When it comes to sustainable farming and the climate crisis, the former Secretary of State seems to be more interested in science fiction than science fact.
John Kerry, the former Senator, Secretary of State and Presidential candidate, has been saying some odd and disturbing things about the climate crisis—and how to go about addressing it. When questioned in a recent BBC interview about his country’s slow pace away from fossil fuels, Kerry said not to worry because, “I’m told by scientists that 50% of the reductions we have to make (to get to near zero emissions) by 2050 or 2045 are going to come from technologies we don’t yet have.”
One might think that suggesting the planet would be saved by technologies yet to be discovered would be ridiculous enough. But Kerry doubled down. Although he admitted that industrial agriculture, and especially factory farms, are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, he pushed back on the idea of reducing meat consumption as a step in the right direction. He assured the public that future technology might allow us all to keep on eating all the ‘meat’ we want because, “[t]here is a lot of research being done now that will change the way meat is produced….And we don't know some of the answers to these."
Kerry is also a long-term supporter of genetically engineered (GE) crops and claims, with no evidence provided, that growing GE crops will help address the climate crisis. In reality, these commodity crops which take up almost half the cropland in the U.S. are not designed to address climate, but rather to tolerate massive amounts of herbicides. This major increase in herbicide use is only great for the bottom line of Bayer/Monsanto and other chemical companies. The massive monocultures of GE crops significantly deplete the soil, and the manufacture and use of these herbicides increases emissions of greenhouse gases and these herbicides while also killing soil microbes thereby further degrading the soil’s ability to sequester carbon. But again, Kerry seems to be more interested in science fiction than science fact.
Using AI to address ag and climate is not only a sci-fi fantasy, it is incredibly dangerous and damaging.
Such irresponsible, blind faith in technology statements are not just from any politician—Kerry is Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. And unfortunately, Kerry is at it again, this time advocating spending millions of dollars promoting Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a climate solution. In doing so, he has teamed up with current USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, whom Kerry seriously considered as a running mate when he ran for president in 2004.
A little background on Secretary Vilsack is key to this story. Starting with his governorship of Iowa and extending to now his third term as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Vilsack has been a tireless supporter of industrial agriculture, factory farms, and highly invasive agritech including genetic engineering, nanotechnology, robotics and AI. To push this agenda, Vilsack is spearheading an international effort dubbed Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM). Though not yet two years old, AIM has raised $13 billion and counting, and includes corporate agritech partners such as BASF, Bayer/Monsanto and Syngenta, along with a couple hundred other industrial ag companies and organizations. The idea is to use these billions to “buy out” the agricultural research at universities and countries around the globe to move them away from local and sustainable priorities and push towards these high-tech priorities which will profit AIM’s corporate partners.
Vilsack and Kerry stood side-by-side early this May to mark the end of AIM’s three day “summit” on food and climate issues. There they announced the winner of the organization’s competition entitled, “AIM for Climate Grand Challenge: Leveraging the Power of AI and Machine-Learning.” The winner received a multimillion-dollar grant to push this agenda. Using AI to address ag and climate is not only a sci-fi fantasy, it is incredibly dangerous and damaging. Never mind that 70-80% of the world’s food is provided by small family farms who know their farms and communities’ needs far better than AIM-promoted computers or robots. Moreover, imagine the dystopian scenario were AIM to succeed in having countries replace these hundreds of millions of local farmers who have farmed their land for many generations with AI and sensor operators. These farmers would lose their livelihoods, communities would be decimated, and irreplaceable Indigenous knowledge of soil, seeds and food would be lost.
As AIM spends billions on research of costly and dangerous experimental technologies, we need to promote solutions already proven to work—ecological farming practices rooted in agroecological principles.
As AIM spends billions on research of costly and dangerous experimental technologies, we need to promote solutions already proven to work—ecological farming practices rooted in agroecological principles. Hundreds of organizations and farm groups, particularly in the global South, are doing just that and opposing the AIM agenda in the international arena. Last year, The International Alliance on Climate and Agriculture (IACA) was formed to help in this critical climate effort. IACA is bringing together civil society leaders, activists, farmers, Indigenous peoples, and other stakeholders to collectively promote ecological food systems as a major mitigation and adaptation solution to the climate crisis.
This broad grassroots coalition developed the BROAD system, which incorporates ecological farming including organic, agroecological, biodynamic and other sustainable practices that work with nature rather than destroying it. BROAD is an acronym for systems that are: 1) Biodiverse, 2) Regenerative, 3) Organic, 4) Appropriate Scale, and 5) Democratic.
Our current industrial agriculture system is responsible for at least 25 to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, yet there is little discussion about this critical connection between food systems and climate change. Clearly, if we do not transition swiftly to ecological food systems, any hope of climate stability or world food security will be unattainable. In addition to reducing GHGs and ensuring food and water security, ecological food systems generate vital benefits such as protecting biodiversity, soil, water, wildlife, livelihoods and jobs, socioeconomic equity, and more. This, rather than speculative, experimental AI, is what we need to save food, farming, and our planet.