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Bernie Joins the Regeneration Revolution

“We need to incentivize farming systems that help farmers both mitigate climate change and build resilience to its impacts. Pass comprehensive legislation to address climate change that includes a transition to regenerative, independent family farming practices.” – Sen. Bernie Sanders, “Revitalizing Rural America” May 15, 2019

Amidst all the bad news, scandals and neo-fascist machinations in Washington, there is some good news on the political front: A number of leading Democratic Party candidates for president, including U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), emboldened by a wave of grassroots action on the part of the youth-powered Sunrise Movement and Student Strike for the Climate, and bolstered by a group of recently elected members of Congress led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), are putting forth bold proposals that could actually solve the climate crisis.

These relatively new grassroots movements are demanding, in the words of Bernie Sanders, a “Political Revolution”—a new system, based on ecological and egalitarian principles, offering solutions to the intertwined crises of urban and rural America: pollution, environmental destruction, deteriorating public health, economic injustice, political corruption, corporate crime, monopoly control and unending wars.

In the last presidential election cycle in 2016 there was little or no discussion of what has now metasticized into a climate emergency. Nor was there any serious discussion of the industrial, corporate-controlled food, farming and land-use practices that are major drivers of global warming, deteriorating public health, environmental destruction, species extinction and increasingly toxic air and water.

Fortunately, the conversation is evolving. The climate crisis now ranks as a leading concern among registered voters. And it has the attention of most of the two dozen contenders for the Democratic Party nomination for president in 2020. Several of these candidates have offered up detailed proposals to not only slash fossil fuel emissions, but also to repair our broken food and farming system.

The 2016 Presidential election provided a perfect example of contemporary political degeneration. Two highly unpopular politicians, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both backed by wealthy corporations and donors (including the fossil fuel industry and corporate agribusiness), squared off against one another in a billion-dollar mudslinging contest for the White House—with little or no mention of climate change, food and farming or environmental issues like species extinction and land degradation.

Clinton managed to get 65 million votes. Trump got 62 million and the majority of the Electoral College. But the largest segment of the electorate—92 million people—were so disillusioned or disgusted by “politics as usual” that they didn’t bother to vote at all.

Once in office, scandal-plagued President Trump appointed fossil fuel-apologists and climate change-deniers to high offices and announced that the U.S. was pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement by 2020. His choice for Secretary of Agriculture was Sonny Perdue, a pro-factory farm, pro-Monsanto, pro-Big Meat cheerleader from Georgia.

But things are changing, and changing rapidly. Millions of Americans and more than 100 members of Congress, including leading Democratic Party contenders for president in 2020, are calling for a system-wide transformation called the Green New Deal (GND), a 21st century version of the New Deal of the 1930s.

The GND calls for a World War II-scale transition away from fossil fuels and chemical-intensive agriculture, a green renewable energy economy by 2030, a rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure and retrofitting of all buildings. The GND also calls for green jobs for all who are willing to work, $15/hour minimum wage, universal health care, abolishing student debt and free public education for all.

Similar system change is now slowly unfolding south of the border, in Mexico, where the ruling MORENA party, (the National Regeneration Movement) has begun implementing what President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador calls the “Fourth Transformation,” a radical populist program to fix the nation’s economic, political, environmental, agricultural, organized crime and climate crises.

Similar movements for reversing climate change through a GND are now spreading across borders and continents, most recently supercharged by mass street protests organized by the Extinction Rebellion movement and the global student strike for the climate. Calls are growing louder from political activists in Canada, the UK and other European nations to drop neo-liberal business-as-usual policies and put forth a Green New Deal.

A look at the food, farming and climate platforms of the Green New Deal, and the campaign platforms of Sanders, Warren and Booker among others, show us just how far we’ve come in the space of three years.

The Green New Deal Resolution, supported by Democratic presidential candidates Sanders, Warren, Booker, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Kamala Harris (D- Calif.) and others,  introduced on February 7, in the House by Ocasio-Cortez and in the Senate by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), explicitly calls for:

. . . working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector… supporting family farming… investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health… building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food… removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reducing pollution, including by restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as preservation and afforestation… restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency… providing all people of the United States with access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.

Sanders’ “Revitalizing Rural America proposal, issued on May 15, 2019, doesnt mince words. It states:

Agriculture today is not working for the majority of Americans. It is not working economically for farmers, it is not working for rural communities, and it is not working for the environment. But it is working for big agribusiness corporations that are extracting our rural resources for profit… Fundamental change in America’s agricultural and rural policies is no longer just an option; it’s an absolute necessity. Farmers, foresters, and ranchers steward rural landscapes, which benefit all Americans. They provide us with essential resources such as food, fiber, building materials, renewable energy, clean water, and habitat for biodiversity. They also have an enormous potential to address climate change. With the right support and policies, we can have rural communities that are thriving economically and ecologically.

After laying out how we must break the stranglehold of the agribusiness monopolies such as Bayer-Monsanto, and create a level playing field for family farmers through anti-trust action, fair prices for farmers and supply management, Sanders goes on to explicitly point out how sustainable, organic and regenerative farming practices can play a major role in solving our climate Emergency:  

We need to incentivize farming systems that help farmers both mitigate climate change and build resilience to its impacts. [We need to] Pass comprehensive legislation to address climate change that includes a transition to regenerative, independent family farming practices. Help farms of all sizes transition to sustainable agricultural practices that rebuild rural communities, protect the climate, and strengthen the environment. Provide grants, technical assistance, and debt relief to farmers to support their transition to more sustainable farming practices. Support a transition to more sustainable management of livestock systems that are ecologically sound, improve soil health, and sequester carbon in soil. Create financial mechanisms that compensate farmers for improving ecosystems.

Despite all our efforts in terms of public education and mobilization, corrupt government officials, regulatory agencies and international trade bureaucrats have allowed Monsanto-Bayer, Syngenta-ChemChina, Dow-DuPont and a cabal of multinational agribusiness, chemical, seed and GMO corporations, aided and abetted by Madison Avenue, Wall Street and the mass media, to hijack our food and farming system and slowly but surely undermine our health, degrade the soil, pollute the environment and destabilize the climate.

Although the fossil fuel giants, Big Food, the Gene Giants and Corporate America, with the help of the White House and a servile Congress, have managed to derail our efforts so far to stabilize the climate, repair the environment and ban GMOs, toxic chemicals and factory farms, people in the U.S. and around the world are waking up.

For the first time in decades we will have the opportunity in 2020 to elect a president and a Congress that support family farms and organic, regenerative climate-friendly food and farm practices. For the first time ever we can elect a majority, at all levels of government—local, state, and federal—who recognize that we must stop and reverse global warming before our Climate Emergency morphs into climate catastrophe. The situation is dire, but there is still time to turn things around. Help us put pressure on all the politicians running for office in 2019-2020. If you’re a farmer sign here in support of a Green New Deal. If you’re an activist or a green consumer sign here.  

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.