From Insecticide to Genocide

Dead_bee_winter

A world soaked in insecticides is not a place where bees can live. We’re really going to miss them. (Wikimedia photo)

Call it the Return of Silent Spring. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book of that name aroused the world to the dangers of soaking the world with insecticides (at the time, primarily DDT). Her dark vision of a spring in which no birds sang nor insects buzzed gave impetus to the environmental movement. What better evidence that that movement has been rolled up like a cheap rug than the news that after half a century we are back where we started?

According to a major new study, the world is so saturated with insecticides (especially these days, the pervasive neonicotinoids) that bees and earthworms are vanishing. As they go, they will take our food supply with them. Continue reading

Big Ag Fights Small Ag: We Lose

Farms like these in Vietnam are the ones that feed the world, provide work and security for families, and preserve the land. We're stamping them out. (Wikipedia Photo)

Farms like these in Vietnam are the ones that feed the world, provide work and security for families, and preserve the land. We’re stamping them out. (Wikipedia Photo)

Just as it has become crystal clear (as confirmed by a new United Nations report) that the world made a terrible mistake when it entrusted its future to industrial agriculture; and that the only hope for a sustainable global food supply rests on small, diverse, family farms; now Big Money is weighing in on the side of Big Agriculture and is in the process of snuffing out the last best hope for food.

There are two parts to this problem. The ravages of industrial agriculture — the ruined land, poisoned water, sick animals and rampaging, mutant weeds and diseases — are becoming well known. We were told not to mind these things because it was the only way to keep up with a growing, hungry population. Turns out it wasn’t even one of the ways. Continue reading

Don’t Like Global Warming? How About Global Rioting?

You thought the unrest in Ukraine was all about Russia? Or the West? Try food. (Photo by Yaruslov Kharandiuk/Flickr)

You thought the unrest in Ukraine was all about Russia? Or the West? Try food. (Photo by Yaruslov Kharandiuk/Flickr)

The boiling point of a country is 210; not degrees on a thermometer, but points on a scale of food prices devised by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Reach that mark, and your population, on the brink of starving, will be in the streets kicking ass and taking heads. Pundits natter on about masses yearning to be free, loving democracy, spurning Islam, suddenly intolerant of dictators they were fine with for decades. In reality, the flame that lit the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War and the Crisis in Ukraine was a food price index of 210; and the same torch is spreading the flames around the world. The outbreak, according to Dr. Nafeez Ahmed (a security expert and writer for the Guardian of London), is a tsunami of civil unrest  “on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone [February] has seen riots kick-off in Venezuela, Bosnia, Ukraine, Iceland, and Thailand.” Continue reading

Peak Medicine. It’s Here, Too

If global warming doesn’t get us, global sickening might; microbes like these are shrugging off modern medicine’s tools to control them. (Photo by Carlos de Paz/Flickr)

If global warming doesn’t get us, global sickening might; microbes like these are shrugging off modern medicine’s tools to control them. (Photo by Carlos de Paz/Flickr)

According to the World Health Organization, the planet is about to enter a post-antibiotic age in which minor infections kill us because the tools of modern medicine, which have been effective for a century and more, no longer work. The organization’s first global survey of drug-resistant disease found that in addition to antibiotic resistance by infectious bacteria — now well established everywhere in the world — resistance by viruses such as HIV, parasites including malaria and fungi is also spreading fast. All in all, says WHO, it is “a major threat to public health” whose “implications will be devastating.”

The report focused on antibiotic resistance among seven bacteria responsible for some of the most common serious infections. Its major findings: Continue reading

Peak Food. It’s Here.

What has long been just a walk in the park for most Americans -- food shopping -- is about to become considerably more grueling. (Photo by Wonderlane/Flickr)

What has long been just a walk in the park for most Americans — food shopping — is about to become considerably more grueling. (Photo by Wonderlane/Flickr)

High food prices — which have been destabilizing (and in some cases, vaporizing) governments around the world — are coming belatedly to America. The prices of beef, pork, shrimp, eggs, dairy products and produce are all reaching record highs right now. Overall food prices are up almost 20% this year. The reasons appear at first glance to be varied, but in almost every case the root cause turns out to be either climate change or the practices of industrial agriculture. Indications are that there is no relief in sight. In fact the days of cheap and plentiful food, like the days of cheap and plentiful oil, may well be over for good. Continue reading

World Bank: Agriculture Faces “Havoc.”

Is this to be the legacy of climate change? Big Ag could not care less. (Photo: Bloomtrigger.com)

Is this to be the legacy of climate change? Big Ag could not care less. (Photo: Bloomtrigger.com)

The World Bank’s vice president for climate change — yes, it has a vice president for climate change — last weekend issued a blunt warning to a meeting of agriculture ministers, held in Berlin. To paraphrase Rachel Kyte just a little: agriculture must adapt or die. And do it fast.

Okay, she was not quite that blunt, but she came very close. She told the ministers that the world will warm two degrees Celsius “in your lifetime,” that the changes won’t be pleasant and slow, but “volatile…with unpredictable impact.” Moreover, “significant damage and destruction are already happening.” Yet, she said “The agricultural community has still some way to go in realizing the full significance.” Or, to translate from bureaucratic/diplomatic English, they still have their heads up their you-know-whats. Continue reading

China Disintegrating: Stunning New Evidence

In Chongqing, China, in 2011, they were saying “If we don’t do something about this real soon, it’s going to get real bad. They didn’t. It did. And on it goes. (Photo by Leo Fung/Flickr)

It’s not just the air in China that is becoming toxic to human life, now it’s the earth itself. (Photo by Leo Fung/Flickr)

Just as China became the envy of the industrial world by achieving growth (of its gross national product) of ten percent and more per year for two decades, so its consequent collapse is about to demonstrate clearly to the rest of the world what happens when you turn your country over to unfettered greed. Stunning new evidence of the imminence of that collapse became public last week. Unfortunately, it is not just their end of the Titanic that is sinking, and it is too late to avoid catastrophe. But understanding what is happening there might help some of us survive catastrophe. Continue reading

Muscling the Meat Industry: Fuhgedaboudit

meat marketLong ago, in a certain state, I called a certain agency (I am blowing smoke here to protect the obviously guilty) to enquire whether I could legally move a “farm use” (i.e. unlicensed, unregistered, uninsured) trailer from one state into another on public roads. The rather hard bitten sergeant (did I say sergeant? I meant person.) responded by asking, “Are you familiar with (name if state redacted)’s motto?” I said I thought it was sic semper tyrannis. “Do you know what it means?” he asked. Something to do with tyrants, I responded. “No, you’re wrong. It means ‘Don’t F#@k With Farmers.’ You can take that “farm use” trailer anywhere you want and nobody is going to bother you.”

I missed the memo, but apparently the United States has adopted my former state’s motto, now understood as sic semper agricolas. With the implied addition of the adjective “industrial.” Recent evidence abounds. Continue reading

AP Trashes Ethanol Mandate: “Raping the Land.”

The (Corn) Wasteland: Unprotected fields like this, the soil laced with leftover fertilizer and pesticide, will wash away with their toxic contents come spring. Yet we must have more corn! (Photo by Perry McKenna/Flickr)

The (Corn) Wasteland: Unprotected fields like this, the soil laced with leftover fertilizer and pesticide, will wash away with their toxic contents come spring. Yet we must have more corn! (Photo by Perry McKenna/Flickr)

A major, meticulous study by the Associated Press published today concludes that the government mandate for corn ethanol to be mixed with gasoline has brought none of the promised benefits and a raft of unintended consequences. When President George W. Bush signed the law he said it would make America “stronger, cleaner and more secure.” Instead it made industrial agriculture stronger, dirtier, and more secure while accelerating the destruction of the natural systems from which all food comes. Continue reading

Phear of Phosphorus: “We Will Begin to Starve.”

Not really the farmer's friend, synthetic agriculture is leading the way toward a crash. (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture photo/Flickr)

Not really the farmer’s friend, synthetic fertilizer is leading the way toward a crash. (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture photo/Flickr)

The declining amount of phosphorus left in the world illustrates perfectly a basic premise of Brace for Impact: Surviving the Crash of the Industrial Age: that it’s too late to save all of us from the crash of the industrial age, but on the other hand any of us, in small groups, can escape the worst consequences by living sustainably. Industrial agriculture cannot survive without industrial supplies of mined phosphorus, of which a diverse, small family farm has no need whatsoever. It also illustrates other components of our situation: a mortal threat recognized by a small group of scientists with their hair on fire who are ridiculed by industry hacks and ignored by a public who could not find a way to care less. [Wait, don’t leave. I’m about to explain why you should care more.] Continue reading