The Battle over our Food – the Pesticiders Hate Organic Gardens

Jim Hightower provides some political insight into symbolism and lobbyists.

Link: Jim Hightower | SPREADING THE ORGANIC MOVEMENT COAST TO COAST.

What's the number one outdoor activity in America? Not baseball, soccer, jogging or golf. Instead, it's gardening!

I happen to be part of this happy activity. Maintaining a small organic garden in my yard lets me dig in compost, rejoice at ripening tomatoes, clip fresh herbs – and devour the luscious results. So, when Michelle Obama recently planted an organic garden on the White House lawn, I joined gardeners and organic food advocates all across the country in applauding this symbolic stand for good food, the environment, and common sense.

Not everyone joined in the joy, however. An outfit called the Mid American Croplife Association (MACA) was in a full-tilt snit over this "First Garden." MACA is the lobbying front for such pesticide purveyors as Monsanto, Dow, and DuPont – not a bunch that's simpatico with the organic movement. Indeed, MACA executives zipped out an alarmist notice to their members: "Did you hear the news," they asked? "The White House is planning to have an 'organic' garden… The thought of it being organic made [us] shudder."

Well, they'd better get used to shuddering, for political leaders from coast to coast are getting on board with the good food movement. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, for example, is putting an organic garden on the National Mall to encourage visitors to plant their own back home. Also, governors and mayors – from Annapolis to Sacramento – are vying with each other to put in the biggest and best organic gardens. In Baltimore, Mayor Sheila Dixon notes that her plot in front of City Hall is nearly twice as big as the White House garden.

Yes, these are symbolic gestures, but symbolism is a powerful tool for educating the public and affirming the virtues of local, sustainable, non-chemical food production. Spread the word.

"Farms Race: The Obama's White House Garden Has Given Fire to an International Movement," www.alternet.org, May 1, 2009.

"Organic White House Garden Puts Some Conventional Panties in a Twist," www.lavidalocavore.org, March 28, 2009.

"MACA lobbyists and Michelle Obama's garden," Email from Julie S., April 13, 2009.

Fast Growth

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

Edward Abbey

Edward Paul Abbey (January 29, 1927 – March 14, 1989) was an American author and essayist noted for his advocacy of environmental issues and criticism of public land policies. His best-known works include the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, which has been cited as an inspiration by radical environmental groups, and the non-fiction work Desert Solitaire. Writer Larry McMurtry referred to Abbey as the "Thoreau of the American West".

Desert Solitaire is regarded as one of the finest nature narratives in American literature, and has been compared to Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac and Thoreau's Walden. In it, Abbey vividly describes the physical landscapes of Southern Utah and delights in his isolation as a backcountry park ranger, recounting adventures in the nearby canyon country and mountains. He also attacks what he terms the "industrial tourism" and resulting development in the national parks ("national parking lots"), rails against the Glen Canyon Dam, and comments on various other subjects.

Abbey's abrasiveness, opposition to anthropocentrism, and outspoken writings made him the object of much controversy. Conventional environmentalists from mainstream groups disliked his more radical "Keep America Beautiful…Burn a Billboard" style. Based on his writings and statements—and in a few cases, his actions—many believe that Abbey did advocate ecotage or sabotage on behalf of ecology. The controversy intensified with the publication of Abbey's most famous work of fiction, The Monkey Wrench Gang. The novel centers on a small group of eco-warriors who travel the American West attempting to put the brakes on uncontrolled human expansion by committing acts of sabotage against industrial development projects. Abbey claimed the novel was written merely to "entertain and amuse," and was intended as symbolic satire. Others saw it as a how-to guide to non-violent ecotage, as the main characters attack things, such as road-building equipment, and not people. The novel inspired environmentalists frustrated with mainstream environmentalist groups and what they saw as unacceptable compromises. Earth First! was formed as a result in 1980, advocating eco-sabotage or "monkeywrenching."  (From Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Abbey)

    

Is Sustainability Foolish?

I believe that modern post-industrial societies will run out of the natural resources that they depend on – especially fossil fuels – unless some drastic changes are made. In short, I feel that we are on an unsustainable trajectory.

Apparently I'm in a minority in the United States, where many of my friends feel that we can find a way (e.g., technology, invasions, government intervention, self-medication) to overcome the shortfalls caused our ever-growing consumption. Of course, many folks are oblivious to such concerns and are content as long as cheap fast food and cheap gasoline can be purchased close to home. I have some foolish beliefs is the eyes of these people.

John Micheal Greer communicates his views in essays that combine an understanding of ecology and a knowledge of history.  His grasp of the rise and fall of civilizations provides an objectivity and humility rarely found in the debates in the media today. His blog that has become essential reading for me when I want some insight into the cloudy future that is rapidly unfolding before us. Below is an excerpt from an essay on his blog addressing sustainability.

As a student of ecology, I’ve learned that environmental limits play a dominant role in shaping the destiny of every species, ours included; as a student of history, I’ve reviewed the fate of any number of civilizations that believed themselves to be destiny’s darlings, and proceeded to pave the road to collapse with their own ecological mistakes. From my perspective, the insistence that limits don’t apply to us is as good a case study as one might wish of that useful Greek word hubris, otherwise defined as the overweening pride of the doomed. Still, the fact that these things seem so self-evident to me makes it all the more intriguing that they are anything but self-evident to most people in the industrial world today.(John Michael Greer: A Struggle of Paradigms)

If Mr. Greer had been my history teacher, I would have learned a lot more in school!

The Great Disruption in Continous Consumption

I applaud Thomas Friedman for publicizing previously unthinkable questions about the current worldwide crisis.  He and a few others see evidence that the American lifestyle of continuous consumption is unsustainable. (It's the same lifestyle that Dick Cheney said is non-negotiable.) He feels that 2008 was the tipping point.

In the meanwhile, the US government is creating money and giving it to the usual suspects who will try to get "consumers" to resume their spending so we can return to continuous consumption. Imagine this – unsustainable government spending to stimulate unsustainable consumer spending! What's wrong with this picture? Can this end well?

Below are some excerpts from Friedman's column.

Link: Op-Ed Columnist – The Inflection Is Near? – NYTimes.com.

What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese …

We can’t do this anymore.

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog climateprogress.org. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.

“You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate …’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”

Over a billion people today suffer from water scarcity; deforestation in the tropics destroys an area the size of Greece every year — more than 25 million acres; more than half of the world’s fisheries are over-fished or fished at their limit.

“Just as a few lonely economists warned us we were living beyond our financial means and overdrawing our financial assets, scientists are warning us that we’re living beyond our ecological means and overdrawing our natural assets,” argues Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. But, he cautioned, as environmentalists have pointed out: “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”

One of those who has been warning me of this for a long time is Paul Gilding, the Australian environmental business expert. He has a name for this moment — when both Mother Nature and Father Greed have hit the wall at once — “The Great Disruption.”

“We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder,” he wrote me. “No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.” We must have growth, but we must grow in a different way. For starters, economies need to transition to the concept of net-zero, whereby buildings, cars, factories and homes are designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks.

Gilding says he’s actually an optimist. So am I. People are already using this economic slowdown to retool and reorient economies. Germany, Britain, China and the U.S. have all used stimulus bills to make huge new investments in clean power. South Korea’s new national paradigm for development is called: “Low carbon, green growth.” Who knew? People are realizing we need more than incremental changes — and we’re seeing the first stirrings of growth in smarter, more efficient, more responsible ways.

In the meantime, says Gilding, take notes: “When we look back, 2008 will be a momentous year in human history. Our children and grandchildren will ask us, ‘What was it like? What were you doing when it started to fall apart? What did you think? What did you do?’  Often in the middle of something momentous, we can’t see its significance. But for me there is no doubt: 2008 will be the marker — the year when ‘The Great Disruption’ began.”

via Sharon Astyk at Casaubon’s Book

Can We Learn from History?

John Michael Greer applies his knowledge of history and ecology to the current financial crisis. Civilizations that have collapsed often took for granted essential resources until it was too late to recover. Excerpts below.

Link: The Archdruid Report: The Unnoticed Technologies.

Like the inhabitants of Easter Island, we depend on the reckless exploitation of limited resources to sustain our way of life; like the civilizations of the Middle East whose fate was chronicled by ibn Khaldûn, our survival depends on fragile infrastructure systems that few of us understand and most of our leaders seem entirely willing to starve of necessary resources for the sake of short-term political advantage. The industrial system that supports us has been in place long enough that most of us seem to be unable to conceive of circumstances in which it might no longer be there.

One of the wrinkles of catabolic collapse – the process by which societies in decline cannibalize their own infrastructure to meet immediate needs, and so accelerate their own breakdown – is that it can trigger abrupt crises by wrecking some essential technology that is not recognized as such. We are already witnessing the early stages of exactly such a crisis. What large trees were to the Easter Islanders and irrigation canals were to the early medieval Middle East, the current form of money economy is to modern industrial society, and the speculative delusions that passed for financial innovation over the last few decades have played exactly the same role as the invading nomads of ibn Khaldûn’s history, by stripping a fragile system of resources in the pursuit of immediate gain. The result, just as in the 1930s, is that a nation still relatively rich in potential resources, and provided with a large and skilled labor force, is sliding into crushing poverty because the intricate social system we use to allocate labor and resources has broken down.

Other unwelcome surprises along the same lines are likely events in the future. Before we get there, however, those of us who are concerned about the possible downside of history might be well advised to pay more attention to the unnoticed technologies in our lives, and to start thinking about how to make do without them, or get some substitute in place in a hurry, if the unthinkable happens and one or more of them suddenly goes away.

Time to Start Your Garden?

While this Financial Times article points to the recession as the impetus, I suggest that mistrust of foods of unknown origin and desire for locally grown healthy food should be included in the mix.

Ann and I planted a row of lettuce in our organic garden yesterday.

Link: FT.com / Companies / Food & Beverage – Seed merchants benefit from urge to dig deep.

Americans are turning in increasing numbers to their back yards to save money, with leading US seed merchants reporting a dramatic surge in early sales of carrots, tomato and pepper plant seeds.

George Ball, chairman of W. Atlee Burpee, which sells directly to gardeners and via retailers such as Home Depot, told the Financial Times that sales of vegetable seeds had grown 20-30 per cent this year.

Mr Ball said belt-tightening and economic concerns were the dominant factors driving demand, which had been stimulated last year by the high cost of petrol, and food safety concerns, following a scare over contaminated store-bought salad greens.

The boom in vegetable planting has already had a knock-on effect for other businesses. Ball’s, part of Jarden, the homewares conglomerate, says sales of its preserving jars and lids increased 40 per cent last year.

A recent survey of 12,000 visitors to a Ball’s website on preserving techniques, www.freshpreserving.com, found that more than 70 per cent respondents intended to preserve more foods in an effort to save money on weekly groceries.

Chris Scherzinger, head of marketing at Jarden Home Brands, said that the increase in sales continued a pattern seen during recessionary periods in the 1970s.

”We find that in tough economic times, Ball jar sales numbers increase significantly. We are seeing this now due to the recent economy, “ he said.

Lowe’s, the home improvement retailer, also suggested last year that strong sales of freezers partly reflected increased freezing of garden produce.

In an effort to catch the mood, Park Seeds, another leading seed company, is this year again selling a “Victory Garden” multi-seed pack, that also includes squash and beans, with its marketing recalling the victory gardens planted in the US and the UK during the second world war.

Burpee’s marketing message for its Money Garden is more closely focused on the current crisis, saying that gardeners can “watch your assets grow before your eyes”.

Gone with the Windmills? The downside of wind power.

Chris Bolgiano shines a green light on windmills in A Plea to President Obama to Save the National Forests of Appalachia, excerpted at Via Negativa. Here's the PDF.

Bottom line: Keep the windmills on the Great Plains.

Link: Gone With The Windmills? A Plea to President Obama to Save the National Forests of Appalachia « Via Negativa.

These forests now face their greatest threat in a century.

Reflecting a nearly 50% nationwide increase in wind electricity plants in 2007, developers are arriving in what they themselves called “a gold rush” at a recent industry conference. There, a wind map ranked thin red currents along the highest Appalachian ridges as just possibly strong enough to power turbines for massive industrial wind installations.

Glossy ads for wind power always show turbines in open fields, never in forests. That’s because every turbine requires up to five acres of deforestation. Hundreds of turbines are being built here, burgeoning to tens of thousands if the U.S. Department of Energy indiscriminately pursues its “20% Wind Energy By 2030″ program. Do the math, and factor in the forest fragmentation that multiplies the loss of habitat, and the super-wide new roads that destroy the last remote, wild ridges.

wind turbine with powerlinesSlender, rocky ridges are blasted and bulldozed to flatten pads for turbines. Each pad requires hundreds of tons of concrete. After the 25 year life span of the huge machines, the pads remain as dead ground but possibly good tennis courts in a summer camp for giants in the future.

Deforestation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuel burning. The rest of the world agreed at the recent U.N. climate summit to protect maturing forests that sequester huge amounts of carbon dioxide — like those now healing from old abuse in the Southern Appalachians. In Transition to Green, the 400 pages of nature tips sent you by a coalition of environmental organizations, the first recommendation for the U.S. Department of Agriculture is to “manage the national forest system to secure climate benefits.”

Industrial wind will blow this opportunity away.

It’s already blowing away a lot of wildlife. Turbine blades reach 450 feet above ridge crests where songbirds migrate, bats feed, and eagles rise on thermals. Just across the state line in West Virginia, thousands of creatures are being killed every year at new wind plants, the highest kills ever documented worldwide from turbines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service strongly recommends against turbines on nearby Shenandoah Mountain due to the likelihood of killing endangered species, yet several projects are underway.

Some of the people living near turbines suffer from chronic sleeplessness and other symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome (including depression over loss of property values).

Death, destruction and insomnia are marketed to urban consumers as “green” electricity, what little there is of it. Turbines produce only about 30% or less of their maximum rated capacity, and some of that is lost along hundreds of miles of transmission lines. When the wind does blow, the aging lines can hardly handle the surge.

via Fred First at Fragments from Floyd

Georgia on my Mind

Based on a article by Stacy Kronquest, here's a look at how Georgia's Governor Sonny Perdue rewards his political allies. The transfer of wealth to politically-connected people continues.

Link: Georgia's Jewel Given Away

In November 2008 Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue awarded a 50-year development contract of Jekyll Island to real-estate developer Mercer Reynolds. Jekyll Island is called “Georgia’s Jewel” because of its miles of priceless beachfront land and breathtaking natural surroundings.

The barrier island was purchased by the state in 1949 as a place for Georgians to enjoy as a state park. It is the state's land, but it was signed over for the next 50 years to a developer with deep political connections.

Mercer Reynolds is known in Republican circles as a fundraising guru. In 2004, as George W. Bush’s campaign finance director, Reynolds raised several hundred million dollars for the President’s reelection campaign. His development in north Georgia, Reynolds Plantation, includes a Ritz Carlton and multi-million dollar vacation homes.

“There’s something wrong here,” says former Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) board member Senator Boshears, who recently was removed from the Governor-appointed JIA board. “Do we allow a fat cat developer to make millions of dollars for no other reason than to enrich themselves and their political cronies?”

State Senator Jeff Chapman of District 3, says that the other developers who bid on the contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars offered better deals for the state. “It was a rigged process right from the start,” says Chapman. Boshears, who is the former senator of District 3, says that once Reynolds was awarded the contract and negotiations began, he was discouraged from asking questions, describing a veil of secrecy. “It was completely the Governor’s decision,” says Boshears.

Senators Chapman and Boshears say separately, but with equal conviction, that the Jekyll Island contract is a rotten deal for the people of Georgia.

Frank Mirasola, former president of the Jekyll Island Citizens Association, tells reporters “I can only conclude that there are conditions in the agreement that are so heinous as to require total secrecy."

The 50-year contract gives Reynolds beachfront property to build a 160-unit timeshare with profits estimated to be $100 million from sales totaling $137 million.

If You Don’t Breath or Use Water, Coal Is a Great Energy Source

TVA Coal Ash Disaster – December 22, 2008 - CBS News

CNN — A wall holding back 80 acres of sludge from a coal plant in central Tennessee broke this week, spilling more than 500 million gallons of waste into the surrounding area.

Environmental Protection Agency officials are on the scene and expect the cleanup to to take four to six weeks.

The sludge, a byproduct of ash from coal combustion, was contained at a retention site at the Tennessee Valley Authority's power plant in Kingston, about 40 miles east of Knoxville, agency officials said.

The retention wall breached early Monday, sending the sludge downhill and damaging 15 homes. All the residents were evacuated, and three homes were deemed uninhabitable, a TVA spokesman told CNN.

The plant sits on a tributary of the Tennessee River called the Clinch River.

"We deeply regret that a retention wall for ash containment at our Kingston Fossil Plant failed, resulting in an ash slide and damage to nearby homes," TVA said in a statement released Tuesday.

TVA spokesman Gil Francis told CNN that up to 400 acres of land had been coated by the sludge, a bigger area than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Video footage showed sludge as high as 6 feet, burying porches and garage doors. The slide also downed nearby power lines, though the TVA said power had been restored to the area.

Francis said Environmental Protection Agency officials were on the scene and estimated the cleanup could take four to six weeks.

via Fred First

Jared Diamond video on Societal Collapse

From TED Talks, Jared Diamond speaks on  Why do societies fail? Taking lessons from the Norse of Iron Age Greenland, deforested Easter Island and present-day Montana, Jared Diamond talks about the signs that collapse is near, and how — if we see it in time — we can prevent it.

Jared Diamond is the author of a number of popular science works that combine anthropology, biology, ecology, linguistics, genetics, and history.

His best-known work is the non-fiction, Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel (1998), which asserts that the main international issues of our time are legacies of processes that began during the early-modern period, in which civilizations that had experienced an extensive amount of "human development" began to intrude upon technologically less advanced civilizations around the world. Diamond's quest is to explain why Eurasian civilizations, as a whole, have survived and conquered others, while refuting the belief that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, genetic, or moral superiority. Diamond argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies do not reflect cultural or racial differences, but rather originate in environmental differences powerfully amplified by various positive feedback loops, and fills the book with examples throughout history. He identifies the main processes and factors of civilizational development that were present in Eurasia, from the origin of human beings in Africa to the proliferation of agriculture and technology.

In his following book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005), Diamond examines a range of past civilizations and societies, attempting to identify why they collapsed into ruins or survived only in a massively reduced form. He considers what contemporary societies can learn from these societal collapses. As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, he argues against ethnocentric explanations for the collapses which he discusses, and focuses instead on ecological factors. He pays particular attention to the Norse settlements in Greenland, which vanished as the climate got colder, while the surrounding Inuit culture thrived.

He also has chapters on the collapse of the Maya, Anasazi, and Easter Island civilizations, among others. He cites five factors that often contribute to a collapse, but shows how the one factor that all had in common was mismanagement of natural resources. He follows this with chapters on prospering civilizations that managed their resources very well, such as Tikopia Island and Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate. (Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jared_Diamond)

In Collapse, Diamond distances himself from the charges of "ecological or environmental determinism" that were leveled against him in Guns, Germs, and Steel [1]. This is particularly evident in his chapter comparing Haiti and the Dominican Republic, two nations that share the same island (and similar environments) but which pursued notably different futures, primarily on the strength of their differing histories, cultures, and leaders.