Federal standards for organic food are a bit like federal laws requiring
airbags and catalytic converters on cars. Both represent the government's
idea of how to solve a small and very specific problem. They are, however,
very much like putting seat belts on the Titanic's deck chairs - not a
viable long-term solution. They lull us into thinking that we can make
minuscule changes in our increasingly energy-intensive lifestyles and then
just keep on going with our automobile-dependent society and our
long-distance, industrial food system.
It would certainly be good to use fewer toxic pesticides and synthetic
fertilizers (or better yet, none at all), just as fewer highway deaths and
injuries, and less pollution are desirable. The problem is that both types
of regulation further legitimize unsustainable practices as they increase
inequities throughout the world and create a false sense of complacency.
After prices are adjusted for inflation, gasoline is less expensive now
than it has ever been. Signs everywhere, however, point to an energy
crisis in the not-too-distant future. It may come from a supply shortage
which drives up prices, a very nasty and expensive war over access to oil,
or the relentless assault by the planet's drastically-altered weather.
A recent Scientific American article reported that in 1997, oil companies
pumped three times as much "black gold" out of the ground as they
discovered, and that oil production will begin to decline within a decade.
The earth's finite supply of fossil fuel is being burned up at an
ever-faster rate by the world's growing population. Declining production,
combined with increasing demand and dependency is a recipe for severe
economic disruption. Non-conventional petroleum products and other
substitutes for oil will be more expensive and possibly, more
environmentally damaging, as well. Politically volatile Middle Eastern
countries will control an increasing percentage of the remaining reserves.
Houses sliding down hills in California, trailer parks relocated by a
tornado in Florida, power lines, forests and barns flattened by ice to the
north of us in Maine and Quebec and a winter which broke high and low
records here and nearly everywhere else, are just the latest indicators of
a serious change in the climate. Last year set the record for the highest
global average temperature, slightly above the 1995 record.
Yet, in spite of these warning signs, we continue to focus on superficial
solutions and avoid addressing serious, long-term problems, while we create
an ever more car-dependent society and a more energy-intensive food system.
The power of the auto industry is such that it has driven us (pun-intended)
to the point where cars are essential. What it didn't accomplish directly
by dismantling mass transit decades ago, the zoners in the suburbs finished
off. Houses, work, school and shopping are so far apart that it's nearly
impossible to live without a car. (In the suburbs it costs about $10 just
for a round-trip drive to the closest supermarket or fast-food place in a
sport utility vehicle.)
In the meantime, autos are getting more expensive with each added safety
and pollution-control device, and with each luxury item: heated seats with
memories, elaborate audio systems and soon, perhaps, even automatic pilot.
These trends discriminate against those who are too young, too old or too
disabled to drive a car. An automobile-dependent society also
discriminates against those who are too poor to afford the
increasingly-expensive operational costs. Wider roads, safer cars and more
paved-over farmland encourage even more cars and increase the problems.
In the same way, adding organic standards to the industrial food system may
allow some farmers to use fewer chemicals and some wealthy eaters to
consume fewer pesticides. But, the effect of the flawed national standards
will be to increase our complacency and the distance between the farm and
our mouths. That growing distance increases our dependence on cheap oil.
This country, just four percent of the Earth's population, uses about 25
percent of the world's oil. The present low cost of energy is pulling us
toward even greater dependence on a damaging and exhaustible resource, and
away from the exciting possibilities for a sustainable, solar-powered
Let's work together to create places which are exciting enough to live in
and nourishing enough to sustain us.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "The Politics of
Food" and "Living on the Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays
Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future
is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from
Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing
and those since November 1995 are available there.
To Unsubscribe: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with "unsubscribe sanet-mg".
To Subscribe to Digest: Email email@example.com with the command