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How Regenerative Agriculture Could Be Key to the Green New Deal

Both the Green New Deal and the New Food Deal can reorient the basics— and put Americans, our democracy, and the earth on the path to health

With the 2018 mid-term election and the prospect of 2020, people are finally beginning electing more climate realists over fossil fuel apologists. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and her band of newly elected progressive congresswomen, and Bernie Sanders, the most popular politician and likely presidential candidate, have proposed a Green New Deal. This plan would put the government’s economic resources behind a definitive move to renewable energy and an end to fossil fuel dominance. With the recent IPCC report predicting that the earth will reach critical thresholds as early as 2030, there’s not a moment to waste.

I began covering the grass roots movement against fracking in 2009— five years before the Paris Climate Agreement cited methane release from drilling activities as a major contributor to climate change. Just one year after the Agreement, in 2016, climate was a forgotten step-child, near absent from the debates, primaries, and election. And yet two years later, Americans are now forced to face up to the reality that we may only have twelve more years to mitigate.

What was once predicted as a century away, and next slated to occur 50 years from now  will now occur within the lifetimes of many Baby Boomers, while cutting short the lives of most succeeding generations. The time is past for accepting excuses, denials and delays. Putting the Green New Deal into play is a top priority for human survival.

But fuel extraction activities are not the only major source of methane’s harm to the atmosphere and climate. And while it’s essential to cease destablizing the atmosphere and living systems, the next step is repairing the damage and restoring earth to eco-functionality.

Fortunately, new land management practices, refined over the last thirty years, under the rubric, “regenerative agriculture,” are showing tremendous promise in restoring the earth’s disrupted ecologies and climate by:

  1. Reducing (or even eliminating) the second largest contributor to methane release into the atmosphere—industrial food agriculture. This is a major way to slow and prevent climate change
  2. Pulling released carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil and holding it there. This is a major way to reverse climate change
  3. Restoring damaged land so that going forward, it will no longer release carbon, evaporate water, flood, burn, or contaminate plants grown on it. This is a major way to prevent both climate change and other future disruptions.

Regen Ag has another benefit. Since 70 percent of Americans support universal health care, adding a New Food Deal wing to the Green New Deal would make healthy foods more affordable— and directly promote health and reduce health care costs. For the last three decades, the best health care advice has never deviated: Eat more nutrient rich, less pesticide contaminated food. It’s great to exhort people to eat better, but why not make that economically feasible—a food and health justice issue. Middle and lower income people who can’t afford healthy vegetables, uncontaminated dairy, and non-CAFO meat are stuck eating unhealthy foods produced from government subsidized commodity food crops, like corn and soy.

Economically and environmentally unsustainable, the for-profit conventional food and ag industries are not a good bet for future food security. If over the last forty years, this model was so very successful at “feeding the world,” as the PR claims state, why should tax payer dollars still be required to subsidize this form of agriculture?

As part of a New Food Deal, we could erase these inequities by shifting land use, investment, and subsidy patterns away from corporate giants and towards regenerative agriculture’s local networks of farmers and food growers. Building food security across the country region-by-region will better address future climate disruption than expecting unresponsive monopolies with cheap food and expensive advertising to do it. Rural economic development has the added benefit of putting a safety net under rural populations maligned and rendered invisible by neoliberal policies and politicians.

Over the last few decades, organic food farmers and land managers have pioneered an agricultural and business plan for growing healthier, more nutrient-dense foods while restoring damaged lands to a natural carbon-storing ecology. Putting a price on carbon may provide a temporary economic incentive to reduce fuel use, but it’s far from a comprehensive long-term solution. It turns out that the earth itself is the best and most climate-saving carbon bank. Holding carbon is what soil naturally does— and the interest the greater public can draw from this bank is: healthy food for all. According to Regeneration International, “Just transitioning 10 percent of agricultural production to best practice regenerative systems will sequester enough CO2 to reverse climate change and restore the global climate.”

Regen Ag is currently being adopted on a local level, farmer to farmer, all over the world, but there are economic and educational barriers to the transition from soil-depleting, methane releasing, and pesticide-ridden agriculture.

Let’s complement the Green New Deal with a New Food Deal that builds out a new regenerative food economy, putting people to work recovering land, growing food, building food sourcing supply chains, operating local Mom and Pop grocery stories, and setting up early adopters to learn and teach growing, management, nutrition, food prep, recycling, and more in regions all over the country— and the world.

For too long the energy and agricultural industries have successfully evaded regulation while dumping their externalities on the public commons. We must reverse that. Both the Green New Deal and the New Food Deal can reorient the basics— and put Americans, our democracy and the earth on the path to health.

Posted with permission from Common Dreams.

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