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August, 2008



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How to Really Reduce Greenhouse Gases, Lose Weight and Save Money: The Fall of Western Civilization
By Stephen Simac

Agriculture is the basis of what we think of as civilization- crowded urban complexes with sprawling hinterlands where the food is grown. No civilization has ever coped well with climate change, but only with the dominance of industrialized agriculture in the 20th century have farming practices helped cause it.
All it used to take was dirt and sweat to grow food; fiber, fuel and fodder for the castle keep; now it all takes oil and natural gas. Burning it and churning it for pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, irrigation, harvesting, and running machine engines needed to mine the soil for plant materials and transport them to markets.

If you think the government ought to make a law to save western civilization, which many prophets claim will fall due to Global Warming (GW), they failed when it came to reducing Greenhouse Gases (GG) generated by modern agriculture. The 2008 Omnibus Farm Bill was chaperoned by our federal representative, Nancy Pelosi. It took a fleet of diesel buses to carry all the pork it ladles out to American industrial agricultural.

On one hand, she's all in a dither about GW, yet couldn't get behind reducing GG from American agriculture, the fourth largest source of national GG production. The largest sources-our military, transportation, building construction and electricity generation were covered in previous articles in this CP

There's also federal pork for agricultural corporations in the alternative fuel bills, supposedly to rescue us from the 'energy crisis' of rising cost and dependence on foreign oil. More greenhouse gases are produced to grow corn for fuel, with more net energy burned than saved by adding ethanol to gasoline. Write off the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, thanks to corn fertilizer runoff.

The answer is not alternatives to fuel our vehicles or more oil, but using far less of it. Reducing the speed limits on all public roads by 5-15 mph, improving mass transit and rewarding ride sharing would save money for individuals and slash oil prices by greatly reducing demand. Driving slower would reduce public costs from medical care for accidents and pollution. Cyclists and pedestrians would feel safer, helping them to lose weight and save even more money.

Except we're addicted to speeding in our single passenger, motor vehicles. A tiny minority actually drives the posted speed limit, saving 15% on gas. Other drivers curse them with more vehemence than profiteering oil companies, even more than recreational bicyclists for impeding their right to speed.

Trying to enforce lower speed limits with traditional methods is ineffective and expensive. Regulating all vehicle speeds with wireless engine governors would save more GG and public monies than police ticketing and speed humps. We'd sooner drill off every coastline and plow every field for fuel than slow down or get out of our womb with a view.

Pretty much the same goes for our right to feed, regardless of the impact on the environment, even our health. The two are intimately related from drive through restaurants to considering food as fuel and our bodies as mere machines.

If we also ate less meat and more locally grown, organic produce, we'd really reduce GG, lose weight and save money instead of bankrupting our children's future.

Being able to see our toes could be the impetus for Americans to reform agriculture and transportation all on our own, without waiting on the feds serving up the other white meat. Promising that citizens will Lose Weight while Reducing GG is more likely to reduce our fossil fuel consumption than predicting calamities if we don't change our ways.

Addictions are more amenable to relinquish their grip if Hope of a better way is offered. Feel Great, Lose Weight... Get Rich, Better Sex and many more positive benefits from reducing GG can be guaranteed. We can choose to evolve towards a more sustainable AWOL or hit bottom with a thud.

Industrialized agriculture has managed to reduce the costs of food as a percentage of income for Americans. Housing and transportation gobble up more income the less you earn, but food is cheap. Grease, sweeteners, mystery meats and refined flours are cheapest. That's why the poorest Americans are the most obese.

Food Stamps are the biggest subsidy in the Farm Bill. They enable poor people to bulk up on processed foods, enriching Big Food companies. We could Really Reduce GG, by educating and encouraging food stamp users to trade them for agricultural products and methods that are more affordable and healthier for them and the planet.

It's true that the whole planet could be fed to obesity on what is grown right now, with plenty left over. We don't really need to grow more food to End Hunger. Ten billion humans could feast on nutritious vegan gruel, supplemented with insect and algae protein, preferably caffeinated in the morning and sedating in the evening using less grain than we feed to livestock now.

We're probably not going to go there in this century, but organic, locally grown produce, whole grains, and low fat protein sources requiring less pasture, fodder, water and miles to market shouldn't just be for the well to do. Inner cities and suburbs can sprout Victory Gardens instead of vacant lots and endless lawns.

Organic farming is millennia older than industrial, chemical based farming, which only came into its prime after WWII. The new emphasis became to poison pests, monocrop with machines, and dump fossil fuel based fertilizers on sterilized fields to yield more cash crops, instead of building soil fertility and plant health with organic practices.

Organic's resurgence was championed by the much-maligned hippies after they went back to the land in the 70's. Now it's going corporate after Middle America woke up wanting safer, tastier, more environmentally benign food in the 90's. The higher prices commanded by organic produce supported the ability of smaller, local farmers to earn a living. That's in danger from demands to bastardize federal organic standards, market pressure for lower wholesale prices, rising living costs and cheating by ag and food corporations to capitalize on the growing demand for organic.

The next microniche for sustaining small farmers will be practicing biodynamic or permaculture agriculture. Innovative practices to lower their housing and transportation costs will be as important as adding value to their produce to be able to afford to live off their land.

The Farm Bill could have switched allegiance from chemicalized, industrial ag corporations to whole heartedly supporting small scale, localized, organic and beyond agriculture producers, researchers, inspectors and consumers. That would have made a huge dent in America's GG production from agriculture and our health. Our fearless leaders choose to talk about change, without doing anything significant to make it happen.

We're living the Vida Loco, the wasteful, obesity inducing, debt loaded American Way of Life AWOL. It isn't making us happy; we're putting on weight, spending our children's fortunes, and changing the climate to feed our addictions. We're probably going to need an intervention to give up our wasteful use of fossil fuels, however bleak predictions of impending doom only breed despair. This Coastal Post series is all about Hope, the kind we vote for with our dollars, not our votes.

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