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April 21, 2018

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Earth Day - Forty-Seven Years Later

   I remember the first Earth Day. It was such a wonderful idea, everyone pitches in to adjust the trajectory of mankind’s relationship to Earth and we won't have to face the destruction of our home. In those days most of us were thinking about recycling pop bottles, putting out bird feeders, stopping the dumping of raw sewage into our waterways, and picking up hamburger wrappers that were routinely slung out of the windows of really fast cars that got about eight miles to the gallon. Yes, believe it or not, littering laws were nonexistent or simply ignored. We believed that if every individual did a little, that we, with only moderate effort, could fix the problems that loomed ahead for Mother Earth. We gathered on that first Earth day to pick up those pop cans and believed that we were doing something important.

   Maybe we were. The road ditches are much cleaner now. You can swim in the Great Lakes again. Cars are getting thirty-plus miles per gallon of gas. People seem to be much more aware. But the goal posts have been moved. Back in 1970, very few of us had ever heard of man-made climate change, we knew little about worldwide mass migration or its causes. Air and water pollution seemed remote to most of us. You could say that the world was a simpler place back then, but the truth is that we were naive as toddlers. There were books about human overpopulation, over-consumption, and the coming struggle for resources but they were treated like science fiction. It was popular to believe that the world, and specifically American capitalism, could innovate a way out of such problems. We counted on capitalism to outthink those dilemmas. It turns out that these issues are calibrated on much longer time periods than we are used to dealing with. Most of our problems are rooted in our relationship to the land, our food systems, to the very dirt we live upon. And those problems have been accumulating for many generations of humans.  

    I am a veteran of forty-seven Earth Days and when I talk about this special day, especially to children, I need to keep a stiff upper lip and be positive even when the facts and statistics do not bear out optimism. It is difficult to be positive and truthful because I know that most of us are simply rearranging the proverbial deck chairs as the Titanic sinks. Had we known, in 1970, what we know now and could have stopped mindless development in its tracks the prospects for a happy future would be much better. It is hard to believe that the tipping point is not behind us. For many years some of us have believed that stopping the deterioration of our fragile ecosystem is not going to be enough. To improve our chances for a favorable future we would need to roll back the clock to a time when there was room to move, our soil was fertile and healthy, and the age old systems that have sustained mankind for tens of thousands of years were still functioning. Given the nature of human beings and the political and economic systems that we have created, rebuilding those bedrock human needs has seemed impossible. But perhaps Earth Day has evolved beyond the short term and the immediate. More and more people are understanding that if we correct what is wrong in our food systems we will be doing more good than has been done in all the Earth Days on record.

    I am not a great believer in food certifications because they are often misleading and easily abused. They also work from the old Earth Day rubric of, “if we correct it now, we will be all right.” The facts seem to say the opposite, “unless we reclaim some of the ground we have lost, things will come to a premature bad end.” That is why the framework for a new food certification that landed on my desk hit like a ray of sunlight. The developers of the Regenerative Organic Certification understand that our ecological challenges can often be traced to our damaged food system and the damaged soil we have nearly worn out.

    This new certification has at its base the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (USDA Organic). Inside that organic certification are solid guidelines that make better food available and our Earth Day goals much more important than anything we imagined in 1970. But these guidelines go farther than any certification to date. The key is in the word “regenerative”. The guidelines seem to shout out that we need, not only to adapt better ways forward, but to reach back in time and correct the damage we have done. We have moved on from picking up trash in the road ditches to vastly more complicated, and crucial, issues. In addition to USDA Organics guidelines, Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) has added categories of regulation that include Animal Welfare, Farmer and Worker Fairness, and perhaps most important, Soil Health and Land Management. Hard to understand carbon sequestration has replaced the simple collecting of pop bottles. But, at last, a line is being thrown to the abused baseline of human life on Earth.

    So, if you’re like me, and a bit jaded about the value of Earth Day. Get a hold of a copy of this new food certification and take a look at what 47 years of earnest thought has brought us. Finally, we are beginning to realize that, while most of what we have been doing is cosmetic, Earth Day is important. It has matured. The future is much more complicated and dire than we thought but a meaningful dialogue has begun and the battle is joined.  


Comments

Susan

April 22, 2018

Soil may turn out to be the biggest carbon sink there is. If more farmers and ranchers took it as seriously as you do, Dan, some day we mightn’t need an Earth Day reminder. Big Ag says proper, carbon-attracting soil management can’t be done on the scale required to feed the world, but then Big Ag and Big Chem are allies and want easy and fast, this year’s bottom line, not sustainable life. Which is in part why Wild Idea is important to me – not just the humane slaughter and the delicious products, but the restoration of at least some small part of the majestic American High Plains.

Dan O'Neal

April 22, 2018

Thanks for the thoughts. Much appreciated and respected. Happy Earth Day!

Rosanne Stratigakes

April 22, 2018

Bravo Dan. I vote for more folks acting and thinking like you. Plus-your son is SO cute! Gives me hope reading your blog.

Doug Williams

April 22, 2018

This is another excellent article of long view insight and challenge. I marched in the first Earth Day demo/parade while a student at Illinois State University. I would never have imagined that we’d still be observing Earth Day in 2018. Even more unimaginable is that today in this country we actually debate rancorously about the reality of science and facts. Perhaps the present darkness will lead to new vigor for the cause. Wisdom and commitment such as yours and the energized youth of today (think Parkside, DACA, Charlottesville, etc) are our hope for our grandchildren and theirs to come. By the way, I want more of whatever you’re consuming/doing if that handsome young man is your “son”. Doug Williams Tucson

Linda Clark

April 22, 2018

This essay of yours will be forwarded far and wide by me, Dan. I am so glad that soil sequestration of carbon—actually drawing down atmospheric carbon, too—by careful rebuilding our many degraded ecosystems, not only farmland, is finally gaining the attention it deserves. The photos are such a treat, too, BTW.

Steiner Jean-Pierre

April 23, 2018

Bravo Dan , Notre planète a besoin de gars comme vous pour la sauver . Salutations de la Suisse

Chris Ealing

April 23, 2018

Dan,
First of all, THANK YOU for the wisdom and passion with which you address our growing concerns about our planet. It makes my heart sing to learn of ROC and I will look into obtaining a copy of this new food certification. I am wondering if you know which products in particular we can expect to see with this new certification and which are likely to take longer to qualify.
Thank you for all you do for all of us.
Chris Ealing

Chris Ealing

April 23, 2018

Dan,
First of all, THANK YOU for the wisdom and passion with which you address our growing concerns about our planet. It makes my heart sing to learn of ROC and I will look into obtaining a copy of this new food certification. I am wondering if you know which products in particular we can expect to see with this new certification and which are likely to take longer to qualify.
Thank you for all you do for all of us.
Chris Ealing

Mark Priest

April 23, 2018

Dan:

Thanks for a very well written post. I was encouraged to read that you were encouraged by the new food standards. Until we can get big ag and big Chem under control we are swimming against the tide. Like Michael Pollan says we get to vote three times a day with our forks and knives. I will forward your post onward.

Mark

Mark Priest

April 23, 2018

Dan:

Thanks for a very well written post. I was encouraged to read that you were encouraged by the new food standards. Until we can get big ag and big Chem under control we are swimming against the tide. Like Michael Pollan says we get to vote three times a day with our forks and knives. I will forward your post onward.

Mark

Georgia Clark

April 23, 2018

Thank you so much for all you do, appreciate this new information on organic certification. Soil can indeed be our savior in this time of trying to help the earth, air & water.

Nancy

April 23, 2018

Oceans sequester a lot of CO2 (the grand majority of it, which is why the waters are getting acidified…), but heaven knows it’s easier to bring back our crop and grazing lands on the continents, where we can walk and breathe safely! :) I’ve heard lots of arguments about how awful meat is for the environment, to which I say, “It all depends on the meat animals and how they’re raised.” If it’s done responsibly, such as the way you good folks are doing, it can be done; we can have our meat and eat it, too. :)

Thanks for all you do to help! :)

Nancy

BLAKE O'QUINN

April 23, 2018

you are making a difference sharing your experience in proper management and exact education by following the wisdom in nature’s perfect order. thanks for all you do for us, Dan, as those to come will surely thank you.

Eirik Heikes

April 23, 2018

As my mentor in Soils used to say “It all is linked to a healthy soil”. That doesn’t mean hands off management, either. Soils get grazed, trampled, burned in the wild condition. You buffalo grazers I am sure know about the hoof effect on invigorating a grassland… from time to time.

Rebecca Oshiro

April 23, 2018

Thank you for everything you do. I can’t thank you enough.

Lynn

April 24, 2018

As always, you generate hope when there is little to see in the Beltway and our halls of government.
Big Ag and Big Chem can leave an informed reader feeling hopeless and defeated. Then I remember that each of us has the opportunity to take our own small handful of soil and make a change!

Josh Powell

April 28, 2018

I really appreciate this post. We are in a pitched battle to restore humanity to balance with our home and the creatures we share it with. It will take generations of dedication to accomplish. While we can derive some peace in purpose and happiness in the work the scenes around us are not always motivating. I’ve spent my life in the solar energy business and a see an economic transition ahead to lower cost renewable energy that is just beginning to come within our grasp. Your model of land stewardship and economically sustainable ranching is inspirational. Makes me want to buy land and follow your cause!

Pat O'Brien

June 02, 2018

Dan, Thank you to everyone at Wild Idea for taking the lead and doing the right thing for our planet. We need a lot more people thinking like you!

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