The 8 hottest years on record have all occurred in the past 8 years. Extreme weather is the new normal. Record heat waves, droughts and floods are causing record rates of soil depletion and crop failures across the planet. Scientists are now saying that climate change poses an imminent threat to global food security; and that the global food system must be made more resilient by re-localizing food production.
Food re-localization is a burgeoning global movement. In the U.S., urban farms, community gardens, neighborhood food forests, farm-to-school programs, local food banks and grocer co-ops, etc., are all on the rise, but much more is needed.
It’s well established that the food system contributes over a third (37%) of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (more than double the entire transportation sector (17%)). So such re-localization projects present a huge opportunity for the grassroots to help mitigate very substantial amounts of GHGs.
Maybe the best news– the grassroots don’t have to wait on corrupt politicians or greedy corporations to lead the way. We can organize such projects ourselves among the grassroots, in the very communities and neighborhoods where we live.
Our neighborly.farm campaign explores the viability of just such a project. We’ve engaged ~150 residents in a mixed housing neighborhood (single family homes, apartments, townhouses and condos) to build neighborhood scale mitigation and resilience around food. Our three main tracks of engagement include food waste, food miles and diet choice.
We kicked off the engagement with a project to divert neighborhood food waste and green waste from the landfill, where such waste streams typically emit massive amounts of GHGs. In fact, the UNEP estimates that, “if food waste could be represented as its own country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the United States.”
So instead of the landfill, we compost the neighborhood green waste and (plant-based) food waste onsite using an aerated static pile compost system. We apply the composted mulch and finished compost to neighborhood garden beds and a fledgling neighborhood food forest. The applied compost counts as sequestered carbon resulting in a net reduction of the neighborhood’s Food Carbon Footprint (FCFP).
The total Food Carbon Footprint (FCFP) for the neighborhood factors in the sequestered carbon as well as the neighbors’ individual scores based on (1) their diet choices, (2) their estimated food waste (less their composted food waste), and (3) their estimated “food miles” (exempting any locally-grown foods that they’ve grown, bought or bartered).
Over time, as their compost production increases in volume, the neighbors will have cultivated a valuable shared asset. Their local-made compost makes an excellent, high quality, climate-friendly fertilizer which could be used to barter with local farmers in exchange for produce.
Not insignificant– the cost of fertilizer nowadays accounts for up to one third of crop production costs. And most all fertilizers are either animal-based and/or petroleum-based fertilizers. Both are leading culprits of groundwater pollution as well as nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions (N2O is a powerful greenhouse gas and a significant contributor to global warming).
More and more local farmers are using scale permaculture methods including replacing petroleum-based and animal-based fertilizers with local-made, plant-based compost. We’re reaching out to such farmers to explore mutually beneficial opportunities for collaboration.
As new neighbors come aboard and get comfortable being “neighborly” around food talk, farm talk and climate talk, we introduce them to our Solidarity Food Plan. It’s a four-week (28-day) food plan for trying out a climate smart, plant-based diet. Our aim is to “sponsor” small groups of neighbors at a time, so we can better help them support each other as they explore this diet change together.
Of course, this neighborhood model can be scaled for any group setting including your home, classroom, workplace, church, etc. If you’re interested in setting up a similar project in your area and have any questions, please feel free to email us. We’re happy to help; we understand the learning curve! And we understand the urgency…
So how urgent is it?
According to NASA lead researcher Norman Loeb, “The Earth is warming faster than expected. The amount of heat that Earth traps has roughly doubled since 2005, contributing to more rapidly warming oceans, air and land. The magnitude of the increase is unprecedented.”
“[Indeed], the current rates of CO2 and temperature change are almost unprecedented in the entire 4.5 billion year history of our planet, says Will Steffen, former Science Advisor to the Australian government and Climate Councillor with the University of Australia. “The only other time geologists can find an instance when CO2 and temperature changed this fast was 66 million years ago when a meteorite struck Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs.”
“Despite three decades of political efforts..global CO2 emissions have continued to rise and are 60% higher today than they were in 1990,” says Professor Kevin Anderson, chair of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester.
"We conclude that the 1.5°C target certainly will be exceeded, and the world will almost certainly blow through the 2°C ceiling," says renowned NASA scientist, Dr. James Hansen.
Johan Rockström, director of the respected Potsdam Institute, adds: “if we go over 2C degrees, we're almost certainly heading over 3C because we'll have passed [critical] tipping points. [And] today we can say scientifically, without any hesitation, that anything beyond 2°C of global warming is nothing but catastrophic.”
“If we hit 3C, which we're on track to now, we think there's a very high probability that [tipping points] would take us to..4C or maybe even a little bit higher,” says Professor Will Steffen.
What then is to be done?
“Climate breakdown is happening faster than previously predicted [and] to secure a livable future..we must halve emissions by 2030..with immediate and deep reductions across all sectors.”
It’s easily the most urgent, unequivocal, and most broadly endorsed* directive ever from the IPCC. Taken to its logical end– in order to “halve emissions by 2030”, it means that global society, which currently emits about 50 Gt CO2e greenhouse gasses (GHGs) per year, will need to reduce global emissions by 25 Gt GHGs over the next 7 years.
Further, there are prominent scientists who are saying we must “halve emissions” even sooner. For example, Sir David King, who is the former Chief Science Advisor to the UK government and considered among the most respected voices on climate in the UK, says “we only have three years to reverse this slide into tipping points and into a tragedy and an injustice which is beyond description.” 👀 😳
Ok, if we split the difference between IPCC’s dire warning and Sir David King’s more urgent directive, it’s a five year project to cut 25 Gt of GHG emissions… Of course we must find a way; but there are nowhere near enough readily available resources (materials, energy) to produce enough renewables to offset HALF the world’s emissions in the next 3-5 years. Most certainly not while keeping pace with our ongoing rates of global consumption (food, heating/cooling, transportation, stuff, etc).
And even if we could deliver the renewables needed while also maintaining our ongoing consumption, we’d exponentially increase emissions over the next 3-5 years instead of rapidly decreasing our emissions as the experts above have warned we must do.
So there’s no way to reduce enough emissions over the next 3-5 years to “secure a livable future” unless we sufficiently reduce our consumption that drives those emissions. Indeed, ultimately, it’s our over-consumption that‘s driving this crisis. And no one is coming to save us from ourselves. It’s our responsibility to step up and lead– in our own lives, and in the neighborhoods and communities where we live.
So how do we begin?
First off, we need to be straight up about the corporate elephant in the room. As Pulitzer prize winning journalist Chris Hedges explains it: “There’s been a “corporate coup d'etat” of western democracies over the past half century. “The corporations have won,” he says. “Corporate financial elites now control all levers of democratic reform, including the major political parties, the courts, academia, and the mass media.”
If you think that’s just “conspiracy talk”, consider the Princeton University study which proves empirically that since the 1970s, “the average American voter has had a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact on US public policy [...but] when financial elites want to stop a new policy, there’s a near-100% chance they get their way.” The researchers conclude that over the past half-century, the U.S. has been transformed from a representative democracy into a corporate plutocracy.
The point is not made to acknowledge merely that western governments are dominated by corporate gangsters and political shills. Indeed they are. But to our task here: to realize that the ongoing process of annual climate talks, organized by the United Nations in service to western governments, has been duly, perennially corrupted by Corporate Capture.
In fact, according to the original charter of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the international climate talks are intended to: “..promote sustainable growth..to combat climate change..” But that’s a conflict of interest because “sustainable growth” is just a euphemism for growth-based economics (the lifeblood of corporate neoliberalism). And as the climate crisis reminds us, “a growth-based economy cannot be sustained on a finite planet.”
So, the UNFCCC was organized to combat climate change. But it was also organized to protect economic growth from climate activism. It was literally written into the founding charter. And that was 20 years after MIT researchers presented the famous “Limits to Growth” study in 1972 (see figure 1 at top). Now 50 years later, given the proven accuracies of “Limits to Growth”; given what we’ve learned about planetary boundaries and especially climate breakdown, any further mandate for a growth-based economy is simply delusional.
Yet, U.S. and global fossil fuel production and meat and dairy production continue to grow at record rates. Land use change and resource extraction continue to rise exponentially. And the resultant global GHG emissions continue to rise at record rates as well, even as the IPCC has warned that, “...in order to secure a livable future, we must halve emissions by 2030..with immediate and deep reductions across all sectors.”
All that is to say: if we want to achieve the “immediate and deep reductions needed across all sectors”, we cannot depend on our captured politicians and their corporate captors to lead the way. Indeed, we should expect their continued interference.
As Chris Hedges has said, “the ruling elites and the corporations they serve are the principal obstacles to change. And since they won’t give up power democratically, we must take it through other non-violent means. And that means Revolution.”
What’s growing at “neighborly.farm” . . .
Of course, the non-violent revolution that Hedges calls for must prioritize our most urgent, immediate needs. And as we understand it, as outlined in this report, (1) “...climate change poses an urgent threat to global food security”; and (2) we need “immediate and deep [emissions] reductions across all sectors..to secure a livable future.”
For our part, our neighborly.farm campaign integrates both these needs into a replicable model of re-localization with measurable impacts against a clear and quantified global objective.