I need not delve into too many details about what we are confronting today: A broken ecosystem that has made humans mortally allergic to each other. Better time might be spent answering the question, what do we do now?
As Joel Salatin wrote us last week: “I just hope all this leads people to ask some new questions.”
I thought about that statement, and after speaking with a number of people in our community of ecologists, doctors and farmers, I kept hearing the same five societal changes — err, solutions — being discussed. Here’s how they look:
5. Ecosystem repair, not global warming. Ecosystem is a word that is important to understand if we expect the public to know how to relate to nature. Global warming and climate change, meanwhile, are just two ways to say the same problem. But why this “ecosystem” word and not “nature” or something similar? The word “ecosystem” implies a connected set of tactics — a system — and not dominance. Right now, we are using only dominance as our tactic for suppressing disease, which is a top-down, linear, pharmaceutical approach that does not address the root cause. And the word “nature” too often is deified, which only enhances the idea that we are separate from it, and not intricately linked.
4. Adopt a “Future Generations Policy.” Countries like Wales, South Africa, New Zealand and Germany are rethinking how their approach to how they pass legislation. If governing bodies are not specifically addressing the question “How will this affect future generations?” with each bill, the laws are not legal to pass. I won’t go as far as to say this has dramatically changed their environmental policy, but it’s a strong discipline to build into our decision-making, especially at a point where our species is being rejected by our environment on several different levels.
3. Flip the burden of proof on nature. It never made sense to waste the time, energy and money of organic and regenerative farmers with the burdens of labeling their product differently, and establishing their credibility only through certifications. Now, it even sounds more ludicrous. Instead, let’s require the large, toxic-dependent farms to prove their products are healthy for humans, livestock and our ecosystems, and require special certification and labeling for their Roundup or Dicamba products to get to market. Overall, it seems to be in our society’s best interest to ask those who are taking shortcuts to spend their extra resources — time, money and energy — with stickers, labels and surprise inspections.
2. Make food a dominant local industry. For centuries, economists, political scientists and military generals have agreed on only one thing: The only way to truly protect a country is to protect its food supply. And there is no better protection for all of us than continuing the 50-year trend of displacing large, national food marketplaces with sustainable, local markets dependent on family farmers and community relationships. To accelerate this trend, public and private cooperation with our farmers has to occur at a greater level, including contract guarantees for family farmers that work at the same level as our defense contractor guarantees and corn-is-fuel monocrop row farmers subsidies. Family farmers have never told me they want handouts, but they are asking for a well-organized economic program to help them establish local marketplaces. So, dear legislator, how fast can we get that type of program on a ballot?
1. End factory farming. COVID-19 is another in a long line of common and deadly illnesses that are directly derived from our imbalanced relationship with livestock. When we create an unhealthy ecosystem for our animals — battery cages, dirt stockyards, inhumane slaughterhouses, to name a few — swine flu, bird flu, mad cow disease and now COVID-19 are the result. Do we want to live in a world where companies can practice business in a way that creates fatal, world-changing pandemics, and not face strict regulation? This seems eminently fixable, but it has to start with eliminating our dependence on fast food.
So there it is. What do we do now? Let’s build our world around these five rules and fundamentally redefine our relationship with our environment, secure more of our food supply and help prevent future pandemics. After all we are going through right now, these five changes should hardly feel like sacrifice.
Ryan Slabaugh is the publisher of Acres U.S.A., the Voice of Eco-Agriculture, based in Greeley, Colorado.