We’re faced with endless bad news about the serious environmental issues humans have wrought on Earth. How can we begin to restore the planet? By shifting our support to policies that will reduce the prevalence of chemical agriculture, greenhouse gas emissions and industrial meat.
While today’s unsustainable farming systems may be achieving record grain production, they deplete soil fertility and rely on pesticides that harm our health and result in synthetic fertilizer runoff that’s killing broad swaths of the oceans and contaminating our water.
Human mismanagement has turned millions of acres of land into desert. Expansion and development are destroying vital ecosystems and putting thousands of species at risk of extinction. Today’s oceans contain only about half as many fish as in 1970, according to a detailed report from the World Wildlife Fund.
Controversial fracking activities temporarily give us lower gas prices, but also disrupt communities, poison our air and water, and even cause earthquakes.
Perhaps most critically, climate change caused by our release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases — fueled by our ever-growing population — is melting the Arctic ice cap and increasing the severity of storms and droughts. Millions of refugees will be forced to flee from coastal cities as sea levels continue to rise. Did you know that before civil war broke out, almost 1.5 million Syrian farmers and herders were pushed to the cities as a result of the country’s worst drought in modern history?
And, if all of this fails to inspire public support for strong measures to protect our planet and curb greenhouse gas emissions, a new study projects that the warming of the oceans could disrupt phytoplankton’s photosynthesis. These single-celled organisms produce about two-thirds of the oxygen we breathe. Researchers at the University of Leicester in England warn that, if their model is correct, this ocean warming and resulting global depletion of atmospheric oxygen may result in “mass mortality of animals and humans.”
So, what do we do? Clearly, we must cease subsidies for chemical agriculture, break away from our dependence on fossil fuels, and shift support to policies that will reduce CO2 in the atmosphere and restore the Earth’s natural carbon cycle. This means not only mandating that global emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are reduced, but also ending the practice of growing grain to feed livestock whose natural diet is grass. Consumer boycotts of grain-fed industrial meat are a start, while supporting pastured livestock systems will actually help slow climate change. In “Restoring the Climate,” the Savory Institute reports that 40 percent of the Earth’s land is made up of grasslands that have been severely degraded through cultivation and improper livestock practices. These soils once held huge amounts of carbon. Holistic, planned grazing can pull carbon from the air and return it back to the soil. This shift in agricultural practices would not only greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it would also restore soil fertility, advance the humane treatment of livestock, and improve the nutritional content of our food.
We also need to challenge the assumption that the human population will continue to grow endlessly. We must engage in a respectful discussion of what a sustainable human population, with a decent quality of life for all, could look like. If we don’t work harder to imagine it, we certainly won’t create it.
Inside Climate News
Restoring the Climate: Savory Institute
Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change: The New York Times
Union of Concerned Scientists