerboard barriers to prevent and control desertification in Linze County of Zhangye City, northwest China’s Gansu Province, on March 12, 2019. Linze County is located on the border of Badain Jaran Desert. In recent years, local authority continues to promote anti-desertification efforts, and a total of about 45,000 acres of trees have been planted. Wang Jiang–Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

$300 billion. That’s the money needed to stop the rise in greenhouse gases and buy up to 20 years of time to fix global warming, according to United Nations climate scientists. It’s the gross domestic product of Chile, or the world’s military spending every 60 days.

The sum is not to fund green technologies or finance a moonshot solution to emissions, but to use simple, age-old practices to lock millions of tons of carbon back into an overlooked and over-exploited resource: the soil.

“We have lost the biological function of soils. We have got to reverse that,” said Barron J. Orr, lead scientist for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. “If we do it, we are turning the land into the big part of the solution for climate change.”

Rene Castro Salazar, an assistant director general at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said that of the 2 billion hectares (almost 5 billion acres) of land around the world that has been degraded by misuse, overgrazing, deforestation and other largely human factors, 900 million hectares could be restored.

July 2019 Was the Earth’s Hottest Month Ever Recorded, NOAA Says
July 2019 was the hottest July and the hottest month on record globally since temperature records began in a year of many record breaking temperatures as heatwaves hit many parts of the world.

Returning that land to pasture, food crops or trees would convert enough carbon into biomass to stabilize emissions of CO2, the biggest greenhouse gas, for 15-20 years, giving the world time to adopt carbon-neutral technologies.

“With political will and investment of about $300 billion, it is doable,” Castro Salazar said. We would be “using the least-cost options we have, while waiting for the technologies in energy and transportation to mature and be fully available in the market. It will stabilize the atmospheric changes, the fight against climate change, for 15-20 years. We very much need that.”

The heart of the idea is to tackle the growing problem of desertification — the degradation of dry land to the point where it can support little life. At least a third of the world’s land has been degraded to some extent, directly affecting the lives of 2 billion people, said Eduardo Mansur, director of the land and water division at the FAO.

Marginal lands are being stressed around the globe by the twin phenomena of accelerated climate change and a rate of population growth that could lift the global tally to almost 10 billion people by 2050, he said. Much of that growth is in areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia where land is already highly stressed.

“The idea is to put more carbon into the soil,” said Orr. “That’s not going to be a simple thing because of the natural conditions. But keeping the carbon in the soil and getting that natural vegetation, grazing land etc. thriving again — that’s the key.”

Last month, at a UN conference on desertification in New Delhi, 196 countries plus the European Union agreed to a declaration that each country would adopt measures needed to restore unproductive land by 2030. The UN team has used satellite imaging and other data to identify the 900 million hectares of degraded land that could be realistically restored. In many cases, the revitalized areas could benefit the local community and host country through increased food supply, tourism and other commercial uses. MORE

Is lab-grown meat the next frontier in ethical eating?

The meatless burger is surely one of the biggest food trends of 2019. The rising popularity of options like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods burgers come as scientists implore consumers to switch to a more plant-based diet to help tackle climate change.

But there’s another option lurking on the horizon: lab-grown meat. Or, as scientists prefer to call it, “cultured” or “clean” meat. It has the potential to be better for both the environment and your health.

Amy Rowat, associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at University of California, Los Angeles, is one of six scientists who received a grant earlier this year from the Good Food Institute in Washington, D.C., to further develop cultured meat. 

Born and raised in Guelph, Ont., Rowat spent years studying cells and has years of academic experience in the science of food.

“All the food that we eat is made of cells,” Rowat said, so developing cultured meat was a natural fit. In the simplest terms, stem cells are taken from an animal’s muscle and put in a nutrient-rich broth, of sorts, to encourage them to multiply and grow into muscle fibres. So, it is real meat, but with one key difference: Animals don’t have to be raised or killed to produce it.

Rowat and her grad student, Stephanie Kawecki, determined that to produce one billion quarter-pounder burgers (113 grams each), it takes 1.2 million cows living for three years on 8,600 square kilometres of land (and then slaughtering them). The same number of cultured burgers would require the muscle stem cells of just one living cow, and they’d take only about a month and a half to grow. 

Right now, those cultured burgers would be pricey. The first lab-grown burger was produced in a Netherlands lab in 2013 at a cost of about $425,000 Cdn, although Israeli company Future Meat Technologies said last year it could bring the cost down into the range of $3.00 to $6.00 Cdn a pound (453 kg) by 2020. Rowat believes cultured meat will eventually be on par cost-wise with organic beef. 

Some believe it could be available in two to five years. But the pivotal question is: Will people eat it?

Lab-grown meat “is a foreign concept,” said Kara Nielsen, who analyzes food trends at CCD Innovation in Emeryville, Calif. But she sees a definite advantage. It will have the familiar taste and texture of farmed meat, and it’s a good alternative for people concerned with animal rights. “It certainly wins on you-didn’t-kill-a-cow-to-eat-this-burger,” she said. 

Another plausible selling point: it could be healthier than farmed beef. “Imagine modifying genetically the cellular components so that they produce healthier molecules in your cultured meat,” said Rowat. For example, to make a lower-fat meat, or one with more healthy fat.

On the environmental front, if people move away from farmed beef, there would be less need to clear cut land to raise cattle, and less methane from those gassy cows. 

recent Oxford University study, however, highlights a potential hurdle. It found that the amount of heat and electricity required to produce cultured meat could be worse, environmentally, than some cattle farming, if energy systems remain dependent on fossil fuels. 

The researchers suggested that to be more environmentally responsible, companies producing cultured meat would have to do something to mitigate carbon emissions. That could be crucial to cultured meat’s success. 

Nielsen said the potential positives may be what push people past any feelings of strangeness about eating lab-grown meat.

“It could be that we’ll leapfrog to an acceptance …  like, ‘You know what? I still want to eat my beef. And my beef just comes from a separate place.'” SOURCE

What Satellite Imagery Tells Us About the Amazon Rain Forest Fires

Scientists studying satellite image data from the fires in the Amazon rain forest said that most of the fires are burning on agricultural land where the forest had already been cleared.
Image result for brazilian rainforest burning

Most of the fires were likely set by farmers preparing the land for next year’s planting, a common agricultural practice, said the scientists from the University of Maryland.

Satellite images like the one below show smoke plumes from fires emanating from agricultural areas.

Maxar Technologies

The majority of the agricultural land currently in use in Brazil’s Amazon region was created through years of deforestation.

“Most of this is land use that have replaced rain forest,” said Matthew Hansen, who is a co-leader of the Global Land Analysis and Discovery laboratory at the University of Maryland.

“Brazil has turned certain states like Mato Grosso into Iowa,” said Mr. Hanson, referring to the Brazilian state on the southern edge of the Amazon region. “You’ve got rain forest, and then there’s just an ocean of soybean.”

The grid of maps show the month-by-month pattern of fires across the Amazon rain forest in Brazil each year since 2001. The increase in fires every August to October coincides with the season when farmers begin planting soybean and corn.

These maps were created using current and historical data from two NASA satellites, Terra and Aqua, which can detect the infrared radiation emitted by fires.

Comparing the area that burned in August this year to an average of the areas burned during the same month in the previous five years illustrate part of the reason why this year’s fires have garnered so much attention.

Scientists at Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research calculated that there were 35 percent more fires so far this year than in the average of the last eight years. MORE