and we do need to do something like that.” That’s kind of the reaction I’ve been getting. Yeah, a few of the fringe, special interest groups on any side of an issue. W: As far as large company or factory farms? JF: There has been some tension there, yeah—some people in the big ag businesses who are not real happy with what we’re saying. But we’ve done such a huge amount of work to reach out to them and say, “Look, this doesn’t mean the end of the world for you. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a change in strategy.” W: It’s gonna happen regardless… JF: Yeah, so how can we get out in front of this and work together on these kinds of things? That’s one thing. And on the other side, the more environmental activists and local food activists who are not always happy with the things we are saying because we’re suggesting compromise might be needed. W: Right, it’s not all organic or all big ag…. JF: Yeah, personally I’d like to see the world mostly organicbased, but maybe not 100% of the certification standards, because not all (of these standards) make that much sense for everything. The basic tenets of organic are really logical and make a lot of sense, but I personally think that there needs to be more flexibility and more like…like if you build buildings today; you can get what’s called a LEED certification for buildings. You can get a bronze for doing this number of things, you can get a silver if you do a little more, you can get a gold, or you can get a platinum. You know, go nuts. But there’s an “on-ramp” if you don’t want to do everything, you can’t afford to, or you’re not ready to do every last little thing, well at least we can get you in the room. With the organic label, it’s meant to keep people out. It’s either “you do it our way or you’re bad.” That’s the kind of message you’re getting. But it’s not black and white; it’s never black and white. That’s where I think there’s a bit of an ongoing discussion where we need to find a compromise
Facts on the Global Agricultural Crisis: -The world is growing by 75 million people each year (the size of Germany). At this rate we’ll reach nine billion people by 2040. -More than 40% of Earth’s land has been cleared for agriculture. -Global croplands and pastures cover over 46 million km2 (about the size of South America and Africa combined). -Agriculture uses more than 60 times the amount of urban and suburban areas combined. -Irrigation is the biggest use of water on the planet. -Fertilizers have more than doubled the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous in our environment. -Agriculture generates 30% of the world’s greenhouse gases.
where it doesn’t compromise the result. W: So it doesn’t discourage people from trying to look for more solutions? JF: Exactly. And I think that has been the hallmark of the University of Minnesota and the Institute, is trying to say, “Well, would you rather just sit around and disagree and fight all the time? Or do you want to solve the problem?” I think we’re a lot more interested in solving the problem than having the argument. So if we can find people that are willing to do that and willing to listen to another side and actually look at what does the science really say as opposed to what do I want it to say? Then maybe we can find common ground and find some solutions. And so far so good. I think we’re making a big difference on the national scene. W: You focus in “The Other Inconvenient Truth” on our need to drastically reduce our consumption of meat. In a culture like the United States where meat is a large part of peoples’ diets, how do you go about selling the idea that this needs to happen? JF: Yeah, it’s certainly not easy. The message that I would have is not, “Don’t eat meat!” That’s not the message, I eat meat. I would be a hypocrite if I said to other people not to. That’d be crazy. What I’m saying with this is that it’s really hard to solve our energy problems, our food problems, and so on if we only look at half the table of solutions…. If we only look at the production and supply side of the system and we never think about the demand side. How did you use the stuff we grew in the first place? Most of the corn we grow is not food at all, it’s ethanol and cattle feed. And cattle weren’t designed to eat corn. They were designed to eat grass, so it’s not that good for them. They’re not very good at converting it. It takes 33 pounds of corn for a cow to put on one extra pound of beef. Imagine if you have a one pound boneless steak on your plate. You’re looking at 33 pounds of corn and soybeans that it took to make that. That’s crazy! I mean, that’s just crazy! But if you were eating chicken and pork it might be ten to one, which is still a lot but it’s three times better. So it’s shifting from beef all the time to beef more rarely and instead, if you like eating meat, well throw a little pork or chicken in it. It turns out that Americans are doing this. We’re eating more white meat instead of red meat because it is healthier for you, it’s affordable, and it tastes good. Our diets are getting more diverse. That shift’s already happening. I’m big on the grassfed beef, reducing the amount of red meat in our diets, and these small changes can have a big impact. Again, it’s not black and white. I think it’s a mistake sometimes for environmental folks to be so Draconian with their view about how everybody else should behave. I have many, many friends that are vegetarians and vegans but I think the more preachy ones telling people that they’re evil and bad for what they eat is kind of turning people off. But that doesn’t mean that you ignore the big issues. One problem in the environmental community—sometimes we want to give people the simple, easy thing. “Change one light bulb, that’s all you need to do.” Or the other extreme is, “We’re totally screwed and the apocalypse is coming.” Well somewhere between that light bulb and the apocalypse is where we need to be. It’s not easy,
but it’s not the end of the world. In fact, some of this can be very good for us and have great benefits to the economy, to our health, to our security, and so on. This would be great for Minnesota’s economy to be the place that invents new food systems, agricultural practices, and energy and water programs—for it to be the place where these solutions come from and helps build our economy. You know, the simple quick fix: I change one light bulb and I’m done or “Oh my god, we’re fucked” kind of thing. We need to be somewhere in the middle of that. We gotta roll up our sleeves and work—stop bickering and just solve the problem. And I wish we could get there more often.
Politics of the Environment W: Touching on the political side of things, with the upcoming election, the realm that you’re dealing with is stuff that is heavily regulated by the government… JF: Wait there’s an election? [laughs] Government used to play a really big role in these things. Lately, unfortunately environmental issues have become rather partisan in nature, which it actually didn’t used to be. EPA and Clean Air and Clean Water Act were all the result of Republican presidents. This was never a Democrat or Republican issue and it has become that lately, and it shouldn’t. I don’t think it’s a left versus right issue. At this moment of historical rhetoric it looks that way, but right now it’s difficult to imagine government solving any big problems. We’ve aimed our sights to others lately. Washington and St. Paul are pretty partisan places right now and it’s kind of tough to get anything you want done, done. I’m more interested right now in partnering with non-profits, businesses, especially big businesses, that actually have more influence in Washington than a bunch of professors and students ever will. So if we can work with those businesses and say, “Hey, we can improve your bottom line and the environment,” then we go together to Washington to talk about the regulatory changes that will be needed. Then suddenly we have a lot more ability to do that. I think ten years ago, environmentalists would say that the only way to get anything done is to put on a suit and fly to Washington. I don’t believe that anymore. I think it’s just as effective to find non-regulatory mechanisms to get things done. Personally, I get kind of annoyed when people assume that if you work for the environment, therefore you’re a liberal Democrat. We all want the same things at the end of the day. We want thriving communities. We want people to be able to make a good living. We want people to have clean water and clean air and we want our kids to grow up to be healthy. What the heck is partisan about that? Frankly, a lot of the political rhetoric isn’t about issues, it’s about power.
Links: Susteducation.umn.edu Environment.umn.edu www.TED.com “Jon Foley: The Other Inconvenient Truth”
Published on Oct 10, 2012
This issue features a Q&A with Brother Ali, an update on what Bill Nye has been up to, an interview with Dr. Jon Foley, and A TON MORE. The...