Tag Archives: climate chaos

Code Red for Humanity, Code Green for Earth

by Steven McFadden
My primary work throughout the rest of 2021 is dedicated to researching and writing the biography of a man who was a kind, knowledgeable, and skillful leader for the Navajo people, as well as for people around the world. Having died in 2008, he left a legacy of insight into the well being of our earth, and indications for time-tested ways of supporting hózhó  – life in balance and beauty.

While at first a biography might appear to be a divergence from the topics of agroecology and deep agroecology, it’s actually related. Part of the biography, through the subject’s eyes, is an exploration of how we might reckon wisely with the catastrophes described in Code Red for Humanity, the alarming new UN report. In my view it’s the most critical report in history. The dire realities it spells out demand our global attention.

While I’m at work on the biography, I’ll continue to let people know about my book, Deep Agroecology, and to create occasional memes to call attention to the critical issues in the book, and the high, necessary vision it sets out.

Here’s a sample of the kinds of memes that I create from time to time, as the spirit moves me.

        ~ End ~

Your Pantry, Your Planet: Extreme Factors Set the Stage for Global Farm and Food Summit

by Steven McFadden – (published 2.17.21 – updated 3.4.21)

You may imagine that your involvement with the food system begins and ends with your refrigerator, your pantry, your local supermarket, and your backyard garden, if you are lucky enough to have one. But that fantasy would be tragically misleading.

The inescapable facts: at this passionate, volatile, hotly contested moment of history, your breakfast, lunch, and dinner are in almost all cases intimately, irrevocably enmeshed in the matrix of the global food system. Outside of radical self-sufficiency, which is not what most people are capable of, there’s no escaping that matrix.

As it happens there’s a great debate underway about that system—about the people, values, politics, and profits that influence our farms, our people in the fields and packing houses, our farm animals, and ultimately our food and our health. That debate will reach a crescendo this coming October at the UN’s global Food Systems Summit 2021.  The Summit has been convened to restructure the regulatory environment for farms and food. That’s a immensely consequential responsibility.

The crescendo of the debate will arrive in the context of at least three extreme factors: the global pandemic, global climate change, and widespread social discontent with the status quo. Those factors are at work forcefully on our one and only planet, and consequently on most everyone’s plate. Like it or not, your pantry is in play.

Zooming Toward the Summit
Thanks to Zoom, I had the chance on February 11 to sit before my computer screen in Nebraska, and to watch a pre-summit debate on food systems among a host of learned observers from around the world. The online session—really more a discussion than a debate—was presented in partnership by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, the Agroecology Fund, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), the Dominican Republic, the UN Committee on World Food Security, and the SDG2 Advocacy Hub.

The discussion was one of many official, online pre-summit events. On this particular panel, participants discussed what they see as necessary for resilient, renewable, equitable, climate-stabilizing, healthy, and diverse food systems. That’s the vision of agroecology, a vision devoutly to be wished. And when that vision is inspirited, it’s deep agroecology.

As the Zoom panelists explained, a key element for the upcoming global Food Systems Summit was established five years ago when the UN unanimously approved the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With a deadline of 2030—just nine quick years from now—the SDGs address a range of critical global/local issues from hunger to climate chaos, poverty, education, vanishing ecosystems, and more.

The basic idea of the October summit is to choose and to empower ways and means to help meet the SDGs through farm and food systems. Collectively, the existing systems have a colossal impact on the natural environment, and on human health.

Political Economy
This summit will mark not just a moment in time, but also a turning point. Our local, national, and global food systems require tremendous changes. That’s evident in the pervasive chemical pollution, the dead zones in our seas, the vast animal misery of our factory farms (CAFOs), the starkly unjust circumstances of our essential farm and food workers, the persistent widespread hunger around the world, in epidemics of chronic, diet-related diseases, and in many other facets of the ways we draw sustenance from our finite planet.

This constellation of massive, systemic predicaments serves as a marker of the old order. That order is flailing forward in the pits of depleted resources, and wallowing in its own foul waste lagoons. The dreadful facts of the matter signal that existing global, mechanical, industrial chemical food systems are not in integrity with nature, and consequently out of integrity with the directions humanity must pursue to reckon with current extremes, and to evolve forward to living in respect of the circle of life, and the next Seven Generations.

Farm and food systems are the foundation of just about everything else in the modern world. Now that the necessity of change is inevitable, what will the changes be? Who will decide? Who will benefit? There are 7.8 billion people with an essential stake in the decisions.

Over the last many decades the mechanisms of governance for farm and food systems have been increasingly influenced and dominated by corporations with primary allegiance to investor profit. Pre-summit panel member Sofia Monsalve, Secretary General of FIAN International, made explicit note of this.

She said that marginalized participants in the food systems are in fact marginalized as well in the upcoming global summit. She also made note of the ongoing “corporate capture” of food systems, a controlling reality that plays out not just in farm and food enterprises, but also around the world in many corporately captured government regulatory agencies.

The central drive for efficiency and profit in farm and food systems has, perhaps inevitably, implicated the industrial-chemical models in a torrent of critical issues: human rights, land rights, water depletion, chronic disease, climate chaos, pollution, and more. Unrelenting “efficiency” and “cheap food” have extreme costs.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, has noted alarmingly  (article) that human rights have been dropped from the Summit’s agenda in favor of corporate-friendly language. Fakhri wrote to the head of the summit, Agnes Kalibata, in January stating that the global food crisis was “chronic, urgent, and set to intensify” and yet the summit is focused on science and technology, money and markets, and does not address “fundamental questions of inequality, accountability, and governance.”

Participants in this pre-summit debate were well aware of these realities. In making a relevant point about the situation, Olivier De Schutter—co-chair of IPES-Food, and also the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights—used the term political economy. “Issues of power and accountability,” De Schutter said, “must be at the heart of the UN summit.”

Billions of Voices
Political economy refers to the reality of how a country—or in this case the world—is managed or governed, taking into account political, economic, and (at least ideally) social, and ethical factors.

As outlined in a conversation between professors Philip H. Howard and Mary Hendrickson, the phenomenon of corporate capture, or concentration, is a clear, present, and aggressive factor for our farms and food, and ultimately for our pantries.

“In our view,” the professors said, “a resilient food system that feeds everyone can be achieved only through a more equitable distribution of power. This in turn will require action in areas ranging from contract law and antitrust policy to workers’ rights and economic development. Farmers, workers, elected officials and communities will have to work together to fashion alternatives and change policies.”

Broadly speaking—and in distinction from the structures of governments and corporations—farmers, smallholders, peasants, food workers, non-profit organizations, co-ops, consumers, and communities constitute civil society. In one sense civil society strives to speak for the global community of human beings, all 7.8 billion of us, especially those human beings who historically have not had a voice.

In this case civil society refers in particular to the billions of voices, and thousands upon thousands of local, community-based food initiatives in the USA, Canada, Mexico, and around the world, certainly including the transnational agrarian movement, La Via Campesina (LVC).

After building global webs of relationship over recent decades, the many peoples and organizations of civil society have generally recognized that the trajectory of the global Food Systems Summit is heading in a direction they cannot support.

A Reminder
About month after watching the February 11 pre-summit debate online, I was reminded via an email from Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau of ActionAid USA that civil society organizations are definitely not on board with the developing spirit and form of the upcoming Food Systems Summit.

In 2020 over 500 civil society organizations sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General outlining their alarm about corporate capture of the summit, and the likelihood that the summit will serve as a forum for advancement of corporate aims and greenwashing, meanwhile glossing over the essential earth-and-justice respecting ways and means of true agroecology.

After sending their letter to the Secretary General, and seeing that their principal concerns were going to remain unaddressed, many of the civil society organizations publicly expressed disappointment in the summit’s plan, and declined to be involved. Of note, LVC—the largest social movement in the world—denounced the Food Systems Summit, and declared that it would not participate.

An LVC position paper on the Summit states that the governance of the event is utterly undemocratic, and that it remains firmly in control of “a handful of large international corporations…The current trajectory of the Summit’s build-up process allows the global power elites, and especially the private sector, to once again legitimize themselves as architects of the future of our food system, using its transnational corporate arms to continue to accumulate capital and destroy the planet.”

LVC holds another vision, one of food sovereignty: comprehensive, democratic local food systems that are diverse, agroecological, informed by indigenous knowledge, and developed and managed justly by people with full respect for human rights.

True Agroecology
As several the pre-summit panelists expressed, the true ideals of agroecology—farm and food systems that are clean, sustainable, socially just, and respectfully inclusive of indigenous knowings—are often given lip service, but at present the vision they represent is not really on the agenda.

Unlike the mechanistic approaches of corporate oligarchies with their technocratic chemical industrial approaches to farms and animals, in the vision of agroecology people around the world recognize an umbrella concept that—via farms and food—synthesizes the needs of human beings with the needs of the natural world. In beauty, with wisdom, this can be done.

Agroecological approaches to farms and food follow not one fixed model, but rather are diverse according to the basic nature of their circumstances, and right relationship with the circle of life. They are clean, sustainable, climate-stabilizing through the sequestration of carbon and the building of topsoil, socially just, animal humane, and egalitarian.

Agroecology encompasses systems such as organics, biodynamics, regenerative, permaculture, cooperative, and so forth, and thereby represents an inspirational and pragmatic vision of what is necessary and possible as we strive to re-organize the food web. In response to the pandemic, to pollution, to climate breakdown, to social injustice, and the intensifying hegemony of multinational chemical, drug, and ag corporations.

Agroecology represents practical, purposeful, and realistic hope. It’s a global vision that has been dreamed and then acted upon by millions of people around the world—civil society. Corporations and governments have often resisted agroecology, or tried to co-opt the concept and related language, seeing agroecology as a threat to their entrenched, industrialized operations, to their market shares, and to their profits.

Zoom Globally, Act Locally
In a multitude of places and ways around the globe—and in the context of extreme factors such climate chaos, COVID, and environmental deterioration—millions of people are working toward the fundamental, democratic, egalitarian, and healing impulses of agroecology.

Even though you are likely far removed from the UN’s Global Food Systems Summit and its critical discussions and decisions, you can observe what is happening. As I did, you can Zoom into pre-summit meetings and other events. Find out what is going on. Information is power. Ignorance is folly.

The “global food system” is in fact a system of systems. And a basic tenet of systems theory is that changing one part of a system affects the entire system. With all that’s going on globally, you still have your own pantry as your principal point of influence in the food system. I encourage you: do not underestimate the power of your pantry.

This time-worn saying holds true: every dollar you spend on food is a vote for the kind of food system you have and will have. Your investment in clean, local, just farm and food initiatives adds energy and momentum for agroecology on a petite scale. But networked together in a web of action with the millions of initiatives around the planet, it’s agroecology on a grand scale: the scale we need to reckon with the extremes.

Your pantry—and consequently your breakfast, lunch dinner, and planet—have a date with destiny at the Global Food Systems Summit later this year.

As Climate Chaos intensifies, agroecology stands as an essential response

by Steven McFadden
Based on political talking points, many people kiss off the reality of climate change. They go on with their lives as if there is no threat to be concerned about at all.

But climate change (now more accurately spoken of as climate chaos) is severely real. with raging fires, roaring hurricanes, and parching drought, it’s impacting farms, food, and millions of lives. The population of environmental refugees is swelling around the globe. This is factual way beyond politics or propaganda.

A recent survey by Stanford University, however, found that when people are directly impacted by climate change, political divisions evaporate. The impacted people immediately begin to take the intensifying reality of climate change seriously. How could they do otherwise?

The USDA’s landmark report Climate Change, Global Food Security, and U.S. Food System concluded that climate change is going to impact global, regional, and local food security. It will drive an overall increase in food prices, and also disrupt food availability.

That’s a grim outlook. But the USDA report also states emphatically that adaptation can make a positive difference. That’s where households and communities of all sizes and constellations need to place their attention and their energy: effective adaptation. And that is one of the key reasons why I wrote Deep Agroecology: Farms, Food, and Our Future.

Climate chaos is here. It’s not coming at some future date. Embracing agroecological responses now, while it is possible, is wise, worthwhile, and essential.

Toward positive, proactive responses, I strongly recommend the new film Kiss the Ground. It’s available now on Netflix, and via DVD.

Double stab by The Lancet pierces illusions about Farms, Food, Climate

The esteemed British medical journal The Lancet has released two commission reports emphasizing the pivotal role that farms and food play in deteriorating human and environmental health, as well as in the mounting chaos of climate change.

So dire is our current state, the reports argue, that our ongoing survival and welfare as we live on earth requires a radical transformation of the farm and food systems. It will take mass public interest, activity, and direct support to make that happen.

The commissions warned explicitly that this essential transformation will require that consumers demand and pay for food that is raised and distributed in new ways. What you choose to eat, and the way your food is grown, have a direct impact on personal and global health. Our individual choices collectively create the rapidly deteriorating condition of our public health and the earth environment that sustains us. Those are not opinions or illusions, but rather scientific realities which are once again substantiated in these two commission studies.

The two Lancet commission reports were published separately in January, 2019. The first report, Food in the Anthropocene, was authored by 37 scientists from around the world, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems. The second report was titled The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change: The Lancet Commission Report. That commission report was researched and written by 26 experts from 14 countries.

According to The Global Syndemic report, human beings are actively under threat from three global pandemics, all of them directly linked to the way we eat. Through their operations ‘Big Ag & Food’ corporations are driving global epidemics in obesity, undernutrition, and climate change. All of them threaten human beings. But their interactions create a hazardous impact greater than the sum of one, or two, or more afflictions. In combination, the three pandemics establish a global syndemic. That’s a set of linked health problems involving two or more afflictions that interact synergistically to drive conditions into a danger zone.

The researchers noted that ‘Big Food’ companies, driven by profit and heedless economic expansion, are through their actions inciting this syndemic. Industrial farm operations drive greenhouse gas omissions; meanwhile, paradoxically, people around the world are stricken by undernutrition, obesity, and a host of other diet and environment-related diseases.

The syndemic commission found that pandemics of malnutrition and obesity interact with climate change in a feedback loop. Together they represent an existential threat to humans and the planet. The modern western diet, they wrote, has become highly damaging, and needs a complete overhaul if we are to avoid ecological catastrophe. We need to cut global meat consumption in half, and more than double the volume of whole grains, pulses, nuts, fruit and vegetables we eat, according to the commission.

In conclusion, the syndemic commission report noted that the evidence that our diets are the largest cause of climate change and biodiversity loss is now overwhelming.

Strongest Lever
Meanwhile, also in the month of January, 2019, the 37 scientists of the separate EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems in 2019 authored their landmark publication, Food in the Anthropocene. These scientists concluded that food is the single strongest lever to improve human health and environmental sustainability.

Food systems have potential to dramatically increase environmental sustainability, they wrote, and to nurture and to improve human health. Our current food systems, however, are fouling ecosystems, and accentuating climate change. Overall the food system is the single largest driver of environmental degradation.

Further, as the commission reported, unhealthy diets now pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined. Thus, an immense challenge facing humanity is to provide a growing world population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Food in the Antropocene commission called for a radical transformation of the global food system. Individual action won’t be enough. We need to act as individuals, and then also actively cooperate on community, national, and global approaches and systems.

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