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A Great Sequestering

The Organic Revolution

by RONNIE CUMMINS

Beyond the gloom and doom of the climate crisis, there lies a powerful and regenerative grassroots solution: organic food, farming, and ranching. Even as politicians and the powerful fossil fuel lobby drag their heels and refuse to acknowledge that we have about ten years left of “business as usual” before we irreversibly destroy the climate and ourselves, there is a powerful, though largely unrecognized, life-force spreading its roots underground.

Millions of organic farmers, ranchers, conservationists, and backyard gardeners (supported by millions of organic consumers) are demonstrating that we can build a healthy alternative to industrial agriculture and Food Inc. Our growing organic movement is proving that we can not only feed the world with healthy food, but also reverse global warming, by capturing and sequestering billions of tons of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases in the soil, through plant photosynthesis, composting, cover crops, rotational grazing, wetlands preservation, and reforestation.

The heretofore unpublicized “good news” on climate change, according to the Rodale Institute and other soil scientists, is that transitioning from chemical, water, and energy-intensive industrial agriculture practices to organic farming and ranching on the world’s 3.5 billion acres of farmland and 8.2 billion acres of pasture or rangeland can sequester 7,000 pounds per acre of climate-destabilizing CO2 every year, while nurturing healthy soils, plants, grasses, and trees that are resistant to drought, heavy rain, pests, and disease. And of course organic farms and ranches can provide us with food that is much more nutritious than industrial farms and ranches—food filled with vitamins, anti-oxidants, and essential trace minerals, free from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), pesticides, antibiotics, and sewage sludge.

In 2006, U.S. carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels (approximately 25% of the world’s total) was estimated at nearly 6.5 billion tons. If a 7,000 lb/CO2/ac/year sequestration rate were achieved on all 434 million acres of cropland in the United States, nearly 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide would be sequestered per year, mitigating close to one quarter of the country’s total fossil fuel emissions. If pastures and rangelands were similarly converted to organic practices, we would literally be well on our way to reversing global warming.

But we need an organic revolution in ranching and livestock production, as well as farming and forestry. We need to drastically reduce meat overproduction (77% of all U.S. agriculture resources are devoted to raising animals or animal feed), and over-consumption (a leading cause of obesity, heart disease and cancer) and ban methane-belching factory farms. As the Rodale Institute points out, organic livestock raising practices, including rotational grazing, manure management, methane capture for biogas production, and improved feeds and feed additives, can drastically reduce livestock-related emissions and, because of the massive acreage currently devoted to livestock production (nearly 2.5 times greater than croplands), can safely sequester approximately 60% of the total greenhouse gases that humans, animals, cars, and industry are pumping out every year.

This Organic Revolution, or “Great Sequestering,” made possible by a global grassroots movement with the power to transform the marketplace and public policy, is perhaps the only short-term strategy or solution at hand that can buy us the precious time we need to radically reduce energy use and greenhouse pollution and build a green economy. Although politicians and the coal and utilities industry claim that sequestration of massive carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants is on the horizon, there is little or no scientific evidence to back this up. Sequestration of CO2 in the soils of organic farms and ranches, on the other hand, is a proven fact.

Before carbon sequestering forests and grasslands were ravaged by chemical-intensive industrial agriculture (and industrial forestry), soil organic matter generally composed 6-10% of the soil volume, three to six times the 1-3% levels typical of today’s industrial agriculture soils. In other words, taxpayer subsidized, chemical-based industrial agriculture, factory farms, and unrestricted grazing (along with industrial forestry) have turned the earth’s soil (which still contains three times as much carbon as the entire amount of CO2 in the atmosphere) from being a climate-stabilizing carbon sink into a massive and dangerous source of global warming.

Given our escalating climate emergency, the burning question is how do we move organics in the U.S. from being the 4% alternative in the marketplace to being the norm, and organic acreage from being 1% of total cultivated land to the majority of farmland, pasture, and rangeland? The answer of course is that we must sound the alert, offer up our practical solutions and rapidly transform public consciousness and policy. But the Via Organica, the road to get there, will be long and arduous. The majority of Americans must not only stop buying chemical, GMO, globally sourced and so-called “natural” food, and switch to organic and more locally and regionally produced products, but we must also rise up as a political movement and change public policy. We must literally force the politicians and the corporations to put a halt to our “business as usual” destruction of the climate and public health, and instead move to an ethical and scientifically grounded policy and practice that promotes health, conservation, greenhouse gas reduction, and organic sequestration. Please join and support the Organic Consumers Association and the climate change movement http://www.350.org as we carry out this life or death campaign.

RONNIE CUMMINS is director of the Organic Consumers Alliance. He can be reached at: ronnie@organicconsumers.org.