Who Should We Blame For Climate Change?

The carbon in the atmosphere is building up. Two thirds of the earth is turning to desert. Why? Primarily because of the way we produce our food. Domesticated animals are grazed in an unnatural way, causing the organisms living in the soil to die, which releases their carbon into the atmosphere. And the conventional way we grow crops also kills the soil, releasing the carbon in the soil into the atmosphere.

Fossil fuels also add carbon to the air, but a greater cause is farming and grazing, and even if we stopped all fossil fuels, it wouldn't solve our problem (read more about that here). But if we farmed and grazed correctly, we would solve our problem, even if fossil fuels were still being burned (we address the fossil fuel issue here). But the point here is that climate change is caused primarily by agriculture.

Not all agriculture is a problem, however. Organic farms take carbon out of the air and sequester it in the soil. And holistic grazing management does the same. So why aren't all farmers and ranchers using these methods? Farmers and ranchers, like everybody else, like to stick with what is familiar. They're not sure they could pay their bills or make a living if they tried something they've never done before. The ultimate cause is expediency. Farmers that use chemical fertilizers and pesticides and GMOs are doing the easiest and most profitable thing rather than what will be good for the health of the planet the people eating the food.

This is not some modern affliction. In the book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, the author takes you on a tour through history, showing that every civilization since the beginning of civilizations has done the same thing. Many of those civilizations even knew they were doing it, but couldn't stop it. And so they vanished, leaving us to ponder their ruins and wonder what happened.

Now we know what happened. Archeologists have been digging through the layers of earth for decades all over the world, reading the record of the rise and fall of empires. They've discovered that every civilization started with agriculture, which allowed a steady and abundant food supply, so their population grew. With a growing population, they needed to put more and more land under cultivation to produce more food.

But there was a slow-moving problem — so slow, nobody could see it happening. Every time a field was plowed, it was vulnerable to erosion. When the dirt was dry, a stiff wind would blow some of the topsoil away. When it rained, some of the topsoil washed away. If the farmer didn't know how to keep the topsoil building up, then every year, their fields eroded a little, and over many centuries, the topsoil got thinner and thinner and eventually the yield per acre started to drop. But the population had been growing all along, so food shortages occurred, which precipitated the collapse of the civilization. This happened to the Mayans, the Romans, the Greeks, and to many other great and powerful civilizations.

These days, in conversations about ecology, we see a lot of focus on GMOs and Monsanto. But this is only the most recent incarnation of the same old story. Back in Roman times, they knew a lot about agriculture and topsoil — their knowledge was surprisingly sophisticated — but they couldn't stop what was happening because the need for food was urgent. The politicians needed to make sure their citizens were fed. And each farmer needed to make a living.

So those civilizations individually and collectively chose expediency over what would be good for the health of the planet and the survival of their fellow human beings.

Many people hate Monsanto. I don't much like Monsanto or GMOs myself. One night some time ago, as I was drifting off to sleep thinking about this problem, I sat up in bed with a surprising thought: I was doing the same thing as Monsanto! I didn't always buy organically grown food, which means I was choosing expediency and my own financial well-being over what was good for our long term survival. A lot of people do this.

Organically grown food is often more expensive. Today, for example, my wife was going to make some cookies. She and I were in the grocery store to get some sugar, and we discovered to our delight that our grocery store carries organically grown sugar. But it was six times the price of conventionally grown sugar.

Most organic prices are not that extreme, but the principle is the same. If organic food and grass fed meat is more expensive, and if we don't buy it because it's expensive, we are doing exactly what Monsanto is doing, and what civilizations in the past have done: We are choosing expediency over the planet.

If I buy regular sugar instead of organic, I am choosing my own selfish immediate needs over the welfare of the living ecosystem of the world. Who is really to blame here?

This insight reminds me of what Gandhi once said when the people around him were blaming and hating the British for the trouble India was experiencing. The British should be vilified, or at least punished. But Gandhi had a very forgiving approach. It's not just forgiving — it may also be more practical. As he put it: "The only devils in this world are those running around in our own hearts, and that is where all our battles should be fought." I don't know if that is an absolute principle that applies to everything, but it certainly applies here. It is the most natural thing to blame others, blame the government, blame big corporations...but you and I eat almost every day, and every time we do, we have a choice: We can be part of the problem or part of the solution. We can put our money where our mouth is. We can financially support those farmers and ranchers doing what's good for the planet, or we can have more money in our pockets.

Gandhi also said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." And we can do exactly that by always buying organically grown food and grass fed meat, even if it costs us more. The change we want to see in the world can start right here and now.

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