December 21, 2013
We had rain last night. As the temperature dropped below freezing, it froze on the tree branches turning them to crystal by the time I woke up this morning. Lovely. As the temperature rises above freezing today, the thin layer of ice will melt away, turning the branches back into dark
fingers reaching toward the gray-white sky as if trying to poke some holes in all that gray and let the sun in. Still
lovely, though more somber in their pursuit.
Today, of course, is winter solstice in
the northern hemisphere – the shortest day and longest night of the year for us. I don’t celebrate the day, but I’m
always happy to know that tomorrow will be slightly longer, as will the day
after that, until spring finally arrives and I can begin planting my garden.
For much of history in the northern hemisphere, if not well planned for the rest of the year, the time between winter solstice and spring equinox became a time of famine and possible starvation. No wonder so many religious celebrations down through our history revolved around planting and harvesting, fasts and feasts. People in touch with where their food came from knew that what the earth provided, the earth could also withhold.
I’ve thought a lot about that, this week as much of the world celebrates Christmas. Aside from the commercialization of gift-giving, many of us in the developed world have lost touch with where the food we celebrate with and share this holiday comes from. It doesn’t grow at the supermarket, my dears. It’s a gift from the earth to us.
Over the last decade, reports from governmental bodies around the world, including the latest IPCC report in November have warned of the effects of climate change on the world food supply. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/world-on-a-plate/2013/nov/07/climate-change-environment-food-security-ipcc-emissions-united-nations-global-warming; http://phys.org/news/2013-12-lost-freshwater-climate-effects-agriculture.html
So much of the vaunted “green revolution” of the last fifty years has been dependent on the very fossil fuels that are now pushing us toward irreversible changes in our climate, that it’s hard to imagine feeding the earth’s growing population without it. Yet, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “there have been abrupt declines or plateaus in the rate of production of major crops which undermine optimistic projections of constantly increasing crop yields. As much as “31% of total global rice, wheat and maize production” has experienced “yield plateaus or abrupt decreases in yield gain, including rice in eastern Asia and wheat in northwest Europe … despite increasing investment in agriculture, which could mean that maximum potential yields under the industrial model of agribusiness have already occurred.” http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/dec/19/industrial-agriculture-limits-peak-food?utm_content=buffer5a41c&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer
There are other ways to feed the world without destroying the arable land and the climate. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=organic-farming-yields-and-feeding-the-world-under-climate-change; http://www.wri.org/blog/numbers-reducing-food-loss-and-waste; http://www.wri.org/our-work/project/global-food-loss-and-waste-measurement-protocol; http://www.globalpolicy.org/world-hunger/trade-and-food-production-system/49921.html?ItemId=1018
Most of us, around the world – especially in the developed world – need to seriously get in touch with where our food comes from, how we grow it (and waste it) and what the effects of how we currently grow it are on the climate and the environment that will either sustain or starve us. We need to understand how the global economic, financial and political systems we’ve built interact with the natural systems we are so dependent on, decide as a species what we can do individually and collectively to change those systems and demand better of ourselves and our leaders. And we must decide it soon. As I said last week, we are running out of time.
Winter solstice, whatever time of year it occurs where you live, ushers in three months when outdoor activities are reduced and we are stuck indoors much of the time. Whether you celebrate a religious holiday or simply ponder the ways of the world, it’s a good season to take a look at where our food comes from, how we use or misuse it and understand that the enormous systems we’ve built to grow it and transfer it around the world don’t make sense any more in light of the increasing damage they are doing.
Whether you grow your own food or buy it, look for ways to waste less, buy more locally, do with less “stuff” and share what you don’t need, so others can do with less stuff, too. Look for ways to withdraw your support and engagement in those huge systems that are doing so much damage with so little return. Most of them are skirting the edge of another collapse, anyway. We don’t need everything we want, let alone everything these systems have conditioned us to believe we need. We need to quit “feeding the beast” and let them either adapt or die.
We survived as a species for thousands of years by understanding that we survive within nature and step out of sync with nature at our own peril. We don’t rule nature; we cannot “bend it to our will”.
Winter solstice once served our species as a reminder of this. If we don’t make the right choices, nature makes the choice for us.
I wish you all a happy holiday season; I also urge you all to use this time wisely. Nature will go on – with us or without us.