Tom Harbold at a draft-horse driving workshop Carroll County Farm Museum, in Westminster, Maryland
Listen. Hear that? Nope, me neither. It’s the deafening silence, from both sides of the political aisle, on issues of agriculture and the environment. Yes, I know that “it’s the economy, stupid.” As someone who is badly under-employed, and searching – so far unsuccessfully – for a position which will enable me to make a living by doing some good in the world, I am all too personally aware of the miserable state of our economy, as the year 2012 limps to a close, and of the need to find a way to recover.
That said, ignoring the environment in favor of the economy is a prescription for disaster, long-term. Please excuse me for a brief diversion into linguistics: “economy” is based on the Greek words “oikos,” meaning “household,” plus “nomos,” meaning “rule” or “management.” “Ecology” combines “household” with “logos,” meaning (in this context), “knowledge.” It makes not just linguistic but also practical sense to place knowledge of one’s household before management of it. Yet politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to try to manage the economy while remaining woefully, and willfully, ignorant of the ecology.
Furthermore, we live in a closed, finite system. Except for solar energy – sunlight, without which, so far as we know, no life could exist (except, perhaps, for some weird types near thermal vents in the deep ocean) – and occasional meteors, the only resources we possess are the ones contained on and within this planet. We have no other options. The bottom line is that the Earth is the bottom line. Yet the Obama administration is strangely silent on issues of the environment – or perhaps not so strangely, considering the number of individuals with ties to Monsanto that riddle it – while candidate Mitt Romney has openly mocked environmental concerns.
Referencing Obama’s assertion in his 2008 nomination acceptance speech that “We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment … when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal” – words which, in retrospect, look more than a trifle optimistic – Romney declared that “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans,” pausing for the obligatory moment of laughter, “and to heal the planet. My promise … is to help you and your family.” While he may simply have meant that his ambitions were less grandiose, his comment left the clear implication that these are alternatives, between which we must choose.
The reality is that we are at a point in the history of humankind on Planet Earth where any attempt to help people and families must take into account the health and well-being of the local and planetary environment, or be doomed to failure. While economic stability is an important component of the sustainability equation (see this or other discussions of the “triple bottom line” – people, planet, and profits: http://www.ibrc.indiana.edu/ibr/2011/spring/article2.html), we are past the point where economics can safely be considered as something apart from, and mutually irrelevant to, ecology.
In a recent essay for the Scripps Howard News Service, columnist Bonnie Erbe has written about the economic consequences of several current and pending environmental issues, especially global climate change. These include a European study which indicates that climate change is already contributing to 400,000 deaths each year, worldwide, and costing the world’s economy more than $1.2 trillion, and the fact that in 2010, the International Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that more that 42 million people were forced to flee their homes due to disasters triggered by sudden-onset natural hazards.
Furthermore, a University of British Columbia study found that ocean fish could soon lose as much as 25% of their body weight, because they cannot maintain their weight in warming waters. The potential consequences to our food supply need no elaboration from me. MOFFA members are already well aware of the challenges to farming posed by climate change, including new and different insect pests – notably the marmorated stinkbug – as well as weather extremes ranging from droughts to flooding.
Regardless of whether one believes these events, and the climate change that causes them, are primarily anthropogenic (human-generated), primarily natural and cyclical, or something somewhere in between, they exist, and we have to deal with their consequences. Organic growers also have the deal with the consequences of the widespread use of GMOs, and the tremendous financial weight that can be brought to bear on the political process by their manufacturers, most notably Monsanto.
This election year we are electing not only a President, but one-third of our Senators and all of our Congressional Representatives. An article in Yes! Magazine (http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/a-farm-bill-only-monsanto-could-love) notes that
“the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill contains three industry-friendly provisions, numbered 10011, 10013, and 10014. Collectively, they have come to be known as the “Monsanto Rider,” and the name is entirely appropriate. If passed, this bill would make it more difficult to stem the tide of GMO foods hitting store shelves.
These three provisions in the 2012 Farm Bill would grant regulatory powers solely to the United States Department of Agriculture, preventing other federal agencies from reviewing GMO applications and preventing the USDA from accepting outside money for further study. The bill would also shorten the deadline for approval [from three years] to one year, with an optional 180-day extension. And here’s the kicker: the approval time bomb. If the USDA misses the truncated review deadline, the GMO in question is granted automatic approval.”
Yes, you read correctly. If the USDA does not have time to test and approve a proposed GMO in half the time it has now, that genetically-modified product is automatically approved as safe without any testing at all. Our Representatives need to hear from us – all of us – that this is not acceptable, and that a “yes” vote on a Bill containing these measures will carry consequences.
There is much to think about, as we move toward the 2012 elections. While the hands of the current administration are far from clean, when it comes to agriculture and the environment, its history and possible future actions must be weighed against the likely even greater deference shown to corporate interests should Obama’s opponent be elected to the Presidency. There are pluses and minuses to every choice, political and otherwise, of course; it is unlikely that anyone will agree with any candidate on every issue. But at least the elections do give us a chance to make our voices heard, and so far, at least, big-money interests have not managed to totally silence the voices of “we the people.”
Let’s get out there and exercise our franchise!
Tom Harbold writes from Hampstead, MD. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.