Combating the Border Crisis by Re-Greening the Mexican Desert

Agave Power Regreening the Desert in Mexico

Regeneration International

Film Review

This documentary concerns an inspirational project to regreen the Mexican desert using agave cactus and mesquite trees. Owing to increasing desertification, 90% of Mexican family farms have ceased to be viable. This virtual collapse of small farm agriculture puts increasing pressuring on Mexican farmers to emigrate to the US.

Farmers participating in the agave project, plant an estimated 1,000 agave cacti per acre with 250 mesquite trees interspersed between them. Planted in a thin layer of compost mixed with biochar,* the agave and mesquite trees (which are nitrogen fixing**) increase water retention up to 70%, while simultaneously increasing soil fertility. The agave pull the moisture they need from the air.

Agave trimming can begin after a year, and the dead leaves are fermented together with protein-rich mesquite pods. The resulting fodder costs 5 cents a day to feed sheep and other herds during Mexico’s eight month dry season.


*Biochar is charcoal that is produced by pyrolysis of biomass in the absence of oxygen. Used to enrich soil carbon, it can endure in soil for thousands of years.

**Nitrogen fixing plants host specialized bacteria on their roots that can pull nitrogen from the atmosphere increase soil nitrogen for plant nutrition.

 

Sweden’s Biggest Sustainability Racket

More of Everything: A Film About Swedish Forestry

Protect the Forest and Greenpeace Nordic (2021)

Film Review

In this documentary, Swedish environmentalists lambast the Swedish forestry model, which is promoted worldwide as a “sustainable” method of reducing carbon emissions.

It’s clear from the film that the model promoted by the Swedish timber industry (with government support) increases, rather than decreases, carbon emissions for a number of reasons.

The model involves aggressive clear cutting of Sweden’s northern old growth forests, which are replaced with forest plantations of monoculture Scotch pine or spruce. Both are harvested after ten years for use in construction and production of biofuel.

Although plantations are replanted, It takes 10 years or more before new trees are mature enough to sequester as much carbon as the trees they replace. Ecologists also  dispute industry claims that clear cutting accomplishes the same purpose as wildfires in thinning overgrowth. Whereas clear cutting eliminates virtually all life, forest fires leave lots of dead wood to decay and nurture new growth, along with occasional living trees and rich ash-filled soil.

In addition to adding substantially to Sweden’s carbon emissions,* replacing Sweden’s native forests with tree plantations also destroys habitat for endangered species** and contributes to loss of ecosystem services, such as pollination, water cleansing and flow regulation, air purification and soil formation.

Swedish environmentalists call for an end to the EU subsidy ($6.5 billion euros in 2017) that pays the Swedish timber industry to clear cut the country’s old growth forests. With 60% of it lost in the last 70 years, the current plan is to replace all of it with tree plantations by the end of the century.

They also call for full restoration of the native Swedish forests.


*At present, most of Sweden’s carbon emissions derive from its forestry industry.

 

Growing Our Own Food: The Biointensive Method

En Nuestos Manos (In Our Hands)

Directed by Matt Anderson (2020)

Spanish with English subtitles

Film Review

This is a very beautifully made film, in nine episodes, about the Biointensive alternative to industrial agriculture.

Episode 1 concerns the history of  Biointensive organic farming, described as an amalgam of the Biodynamic and French Intensive methods. The current approach incorporates indigenous farming methods from all over the world. The documentary features interviews with the late English master gardener Alan Chadwick, who began experimenting with this approach in Santa Cruz in 1972 and with John Jeavons, who founded Ecology Action after studying with Chadwick. Ecology Action has gone on to train thousands of farmers from around the world in Biointensive farming.

The first episodes features Biointensive farmers working to restore Xochimilco, the UN heritage site in Mexico City that has been seriously degraded by industrial farming. In my favorite part of Episode 1, the filmmakers visit an ancient Inca irrigation system in Peru where maize (corn) was first domesticated.

Episode 2 provides detailed instructions on how to prepare a garden bed through double digging. Loosening the soil is essential to provide air to the microbes that assist plants in taking up nutrients. This episode profiles Biointensive farmers in Oaxaca Mexico.

Episode 3 provides detailed instructions on how to build an effective compost pile. It profiles farmers from Oaxaca and from the G BIACK project in Kenya that trains farmers throughout Kenya in drought resistant methods developed by their ancestors

As of January 1, all 9 episodes are available on YouTube

Peru: Living Without Water

Living Without Water

Directed by Henry Richards and Samuel Kinsley (2016)

Film Review

In 2015, the World Economic Forum identified Peru as the country post likely to face life threatening water shortages. Yet as this documentary reveals, Peruvians access to water relates directly to their income. In Lima, rich Peruvians easily access water for their swimming pools and golf courses – and pay less for it than poor Peruvians in the surrounding desert.

Low income Peruvians in standard rental housing pay 50 euros every two weeks for water delivery. The water truck fills their tanks with enough water to supply each member of an average family 200 – 300 liters per day (while rich urbanites pay 5 – 7 euros for a comparable quantity of water).

Residents still have to boil the water to protect their children from diarrheal illnesses.

It’s illegal for the trucks to sell water to Lima residents who are too poor to afford rental accommodation. The latter, who squat on disused land in shacks they build themselves, send their children door-to-dorr with 10 litre plastic jugs to beg water from neighbors who access tap water 1/2 hour a week. Those who share their water face hefty fines from city authorities.

Farmers in nearby mountains use fog nets to catch condensation during winter (four months). They rely on tanker trucks the other eight months.

Many farmers have been forced to give up their farms owing to the boom in water intensive export crops (avocado, asparagus and exotic fruit). Owing to rapid aquifer depletion, the water in their wells is increasingly saline.

The World Bank has become increasingly critical of Peruvian policies that deprive poor residents and farmers of water (in one of the driest countries on Earth) to support a growing export crop industry. They are pressuring Peru’s government (but not very hard it seems) to modernize their water systems to guarantee access to all residents regardless of income.

Carbonomics: Saving the Earth by Ending Industrial Agriculture

Living Soil

Produced by Soil Health Institute (2018)

Film Review

Thanks to the new field of Carbonomics, more and more US farmers are learning that the carbon content of soil is even more essential to plant health than nitrogen. Largely due to industrial agriculture, the Earth has lost half of its topsoil in 150 years. Fortunately, however, thanks to the increasing adoption of regenerative agriculture across the US, American topsoil is gradually being restored.

Although the primary motivation for the move to regenerative agriculture is to improve soil health, crop yields and the nutritional quality of food, this is also one of the most cost effective ways to reduce atmospheric CO2 by sequestering carbon.*

Increasing the carbon content of soil also helps it retain water. This, in turn, prevents contamination of waterways through fertilizer runoff.

The main regenerative farming practices Living Soil explores are cover cropping and intercropping. Cover cropping refers to alternating food crops with with cover crops designed to replenish carbon and nitrogen (if nitrogen-fixing legumes are used). Intercropping refers to growing cover crops alongside food crops, which can be helpful in diminishing insect pests as well as replenishing carbon and nitrogen.

According to filmmakers, Maryland has the largest cover crop movement in the US. Several years ago, a massive fish kill in Chesapeake Bay (stemming from fertilizer runoff) led to an unusual collaboration between state farmers and the environmental movement. By jointly lobbying the state legislature, they won state subsidies for farmers willing to plant cover crops. As of 2018, 60% of Maryland farms featured cover crops in winter – in contrast to 15% in 1990.

In the documentary’s most interesting segment, the filmmakers visit three farms practicing no-till (ie plow-free). There is growing evidence that breaking up the soil through plowing or cultivation damages delicate fungal networks plants rely on for essential nutrients.   


*According to Dr Zach Bush, the enhanced fungal and bacterial activity of healthy soils also has a positive impact on human health. See The Shikimate Pathway: How Vaccines, Environmental Toxins and 5G Damage Human Immunity

 

Opting Out of the Corporate System New Zealand-Style

Living the Change: Inspiring Stories for a Sustainable Future

Directed by Jordan Osmond and Antoinette Wilson (2018)

Film Review

This documentary features activists from around New Zealand who have inspired their communities to begin making the necessary changes for a sustainable future. I know several of them personally and found it really gratifying to see their decades of effort (for many of them) acknowledged.

Among activists featured are Helen Dew and Phil and Sharon Stephens from Living Economies.* All three were instrumental in starting local currencies, time banks and savings pools in their own and other communities.

In the film, Helen speaks about the link between our debt-based economic system and environmental degradation. Sharon, in turn, speaks about the need for all of us to downsize our lifestyles rather than depending on resource depleting solar and wind technology to save us. Mike Joy, freshwater ecologist at the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University, Joy speaks about the urgent need to transform our food system away from monoculture cropping and the heavily reliance on fossil fuels that supports it.

Also featured are

  • Action Ecology founder Shane Ward
  • Te Mahi Kai, a school that uses Time Bank volunteers to teach children to grow and prepare their own foods
  • The Baywater Repair Cafe – where volunteers help community members repair bicycles, appliances, furniture and clothing instead of discarding and replacing them)
  • the Magarara Station (which practices and teaches regenerative farming) and various other organic and permaculture-based farms and Community Support Agrculture (CSA) schemes**
  • Leo Murray founder of Why Waste (which helps families and business with waste reduction projects. Replanting New Zealand (one of NZ’s many native tree replanting projects),

Non-Kiwi economist Charles Eisenstein introduces the film by explaining that collapse of our current economic system is inevitable, as it depends on infinite growth, which is impossible with finite natural resources. Given our economic system’s dependence on continuous growth, it will collapse once the wealthy elite has exhausted all the natural resources that can obtain easily and cheaply. According to Eisenstein, nearly all of us have a deep longing for another system that involves a greater connection to nature and to one another in community. It’s simply a matter of finding ways to act on those feelings.


*Living Economies is a NZ charitable trust, whose purpose is to educate and support Kiwis in finding alternatives to our current corporate-based economic system. See https://livingeconomies.nz/about/our-work

**Community Supported Agriculture is a system in which a farm is supported by local consumers who purchase prepaid shares in the farm’s output which they receive periodically throughout the growing season

The full film can be viewed on the Māori TV website for one more week: Living the Change

 

 

 

Saving the Planet by Ending Our Fixation with Economic Growth

Normal is Over 1.1: Solutions to Reverse Global Ecological Decline

Directed by Renee Scheltema (2019)

Film Review

What intrigued me most about this documentary, is that it validates claims the economic downturn preceded the WHO declaration of the COVID 19 pandemic in March 2020. I also like the way Scheltema expands on the present ecological crisis to include mass species extinction, the global economic crisis and increasing inequality, as well as catastrophic climate change.

The film uses the 1973 Club of Rome report Limits to Growth as her point of departure. The latter employed MIT mathematical modeling to predict that resource depletion would force global economic growth to end some time between 2000 and 2010. Just as they predicated it ended (everywhere but China) with the 2008 global financial crash. the latter unleashed an epidemic of unemployment, homelessness and poverty (especially among young people and minorities) from which the developed world never fully recovered.

Scheltema follows this introduction with a very elegant explanation by economist Charles Eisenstein linking the present growth imperative to our debt-based monetary system. At present nearly all our money is created by private banks as loans. Because we currently have no other way for money to come into existence, businesses and individuals must continually seek new products and services (including their own labor) to sell to repay ever increasing public and private debt levels. This frenzied drive to produce, in turn, drives ever heavier resource extraction.

The solution? Scheltema uses the bulk of the film to highlight the efforts of high profile sustainability champions:

  • Vandana Shiva – fighting to restore lower cost, less polluting natural organic farming through the Navdanya Institute she founded in India)
  • Beth Terry – founder of My Plastic Free Life)
  • Reverend Billy – founder of the Church of Stop Shopping
  • The “Lord of the Flies” – one of numerous scientists pioneering the use of fly larvae for organic waste treatment
  • African activists fighting to reverse desertification in the sub-Sahara through tree planting
  • Michael Baumgart, co-founder of the Cradle to Cradle upcycling movement
  • Kate Raeworth -British economist campaigning for a new distributive and regenerative economy *
  • Lester Brown – US environmental analyst who calls for 80% reduction in CO2 by 2030
  • Bernard Lietaer – Complementary (local) currency champion

*Raeworth refers to her new economic model as the Donut Economy. See Kate Raworth: A New Economic Model Based on Planetary Boundaries Rather than Continual Growth

Public library members can view the film free at Kanopy. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into your search engine.

 

Food Security: Our Dangerous Loss of Biodiversity

Seed: the Untold Story

Directed by Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel (2016)

Film Review

This documentary raises the alarm over the disappearance of 90% of the food species humankind first identified 8,000 – 10,000 years ago . Most of these species disappeared over the last 50 years.

Of the 544 species of cabbage grown globally in 1983, 28 remain. Of 158 cauliflower species of, 9 remain; of 3 kohlrabi species (of 55); of 2 artichoke species (of 34), 2 asparagus species (of 46); and only 1 beet species (of 288). Ninety-one to ninety four of all other veggie species have been lost over the same period.

The small number of remaining species greatly increase the risk of famine in many parts of the world. The 1845-49 potato famine related, in large part, to nearly all Irish farmers growing the same species of potato.

The fact that chemical manufacturers like Monsanto own the great majority of seed patents has ominous implications for all global food security.

The main focus of the film is individuals and groups around the world committed to preserving food crop diversity via seed banks, including Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell, Jane Goodall and Winona LaDuke.

Seed banks are often a primary target during war. Iraq’s seed bank (containing seed species over 2,000 years old) was one of the first targets the US bombed during Operation Enduring Freedom. Likewise during World War II, Hitler sought to firebomb the St Petersburg seed bank. He was thwarted by civilians who camped there overnight to protect it.

Prior to watching this film I was unaware the US government provided their farmers free seeds until Wall Street industrialists figured out a way to profit from seed scarcity. One of the drivers behind the development of hybrid seeds in the late 19th century was a desire to discourage farmers from saving their seeds.**


*The Irish potato famine resulted from infection with a fungus called Phytophthora infestans.

**Seeds from hybrid plants (produced by cross-pollinating plants of different species) are just as likely to show the characteristics of one of the original species as those of the hybrid.

People who belong to a public library can view the full film free on Beamafilm.

 

Regenerative Agriculture: Saving the Planet While Restoring Topsoil and Growing Healthier Food

The Need to Grow

Directed by Rob Herring and Ryan Wirick (2019)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the Earth’s dwindling supply of topsoil for growing food crops. According to filmmakers, decades of unsustainable agriculture practices have left humankind with only 60 years of farmable soil.

Although most environmentalists agree that modern-day agriculture is the most environmentally destructive process on the planet, the process of soil destruction began around 10,000 years ago when human beings first tilling (plowing) soil they use to grow food. Recent studies show that one tablespoon of healthy topsoil contains one billion microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, etc) are essential to plant health. In nature, all plants and organisms live in complex networks that are destroyed when soil is cultivated.

Because most industrial farming occurs in “dead” soil (where these organisms have been killed), farmers must apply massive amounts of chemical fertilizer and pesticide and produce food containing significantly nutrients than crops grown in healthy topsoil. Decades of research reveal that organic farming produces not only produces more nutritious food, but equal or greater yields (measured in calories per acre). Organic farming also consumes 40% less energy, while producing 35% lower carbon emissions.

Most of the film focuses on pioneers in the field of regenerative agriculture, a process dedicated to restoring soil health through “no-till” farming. The high point of the film features a computer programmer who designed a waste disposal system that uses solar energy to convert waste woody biomass into biochar, electricity, and heat to warm greenhouses and algae-producing aquaculture tanks.*

I was also intrigued to learn about the 7-year-old who obtained 45,000 signatures on a petition asking the Girl Scouts of America to discontinue their sales of GMO-containing cookies – and the abominable way she was treated when she visited their New York office to deliver her petition.


*When organic farmers apply the biochar/algae combination to soil, it speeds up topsoil production. Soil experts estimate it accomplishes in 4-5 years what normally takes 400-500 years.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a public library membership. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine.

 

Hot Air: Corporate Corruption New Zealand-Style

Hot Air: Climate Change Politics in New Zealand

Directed by Alistair Barry Abi King-Jones (2013)

Film Review

This documentary left me with a sick, futile feeling about the hopelessness of real democracy occurring any time soon in New Zealand. It tells the really sad tale of wealthy business interests aggressively blocking meaningful action on emissions reduction for over 30 years.

I was previously unaware that in 1990 the incoming National (conservative) government set a target of reducing NZ’s carbon emissions by 20% in 10 years. Alarmed by data being released by international climate scientists, National’s Minister of the Environment Simon Upton persuaded cabinet to agree to a $10/tonne carbon tax. His plan was to implement the tax in 1997, if polluting industries failed to achieve voluntary emissions targets.

In 1993, Upton established a board of inquiry to hear the resource consent for the Stratford (Taranaki) Power Station. The final consent mandated that Electrocorps plant 5,000 trees per year to mitigate the additional CO2 emissions produced by the power station. Not a single tree would be planted, after  Taranaki Regional Council used their powers under the Resource Management Act (RMA) to remove this stipulation.

When Upton launched the Working Group on Climate Policy (WOGOCOP), New Zealand’s Business Roundtable (under the guidance of Carter Holt Harvey*) quietly arranged for US climate denier Fred Singer (to to tour New Zealand.

The company’s next move was to form the Greenhouse Policy Coalition with New Zealand Steel, Coldco (a company specializing in refrigeration which has since been liquidated), Melbourne Cement and the New Zealand Oil Refining Company. Through massive lobbying, this Coalition successfully blocked each and every regulation aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

By 1996, when New Zealand enacted an MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) voting system, New Zealand’s per capita carbon emission were 7% higher than 1990 (and higher than most other industrialized countries).

In 1997 New Zealand signed the Kyoto treaty, committing New Zealand to reduce carbon emissions 5% from 1990 levels by 2012. It would be two years before Parliament ratified the treaty, after a Labour-led coalition under Helen Clark assumed control of government. At this point, the dairy cooperative Fontera and Tiwai Point aluminum manufacturer joined the pro-corporate Greenhouse Policy Commission in commissioning a statistically flawed Institute of Economic Research study. It claimed a carbon tax would reduce New Zealand GDP by 1%.

Under the New Labour government, Contact Energy received approval for a new gas-fired power plant and Genesis Energy a permit to increase coal burning (and carbon emissions) at their Huntley power plant. During the same period, Fonterra massively increased their use of coal (and their emissions) to dry milk solids (for export to China).

In 2005, New Zealand’s richest man Graeme Hart bought Carter Holt Harvey and began pulling down the company’s forests to replace them with dairy farms. Under Kyoto, this represented a potential cost to NZ taxpayers of $68 million (for disestablishing the carbon credits they had committed to).

Until 2006 when Al Gore released his film The Inconvenient Truth, Labour Environment Minister Pete Hodgson essentially carried the climate change issue alone – with the Green Party, Greenpeace, and other New Zealand environmental groups only signing on after 2006.

In lieu of a carbon tax, the Labour-led coalition, with the support of the National Party, opted to join the global Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)* in in 2008. The same year, National would resume control of government, withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.


*Carter Holt Harvey specializes in forest plantation management and timber production.

**Under NZ’s ETS, the biggest polluters (outside of agriculture, which is exempt), can purchase credits to produce carbon emissions by investing in carbon sequestration schemes in the Third World. It has proved totally useless in preventing the continuing rise of our country’s carbon emissions. See link The Carbon Trading Racket

The film can be viewed free at https://www.hotairfilm.co.nz/