EcoNews
Newsletter #224 - May 2012
Promoting the Vision of a Sustainable Vancouver Island
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Guy Dauncey, Editor
395 Conway Road, Victoria, BC
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Tel (250) 881-1304
www.earthfuture.com

Executive director
The Solutions Project

Editorial

THE NEW FARMING REVOLUTION

May 1st, 2012

Farmers hold hands – you have everything to gain from an amazing future even if it’s also a turbulent one, due to the floods, droughts and storms that global warming will bring.

We are familiar with the long litany of problems that are being caused by conventional farming, which at its worst strips the life off the land and replaces it with a chemical cream that leaves little for nature, little for the body, and nothing for the heart.

In the long history of farming today’s practices will hopefully be seen as a wrong turning which ended with the fifth agricultural revolution.

The first revolution was the invention of farming by our neolithic ancestors, with their hand selected seeds and digging sticks, causing soil erosion that triggered the collapse of many a civilization from Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome to the Mayans.

The second farming revolution developed independently in China and in Europe, where medieval monasteries built flourishing farms using waterwheels, crop rotation, and mold-board ploughs to turn the heavier soils.

The industrial age brought the third revolution, with its steam tractors, seed drills, hybrid seeds and other improvements.

The fourth revolution followed with oil, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and factory farming, bringing obesity and water pollution, global warming and the loss of biodiversity. The use of artificial fertilizers has certainly boosted yields, but at the price of healthy soil – and without healthy soil there can be no healthy food.

So what is the fifth agricultural revolution, that might restore the land, return the beauty and biodiversity, and feed the world’s growing population with the nutrient-rich food we need to be healthy?

Whatever it is, it will involve enormous change not only on the land, but also in the corporate network that controls conventional farming, and in the hearts and stomachs of the world’s people, who need real food instead of the nutrient-deprived stuff that pretends to be food and is doing us such harm.

The new farming will be organic, abandoning chemical fertilizers and pesticides for traditional practices that restore the soil, using worms, compost, crop rotation and cover crops. As the soil is restored, the minerals and phytonutrients we need to enjoy a healthy life will be restored to our food.

A worldwide shift to organic farming will bring an overall increase in both yields and profits, a fact that farmers may ponder as they contemplate their debts, and wonder why they have higher rates of leukemia and certain other cancers than others do.

It will also be agro-ecological, with agroforests, trees, hedgerows, and zero-till farming to bring biodiversity back to the landscape and the soil. Worldwide, this kind of farming produces an average 79% increase in yields, according to a study of 286 projects in 57 developing countries.

The new farming revolution will be polycultural, growing different crops in close proximity to maximize their symbiotic benefits. It will also apply much more labour to the land, instead of the heavy, oil-intensive tractors and machinery.

The oil will soon be gone. This is the uncomfortable truth all farmers must face. Electric tractors are possible, but they have an even heavier impact on the soil, due to the weight of the battery.

A return to horses may be realistic, given the many benefits they bring, from their minimal footprint on the soil to their worm-loved manure. That may seem strange when you compare the 15,000 horsepower of the upper image with the 2 horsepower of the lower, but those machines all require oil, and the crops they harvest contain fewer and fewer nutrients.

With more labour will come higher yields as more care is applied to the myriad details of food production, and with the return of the farm workers will come the restoration of rural culture with new farm villages, refilled local schools, and a new celebration of all things agricultural and green.

How can we speed this new farming revolution? From below, we need to demand ever more local organic food, encourage our farmers to produce it, and give thanks to those who do.

From above, if governments were to analyze the true cost of conventional farming they might be appalled, including the healthcare costs of immune system deficiencies related to the lack of nutrients in our food.

In response, they could tax chemical farm inputs, using the income to help farmers make the transition to organic, agro-ecological farming.

To move with the times, organic status might be upgraded to a five-start system, with one star for no chemical inputs, a second star for compassionate animal husbandry, a third for active soil restoration, a fourth for agro-ecological practices, and a fifth for fair trade and fair wages.

The current system is failing us; we need the new farming revolution, now.

Guy Dauncey,

with help from Carolyn Herriot

 


- Guy Dauncey

THE ECO-PERSONALS

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Eco-Stories

CYCLING IN COPENHAGEN

With Bike to Work Week starting on May 28th and 224 teams registered in Victoria, it’s worth asking how Copenhagen has built such a strong cycling culture. 80% of the city’s residents ride a bike once a week, and 32% of all trips are by bike (37% of commuter trips).

Their goal is that by 2015 50% will bike to work or study. 25% of families use a cargo-bike to ferry their kids around, and they retain an 80% ridership level in winter thanks in part to their bike-lane snow-plows.

Back in the 1970s, Copenhagen had a low level of cycling. But after the 1979 oil crisis the residents organized a huge protest outside City Hall, which started investing in cycling infrastructure.

At a recent talk in Victoria, Andreas Rohl, Copenhagen’s bike program leader, emphasized that cycling is always a means to an end, not a goal in itself.

Only 1% of Copenhageners cycle for environmental reasons. 57% do so because it’s easy and fast, 22% because it’s good exercise.

The city bike-planners’ goal is to make it easy to go all the way from A to B, even when it is difficult. Every bike lane should be safe, easy and convenient, and should never be created outside a row of parked cars.

They have built several bike-bridges across difficult areas, and synchronized the lights on several roads creating a green wave that enables cyclists to sail through the lights, saving 20% on trip time. They are now looking at the need for 3-lane conversational cycling lanes, allowing two cyclists to talk to each other, while a third can overtake.

Every taxi in Copenhagen must carry a bike-rack, and cyclists are allowed to ride the wrong way down one-way streets. They also use on-line Citizen Improvement Maps to enable cyclists to tell the city where improvements are needed.

Constant marketing and appreciation are very important to the city’s bike culture. Per kilometre, it costs $1.5 million to create a bike track, compared to up to $17 million for a wide motorway and $176 million for the metro.

Because of its health benefits, for every kilometre that someone cycles, society benefits by 25 cents. For every kilometre someone drives a car, society loses by 12 cents.

In cost-benefit terms the benefits of cycling are seven times
greater than the accident costs.

Cyclists live five years longer than non-cyclists, Andreas said, and they also die quicker, representing a considerable savings to Denmark’s health budget. The risk of premature death from any cause falls by more than 50% for fast cyclists doing 30 to 60 minutes cycling a day. Average speed cyclists reduce their risk by one-third. And since it’s so safe, no-one wears a helmet.

See www.kk.dk.cityofcyclists

Here in Victoria, the Great Victoria Cycling Coalition is the place to be for cyclists who want Victoria to be more like Copenhagen. Are you a member yet? As well as organizing regular events, they also advocate for change. See www.gvcc.bc.ca. For Victoria’s Bike to Work Week, see www.biketowork.ca/victoria

 

 



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BEES AND PESTICIDES

May 29th is the Day of the Honey Bee, endorsed by the BC government and communities across Canada. A 2011 United Nations report estimated that bees and other pollinators are worth $203 billion a year to the human economy.

So what’s happening to save the bees from Colony Collapse Disorder? Two studies published in Science in March appear to demonstrate that the guilty culprit is a sub-lethal dose of neonicotinoid pesticides. In one study, two sets of hives were set up side by side, one treated with pesticide, the other not. After 12 weeks all the bees were alive, but after 23 weeks, 15 of the 16 treated hives had died – but none of the control hives. The dead hives were virtually empty, typical of colony collapse disorder.

In the second study researchers tagged free-ranging honeybees with tiny microchips, allowing them to track the bees as they came and went. They gave some a low dose of a neonicotinoid pesticide and compared them to a control group that was not exposed.

The result? The treated bees were two to three times more likely to die while away from their hives, seemingly because the pesticide interfered with their navigation.



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THE DIRTY LIFE

The book The Dirty Life – A Story of Farming the Land and Falling the Love by Kristin Kimball is dangerously delicious. It’s delicious because it tells the honest and beautifully written story of how a high-heeled New York journalist (Kristin) fell in love both with an organic farmer (Mark), and the 500 acres they were invited to farm in upstate New York, using draft horses instead of tractors, feeding 200 people year-round through their “all you can eat” membership program, not just with veggies but also with dairy and meat from their home-slaughtered animals.

Kristin is such a good writer, she makes you want to throw caution aside and head for the land to join the new farming revolution. And that’s why her book is also so wonderfully dangerous, because the work she describes is so hard, from the runaway horses to the invading weeds and always more to do, from dawn to long after dusk. Kristin makes you fall in love with the land, with the honest work of farming, and with a harmony she never knew existed, far from the busy city life.

See www.kristinkimball.com

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A CONSERVATIVE NATURE

What drives conservative thinking? It’s not just politics. A recent article in New Scientist magazine showed that compared to liberals, conservatives have a more pronounced startle reflex after hearing a sudden loud noise, and a stronger skin response when shown a threatening image.

Conservatives tend to favour tidiness and conventionality, while liberals are more tolerant of clutter. One experiment found that conservatives had a larger right amygdala, the region of the brain that processes responses to fear and threat, whereas liberals had more grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, an error-detecting region that is thought to be involved with changing behavior.

Given the biological differences, it should be no surprise that liberals rate higher openness to experience and are comfortable with policy innovation, while conservatives tend to be less open and to rate higher on conscientiousness, order and structure.

Studies show that identical twins who share all their DNA are politically more similar than fraternal twins who only share half, suggesting that 40% or more of our political differences may be rooted in our genes. See New Scientist, April 10, 2012. www.bit.ly/I9xDca

Given the data, what can it tell us about how we conduct our campaigns? If the world feels a more threatening place to conservatives, they are more likely to support policies that promise to make it more orderly by being tough on crime, or that support traditional oil and gas rather than vague promises of solar and wind energy. Anything that makes conservatives feel threatened or uncertain about the future may stiffen their resolve to oppose change.

Another study published in Psychological Science found that children who score low on intelligence tend to gravitate towards conservative political views in adulthood, presumably because the emphasis on structure and order makes them easier to understand.

A further study linked ‘low-effort’ thinking to political conservatism. When bar-patrons were tested for their political views, people with a high blood level of alcohol tended towards more conservatism than those with a low blood-level. When a similar interview was done in the lab, people who were asked to evaluate political ideas quickly or while they were distracted also tended to favour more conservative views. (Huffington Post, Feb 2nd 2012)

This appears to tell us two important things when it comes to campaigning.

The first is the need to present our policy proposals and solutions in a calm and orderly manner, so that they appear safe and reassuring. For the pipeline debate, for instance, we should place a lot more emphasis on how the world can flourish without oil, after an orderly phase-out, instead of leaving people afraid that we want to take away the oil they depend on for their personal security, with nothing to replace it.

This is also why polite and non-violent civil disobedience is so important, since anything threatening is likely to make someone adopt a fear-based conservative response, and cease listening.

The second is to remind conservatives whenever their policies will result in more untidiness and disorder, not less. A tough on drugs regime, for instance, will bring more lawlessness and disorder, so the best way to a clean and tidy future is to legalize drugs and sell them from well-lit government controlled stores, rather than the crime-infested havens of gun-toting gangsters.



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THE ENBRIDGE PIPELINE

EROI stands for ‘Energy Returned on Energy Invested’, and it's a measure of how much energy is needed to extract (for instance) a barrel of oil.

In the early days, when oil was close to the surface and easy to extract, one barrel of oil could extract a hundred, giving it an EROI of 100:1. Today in the Middle East the EROI has fallen to 10:1, and in the US, which passed peak oil production in the 1970s, it has fallen to 3:1.

So what is the EROI for the tar sands oil when it’s piped across BC and shipped to China?

Christopher Peter and Norman Jacob, mechanical engineers from Prince George, have provided the evidence to the Enbridge Pipeline Joint Review Panel, and their answer is 2.41:1. For every 2.41 barrels of oil piped and shipped to China, we have to burn a barrel. That’s how crazy our addiction to oil is becoming. For their evidence see www.bit.ly/EnbridgeEROI.

ACTION OF THE MONTH

ACTION OF THE MONTH: SAVE THE HONEY BEES

Action: Write or phone the federal and provincial Ministers of Agriculture, and ask for an urgent review of the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides – that’s neo-nicoti-noid - that have been shown to be the cause of Colony Collapse Syndrome. Without the bees, all agriculture is at risk. Federal: Hon Gerry Ritz, 604-995-7080 gerry.ritz@parl.gc.ca BC: Hon Don Macrae, 250-387-1023 agr.minister@gov.bc.ca


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Guy Dauncey, Editor
395 Conway Road, Victoria, BC
CANADA V9E 2B9
Tel (250) 881-1304
guydauncey@earthfuture.com

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