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Our Troubled Planet: Crossing Our Agricultural Rubicon



 “Colorado lost 1.6 million acres in the 1990s while it grew by 1.3 million people.  It expects to lose 3.1 million more acres to concrete and asphalt via development by 2022.”  


  Mike Matz, Denver Post “Losing Spaces”


           In 49 B.C., Julius Caesar defied the Roman senate by crossing the Rubicon River to wage civil war against another Roman—Pompey the Great.  By crossing the Rubicon, Caesar made a decision whereby he could not turn back.

          Today, “Crossing the Rubicon” means: no way to change, repair or undo your destiny.  Yes, Caesar conquered Pompey, but the Roman senate, along with Brutus, stabbed Caesar to death.  “Et tu Brutus?” Caesar gasped with his last breath.

          If the Congress and president sign any kind of an immigration amnesty or double legal immigration in the near future as they attempted ion June 2007, they cast the dye; they cross the Rubicon of America’s environmental death knell.  They most certainly ensure 100 million more people added to our country that explodes our nation to 400 million on our way to a half billion.  Once manifested, we will not be able to turn back.

          Mike Matz, writer for the McClatchy-Tribune, December 27, 2007, in “Losing Spaces”, said, “We lose four acres of open space each minute in this country.  That’s 6,000 acres a day of meadows turned into housing tracts, malls and paved parking lots.  That equals 2.19 million acres annually of destroyed wilderness.”

          In a crystal clear illustration, “Crossing the Agricultural Rubicon”, Dr. John Tanton, spring 2005, The Social Contract Quarterly,[7] presented harsh realities regarding America’s food supply. 

          “We export immense quantities of corn, wheat, soybeans, etc., but much of this crop is fed to animals or processed into food that we then re-import as higher-value agricultural products,” Tanton said.  “It is the dollar value of imports that is projected to be equal to exports for 2005.”

          He continued, “The U.S. consumes two-thirds of its own grown food.  As population grows, more agricultural land will be converted to non-agricultural uses—roads, hospitals, schools, parking lots, shopping malls and housing projects.  Our expanding population will cause us to import more food.  The net result will be the gradual decline of our agricultural trade surpluses.  We are already in an energy deficit as we import 12 million of the 20 million barrels of oil we burn each day.  Now we have a diminishing agricultural exchange surplus with which to buy fuel to facilitate that very agriculture.”

          The United States feeds the world, but as Tanton exposes in his excellent graphs and charts, we already import as much as we export: “We won’t feed people around the world much longer,” Tanton said.

          For example, Colorado’s population will add 1.5 million by 2022.  That increase means, according to the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post, those 3.1 million acres of prime farm land suffer development into homes, roads, malls, schools and business parks.

          Whatever the population expansion in your state, commensurate farm acreage will be destroyed.  For example, by 2050, Texas will grow from 21 million to 48 million people, which means millions of acres of land will be taken out of farming for development.  No one knows the disaster that awaits them as to water usage. “Crossing the Rubicon” via farmland destruction brings yours and all states closer to Caesar’s fate.

          Another aspect of this “Agricultural Rubicon” manifests itself in Eric Schlosser’s,  Fast Food Nation, where he exposes the ‘chemicalization’ of our foods by hundreds of additives, colors, preservatives and poisons like the chemical sweetener aspartame.  

          Since 1950, farmers have sprayed their crops with herbicides and pesticides while injecting soils with dozens of chemical fertilizers that destroy nitrogen fixing bacteria.  They poison earthworms, bees and birds, sending them into early graves.   Today, we force genetically modified seeds to produce unnatural harvests while we clone many vegetables and create perfect apples.  Few customers have bought a ‘real’ strawberry from a major grocery store chain in the last 20 years.  Those genetically manufactured berries are big, fat and white with some red coloring, and taste terrible. 

          One of my friends upon biting into one said, “This tastes like eating a piece of chalk! This sucks!  What happened to real strawberries?”  A more sobering reality hits when you appreciate that most kids don’t know the difference in the cities because they’ve never eaten a real strawberry. 

          The United States Department of Agriculture states that because of depletion of micro-nutrients, you must eat 49 servings of spinach in 2009 to gain the same amount of micro-nutrient value as one serving of spinach in 1949.

          In conjunction with fertilizers draining into rivers which poison fish we eat, farm land absorbs acid rain from chemical contaminants raining down from the sky from tens of thousands of industrial smoke stacks spewing sulfur, ammonia, incinerated plastics, mercury and other toxic amalgamations into the air.

          In a report, “U.S. Pesticide Stockpile Under Scrutiny” by Rita Beamish of the Associated Press, she said, “The Bush administration is seeking world permission to produce thousands of tons of a pesticide that an international treaty banned nearly two years ago, even though U.S. companies already have assembled huge stockpiles of the chemical.  Methyl-bromide has been used for decades by farmers to help grow plump, sweet strawberries, robust peppers and other crops, but it also depletes the Earth's protective ozone. The United States and other countries signed a 1987 treaty promising to end its use by 2005.”

          If you think our government tells the unvarnished truth, think again.

          Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said he was informed that the Inspector General for the Commerce Department and NASA had begun "coordinated, sweeping investigations of the Bush administration's censorship and suppression" of federal research into global warming.  But the total U.S. emissions, now more than seven billion tons a year, are projected to rise 14 percent from 2002 to 2012.  In other words, everything that goes up must come down.  When it does, it’s a disaster for the entire web of life on our planet home.

          Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute notes that farming causes the loss of 24 billion tons of topsoil annually worldwide.  Once soil suffers depletion, chemical fertilizers may allow crops to grow, but a consumer may as well be eating cotton candy for the lack of micro-nutrient value in foods.

          What about water for irrigation?  At the moment, farmers from Iowa to California draw down underground aquifers faster than they can recharge.  Farmers suck billions of gallons of water from the great Ogallala Aquifer beneath Nebraska. What happens when it dries up?

          Dr. David Pimentel, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, says if we think growing huge amounts of corn for ethanol fuel provides an option, we need to think that over. 

          He writes, “Our up-to-date analysis of the 14 energy inputs that typically go into corn production and the nine invested in fermentation and distillation operations confirms that 29 percent more energy (derived from fossil fuels) is required to produce a gallon of corn ethanol than is contained in the ethanol.  Ethanol from cellulosic biomass is worse: with current technology, 50 percent more energy is required to produce a gallon than the product can deliver. In any event, biomass ethanol is a bad choice from an energy standpoint.

         “The environmental impacts of corn ethanol are enormous. They include severe soil erosion, heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides, and a significant contribution to global warming.  In addition, each gallon of ethanol requires 1,700 gallons of water (to grow the corn) and produces six to 12 gallons of noxious organic sewage.

“Using food crops, such as corn grain, to produce ethanol also raises major ethical concerns.  More than 3.7 billion humans in the world are currently malnourished, so the need for grains and other foods is critical. Growing crops to provide fuel squanders resources. Energy conservation and development of renewable energy sources, such as solar cells and solar-based methanol synthesis, should be given priority.”

If we add another 100 million Americans, our impact and consequences multiply by 100 million. That much more chemical spray, fertilizer and water must be used.  Remember: for each American added to the United States, 12.6 acres of land must be developed.  That’s 1.26 billion acres of land expended that can’t produce food.  Experts tell us that by 2040, we’ll be a net importer of food.

What if our food source cannot provide for us?  What if we cannot economically transport the food to our shores? 

          Our country heads into dangerous waters.  Have you heard the expression, “Up the creek without a paddle?”  Whether it’s “Crossing the Rubicon” of agricultural destruction of our food supply, or using up our oil reserves without sufficient alternatives, or exceeding our carrying capacity as to water—we’re hyper-populating our nation into grave consequences.

          Yet, you won’t see the president, his cabinet, Congress or all 50 governors speak about it or address it.  Our captains of corporations and industry think they can keep revving the engine of consumption without end.

Most possess a paradigm of economic growth at any cost.  Most cannot comprehend their folly as their ‘capitalism god of growth’ dominates their world view.  Most think they can ‘red line’ the engine of growth by encouraging population without consequences.  This behavior resembles that of  brain injury victims.  They often lack insight, understanding, critical thinking or common sense.
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