One of the biggest modern myths about agriculture is that organic farming is inherently sustainable. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. After all, soil erosion from chemical-free tilled fields undermined the Roman Empire and other ancient societies around the world. Other agricultural myths hinder recognizing the potential to restore degraded soils to feed the world using fewer agrochemicals.
When I embarked on a six-month trip to visit farms around the world to research my forthcoming book, “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” the innovative farmers I met showed me that regenerative farming practices can restore the world’s agricultural soils. In both the developed and developing worlds, these farmers rapidly rebuilt the fertility of their degraded soil, which then allowed them to maintain high yields using far less fertilizer and fewer pesticides.
Their experiences, and the results that I saw on their farms in North and South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ghana and Costa Rica, offer compelling evidence that the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil. This journey also led me to question three pillars of conventional wisdom about today’s industrialized agrochemical agriculture: that it feeds the world, is a more efficient way to produce food and will be necessary to feed the future.
Myth 1: Large-scale agriculture feeds the world today
According to a recent U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, family farms produce over three-quarters of the world’s food. The FAO also estimates that almost three-quarters of all farms worldwide are smaller than one hectare – about 2.5 acres, or the size of a typical city block.
Only about 1 percent of Americans are farmers today. Yet most of the world’s farmers work the land to feed themselves and their families. So while conventional industrialized agriculture feeds the developed world, most of the world’s farmers work small family farms. A 2016 Environmental Working Group report found that almost 90 percent of U.S. agricultural exports went to developed countries with few hungry people.
Of course the world needs commercial agriculture, unless we all want to live on and work our own farms. But are large industrial farms really the best, let alone the only, way forward? This question leads us to a second myth.
Myth 2: Large farms are more efficient
Many high-volume industrial processes exhibit efficiencies at large scale that decrease inputs per unit of production. The more widgets you make, the more efficiently you can make each one. But agriculture is different. A 1989 National Research Council study concluded that “well-managed alternative farming systems nearly always use less synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics per unit of production than conventional farms.”
And while mechanization can provide cost and labor efficiencies on large farms, bigger farms do not necessarily produce more food. According to a 1992 agricultural census report, small, diversified farms produce more than twice as much food per acre than large farms do.
Even the World Bank endorses small farms as the way to increase agricultural output in developing nations where food security remains a pressing issue. While large farms excel at producing a lot of a particular crop – like corn or wheat – small diversified farms produce more food and more kinds of food per hectare overall.
Myth 3: Conventional farming is necessary to feed the world
We’ve all heard proponents of conventional agriculture claim that organic farming is a recipe for global starvation because it produces lower yields. The most extensive yield comparison to date, a 2015 meta-analysis of 115 studies, found that organic production averaged almost 20 percent less than conventionally grown crops, a finding similar to those of prior studies.
But the study went a step further, comparing crop yields on conventional farms to those on organic farms where cover crops were planted and crops were rotated to build soil health. These techniques shrank the yield gap to below 10 percent.
Consider too that about a quarter of all food produced worldwide is never eaten. Each year the United States alone throws out 133 billion pounds of food, more than enough to feed the nearly 50 million Americans who regularly face hunger. So even taken at face value, the oft-cited yield gap between conventional and organic farming is smaller than the amount of food we routinely throw away.
Building healthy soil
Conventional farming practices that degrade soil health undermine humanity’s ability to continue feeding everyone over the long run. Regenerative practices like those used on the farms and ranches I visited show that we can readily improve soil fertility on both large farms in the U.S. and on small subsistence farms in the tropics.
I no longer see debates about the future of agriculture as simply conventional versus organic. In my view, we’ve oversimplified the complexity of the land and underutilized the ingenuity of farmers. I now see adopting farming practices that build soil health as the key to a stable and resilient agriculture. And the farmers I visited had cracked this code, adapting no-till methods, cover cropping and complex rotations to their particular soil, environmental and socioeconomic conditions.
Whether they were organic or still used some fertilizers and pesticides, the farms I visited that adopted this transformational suite of practices all reported harvests that consistently matched or exceeded those from neighboring conventional farms after a short transition period. Another message was as simple as it was clear: Farmers who restored their soil used fewer inputs to produce higher yields, which translated into higher profits.
No matter how one looks at it, we can be certain that agriculture will soon face another revolution. For agriculture today runs on abundant, cheap oil for fuel and to make fertilizer – and our supply of cheap oil will not last forever. There are already enough people on the planet that we have less than a year’s supply of foodfor the global population on hand at any one time. This simple fact has critical implications for society.
So how do we speed the adoption of a more resilient agriculture? Creating demonstration farms would help, as would carrying out system-scale research to evaluate what works best to adapt specific practices to general principles in different settings.
We also need to reframe our agricultural policies and subsidies. It makes no sense to continue incentivizing conventional practices that degrade soil fertility. We must begin supporting and rewarding farmers who adopt regenerative practices.
Once we see through myths of modern agriculture, practices that build soil health become the lens through which to assess strategies for feeding us all over the long haul. Why am I so confident that regenerative farming practices can prove both productive and economical? The farmers I met showed me they already are. §
David R. Montgomery is Professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington. This article is published by permission of The Conversation, where it first appeared.
But what would leading writers of the past have made of him?
We can only speculate (well, until someone invents a Rowling-like potion capable of bringing long dead writers back to life). But if I could ask one dead writer what he thinks of Trump, it would be Mark Twain, my favorite American author and someone whose travel articles I’ve written about in the past. While Twain is best-known for his novels, he was also an opinionated, prolific commentator on the personalities and political issues of his day.
I suspect Twain would have found Trump the showman—the pre-2016 version—a fascinating figure. He would have been appalled, however, by much about Trump the president.
Twain felt that no one was too grand to be satirized.
“Irreverence,” he wrote, “is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense.”
In America’s press, he admired its tendency to be “irreverent toward pretty much everything.” Even if this led to the newspapers laughing “one good king to death,” it was a small price to pay if they also “laugh a thousand cruel and infamous shams and superstitions into the grave.”
But pondering what, beyond this, Twain would make of Trump is an apt, tricky and timely exercise.
It’s apt because one of Twain’s novels, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” features a man who travels through time.
It’s tricky because Twain’s views on many issues, including race, changed during his lifetime. Hence there are different Twains—as well as different Trumps—to consider.
Finally, imagining how Twain would view Trump is timely because when some have tried to look to history for an equivalent political moment, they’ll sometimes point to two decades—the 1880s and the 1900s—that happened to also be important in Twain’s life and career.
One of these Trumps is not like the other
The Twain of the 1880s would have probably found the Trump of a decade ago—a brash, self-promoting businessman known for his candid comments and penchant for media attention—fascinating. He may have even befriended him.
But the staunchly anti-imperialist Twain of two decades later would have been as disdainful of Trump now as he was of the man he once called “far and away the worst president we have ever had”—the muscular nationalist Teddy Roosevelt.
My basis for the first claim comes from Twain’s friendship with a flashy, boastful Trump-like showman: Buffalo Bill Cody. Among the most successful entertainment impresarios of his day, Cody founded and starred in a traveling Wild West Show, which drew large crowds in America and Europe and was famous for its reenactments of legendary battles.
In 1884, Twain sent a letter to Cody praising his Wild West Show as a realistic, “distinctly American” form of entertainment. In Cody’s spectacle—as in “The Apprentice”—the emcee was a famous man who played up a version of himself, capitalizing on the audience’s awareness that he had done things in real life that he did in the show: firing guns, in one case; firing people, in the other.
Twain mocked the hypocrisy of the Exclusion Act: Just as the U.S. government was preventing Chinese from coming here, American traders and missionaries in China were denouncing the Chinese government for hindering their pursuit of profits and converts in the Middle Kingdom.
Some critics of Trump’s executive order on immigration say it “eerily recalls” the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. In both cases, we see fear, stereotypes and prejudice fomenting an environment in which some groups are deemed less worthy of rights and protections—indeed, less human—than others.
In one of his early works, 1872’s “Roughing It,” Twain was already castigating those who bullied and abused Chinese immigrants as the “scum of the population.” His disdain for xenophobia and prejudice only grew later in life.
He would be a fierce critic of Trump’s nativist rhetoric even if—perhaps especially if—he had previously praised Trump the entertainer.
A 1904 New York World cartoon criticizes Teddy Roosevelt’s militaristic and imperialistic impulses. Wikimedia Commons
Around this time, Twain was not just a celebrated author but a leading figure on the lecture circuit. As both a speaker and an essayist, he was known for his satirical jabs. A key target of his became American expansionists, whom he skewered in, among other works, the 1901 essay “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” which lambasts Americans for committing violence across the Pacific under the guise of “civilizing” backward peoples.
In 1900, there were two U.S. military campaigns underway in China and the Philippines. In China, U.S. soldiers joined forces with a host of other countries to fight the anti-Christian Boxer militants and the Qing dynasty. In the Philippines, American troops brutally suppressed Filipinos who sought independence.
Where Roosevelt saw the Boxers as just the latest wave of savages to be suppressed, Twain viewed them as patriots defending their threatened homeland, spelling out his position in essays, personal letters and public lectures.
Sticking to his guns
The anti-imperialist Twain would likely have criticized other recent presidents. He wouldn’t have approved of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, nor of the way Barack Obama employed drones.
Nonetheless, the writer would find Trump’s disparaging of Muslims and various other groups on the campaign trail—in addition to the immigration ban—particularly distasteful.
He wasn’t afraid to change his mind, and to admit that he had been wrong (as Trump is loath to do). He briefly supported the Spanish-American War, for example, but then spoke openly about how jingoism had blinded his moral concerns. And as American studies professor John Haddad has detailed, Twain’s previous praise for Cody didn’t stop him from walking out of a Wild West Show performance in early 1901. Cody had performed a reenactment of a 1900 Chinese battle, uniformly depicting the foreign invaders as heroes and the Boxers as barbaric villains. Twain thought his old friend was deeply misguided—and he let him know.
In 1901, Twain wasn’t alone in holding and expressing fervently anti-imperialist views. But he was in a minority. Most Americans felt that allied actions in China and U.S. ones in the Philippines were completely justified. So did many famous writers of the time, from Rudyard Kipling to “Battle Hymn of the Republic” lyricist Julia Ward Howe.
That’s one difference from today: Twain would find himself firmly in the literary mainstream—and would be far from alone in saying that a president who wanted to govern a truly “great” America should not look to the country at the turn of the 20th century for inspiration. §
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Professor of Chinese and World History at the University of California, Irvine. This article is republished by permission of The Conversation, where it first appeared.
It’s time for a woman president who isn’t Hillary Clinton. It’s time for a firebrand of a female to replace Bernie Sanders and lead the Democratic Party against the swine not only running the country, but the same swine taking over the Senate, the House, the governors’ seats and most of the state offices in America. It’s not enough that these women are marching in the streets with furious and ferocious passion and anger at what has transpired in their country. They need to unite and begin an ongoing chant accusing the President of the United states as a molester, liar, tax criminal, scam artist, a dangerously incompetent and emotionally and intellectually stunted sociopath as well as enemy of the goodness of humankind, and a real threat to send the world spinning off its axis.
And there are a slew of capable and ferocious women out there to replace the democratic male milquetoasts who will roll over like bowling pins at the onslaught Trump and his gestapo have prepared for them once they commence running.
It will take a good woman to take this venal dictator down, and now that the country’s most valuable and sane assets are stirred up like millions of enraged hornets, out to sting any male hide in their way, let us begin with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and, in time, Mrs. Michelle Obama, and every democratic woman in the Senate and House and all the state senates and assemblies in the country to carry out a vicious vendetta against the white male conservative onslaught that has captured this country and threatens to undo everything Franklin Roosevelt accomplished.
Fellow female media harridans on the wrong side, like bony-assed, supercilious Anne Coulter, penis-envy Laura Ingraham, and Trump’s grinning barracuda confidante Kellyanne Conway need to be excoriated by the most lethal female cat-fighters on the liberal side, and especially those gals on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid. Nobody can attack like women, and the liberal side needs to sharpen their claws and dig deep, gouging out blood and matter and leaving their victims bleeding and suffering in the streets of American air time.
Trump must be hounded. Women know how to do this. They are relentless because they’ve had to be for centuries while dealing with the brutish nature of men—just to survive. When Trump slithers out of his Twitter cave and faces the media, the women reporters must call him on his lies. If he ignores them, they should bully the male reporters aside and confront him and call him the coward and liar he is. They should develop media personalities and spend their every waking moment creating and sustaining new methods to expose and demean this rat in office. Those women he fondled should join forces and continue their lawsuits, whether they win or lose, just to expose Trump for the pig he is.
When Trump attempts to put forth any speech in the Senate chambers, like a State of the Union, not one, but all female democratic office holders should yell out LIAR! every time he lies, and continue the chant, and perhaps add to it, “Jail the liar, jail the liar….”
An association of women has to be forged, and their mantra should be to extinguish in office all alpha male business tycoons and those stooges these tycoons bankroll to run for office. They might explain that this country has been run by men of hubris and extreme ego for too long, that we are returning to barbarism under the leadership of paranoid greed-bags who, like Nazi operatives, will stop at nothing to terrify the population and scapegoat minorities while feathering their own nests and through propaganda continue to amass a power base, and that they cannot be trusted because as males, as the masculine race, they are too flawed, too overcome with their own importance and ego and rage to control and dominate in any way they can.
And it hasn’t and doesn’t work. They have made a shambles of the world.
Do the women need a hero? A leader? Present Tammy Duckworth, the Illinois senator who lost her legs in Iraq as a helicopter pilot. She is a spitfire. She, along with every female leader, must spell out how urgent it is to protect themselves and the country from the previous follies of men, and especially of Trump, who will gouge out every civil liberty and human right of women and put us back in the dark ages, and they must also spell out how complicit the entire conservative movement is in creating demagogic lies and enforcing the cruelest, most heartless policies for the poor, minorities, and anybody who is not white and rich.
These ladies must go overboard to wake women up, to stir emotions, rattle the cupboards of every kitchen in America. They must unleash a movement that literally saves us from ourselves in these dire days of basically good versus evil.
Everything that has ever been achieved to create a world of hope and compassion AND survival is at stake.
It’s not time for the ladies to “Take our country back,” but to “Take our country over.”
Go get ‘em, gals! §
Dell Franklin gets his inspiration from women who know how to take down cads like the man posing as President of the United States. For more of Dell’s views on sports, politics and culture, visit his website: dellfranklin.com.
One of the most unexpected political developments in recent months has been the political awakening of scientists in the United States.
A normally reticent group (at least when it comes to politics), scientists are speaking out, organizing a major march and planning to run for public office. There is a growing sense that the danger posed by the Trump administration to evidence-based policy, and perhaps science itself, is unprecedented. I share this concern. The Trump administration’s actions and rhetoric appear to signal an acceleration of Republican skepticism toward scientific research carried out in the public interest.
This said, what is keeping political scientists, particularly those like me who study political psychology, up at night is not the Trump administration’s ideologically driven science bias. Rather, it is the fact that Trump himself exhibits an authoritarian style of motivated reasoning that appears to be intended (consciously or not) to consolidate his power.
This combination – institutional challenges to the scientific integrity of government employees and Trump’s willingness to disregard evidence on a variety of matters – has broad and ominous implications beyond how science informs national policies.
Science has “epistemic authority,” meaning it is the best method humans have available to understand what is true about the world. For this reason, policy decisions are expected to be based in large part on scientific conclusions. And as the size and scope of the federal government has increased, so has the use of scientific research in government decision-making, making it an even bigger target.
It is important to recognize that scientific evidence is not the only legitimate consideration underlying a policy decision. There may be larger ideological commitments at stake or constituents to please or (less justifiably) more strategic political considerations.
The problem for science and evidence-based policy comes when politicians and other political actors decide to discredit the science on which a conclusion is based or bend the science to support their policy position. Call it “policy-based evidence” as opposed to “evidence-based policy.”
John Marburger was science advisor to George W. Bush, whose administration was criticized for manipulating how science was used in policy decisions. Brookhaven National Laboratory
Such bending of science comes in a variety of forms: cherry-picking studies and experts that support your perspective; harassing government-sponsored scientists – via cuts in funding or investigations – whose conclusions weigh against policies you prefer; forcing government scientists to change the language of reports for political reasons.
But Trump’s rhetoric and actions – both before and after assuming the presidency – seem to foreshadow a return to Bush-era tactics. Trump’s Cabinet choices exhibit an unusual fixation on deregulation, particularly in the arena of energy and the environment. And both Trump and his powerful vice president have a history of making statements that are ignorant and mistrustful of science.
Danger in the rhetoric
Unfortunately, there is reason to suspect that Trump’s disdain for scientific research is not only driven by political ideology and the interests he represents. Trump clearly chafes against anyone or anything that challenges his power, including empirical reality.
Trump’s constant efforts to aggrandize himself are plain to see. In the past, Donald Trump lied about everything from the size of his home to his donations to charity. In service of whipping up a crowd, Trump has been willing to scapegoat entire minority groups and falsely question a president’s citizenship.
As with all presidents, Trump will eventually face data that reflect poorly on some aspects of his job performance: for example, pollution levels, disease rates, disappointing jobs figures, etc. He has been so consistent in his dissembling to protect his reputation that it would be surprising if this behavior did not continue in the face of more serious threats. Scholars are already speculating that Trump may employ Nixonian efforts to doctor official government statistics or discourage critical scholarly study of society under his administration by eliminating NSF social and economic science funding.
I’m guilty of a two-decade addiction to cable TV political programs, never missing Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC at 4 in the afternoon. I adjusted my day to watch Chris and felt he was an indispensable fixture of my daily agenda, especially when he came around to my views on the mindless butchery and stupidity of George W. Bush’s and despicable Dick Cheney’s bogus wars in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq, and the lies and propaganda that led up to Iraq. I even managed to tolerate Chris’s propensity to drown out his guests with long-winded personal orations and rude interruptions.
But now I have turned on Chris, turned on him with a vengeance. Why? At this point I’m probably too enraged by the Trump election to really explain why, but we can start with Chris’s fawning treatment of a mean-spirited, lying, bile-infested hater named Rudy Giuliani, an opportunist and braggart to whose image Matthews repeatedly contributed as a sort of self-proclaimed savior of New York City after 9/ll, a bilious chest-beater he allowed to treat Hillary Clinton as a common criminal, a wind-bag so supercilious, high-minded and loathsome he wouldn’t last five minutes in a common man’s tavern without being beaten senseless.
Chris also began to draw my wrath by telling us all that former GOP pundit and final Donald Trump head campaign manager and current confidante Kellyanne Conway is a close friend of his, and allowed her to precede or follow one Trump rally after another with nauseating spins and lies which he seemed to find amusing, so enamored was he of this cutesy-cutesy perpetually grinning Christ-crazed poisonous blonde asp.
Watching Chris led me to hanging with the rest of the geniuses on MSNBC, all partisans I agreed with, though after switching occasionally to CNN and Fox News and cackling at fascist punk Sean Hannity and bully/browbeater,blowhard Bill O’Reilly, I began to feel MSNBC was, at least 50 percent of the time, broken records blowing smoke and repeating the same old tired refrains and, finally, not worth listening to.
CNN is more of the same, though somewhat tempered, but still guilty of shilling for Trump rallies and allowing them to hog precious time because it was entertaining, brought in viewers, brought in sponsors, brought in millions in profits, and resulted in the election of a veritable monster and white collar criminal as president of the country.
The Sunday morning shows are full of the identical, if modulated lies and spins, the same old tired and jaded faces and voices, the politicians stabbing you in the back or cutting out your intestines while smiling with pencil-tip eyes, these tie-wearing so-called respectable and civilized crusaders who must fabricate or embellish to be heard, to make their points, to penetrate the doldrums of a benumbed incurious illiterate zombieland American electorate needing only to be entertained, its attention span so limited from technology and just plain apathy.
Even the fair-minded, sane, brilliant Fareed Zakaria on CNN, who makes more sense than the entire pack left and right, is dispatched, the bad going with the good, like clearing out a whorehouse and jailing the johns along with the hookers, like in the old days.
I have not watched a second of this garbage since November 8.My friend John Winthrop constantly emails me with reports observed on Fox News and MSNBC and CNN about Trump’s latest appointment or tweet, these snippets inflamed with his own brand of spleen and hatred at the events taking place in America, and I repeatedly urge him to quit watching this misery before his anger kills him (he’s already had a heart attack). And of late this concern with the disaster of our politics has so sapped his immune system he is down with a brutal flu that has him aching from bone to joint.
Another reason not to watch even the nightly news, much less these programs, is the odious and now ubiquitous presence of Trump himself. The sight and sound of him is so repulsive and infuriating and downright abhorrent it drains you of your vital juices, deprives you from pleasant thoughts and harmony with fellow man, grinds your guts and mind into a writhing ball of incoherent, corrosive rage. Hell, I want to get through the day, the week, the months without losing myself in a stew of disenchantment with humanity for allowing this mercenary crackpot to be the shameful representative of our nation.
Hell, I stayed mostly drunk throughout the Reagan Administration and was salvaged health-wise because I was younger and could deal with the punishment of one hangover after another, and I had a great time celebrating my nonstop escape from reality and missing Reagan’s good old boy Howdy Doody technicolor grin while he shafted the little guy.
But now I am in my early 70s and cannot allow myself to be pissed off or drunk the whole time by watching Chris Matthews or any other of these programs or personalities, simply because I need to have some semblance of peace of mind. I get enough information out of the LA Times to know what’s going on, and I read the New Yorker weekly, and Winthrop keeps me abreast of the latest catastrophe, but mainly, if I do not have to see these people, and hear these people, and especially Trump, it is out of sight and out of mind, at least temporarily, and I can salvage some peace of mind from the country I dwell in…while waiting for the massive sledge hammer to drop and blast us back into the tragic truths of our times. §
Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he can look out over the vast Pacific Ocean lapping at his doorstep and hope for better times. For more in his Class Warfare series, visit dellfranklin.com, where this article first appeared.