This post is provided on behalf of Project Survival Media – a grassroots, student-run media project designed to highlight the true costs of fossil fuels in the lead up to Copenhagen.
On the eve of the Copenhagen climate talks, communities and individuals around the planet are thinking about survival. In a world of rapidly destabilizing climates, this word means different things to different people. To the citizens of the Maldive Islands survival may mean a keeping global temperatures low enough to prevent the permanent flooding of their homeland, while to the inhabitants of African nations that repeatedly have expressed frustration with the unwillingness of industrialized countries to listen to what our own climate scientists are telling us, the main threat to survival may be catastrophic drought threatening to engulf huge regions.
One key to survival for human beings everywhere, though, is food. A couple of weeks ago for Project Survival Media, I wrote about the struggles of farmers to build communities based on sustainable food in my own home state of Oregon. In the Northwestern United States we’re lucky that most people have relatively easy access to healthy, locally grown food; meanwhile, in West Oakland, Project Survival Media team members have been documenting the difficulties of maintaining a healthy diet in the “food deserts” of the inner city. In the end, our reliance on processed, packaged and fast food produced through industrial agriculture is hurting human health as much as an input-heavy oil-based agricultural system is hurting the Earth and the climate.
As the world seeks to stabilize the global climate and provide for the food needs of a growing population, it would be a mistake to assume the only or best way to feed the starving is through the same model of industrial agriculture that’s helped bring us to the point of environmental disaster. Recent research indicates that sustainable farming practices and a shift in industrialized countries to more sustainable diets hold the potential to feed the world without wrecking the climate. Indeed, a healthy planet and a healthy human population may each hinge on a diet less dependent on meat and oil-intensive agriculture, and more reliant on locally based food production systems.
One of the most environmentally resilient food productions systems I’ve ever observed exists in the forest villages that line the Amazon River outside of Iquitos, Peru. In these small, traditional villages, farmers grow an astonishing variety of crops using methods that have sustained them for hundreds of years, and virtually no fossil fuel inputs. Walking along a path through a village banana plantation, it’s occurred to me that there is no place I’d rather be during a global petroleum shortage or climate catastrophe that wreaks havoc with our import-oriented food supply chain. Agricultural systems grounded in small-scale local food production not only contribute less to global warming, but may prove to be more resilient to a changing climate as well.
A continent away from the villages outside Iquitos, I have watched what seems to be a genuine trend, at least amongst Oregon farmers; the owners of small farming establishments are growing increasingly conscious of the unique role their industry will play in sculpting a world resistant to global warming. For decades, the number of farms in the US has shrunk as family farms died out and industrial establishments gobbled up what was left over. Yet today, small farmers have a new reason to take pride in their work, and society has renewed incentive to value its farmers. Home gardens and local farms can bring relief to the food deserts of our large cities, while breaking the oil industry’s grip on our food production system.
In a time of global danger, nothing says “survival” like the ability to purchase healthy food that’s independent of a fossil fuel-based import system, and contributes to creating sustainable economies. As the world’s most powerful people gather in Copenhagen this month, let’s hope they take note.