The Crisis: Regeneration or Degeneration?

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The Crisis: Regeneration or Degeneration?

"It's time to move beyond 'too little, too late' mitigation and sustainability strategies," writes Cummins. "It's time to inspire and mobilize a mighty global army of Regenerators, before it's too late." (Image: Regeneration International)

"If governments won’t solve the climate, hunger, health, and democracy crises, then the people will." —Dr. Vandana Shiva, speaking at the founding meeting of Regeneration International, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica, June 8, 2015

When literally billions of people, the 99 percent, are hungry or struggling to survive with justice and dignity; when the majority of the global body politic are threatened and assaulted by a toxic environment and food system; when hundreds of millions are overwhelmed with chronic health problems; battered by floods, droughts, and weather extremes; when endless wars and land grabs for water, land and strategic resources spiral out of control; When indentured politicians, corporations and the mass media conspire to stamp out the last vestiges of democracy in order to force a “Business-as-Usual” paradigm down our throats, it’s time for a change, Big Change.

It’s time to move beyond degenerate ethics, farming land use, energy policies, politics and economics. It’s time to move beyond “too little, too late” mitigation and sustainability strategies.

It’s time to inspire and mobilize a mighty global army of Regenerators, before it’s too late.

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Connecting the dots

Melting polar ice caps, dying oceans, global warming? The corporate take-over of governments, commerce and the world food supply? The loss of the world’s fertile, life-sustaining soil and biodiversity, along with the loss of indigenous seeds and knowledge?

Dis-empowered, exploited people, overwhelmed by the challenges of everyday survival, don’t have the luxury of connecting the dots between all the issues and focusing on the Big Picture. It’s the job of Regenerators to globalize the struggle, to globalize hope and connect the dots between issues, communities and constituencies. Our guiding principle must be that everyone, everywhere can potentially be energized and mobilized, i.e. regenerated, by a “Do-it-Yourself Movement” that “tells it like it is,” that moves beyond mere mitigation, and instead offers a global roadmap and a holistic menu of regenerative solutions to our most pressing food, farming, health, climate, political and economic problems.

Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy climate . . . our physical and economic health, our very survival as a species, is directly connected to the soil, biodiversity, and the health and fertility of our food and farming systems.  

Regenerative organic farming and land use can move us back into balance, back to a stable climate.

The regenerative bottom line for survival and well-being is that we must not only move away from oil, coal, gas and nuclear energy toward renewable sources of energy. We must also move several hundred billion tons of excess, climate- destabilizing carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil, where it belongs.

How do we do this?

Spreading the word

Although we don’t have the time or the space to go into great detail now, I, and others have begun to describe in detail how regenerative food, farming and land use practices, scaled up to the global level, can fix the climate and supercharge soil fertility and food nutrition over the next two decades.

In order to survive we must all become evangelists of Regeneration. We must explain the basic principles and practices of soil regeneration and natural carbon sequestration to everyone who will listen.

As Michael Pollan, North America’s most prominent food author, explains:

Consider what happens when the sun shines on a grass plant rooted in the earth. Using that light as a catalyst, the plant takes atmospheric CO2, splits off and releases the oxygen, and synthesizes liquid carbon–sugars, basically. Some of these sugars go to feed and build the aerial portions of the plant we can see, but a large percentage of this liquid carbon—somewhere between 20 and 40 percent—travels underground, leaking out of the roots and into the soil. The roots are feeding these sugars to the soil microbes—the bacteria and fungi that inhabit the rhizosphere—in exchange for which those microbes provide various services to the plant: defense, trace minerals, access to nutrients the roots can’t reach on their own. That liquid carbon has now entered the microbial ecosystem, becoming the bodies of bacteria and fungi that will in turn be eaten by other microbes in the soil food web. Now, what had been atmospheric carbon (a problem) has become soil carbon, a solution—and not just to a single problem, but to a great many problems.

Besides taking large amounts of carbon out of the air—tons of it per acre when grasslands are properly managed… that process at the same time adds to the land’s fertility and its capacity to hold water. Which means more and better food for us...

This process of returning atmospheric carbon to the soil works even better when ruminants are added to the mix. Every time a calf or lamb shears a blade of grass, that plant, seeking to rebalance its “root-shoot ratio,” sheds some of its roots. These are then eaten by the worms, nematodes, and microbes—digested by the soil, in effect, and so added to its bank of carbon. This is how soil is created: from the bottom up.

By all accounts, our planet is in deep trouble, and headed for worse. Sustaining a dying planet or mitigating catastrophic climate change is not an option. We must change the conversation about the climate crisis from “mitigation” to “reversing” global warming, by organically regenerating the soil, grasslands and forests. Even if the world moves to zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and “sustains” or stabilizes atmospheric CO2 at 480-500 ppm, we will still desperately need to remove 100 ppm or more of CO2 from the atmosphere in order to avert runaway global warming, mass starvation, and chaos.

A Movement is launched

In the first week of June, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and our global allies organized the founding meeting of Regeneration International, a global alliance designed to supercharge the global grassroots, the network of networks trying to feed the world and reverse climate change through regenerative organic food and farming.

The meeting took place in the spectacular rainforest area near the still-active Arenal Volcano on a tropical Biodynamic organic farm in Costa Rica, attended by scientists, activists, farmers, environmentalists and business leaders, representing non-profits, universities and corporations from 21 nations.

Sixty global leaders participated in an intensive three days of workshops, presentations and late-into-the-night conversations. We shared ideas, (organic) food, and the common belief that so far, our governments, healthcare systems and global non-profits are failing us when it comes to real solutions to climate change, hunger, health and economic security.

We shared a sense of urgency, and a spirit of hope.

Urgency because, behind the scenes, many climate-change ”experts”  admit that if we achieved zero carbon emissions tomorrow, we’d still go over the climate-disaster cliff. As evidence, one presenter quoted NOAA Senior Scientist, Susan Solomon:

The severity of damaging human-induced climate change depends not only on the magnitude of the change but also on the potential for irreversibility. This paper shows that the climate change that takes place due to increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.

A spirit of hope, because, as the farmers, activists and scientists among us confirmed, we actually do have the capacity to reverse climate change, and eliminate global poverty, hunger, health, economic injustice and environmental devastation.  The answer lies in the soil—in promoting organic, regenerative agriculture and land use that sequesters carbon, produces higher yields of more nutritious foods, and strengthens local economies.

Regeneration International—next steps

With a formal steering committee composed of Vandana Shiva (India writer and activist) Hans Herren (Millenium Institute), Andre Leu (IFOAM/Organics International), Steve Rye (Mercola.com), Ronnie Cummins (Organic Consumers Association), and Tom Newmark (The Carbon Underground), Regeneration International has embarked on a wide range of activities, including the global mapping of regenerative activists and campaigns, best practices, alternative and mass media contacts, a translations bureau, a global media and communications team, and a science peer review committee.

Activities over the next six months will include a mass March Against Monsanto protest and rally in Washington, D.C. on the day after World Food Day, October 17; participation in the alternative climate summit in Paris December 1-10; and the drawing up of national Regeneration Charters in every country following the Paris Summit.

We left the first Regeneration International conference energized, and ready to start regenerating.

We agreed on a plan to expand on the existing science around carbon sequestration through organic regenerative agriculture, and to reach out far and wide to the global scientific community, to connect scientists all over the world.

We agreed on a plan to mobilize farmers and activists globally, to advance regenerative organic farming and grazing practices and techniques, and to share best practices for adapting techniques to different climates and cultures.

We are developing a global media and communications plan, to counter the corporate-funded messages that focus almost exclusively on industrial, GMO agriculture as a solution to world hunger, and emissions reduction as the solution to global warming. Our plan will promote the science around the relationship between nutritionally sound food and health, and around carbon sequestration through organic, regenerative agriculture.

Plans are being developed, test projects are under way, commitments have been made, energy is high, and urgency is on all of our minds.

Because we are running out of time.

In his book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, David Montgomery writes that the history of dirt suggests that how people treat their soil can impose a life span on civilizations, that Rome didn’t so much as fall, but crumble:

A common lesson of the ancient empires of the Old and New Worlds is that even innovative adaptations cannot make up for a lack of fertile soil to sustain increased productivity. As long as people take care of their land, the land can sustain them.”

Ancient civilizations never came face-to-face with global warming. Today, global warming is in our face. And according to a growing number of scientists, we are running out of time.

Will we regenerate our soils, our food, our health, our economies, and our spirits? Or will we continue to degenerate, to stumble down the path toward destruction?

Ronnie Cummins

Ronnie Cummins is a veteran activist, author, and organizer. He is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica.

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