Beyond the Darkest Hours, Grassroots Rising

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CommonDreams.org

Beyond the Darkest Hours, Grassroots Rising

by
Ronnie Cummins

Winter in America 2009. Passing through the darkest period of the winter solstice, shrouded by the gloom and doom of climate destruction, war, and economic depression, making our way around the broken promises of "change we can believe in," we nonetheless find ourselves celebrating life and the redemptive power of a global grassroots revolution. In the wake of the failure of the Copenhagen Climate conference, and the "business as usual" insanity of Obama and the governing elite, millions of us are terminally fed up and fired up for action.

A critical mass of food and farm activists, North and South, are becoming aware that the second decade of the 21st Century likely marks the end of the road for chemical, energy, and water-intensive food and agriculture. And, as the energy, climate, and economic crises converge, a growing corps of climate activists understand that we are witnessing the beginning of the end for fossil fuel-based industry and transportation, energy-intensive housing and suburban sprawl, and a "profit-at-any-cost" economy based upon over-consumption, war, and commercial conquest.

As the winter of discontent turns, it's time to bury our illusions and prepare for the battle of our lives. As the Director of the Organic Consumers Association, I invite you to join us on the organic road, the Via Organica, as we struggle to dismantle the old system and rebuild the new, starting with our local households, communities, and regions. You can sign up for our newsletter at: <http://www.organicconsumers.org>.

Beyond the Darkest Days

Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

In 2009, indentured politicians, bought and sold by the corporate elite, crushed our hopes for peace and prosperity by spending trillions of our tax dollars on war, Wall Street, and corporate welfare. As a critical mass now understand, these trillions could and should have gone toward financing organic transitions, public health, and a Green New Deal. Given the fact that just over a year ago we drove the warmongers and corporate criminals of the Bush Administration out of office, and replaced them with a new set of so-called liberal Democrats, we should already be well on our way to changing course, averting economic meltdown and climate catastrophe. Instead Obama and his pompous cohorts have disillusioned an entire generation and stabbed the living Earth in the back. Riding on a Death Train full-throttle toward the abyss, it matters little whether the Commander in Chief is an outright fascist, like Bush, or merely a coward and a fraud, like Obama. Circumstances leave us no choice but to organize a mutiny and stop the Death Train.

Will We Survive the Climate Crisis?

World leaders abandoned the UN climate talks in Copenhagen without a binding agreement to reduce the threat of deadly greenhouse gases. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere, compounded by an excess of methane (from factory farms and rotting garbage) and nitrous oxide (from chemical fertilizers) already exceeds the dangerous tipping point of 350 parts per million (ppm). We're currently at 387ppm. Even if we are able to reduce CO2 to 350ppm, we will still experience a 2.7 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature by 2100, making life on the planet difficult, but still possible.

If we continue with business as usual, in 2100 the level will be 965ppm CO2 (+ 8.6 F). If the world acts on proposals for CO2 reduction confirmed in Copenhagen, in 2100 the level will be 770ppm  CO2 (+ 7 F). That's the best-case scenario right now, a seven degree Fahrenheit average temperature rise, which some predict could come as early as 2060, in time for you or your children to experience Climate Hell first-hand. Unless we reverse global warming, the Earth, which is expected to have nine billion people in 2050, will have a carrying capacity for only one billion. This means billions will die

If it's hard for you to imagine what life might be like as sea levels rise, droughts and floods become ever more common, crop failure becomes routine, the world's forests burn, glacier-fed rivers dry up, and a quarter of the planet's mammals go extinct, read this terrifying short story, "Diary of an Interesting Year." 

Global Warming: An Organic Future, or No Future

One way or another, either planned or through necessity, humanity will return to organic and traditional agriculture, because it is the only farming system that can supply the world with sufficient quantities of healthy food in the emerging era of global warming, erratic weather, declining fossil fuels, and water scarcity. There is no other way.

In 2009, the Organic Consumers Association spent a good part of our efforts focusing on the connection between global warming and industrial agriculture and the promise of organic agriculture to mitigate and reverse climate change by:

1) Drastically reducing the global industrialized food system's 44-57% share of global greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide) and 2) Sequestering billions of tons of CO2 in the soil.

If we convert the world's 3.5 billion acres of farmland to organic, we can sequester 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil, where it belongs. If we also organically manage most of the world's 11 billion acres of pastures, rangelands, and forests we can potentially sequester 100% of greenhouse gas emissions. This long-term process of organic transition will buy us the time to reduce fossil fuel use by 90% and retrofit our economy, transportation, and housing to renewable, clean energy. 

Organic Transitions: Taking on the Fertilizer, Garbage and Sludge Industries

Why is there so much carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere and not enough carbon organic matter in the soil? Corporate agribusiness, industrial forestry, the garbage and sewage industry and agricultural biotechnology have literally killed the climate stabilizing, carbon sink capacity of the Earth's living soil. Industrial agriculture and forestry have eroded and depleted the soil food web, annihilating soil microorganisms and destroying plants, trees, and soil's natural capacity to clean the atmosphere and sequester CO2. This climate-disrupting ecocide is a direct result of the suicidal use of billions of pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, soil destroying pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, insecticidal GMO crops, factory farm waste, and toxic sewage sludge--instead of feeding the soil and maintaining soil vitality (and its ability to sequester carbon) with organic compost and fertilizers and cover crops. In 2010 OCA and our allies will begin to expose this deadly chemical and GMO attack on the planet's soil food web and make genuine certified organic fertilizer and compost the norm, rather than just the green alternative.

In the US, we throw away, as food waste, 40% of all of our food each year. Production of that wasted food accounts for more than one-quarter of the US's total annual freshwater consumption and equates to 300 million barrels of oil. Even worse, this enormous volume of non-composted food waste rotting in landfills emits tremendous amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 20-70 times more damaging than C02.

In the U.S. today about 80 gallons of water per day per person is flushed or dumped down the drain into our vast and ill-designed sewage system, much of it being valuable potable water flushed down the toilet.  In the sewage or wastewater stream, this household sewage (unfortunately, in most households, already carrying toxic chemicals from non-organic body care, home cleaning products and pharmaceutical drugs) is mixed with hospital and industrial toxins and pathogens, pharmaceuticals, street storm water run-off and chemical lawn and farm run-off as it enters into the so-called "sewage treatment" plant. After nominal "treatment" this wastewater is sent downstream for the next community to chemically treat it and declare it "safe," while billions of pounds of toxic sludge are left behind.

Instead of isolating and containing America's toxic sewage sludge as hazardous waste--which is what it is--industry and city governments save money by renaming this toxic sludge "biosolids" and spreading it on non-organic farms (and backyard gardens and public lands) across the country.  One of the most outrageous practices is the sale (in garden supply stores) or giveaway (to schools and backyard gardeners) of toxic sewage sludge as "organic fertilizer" or "organic compost."

The EPA has aided and abetted this hazardous practice for several decades by claiming that the toxic chemical poisons, heavy metals, pathogens, hormone disruptors, pesticides, and pharmaceutical drug residues routinely contained in sewage sludge are diluted to "acceptable levels." In 1998, the Organic Consumers Association and the organic community successfully fought to keep toxic sewage sludge out  of national organic standards, but we now need to ban sewage sludge on non-organic farms (and all land applications) as well.

In the organic future, valuable organic matter in the waste stream will neither be wasted nor mixed with other garbage or toxins. It will be separated at the source, at homes and businesses, mixed with animal manures and green wastes in a central location, and made into valuable organic compost (natural fertilizer or food for the soil). This organic compost can then be supplied to organic and transition-to-organic farms, backyard gardens, lawns, and other land use applications. This is the only way we can eliminate the two billion pounds of chemical fertilizers applied to non-organic farms every year in the U.S. Nitrate fertilizers (banned in organic production) contaminate the atmosphere, kill the soil, and destabilize the climate with nitrous oxide. Moreover chemical fertilizers pollute city tap water and kill fish and marine life, creating hundreds of massive "dead zones" in the oceans.

Zero waste recycling and the creation of an abundant, affordable supply of organic compost is an essential part of our organic future. This means taking apart the profit at any cost garbage industry and the toxic sewage sludge cartel.

The High Costs of So-Called Cheap Food

Over the past 65 years, chemical agriculture, factory farms, and now genetic engineering have devastated public health, wrecked the environment, and destabilized the climate. The U.S. public now spends $2.4 trillion dollars a year on health care, $800 billion of which is directly attributable to consuming chemical-laden, nutritionally deficient processed food.

In only 15 years unregulated and unlabeled genetically engineered foods and crops (GMOs) have been planted on millions of acres of farm land. These GM crops are planted on soil which is then repeatedly doused with toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. GMO corn, cotton, canola and soy are currently laced into 80% of (non-organic) supermarket foods and restaurant items. The bodies of the majority of American adults and children are bloated and contaminated with so-called agricultural commodities: high fructose corn syrup, derived from GMO corn, trans-fats (GMO cotton, canola and soy oil), and meat and dairy foods derived from factory farmed animals fed and reared on GMOs and pesticide-tainted grains, antibiotics, hormones, and slaughterhouse waste.

As a direct result of chemical and GMO agriculture, most American consumers are ill-fed and disease-prone.

Overall, U.S. diet-related diseases cause an estimated 580,000 deaths every year.

* OBESITY. In the U.S. nearly 100 million people are seriously and dangerously overweight. Obesity kills thousands and costs taxpayers and employers $147 billion annually.

* HEART DISEASE. In 2010, heart disease will kill hundreds of thousands (in 2006, 831,272 people died of cardiovascular disease) which costs the US $503 billion.

* DIABETES. The number of people with diabetes in the US is expected to increase from 23.7 million to 44.1 million in the next 25 years. The cost of treating diabetes is expected to triple in that time from $113 billion per year to $336 billion per year.

* CANCER. Cancer has reached epidemic proportions, with 48% of men and 38% of women now stricken during their lifetimes.  35% percent of cancers are diet related. Diet-related cancers now out-pace smoking-related cancers (30% are smoking related).

* FOOD POISONING. The U.S. industrial, factory farm food system is responsible for 76 million cases of food-poisoning reported every year that result in over 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Food poisoning costs are substantial, estimated at up to $22 billion each year.

* ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE. In part because of the routine overuse of antibiotics on factory farms - in the US, animals consume 70% of the antibiotics - more than 63,000 people die in the US each year from hospital-acquired infections resistant to at least one antibiotic. This financial costs of this public health emergency are up to $5 billion dollars a year.

In 2007 over $2.2 trillion was spent on health care in the US.

After poisoning us with cheap food and destroying the environment, Big Food Inc. turns us over to Big Pharma and the Industrial Health Complex to repair the damage, or rather to keep us alive long enough to extract maximum profits. But from the warped perspective of the for-profit health insurance industry, overweight and diseased people aren't very profitable. That's why health insurance corporations spend $350 billion per year trying to avoid coverage and deny claims. The vast, paper-pushing bureaucracy the for-profit insurance industry has created to help them avoid providing services soaks up 31% of all health care spending!

If we shifted the 31% of health care spending taken up by the administrative costs of the for-profit health insurance industry to a single-payer, universal health care system, we could cover the uninsured without increasing total health-care spending. The Organic Consumers Association supports single-payer, universal health care, with a focus on preventive health, diet, nutrition and stress-reduction.

However:

IF PRESIDENT OBAMA SIGNS A BILL THAT TAKES AWAY OUR HEALTH RIGHTS, THAT FORCES AMERICANS TO BUY OVERPRICED, INADEQUATE COVERAGE FROM THE FOR-PROFIT HEALTH INSURANCE INDUSTRY, OCA WILL LAUNCH A BOYCOTT!

Forced health insurance is not health care reform, it's corporate welfare and it is a direct result of the nearly one billion dollars that the health care industry is projected to have spent to lobby and bribe the politicians who voted for the bill.

Not only does the for-profit health insurance industry spend 31 cents of every health insurance dollar pushing paper and avoiding claims, but the for-profit "health" system has become almost as deadly as the chemical and GMO food and farming system. Medical malpractice kills as many as 98,000 people in hospitals every year. Another 300,000 people are injured due to medical errors.

Pharmaceuticals are even more dangerous than medical malpractice:

More than 50 percent of all drugs have serious adverse reactions that are discovered only after the drugs have entered the market (e.g., they are not detected during pre-market testing) - making us all unwitting guinea pigs. About 2,270,000 patients per year incur hospital costs as a result of adverse drug reactions.

Another 4,300,000 visit other health care providers (physicians, hospital outpatient departments and emergency rooms) as a result of adverse drug reactions.

Approximately 230,000 die each year as a result of an adverse drug reaction (105,000 using drugs as directed and 125,000 as a result of mistakes). This is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

The total annual health care costs as a consequence of adverse drug reactions exceeds a staggering $200 billion - an amount equal to what is spent on Medicaid every year and almost half of what is spent on Medicare. Reforming our health care system is literally a matter of life or death.

Eventually, we have to stop arguing over who's going to pay for out-of-control health care costs and restore public health! The real solution to our health care crisis is to stop subsidizing chemical and GMO food and farming, along with the destruction of our environment and our climate, and make the long overdue transition to organics. Then, under universal health care or Medicare for All, we can shift from health care that treats sickness caused by unhealthy food and an unhealthy environment and lifestyle to holistic health care that promotes wellness.

Ronnie Cummins is National Director of the Organic Consumers Association.

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