For peat's sake

peat mines.jpg

2500 years ago Plato wrote about ancient Greece many years before: “... the earth has fallen away all round and sunk out of sight. The consequence is, that in comparison of what then was, there are remaining only the bones of the wasted body, as they may be called, all the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land being left.”

At a remarkable mid-June gathering at Morvern in the West Highlands I read the above excerpt from Plato, who was describing Greece before farmers totally screwed it up.  The theme of the conference was ‘Soil Matters’ and it brought together leading soil scientists, artists, musicians, government and NFU officials, land managers and others with an interest in soil and sustainability. It was hosted by the Andrew Raven Trust, a trust established in memory of his profound influence on Scottish land management and environmental issues.  Because we were in the Highlands the role of peat in climate change and sustainability was a topic.  Peat has a deep resonance with the spirit of Scotland - I’m not talking about whisky here but about peat bogs. 

The Scottish landscape has seen some hard times - the Clearances led to populated areas seeing the longstanding human residents sent off to Glasgow or America or Australia, to be replaced by deer and sheep.  Now the Scots are recreating the marvellous environment that reflects the levels of rainfall that typify the region and rebuilding rural populations living in harmony with this unique environment.  A surprising number of the new migrants are from England.

Misguided post-war policy gave indiscriminate tax incentives to forestry. Trees were inappropriately planted on peatlands, the bogs dried out, the ecosystem collapsed.  Now there are active peat bog restoration projects all over Scotland and the benefits to environment and climate are inestimable.  A peat bog can compete with a woodland in the amount of carbon dioxide it takes out of the air and stores permanently in the depths of the earth.  Scotland’s peat bogs are making a huge contribution to mitigating climate change and we still don’t pay them a penny for doing it.  With carbon pricing on the horizon that could change.  If the carbon price is £50/tonne CO2 then an undisturbed peat bog could earn its owner £2-300 per hectare per year.  That’s more than you could make by cutting the peat for fuel or compost.

Peter Melchett, the late Policy Director of the Soil Association, dreamed of the day when peat use was phased out completely from organic farming.  A 2010 Government deadline for removing peat from horticulture was quietly extended to 2020 and now neither Defra nor the EU have any concrete plans to phase out peat use - the pressure from horticulture is too strong - tomato and vegetable growers are a powerful lobby.


So, while the Scots are diligently restoring peat bogs the rest of the world is still digging it up to save microscopic amounts of money.  We deserve to die if we can’t do anything about this insanity.  Vast peat bog areas of Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania and Canada are being mined on an industrial scale to supply vegetable growers. There have been attempts to phase peat out of organic and conventional production. ‘Peatless peat’: compost blends of coir, composted shredded bark, biochar and green waste perform just as effectively but cost a tiny bit more. They have a vastly lower carbon footprint.  The organic movement sees itself as superior to other growers and farmers but the use of peat is one area where we must hang our heads in shame.  Every principle of sustainability is contradicted by the use of peat;: it takes tens of centuries to replace; it turns into carbon dioxide within a year or two of being used; and it destroys biodiverse habitats. Growers feel under tremendous pressure from supermarkets to cut costs in any way possible and peat is cheap.

Alternatives that don’t devastate the environment can do the job just as well, they just cost 1/2 a penny more than peat for a seedling plant.  A tomato plant can produce 50 tomatoes, so that’s 1/100 of a penny that is saved by using peat to grow tomatoes.  Screw the planet, let’s save a penny per 100 organic tomatoes.

It is time for the organic movement to revisit its founding principles, look to the Scottish example and drive a worldwide movement to restore peat wetlands and make peat use extinct before peat use makes us extinct.

Capitalism Must Price Carbon - Or Die

This was a speech I gave at the Harmony in Food and Farming conference in Llandovery, Wales in July 2017.

Please click here to see video clips of the Prince of Wales, Patrick Holden and myself during the conference, which was organized by The Sustainable Food Trust. It aimed to develop an agricultural perspective on the ideas propounded in the book 'Harmony' by HRH The Prince of Wales and Tony Juniper.

In 1967 Joni Mitchell wrote a song called Woodstock that included these lines:

“We are stardust, We are golden

We are billion year old carbon

And we got to get ourselves

back to the garden”

We are indeed ‘billion year old carbon’ – the average person of about 80kgs/176lbs  contains about 15kgs/33lbs of carbon.  That ancient carbon is in our bones, our muscle, our fat and our bloodstream, as carbohydrate, fat, protein and other compounds.  The carbon in our bodies may have been previously in soil, in trees, in charcoal, in dinosaur turds, in mosquitoes, in honey...  It was everywhere before it ‘reincarbonated’ in us.  Carbon is immortal.   And it is stardust.

A billion or so years ago a very hot star kept getting hotter.  As it got hotter, it formed hydrogen, then carbon, then oxygen and then the other elements that we know.Sir Fred Hoyle, the great astrophysicist, described this as ‘stellar nucleogenesis’ – stars creating atoms.

When that star got too hot it exploded, became a ‘supernova’ and blasted its carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and rock into space.  Those chunks of rock and elements consolidated to form our solar system, with a sun that is still burning today with the remaining heat of the star that formed it a billion years ago.

Carbon is a promiscuous atom, it has 4 points where it can ‘mate’ with other elements.  That’s why there are so many carbon-based molecules and why carbon is the foundation of all living things.  Where there’s life, there’s carbon.

 According to Hoyle, life, in primitive form, was everywhere. This was called ‘Panspermia.’

Life in rock was called ‘Lithopanspermia.’

Life was fungi. That life bumbled along, depending on acid rain from the very CO2-rich atmosphere a billion years ago to break down carbon that was stored in rock. Then a miracle happened that changed everything.

Bacteria called cyanobacteria became able to combine carbon dioxide CO2 from the atmosphere with H2O water, using sunlight energy, to make carbohydrate C6H12O6, whilst excreting oxygen.  That carbohydrate was the sugar that is the basis of all living energy in plants and, eventually, in animal life too.

Once this happened, one can speculate that the rock-eating fungi saw their chance and organised the cyanobacteria into chain gangs, maximising their potential to capture carbon from the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, then at about 95% CO2.

These became algae, then simple plants, all busy making sugar to feed their own growth and, more importantly, to nourish the growth of the fungi that created them.

The fungi worked with other microbes in the soil, thriving on the sugar coming from the plants and delivering back to 'their' sugar-making plant all the mineral nutrients that they needed to grow.  Plants died and decomposed.  Fungi and bacteria died and decomposed. The carbon-rich detritus of their existence rotted down to become what we know as ‘soil’ – a most precious resource because it is the perfect habitat for fungi and bacteria and a rich source of recycled nutrients for plants.

This soil built up over millions of years, producing rich plant growth that eventually could support the large life forms such as dinosaurs and brontosaurs that existed in the ‘Carboniferous’ age.

This was the soil that early pioneers found in the American Midwest, rich in organic matter that ran very deep thanks to the 3 metre roots of prairie grasses.

When my great grandfather began to plough virgin prairie in Nebraska back in 1885, the soil on our farm contained over 100 tonnes of carbon as organic matter (organic matter in soil is approximately 50% carbon).  By the time I was born in 1944 this was down to about 20 and now it is closer to 10, totally dependent on fertilizer and pesticides.

Farmers are frugal, on our farm we grew and processed almost all the food that we ate, only buying in commodities like flour, salt, sugar and soap that we couldn't make on the farm.  Old calico flour sacks were washed and recycled as clothing, overalls for the boys and dresses for the girls.

Some enterprising flour companies printed pretty patterns on their flour bags when they realised this was happening.  My mother and her sister Thelma wore Nell Rose flour sack dresses.

The men were frugal too, but they were unwittingly wasting the most precious resource on the farm, the soil.  As the poet Wendell Berry put it:

 "We didn't know what we were doing because we didn't know what we were undoing." 

What we were undoing was all the decomposed plant matter that had been accumulating ever since those first Cyanobacteria sped up the process of life on Earth.

The destroyed soil lost its water holding capacity and lost its structure and integrity.  The result was the great Mississippi floods of 1927 when the river was 60 miles wide from April to October, sparking the Great Migration of African-Americans to northern cities as their farms were submerged for half a year.

Then in the 1930s the Dust Bowl triggered another migration, of "Okies" from their farms in Oklahoma, Kansas and western Nebraska as their farms became submerged in dust and dirt.  Richard St. Barbe Baker, an Englishman who founded Men of The Trees in 1926 and was a founder member or the Soil Association, helped restore the broken soils of the Midwest.  Operating under the banner of President Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps he oversaw 3 million men who planted 10 billion trees between 1933 and 1940.  (These men also made good soldiers in WW2).

Tractors also played a destructive role, they could plough twice as deep as a horse-drawn plough, bringing up fertility and carbon from deeper in the soil.  My Uncle Floyd (pictured with me in 1947) still used horses to draw his 8-row planter because horses didn't compact the soil. Tractors did, weakening soil structure.

This experience alarmed people in Europe.  In Britain Eve Balfour wrote "The Living Soil" which proposed a new approach to agriculture that worked with nature and became known as 'organic farming.'

Eve Balfour collaborated with Dr. Innes Pearce who had shown at the Pioneer Project in Peckham that low income families did much better if they understood the basics of good nutrition and domestic hygiene.

Together they formed the Soil Association in 1947 on the premise that good farming would produce heathy food to nourish healthy people and create healthy societies.

My introduction to organic food and healthy eating came via the Japanese guru Georges Ohsawa, author of Zen Macrobiotics.  I imported the books to the UK and sold them via various bookshops.

I sold brown rice snacks at the UFO Club, where the Pink Floyd were the house band.  In February 1966 I opened a restaurant in Notting Hill to spread the macrobiotic message.  In 1968 my brother Gregory opened Seed restaurant, our larger restaurant in Bayswater, London.

Getting ourselves back to the garden


  • Balanced - Yin and Yang
  • Organic - Sustainable
  • Wholegrain
  • Food for health
  • 'Justice' (Fair)
  • Japanese (Miso, Nori, Tamari)
  • No additives, no hormones
  • Avoid sugar
  • Eat only when hungry
  • Exercise and Activity

Like the Stoics mentioned in the Prince of Wales’ book "Harmony" we believed in "an attunement between human nature and the greater scheme of the Cosmos."  We saw this through the prism of Daoist yin and yang philosophy and saw it as the key to a long and happy life ('macro' = 'big, long', 'bios' = 'life').

When we launched a range of macrobiotic food products in 1970 we branded them "Harmony" with a trademark that was a Yin Yang symbol with leaves and roots.

The company went on to become Whole Earth Foods a decade later - unfortunately 'Harmony' was a brand we couldn't register in our key European markets.

When I launched Whole Earth cornflakes in 1997 a friend Dan Morrell, who had founded Future Forests (later to become the Carbon Neutral Company) asked me if I'd like to take the corn flakes 'carbon neutral' -  a term he originally coined. .  He then commissioned  Richard Tipper of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management to measure the carbon footprint of the cornflakes.

To our pleasant surprise we had to plant hardly any trees to offset the carbon used in growing, shipping, processing, packaging and distributing the cereal because the increase in the organic matter on the farms where the corn was grown almost completely offset the carbon emissions from everything else.  That's when I understood that, if we priced carbon into the cost of food, people would farm in a very different way.  It is now urgent that we do so

The UN has said that we only have 60 years of farming left. Farming generates more than a third of the annual increase in greenhouse gas. 

Volkert Engelsmann of IFOAM has calculated that we are losing farmland at the rate of 30 football fields every minute.  None of these losses come from organic farming, which is restorative and regenerative.

Industrial farming wastes energy.  It takes 12 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of food energy.  A farmer with a hoe uses 1 calorie of human energy to produce 20 calories of food energy.  On a calorie-for-calorie basis a farmer with a hoe is 240 times more carbon efficient than a farmer with lots of equipment and inputs.  More than 30 years of trials at the Rodale Institute farms in Pennsylvania show that organic farming can sequester 1 tonne of carbon per annum.  They have also shown that once the soil is in good shape, the yields match those of industrial farming.

There is an effort afoot to attempt to bring market forces into bringing an end to this potentially disastrous loss of viable farmland.  Part of this is to attempt to appeal to the self-interest of companies like Unilever and General Mills whose supply chain will suffer if farmland becomes unviable and unavailable.

The French National Institute for Agricultural Research published a report in 2015 that stated that if farmers could sequester 4 parts per 1000 of organic matter,  that’s 0.04%, every year in their soil that would be enough to totally offset the annual increase in greenhouse gas emissions that is causing climate change.  That’s without counting any transition to solar, wind or greater energy efficiency.  As a result the French National Assembly voted a carbon price of €65 per tonne to take effect in 2020 and to include agriculture.  French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll then announced his ‘4 per 1000’ initiative which became part of the Paris Climate Agreement. It was endorsed at COP 22 in Marrakech and  36 countries so far have signed up to participate in restoring soil, the capital base of every nation.

The Prince of Wales co-authored a children’s book called ‘Climate Change’ that shows how carbon goes into the atmosphere and how it comes back into the earth and the sea.  The net annual increase is 16 billion tonnes.

A 3000 hectare biodynamic farm called Fattoria La Vialla in Tuscany Italy has its carbon measured every year by a team from the University of Siena.  La VIalla are sequestering ‘7 per 1000’ every year.  If everyone farmed like those 3 brilliant brothers  in Italy, whose farm is roughly 1/3 pasture, 1/3 forest and 1/3 everything else (grape vines, cereals, fruit, vegetables), then we would not only cancel out the 16 billion tonne increase in CO2 but would see a 12 billion tonne reduction every year.   Additional benefits would be greater biodiversity, cleaner water, less risk of drought and flooding and safer food.  (Their wine is pretty awesome, too).

Going beyond stopping degeneration is the regeneration movement.  This includes: Regeneration International, an offshoot of the mighty Organic Consumers Association in the US; the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO; Soil and More (Netherlands); People 4 Soils (Slow Food movement); and Save our Soils (UK).

Corporations like General Mills are taking strong initiatives.  They have 100,000 hectares of land from their supply chain to be organic by 2020 as part of their carbon reduction policy.

But we still burn food.  One half of the annual USA corn crop is converted to ethanol using more energy to produce it than is embodied in the ethanol. It is mixed with gasoline to be burned as fuel.  The US is now exporting oil and gas yet still burns vast amounts of food in the name of 'energy security.'

We still destroy forests.  According to HRH the Prince of Wales this is at a rate of 15 football fields per minute.  If we valued the carbon stored in those forests at $20 tonne each hectare would be worth $15000.  Once the forest is cleared and then planted with soybeans it is worth $300 per hectare.  HRH described this in a speech in 2008 as ‘The greatest example of market failure in the history of capitalism.’

We still burn wood.  There is a false virtuousness to burning wood.  200,000 wood burning stoves a year are sold in the UK alone.  Wood smoke is more harmful to health than smoke from coal, oil or gas.  It takes a tree 50 years to sequester the carbon that is then consumed in a wood burning stove in 50 minutes. If a replacement tree is planted, will take 50 years to take that carbon back out of the atmosphere.

Wood has the resilience of steel and the load bearing capacity of concrete.  'Glulam' and other new wood technologies mean that wood can be used in 20 story buildings ('plyscrapers'), sequestering the embodied carbon in the wood for centuries.  We should never burn wood, it's a terribly inefficient waste of carbon.

Biochar, or charcoal made from wood, is a way to convert wood by-products into a carbon rich substance that can be put in the soil and will stay there for decades or even centuries.

It dramatically increases the population of beneficial microbes in soil, delivering a healthier plant immune system,  increased water retention and reduced loss of nutrients from leaching.  It is the best use for woody material that is not suitable for building or furniture making.  It is proven to help restore degraded soils and make them fertile and fit for farming again.  There are many examples of its benefits: tomato growers use it to combat plant diseases and increase yields; it cures honey fungus, ash dieback, chestnut blight, phytophthora and other tree diseases; it helps cocoa farmers overcome the devastating impact of black pod.  Stockholm uses it for all their new urban tree plantings as it enhances survival rates.  In Qatar the Aspire Park now use it for all their new tree plantings, with gratifying results.  Biochar in soil protects the beneficial microbes that are part of a plant’s immune system, its food supply and it’s water supply.

Farming and forestry would be transformed if carbon pricing were to be introduced for their activity.   People would plant trees instead of growing wasteful biofuels.  Prairie grass would replace corn in the Midwest.  Farmers would adopt regenerative methods such as organic and biodynamic farming.

Farmers would profit from farming carbon in 2 ways:

  1.  An annual payment for any increase in soil carbon and a charge for any decrease in soil carbon
  2.  An 'interest' payment on the actual level of soil carbon on the farm. This would be effective at around 10% annually.

A typical organic farm would benefit to the tune of approximately £100 per hectare and an industrial farm would have to pay a carbon tax of as much as £100 per hectare.  Farmers would change behaviour overnight and agribusiness behemoths like Monsanto, Bayer and John Deere would have to rethink their business model.  Taxpayer-funded subsidies to farming could be largely phased out as carbon markets would trade the carbon credits.

Farmers could also insure against catastrophic events such as flood and drought that might impact on their soil carbon.   However, farming with carbon in mind would reduce the likelihood of such damaging events.

Soil is Nature’s capital and the foundation of all life on Earth.  Capitalism is about valuing capital and pricing it.  Capitalism has failed to deal with carbon because industry, transportation and farming have been allowed to pollute freely at no cost.  All other forms of pollution are nowadays strictly controlled for wider social benefit. It is time for carbon to be priced and traded like very other important commodity.

We can get 'back to the garden' - the Garden of Eden.  We just have to price carbon and change the way we farm our beautiful planet.

"We are stardust, We are golden

We are billion year old carbon

And we got to get ourselves

back to the garden"


The curse of nuclear power and its associated mass extermination weaponry has hung over the heads of several generations since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We were conned by promises of 'electricity too cheap to meter' when the first British nuclear plant was erected at Calder Hall (renamed 'Windscale' then renamed 'Sellafield) but in fact it now costs more than wind or solar. Now Toshiba, who suicidally bought the Westinghouse nuclear business, is consulting bankruptcy lawyers. Electricité de France, 85% owned by the French Government, is in terminal decline, with a share price ten percent of historic highs.  This still leaves the question of who will pay to clean up the toxic mess from places like Fukushima and Chernobyl and, eventually, Hinkley Point. The militarists who promoted nuclear power as a cover to get weapons grade plutonium? The politicians who were wined and dined and voted this madness through? The insurers who backed these projects under government guarantees? The investors who relied on taxpayer money to guarantee the huge investment required? Or the taxpayers of today and tomorrow and centuries to come who will have to protect civilisation from this toxic blight on everyone's future?

The below is from the Financial Times...

The end of nuclear
The end of nuclear




As the financial crisis affects everyone in the organic industry here's my take on the situation.  Trust me, I have an economics degree. Every year HM Treasury collects our taxes and lends it to the banks. The banks don’t lend it on because of their precarious position.  Every £1000 that they lend should be backed up by real money in their reserves of £100 - that's fractional reserve banking and a magic way to make money.  Unfortunately for the banks, It cuts both ways.  When banks are bust, they need to borrow £1000 from the government to cover every£100 of cash that they are short if people decide to take out their deposits.

We can’t let the banks go down because they’d drag us all down with them.  If a bank goes bust, you will still owe the money to whoever takes over your debt from the receiver.  Inescapably. But all your deposits will be lost.  Irretrievably.  That’s how we could all go bust. And why we have to save the buggers.

So how on earth can we rebuild the economy and put our banks on a solid footing?  I have 2 ideas: short-dated cash and green jobs


Instead of giving the banks the estimated £800 billion that they need to stay afloat - just put the money into the public domain.  There are 50 million adults in the UK.  If the Treasury had given every adult £16000 over the course of 16 months that would be equivalent to what they did by creating money out of thin air to bail out the banks by‘quantitative easing.’  Forget electronics, just print the stuff on paper and get it into circulation where it counts, among the spending population.  Banks don't shop. People do.

Give every adult in Britain £1000 every month for 16 months.  Give it out in short dated£50 notes that expire 1 month from the date of issue.  That would force every person in the UK to go out and spend money before the notes expire.  It would be like a rush of adrenalin to the economy.  Every time £1000 changes hands it adds another £1000 to our GDP and people’s income and profits, which means more tax take for the Government in the end.  The money would still end up converted to 'real' money in the banks on the day they expire, but at least on the way it would have made a lot of businesses profitable and helped people buy organic muesli and pay off their mortgages.


Another way to pump money into the economy is to create green jobs.  Take the unemployed, double their benefit and set them to work making the world a better place.  It’s been done before and it works

In 1933 the US had terrible unemployment during the Great Depression.  Talk of revolution was in the air.  Then President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps.  3 million men, dispersed to camps in the countryside, planted 10 billion trees in what had been the Dust Bowl.  They created the National Parks system of which Americans are now so proud and they build huge hydroelectric projects in the Tennessee Valley that still generate zero carbon electricity.

Why not create a Green Army and pay the unemployed to plant forests on moorland? Then pay farmers to look after trees instead of overgrazing with uneconomic sheep.  The carbon offset value of the trees would make it pay for itself.   The Green Soldiers could help out on organic farms, too, helping to restore biodiversity and reverse soil degradation.

The Civilian Conservation Corps taught a generation to enjoy the outdoor life and the satisfaction of doing meaningful work of enduring value.  The Green Army could do the same for people in Britain who deserve a better future than flipping burgers, waiting for the next wedge of 'social'  and being bored in front of a TV.

Getting the Lead Out

Why were the Sixties so much fun? Could it be that we were all high on lead? Sure there was acid and grass and purple hearts, but what really got everyone loose as a goose was the lead. There is no level below which lead doesn’t have an effect. A little goes a long way. And it rots your brain, makes you prone to take risks and forgetful, while eating away at your kidneys and your liver. Kids get it worst: adults store it in their bones, but kids have it circulating in their bloodstream.

In the 60s A Day In The Life would start with a pot of tea made from water that had been sitting in lead pipes all night long. All the time you’re inhaling house dust that contains particles of lead that have flaked off the walls, painted with lead-based paints. Then the paper hits the doormat and you read it, the lead in the print coming off as a greyish smudge on your fingers that is absorbed directly through the skin into the bloodstream. Then breakfast of baked beans on toast, from a tin that was soldered together at the seam with a lead/tin compound. Out on the street, take a deep breath of fresh air, nicely spiced with airborne lead from the tetraethyl lead that was in all petrol until the mid ‘90s. Then roast pheasant for lunch, with atomised lead particles from the shotgun that brought it down. Now lead’s been phased out – you can only get unleaded petrol, lead pipes have mostly been replaced with plastic or copper, newspapers no longer use lead-based ink, house paints are all lead-free and tinned foods now no longer use solder – all the cans are welded seams. When I first went to pack Whole Earth baked beans back in 1983 the canners were appalled that I was appalled at the lead solder on the cans. They warned me that having welded seam cans would cost me an extra 10p per dozen, expecting me to drop my resistance. We were the first baked beans to use lead-free cans but Heinz and the rest followed suit over the next decade. Or so. And swan populations are recovering as hunters and fishermen switch over to lead-free shot.

Of course there is still lead residue in the world’s soils in which we grow our food. Green & Black’s test every batch of cocoa beans to make sure there is no residue. Dagoba, in the US, had to recall all their chocolate 2 years ago when it was found to have high levels of lead residue. It broke the company and they sold to Hershey a few months later.

When General Motors and Standard Oil developed tetraethyl lead as a petrol additive in the 1920s there was an outcry. It was banned. Everyone knew it was a poison and the opposition was led by top professors from Harvard and Yale. But Standard Oil likened lead to a ‘Gift from God’ as it would make such a difference to automobile performance. They acted in cahoots with DuPont (“Better Living Through Chemistry”) and General Motors to put pressure on the politicians. The ban on leaded gasoline was lifted and the world got a lot more toxic. Then it was banned again in the 1980s. Rick Nevin, of the National Center for Healthy Housing, has shown that crime levels fall when unleaded petrol is introduced. All the claims of tough guy mayors and police chiefs to have cut crime rates are so much fluff, the real culprit was lead all along. Has lead been phased out around the world? No. In Mexico City cars pump 32 tons of lead into the atmosphere every day. The crime rate went up by 69 % from 2005 to 2009. Researchers said maybe it was criminals acting under the influence of drugs. I blame the lead

But all is not doom and gloom – it only took 60 years for common sense to prevail, so there’s hope for us all that it might do so again with our modern poisons.

Roll on $200 a barrel oil prices

Much as I hate what Gaddafi is up to and much as I dread any threat to the stability of the Saudi regime, I can’t help hoping that the oil price goes up and stays up.

There are a lot of reasons for this.

Cheap oil is what drives industrial farming. 7 years ago in The Little Food Book I calculated that when the oil price hit $70 a barrel organic food would be cheaper than non-organic. That’s because it take twice as much fossil fuel for an industrial farmer to produce a calorie of food as it does for an organic farmer. Broadly speaking, an industrial farmer uses 12 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food. Then it takes more fossil fuel to convey the food to the supermarket distribution depot, then to the store, including refrigeration costs. An organic farmer uses 6 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food and is more likely to sell it at a farmer’s market or to local outlets.

Industrial farming replaces jobs with chemicals. Instead of people planting, weeding and composting chemicals do the job. Nitrate fertilisers are made using natural gas. Gas prices follow oil prices upwards – energy is energy. So nitrates are getting a lot more expensive, but still not expensive enough. They’re killing us by releasing nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas 310 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in causing global warming. Nitrates are responsible for the equivalent of 1 billion tonnes of CO2 every year, about 1/6 of the total excess emissions that are turning up the heat on dear old Planet Earth. And farmers need to use more and more as underlying soil fertility dies out, making a bad problem worse. At $200 barrel, even with the current extravagant level of subsidies, farmers would switch to organic in droves. If you can grow your own fertiliser by leaving fields fallow, composting and growing green manures, why pay for a bunch of horrendously expensive chemicals? The price of food will go up as the price of oil goes up, but the impact per calorie on organic food will be half that on industrial.

A lacto-ovo vegetarian consumes half the energy resources for the same nutrition as a non-vegetarian meat-eater. A vegan consumes just one quarter. An organic vegan will consume just 1/8 the fossil fuel inputs of a non-organic non-vegetarian.

The price of carbon offsets goes up with rising oil prices. Companies have to pay for EU carbon emission allowances. They are currently priced at around £12 per tonne. Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the last government’s report on climate change and of the book Blueprint for a Safer Planet, said the real price should be £70 per tonne. (Then he said “I was wrong – the real figure is £140 per tonne”). The higher the price of oil, the higher the price of carbon offsets and the more attractive it is to invest in energy-saving and renewables. A tonne of oil produces more than 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide, so just to offset the cost to the future of this planet, it should cost £140 times 3 or £420. A barrel is 1/5 tonne, so the carbon cost of a barrel should be priced in at about £80, or $120 per barrel. Then the producers need to make a small profit, too, after all it costs anything from $3 (Kuwait) to $9 (Texas) to extract a barrel of oil from the ground. They’ve got used to making $90/barrel profit, add that to the $120 carbon cost and you’re over $200.

When you see the taxis with their engines running queuing up outside railway stations, vans parked with their engines running and people whizzing along at inefficient speeds you can’t help wondering if they would be so wasteful if petrol cost 3 times as much.

Think of the jobs that high oil prices would bring, too. Every time an out of town supermarket opens local employment suffers. Yeah, yeah, I know they claim they are creating jobs but James Lowman of the Association of Convenience Stores did a check last year. Supermarkets created an extra 2.75 million extra square feet of store space and cut their staff levels by 426. So we are gutting the high streets of our towns and putting more people on the unemployment register and forcing people to drive to the supermarket to buy a week’s worth of food, 1/3 of which goes off and ends up being wasted.

When oil prices go up people will shop locally, on an ‘as needed’ basis. They’ll eat organic. They’ll eat less meat. They’ll walk more and drive less. They’ll pay lower insurance premiums as adverse climate events reduce the impact on insurers. They’ll breathe cleaner air as people switch to less polluting transportation. They’ll drink cleaner water as pesticides and


Biofuels are causing environmental disaster. Let’s not be biofools...

Last year the average price of a food basket rose by 12%. There are legitimate reasons for this including rising oil prices and more demand for meat. Another cause, which concerns me here, is biofuels - the so-called ‘green’ saviour. The rush into biofuels is a scam to get rid of food surpluses by burning them. Instead of downsizing our cars, we are burning food for oil. Ethanol plants are taking one third of the entire US corn crop and turning it into alcohol for mixing with gasoline. It’s terribly inefficient, but the government gives ethanol plants a $1 gallon subsidy and charges less tax on biofuels at the service station. Many US states now require 15% ethanol to be added to gasoline at service station pumps. It’s another scam to waste taxpayers’ money on inefficient GM and industrial farming, this time under the guise of doing something to fight climate change. The US and the EU are both promoting biofuels as an eco-solution. Don’t be fooled. Two recently published groups of US research found that farming biofuels actually increases greenhouse gas emissions. Clearing carbon-rich peatland and rainforests to plant fuel crops releases even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The industrial manufacturing process only adds to biofuels’ carbon footprint. Grown on an industrial scale, biofuels end up accelerating climate change, not reducing it. Worst of all, the fundamental principle is flawed. If you put £1 million in the bank in July and then withdrew it in August and burned it, would you say you were £1 million better off? Of course not, but the crazy economics of biofuels do just that. When biofuels are burnt, carbon that has just been taken out of the atmosphere in the summer goes right back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, later in the autumn. How on earth is that doing something good for the planet? If we really want to reduce greenhouse gases, then we need to put carbon into the soil and keep it there by farming organically. Carbon does far more good in the soil then it does harm in the air (as carbon dioxide). The soil on organic farms contains up to 6 times as much carbon (as humus) as on non-organic farms. Humus fertilises the soil naturally, retaining moisture and nutrients. But instead of turning land into carbon-rich stores, the EU Commission is calling for energy-intensive, greenhouse gas-forming biofuels. It has recently made new targets: 10% biofuels by 2010 at a pump near you. This will exhaust what little carbon remains in our once humus-rich fertiles soils, all to keep agribusiness going.If the US and EU paid farmers to turn their farms into carbon-capturing meadows and forests, we could add billions of tonnes of carbon to the soil carbon bank annually. But agribusiness doesn’t make money out of set-aside land – no market for chemicals, equipment or fertilisers - it makes money out of land relentlessly farmed to destruction. So we pay more for food as well as, through our taxes, for biofuels. And global warming gets worse.This has terrible social consequences as well as environmental ones. Most of Europe’s palm oil bio-diesel is imported from Indonesia, destroying the orangutan’s habitat and precious rain forest and its human inhabitants. Ethanol from Brazil comes from sugar cane that replaces Brazilian rainforest. We are converting other people’s land and food into fuel for us. EU policies subsidise the theft of land from forest-dwelling people. Nobody, not even Parliament, ever asked for or voted for this.Not in my name, please.


Nuclear Power Option? Get rid of it.

Had a chat with a Belarussian cabbie while in Tallinn Estonia to give a speech at a marketing conference. He had lived in Estonia for 25 years.

“Why'd you move to Estonia?” "I worked in the MInistry of Commerce and so had access to confidential government papers. When I saw how bad the radiation contamination from Chernobyl really was I took my family and got the hell out." "Are your kids healthy?" "Yes, thank you, no thyroid cancer or other problems."

The nuclear industry will never tell you the truth. There were frozen Welsh lambs that were condemned for being too radioactive that had been frozen before Chernobyl blew up. It came from the Windscale (Sellafield) fire in 1957. We'd been eating radionucleides since the 50s in lamb and dairy products and nobody told us. It’s still there. Welsh hill sheep have to come down to less radioactive valley pastures for their final months of grazing to get their radioactivity below the maximum limit.

Imagine if you had some disease where you continuously excreted a toxic substance that would kill any living being. You then collected it and injected it into your Mum. That’s what we’re doing to our mother – Earth – so that we can advertise chewing gum all night in Piccadilly Circus.

The electricity that was billed as 'too cheap to meter' has turned out to be costing us the Earth. Fukushima isn’t over yet - a huge area of Japan will be uninhabitable for tens of thousands of years. If it had been Dungeness then all of Kent and Sussex would have had to be evacuated. The French have already banned eating or selling fish from the river Rhone because of radioactivity from a nuclear power station near Lyons. Now it’s leaking into the Mediterranean.

Sellafield disposed of 250 tonnes of Plutonium-239 onto the floor of the Irish Sea. Now it’s moving its way up the food chain through microorganisms to shellfish to fish. It’s turning up in farmed salmon. It has a ‘half life’ of 24,000 years. That means in 24,000 years it will ‘only’ be equivalent to 125 tonnes. In other words, it’s there forever.

Every year we create another 12,000 tonnes of HLW – High Level Waste – stuff that is toxic forever.

What can we do? If I ruled the world (not such a bad idea) I'd:

  • Earmark 5% of global GDP to energy security. Real energy security
  • Tax fossil fuels at their real cost of £140 tonne of CO2 emitted – starting with the US, where 6% of the world's population use 30% of the world’s energy
  • Insulate, insulate, insulate - it saves in air conditioning as well as heating
  • Solar, wind, tidal, geothermal – just spend the money
  • Never burn wood - turn it into biochar and sequester it in the soil
  • Close every nuclear power station and ship the waste to Russia

Then pay the Russians to build 20,000 of their 25 tonne payload rockets – it costs $4000 a Kilogram to chuck this deadly crap into space. So the 500,000 tonnes of High Level Waste we now have on the planet would cost a mere $2 trillion to get rid of permanently. What a bargain! The IMF estimates the financial crash cost us $12 trillion and we’re still alive. Let’s do it now, before the waste is irretrievably buried in underground storage. Sorry if there's life out there in space, but it's us or them.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, is as evil as nuclear power. Nothing else threatens everything that all living plants and creatures have struggled for since the miracle of life began on this planet. It was always just an excuse to build atom bombs.

If you had the choice: double your electricity bill or die a horrible lingering death watching the skin peel off the faces of your children? What would you choose?

Belize Breezes

Arrived in Punta Gorda on Thursday Nov 13 and visited cacao farmers up country, with Neil, the Green & Black's supply chain manager and Lisa, our marketing manager and 4 journalists from the US and Canada.

The cacao crop at this time of year is fairly small, but is called 'Christmas cacao' because it generates extra cash in December to pay for presents. The varieties that are being developed and for grafting from budwood are starting to have an impact on yields, which is good news and farmers are getting a lot better at pruning, so the ever-present threat of monilia (a devastating disease) is diminished.

We visited the farm of Justino Peck, who is the outgoing chairman of the Toledo Cacao Growers Association and who was also chairman in 1993 when I visited to persuade the farmers to go organic, dangling a long term contract, cash in advance and a good price. Justino bought into my offer and brought the association along, for which I am always grateful. His trees were looking good, but in need of pruning on the top growth, something that our charcoal (more later) project will address.

We then went on to Uxbenha, where recent archaeological evidence indicates that cacao use and trade predates that found at any other site, confirming that the 'botanical epicentre' of cacao, i.e where it was first domesticated, is right here in the Maya Mountains. There were a few wild citrus trees and we gathered some cooling refreshing fruit before heading off to visit Eladio Pop in San Pedro village, overlooking the Columbia river. Eladio's wife served us with tortilla, rice, chicken caldo (spicy stew) and pumpkin and we then drank his homemade kukuh out of calabash cups. He grows the cacao, ferments it, dries it, roasts it, winnows the husks and then grinds it and shapes the resulting paste into balls which keep for months. When he wants kukuh he grates off some of the balls and blends it with warm water, vanilla, ground allspice and honey or sugar. All home grown (except the sugar). It was delicious and after several calabash cups full we were bouncing off the walls and ready to move on. Eladio is a 'new man' to the extent that he cooks at the weekend to give his wife a break and takes a keen interest in culinary matters as well as the growing of organic food. Perhaps this is a good time to mention that I just got an email from Bob Bond, who keeps bees on our family woods and orchard at Fairlight, that 'our' honey won First at the National Honey Show. We and the bees are very very proud!

We bade Eladio and family goodbye and headed off for Lubantuun, where Justino and I did interviews on camera for Vivien, the Canadian journalist and we all learned about the history of the ruins. In 1987 I had written in the guest book "Get rid of these trees, they are eating into the ruins and will make them unrestoreable.' A lot of work has been done since then but the trees are growing back and some misguided government official has forbidden their removal as trees are a 'good thing.' That evening we have a convivial dinner at the Hickatee Cottages and restaurant, set in deep jungle and run by a lovely English couple, Kate and Ian. Kate is slight and delicate in appearance, but tough as nails and unmoved by any adversity, even the near failure of their electricity generation in the middle of her dinner preparation efforts.

I saw a guy barbecuing chicken for sale to passers by and inquired about where his charcoal came from. "Supaul's store just around the corner from Main Street." Supaul told me that there are charcoal makers at Boom Creek Village, a Spanish speaking community a few miles west of Punta Gorda, so plan to visit them on Monday to study their methodology.

Sunday morning: go for a long walk along the seafront up to the edge of town at Joe Taylor Creek, where there is a small landing. Walking back I sit on another wooden landing, feet dangling in the water to try to ease the itch of sandfly bites, lying back flat in the hazy sun listening to Andy Palacio and Ernest Ranglin. Oh yes. Then barefoot, trousers rolled up to the knee, walking back to town to Grace's Cafe for lunch of ginger ale, rice and stewed beans, with a double helping of lightly dressed cole slaw. Oh yes, indeed. Then I pass a house with turkeys in the back yard, only a few weeks till Christmas. I always like John Maynard Keynes' comment that turkeys, on the basis of previous evidence, think that the economy will always be growing, with everyone getting larger and fatter and with more food every day, then comes the crunch. One has jumped over the fence and I wake up its owner, who is snoozing on his porch, to warn about the break out.

On Sunday afternoon Lisel Alamilla, the executive director of the Ya'axche Conservation Trust picks me up with Bartolo Teul, her conservation officer and Elseno DuBon, a consultant who grows cacao and has helped the TCGA in the past, to have a look at their forest reserve location and to discuss how we can integrate biochar production with sustainable cacao growing, organic farming and permanent protection of the amazing biodiversity that they enjoy. There have been some pretty ugly scenes with illegal loggers crossing over from Guatemala - in their own country they'd be shot but they think they can get away with it because there's so few people in the reserve that they can take out logs without being noticed. Regular biochar harvesting activity will keep more people in the deep bush and this will provide early warning if anybody is trying to steal trees. They give me a slide show about their activities and it is clear they see cacao as a way of combining agroforestry with conservation and we discuss how best to overlay biochar production so that they can generate income for the farmers and for their great work. My late dad's friend, Dr. Adrian Wilson, is one of many generous sponsors but they are keen to become self sufficient as their reserve links to some much larger reserves that they have the opportunity to manage - of montane forest, tropical forest and riverbank land going right down to the mangroves at sea level, the Golden Stream watershed. On our way to the river crossing Bartolo laughs when I tell him that my first encounter with Golden Stream was August 1987, when it was in full flood. (They have since built a new bridge that is 10 feet higher). The old wooden bridge had 2 running boards for each vehicle wheel, set on cross boards and the river had flooded up several feet above the level of the boards. We waited through the night and by 4 am the waters had subsided enough for me to wade across the bridge bent over feeling through the stream to stay on the track of the running boards, my butt in the air and the vehicle with all our cameras and equipment (we were there to film the Deer Dance as part of a scheme to return the Crystal Skull to its home in Lubantuun) following me a few feet behind to make sure it also stayed on track. A sudden swift current tore off my plastic sandal and as we crossed the bridge I joked that I could see it stuck on a branch. Lisel suggested that when we came back on Friday with the full group that we could return by canoe down the river, meet a boat and thus see the whole flow of the landscape. Maybe I really will find my sandal. Then we could go round to John Spang and Tanya Russ' 1500 acres that are only accessible from the sea for a cup of tea and work out how to char the vast amounts of wood that were destroyed on their forest by Hurricane Iris, before it rots away completely. Not sure how you char rotten wood, I assume it gets damp. But they all liked the principle of char as carbon credit, safe household fuel and agricultural amendment, especially as some of the cacao farmers on their land are having trouble because of acid soil. There is clay everywhere, often so hard that people can't get a spade through it. They have a nursery where they raise 10,000 trees a year to give out to farmers, mostly cacao, balaam (a native variety with a white bean), mahogany, red cedar, mango and other native varieties. It's getting on for the dry season so they are anxious to get the remaining trees out of the nursery and into the ground while the wet weather lasts. Monday November 18th Go to TCGA to see if I can get a lift to Boom Creek from Alvaro Pop. Cirila Cho is waiting there to get a check for a delivery of her new chocolate bars. With a well designed wrapper and much smoother texture they are one of about 5 brands of chocolate that are aiming to capture the local market before going global. She used to make Brigadeiros, toffee like balls, now she makes a creditable dark chocolate bar. She is very smartly turned out in a beautifully embroidered white on black skirt and is very businesslike. Things are going well, she now has a proper grinding and conching set-up and is increasing sales, despite the competition. Her son is helping her in the business, Annemarie, her daughter, who used to be the TCGA compliance officer and has recently had a baby, so she's now a granny. She still winnows the roasted beans by hand, a tedious task, but having the grinder is pivotal to quality. I'm glad to see that she has progressed by leaps and bounds from her kitchen tabletop operation just a year and half ago. Meeting with Santiago Sanchez at Boom Creek Village. He makes charcoal which he supplies to Supaul's store in Punta Gorda, who then sells it to the streetside barbecue chicken vendors and to the public. Santiago's house is stacked with bags of charcoal which he has prepared earlier and is waiting to sell and we sit down for a chate. I mention that I am interested in charcoal etc and then ask him if he has every tried it mixed with soil. His face lights up, he leaps up and beckons me to his charcoal pit, about 100 yards from his house. The pit is about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide, logs on either side, charcoal in the bottom, and rich black charcoaly earth on the sides. He calls it 'black soil' and I pick up a handful, it smells very neutral, less earthy than compost but it has a lovely texture, almost edible. So far Santiago has experimented with it on his cabbages ("They have much wider heads and are much greener, lots of big green leaves") and his peppers. The soil runs dark and deep and it seems like the carbon has percolated down, or been taken by worms, to a deeper level as I scoop out some from the sides from the very bottom of his pit and it is rich and black several inches in, though this could just be burnt earth. We go back to his house where he has a rusting old pickup truck carcass that his wife uses as a nursery. There are some rather sad looking plants in black plastic 'pots' and I ask if the soil in them is char-enriched as there is a pile of black soil on the truck bed. He shakes his head and points to the anaemic looking soil in the pots and says "I tell my wife to mix it in but she don't do it." As a fellow innovator I know how hard it is to get people to take your crazy ideas seriously. I buy 4 bags full of charcoal to take back as gifts for TCGA and YCT folks and we bid him goodbye, arranging to come back on Wednesday afternoon. Pop in to see SHI (Sustainable Harvest International) director Nana Mensah who shows me their new solar poo drier and urine collector. Nana Mensah took up the biochar baton last year when I preached the gospel to him at the Cacao Fest. He sent his staffer Kenny Cal to a course in Honduras in May of this year where they learnt how to make biochar from corncobs. As corncobs are not thrown away but used as toilet paper charring is a good way to capture and sterilise otherwise pathogenic waste. As the Japanese keep urine to enrich charcoal and cool it down after processing, things are coming together. Kenny Cal now works for YCT. Then to TCGA office for a planning meeting for the next few days' guests. Neil has been summoned back to London and Lisa wonders if I can possibly go with the group and her to Maya Mopan on Wednesday...I tentatively agree. Then we go off at my suggestion, to Gomier's, whose rastafarian restaurant is the only place you can get at tofu based meal in Punta Gorda. I order a rice and vegetables with tofu/oat balls in curry, the best meal I've had all week. They have fish now, so the others don't suffer to much from lack of protein. Chat on phone with William Kendall while lunching at Gomier's about proposed management changes. Then I head back to the hotel where I bump into Terrell, the North Carolina environmental civil servant who muses about how he used to round up stray dogs as part of his job and how he could deal with the Punta Gorda lot in no time. We go off to the Sea View bar above the fish market where a drum and rap group are doing Garifuna versions of Blondie songs. I down a Belikin, we stroll over to visit Chet, there is a Rasta and a hippie on his porch but he's gone to bed and doesn't respond to my soft calling of 'Schmidtie' so we go back to the hotel and I get an early night. The toilet is oozing (clean) water so I stuff a dirty shirt around the base to delay the inevitable puddling of the bathroom floor (Tate's Hotel, in case you're interested). Before retiring I send an email to our board suggesting that Neil's return be postponed.

Tuesday November 18th

Meet the journalists at the TCGA depot where Ernestina Bol has brought in some cacao for weighing. They are slightly overfermented, an unusual problem, but still acceptable. Neil gets a phone call to say he should stay on, so I am off the hook on Lisa's trip to Maya Mopan, though I'll go there at some point. Neil explains to the journalists about pricing and Lisa is getting anxious about time, but it is important that they understand the relation between the high prices we pay, the consistency of quality supply and the benefits to all parties. You get what you pay for and the customer is the ultimate beneficiary of the principle. When the see the fair trade premium of $150 and the organic fair trade premium of $200 they are impressed, then Neil shows them the Green & Black's premium of $1000 and they begin to understand why it all makes such a big difference. He also explains that because we now buy daily and also will soon be buying in San Antonio more women bring in cacao and they use the money more wisely. He comments that in the old days the men would bring in a large amount of cacao, get a large check, cash it at the bank next door and then spend the money on drink, to which I quip "...and then squander the rest." We head off to San Antonio and visit the new buying centre. This will provide solar warmed and naturally ventilated drying for farmers, to take away the tedium of constantly needing to watch out for rain without accelerating this crucial stage in the flavour development process. A rusting old barrel oven from the San Antonio wood fired drier that dates back to the Peace Corps help in 1986 is there. It never worked properly, just made cacao that tasted like kippers. All my anxieties about driers were based on that but this is as good or better than sun drying. Then we go up to see 3 generations of Bols: Reyes Bol, his son Justiniano and his grandson Justianano Bol Jr, or 'Junior.' If there's an 80:20 rule about cacao it's that the Bol family and the Chun family supply most of our cacao. Their plantation is beautifully placed and I pick some allspice leaves for us to sniff, then we eat fresh cacao fruit, some are absolutely au point with just right balance of sweetness and acidity, everyone is greedily and with sticky fingers pulling out the seeds, sucking off the pulp and spitting the pits. I slice one lengthwise to show the deep purple of a fresh unfermented bean as all they've seen is well fermented and don't know what unfermented looks like. Then we go back to Junior's place for a lunch of caldo, rice, tortilla and what looks like potato. It is slightly sweeter, but almost a spud, so I ask what it is and am told that it's yucca. I go into the kitchen area and ask Junior's wife if she has one and she points to a huge tuber, about 8 times the size of a potato, on the floor in the corner. Wow. I pick it up and dangle it in front of Darragh and Susan, who are from Dublin "Let's see a spud this size from Oireland then" I challenge. There is a huge poinsettia outside the house that is clustered with beautiful flowers. It's always amazing to see perennials and their potential when we see them either as annuals

or just as house plants. Even more amazing to walk throught he bush with a machete, hacking away at plants that, if you were in the Kew Gardens Tropical House, would have you locked up for a 4 stretch.

Then we go off to see Luciano Cho, who has 100 year old trees that he inherited from his Dad and refuses to prune because his mother entrusted them with them and he can't bring himself to remove a single branch. They are big fat trees, thick mossy branches, not very much fruit. He has planted a lot of cacao in recent years and will be the biggest single producer within a year or two as the 5 and 6 year old trees start to bear serious amounts. He and I go off for a walk away from the group to look at his mahoganies, a few very heavily laden cacao trees, and a wild pear that is huge. He has little hot pepper plants that seem to

pop up everywhere, scorching even when green. Back with the group I ask him what schooling he had "Six years, that's why I don't speak so good." The journalists assure him that he speaks English well, but he knows they're being kind. I ask how many kids he has in high school and he says 2 at the moment, each one cost him US$500 a year in tuition, uniforms and books but he is determined that all his kids graduate and that's what inspires him to grow such good cacao and in such quantity. He's on his land at 6 a.m and knocks off at 4 p.m and is a picture of health and happiness, a man rooted in his ancestral land, though in fact most of it is of uncertain tenure, the nightmare that threatens to haunt all these farmers unless the debate over land tenure is resolved one way or the other. The Maya Council want reservation land to be protected from any alienation ever, they don't want farmers to be able to sell land to outsiders so think it should be held in common, though prior use will be respected. Some farmers want ( and a handful have) the security of private ownership, but that opens the ever-present risk that the rising number of refugees from 'civilisation' will outbid the locals when the land is sold and that gradually the distinctive Maya character of the homeland will be diluted, divided, diffused and dissipated. We drive back to Punta Gorda and regroup in the evening for dinner at Marion's Bay View. It's my last night with this group so I go off with Sue White from Sydney and we do a one to one interview. Then we all have dinner, lovely vegetarian options, I have dhal, rice and salad and rehydrate with lime juice drink. Mrs Ramclam has made a lovely filled pastry sheet with some kind of fruit nobody can identify. Turns out is the pulp left over from juicing star fruit that has been pureed and then made into baker's jam with sugar. Someone asks me about the Crystal Skull and I regale them with my stories of the Harmonic Convergence, Malcolm Electric Warrior, visiting Anna Mitchell-Hedges in Kitchener and sitting with the skull on my lap as she tells me about how Harriot Topsey came to visit her to talk about recovering the skull for Belize and how she had to pull out her .38 to keep him from just grabbing it and bolting. Tomorrow is the big Settlement Day celebration, the day the Garifuna came ashore in Belize and we expected the town to be throbbing with drums but it was quiet, people seem to be saving themselves for tomorrow.

I have breakfast with Darragh and Susan, then go with them to Beya Suites to say goodbye to the other journalists. Then I walk back into town along the seafront.

John and Jessica arrive Go to YCT office, meet Rachel Kerry, then to SHI, closed. then to Santiago Sanchez, see peppers growing in biochar, his pit, his collection area, people melting banana leaves for tamales, then to dinne

Thursday 20 Late start, gather flock and head up to San Antonio to see the new centre. Then on to Uxbenka, where we see a stela with engravings and stand on top of hill and see centres in all directions, then with Justino to San Jose for lunch, Christina, Griselda, Justino Junior, Sandra. Then to Justino's cacao, pruning with machete, weighing, argy bargy then speak to shrimp farm nephew, then back to PG, stopping for a quick look at milpa/huamil but everyone's tired and nobody's paying attention. At dinner at Emery's we have jewfish, also known as 'Goliath grouper' that is apparently getting smaller due to overfishing. It is one of the world's most delicious fish so it's going to be struggle to control the fishermen. Then we walk back to Coral House Inn, grab a beer from the self service bar fridge and relax by the pool under a starry sky, Orion just above the horizon.

Friday November 21st 2008

Rice Mill – we set off en masse to the Big Falls rice mill, where there is a mountain of rice husks rotting away. Stephen knows a thing or two about rice mills, char and the use of heat to dry rice so we leave him and Niklaos there to investigate while we carry on, with Lisel aboard, to YCT. There we are given the presentation about their lands, their work and their potential and visit their nursery. They have a ‘keystone’ estate of only 15000 acres but it holds together 150,000 acres of Columbia River Forest Reserve, 90,000 acres of the Bladen Nature Reserve, the privately owned land of the Jungle Lodge on the southwest side of Golden Stream, who encouraged them to buy the northeast side to that it never turned into cattle pasture. My Dad's good friend Dr. Adrian Wilson helped them to buy that land through the Grass Valley Trust and it now protects both sides of the river all the way to the mangrove forests at the sea. The Golden Stream is teeming with tarpon as the runoff diminishes, though some citrus plantations still cause problems. We don't meet Bartolo Teul, who is coming to Cornell, but we do meet Auxebio Sho, their agroforestry extension officer, who comes with us on our journey. We go through the nursery and learn more about the trees they are planting - they have a great stand of mahogany in their field overlooking the Maya Mountains on the horizon. Then off to try to catch up with Stephen and Niklaos. I phone the rice mill but they've gone to town so we go down a narrow track to the water's edge, bid Elliot goodbye and head off in a couple of canoes downriver. On the way Jessica sees a toucan and their boat disturbs and iguana which plops into the water just ahead of our boat. We are with Rachel Kerry, the river biologist who maps the snail and other populations of the river to measure its health and I engage her in conversation saying: "Do you ever study the gut flora of snails? I was just reading an interesting paper on seasonal changes in the gut flora of striped bass in Chesapeake Bay, as one does while waiting for East Enders to come on, and noted the way their flora reflect the seasonal availability of food." We had an enjoyable conversation as we floated down the river with Arthur and then got out at Jungle Lodge, a huge complex of cabins on a raised wooden walkway and a restaurant and airstrip. It doesn't seem awfully busy, we're the only people in a huge area for dining indoors and out, but it's a nice place and we have a good dinner overlooking the river from the verandah of the restaurant. I get some bits of bread and watch the sunfish fight over morsels down below, while our waiting motorboat captain casts endlessly for tarpon. A few yards down the river an iguana hangs precariously from the fronds of a cohune palm.

We speed downriver in 2 motor dories, and then cut through some channels in the mangrove by way of short cut, then arrive at Tanya Russ and John Spang's landing. It's getting late but we have a quick look at the 'whole pod' cacao trees. Marco is finally convinced that I know what I'm talking about and begins to understand the validity of this method of planting. Tanya is gracious in the face of an onslaught of a dozen people and I shepherd them back onto the boat and we get back to Joe Taylor Creek and disembark as the sky turns pink and grey and blue with the setting sun. We don't have time to look at the thousands of large tree blowdowns still in their forest as a result of Hurricane Iris, which hit land directly over their place - when the hurricane hit they were sad but they had 1500 acres of very tall straight trees that they could saw and sell and then replant. Then they discovered that every tree had been twisted by tight powerful cyclones within the hurricane, sort of like twisting a towel, so when they cut them the boards had huge gaps and fell apart and were useless. A couple of decades of stewardship down the drain. But we thought we might be able to char them and recoup some of the loss. I promise to update her on how best to do this - tricky as they have no road acess so any kit will have to come in to be unloaded at their rickety wooden jetty.

Dinner at Hickatee with Lisel, Marco,. Neil LaCroix joins us. Very happy with all the outcomes – the TCGA is in good heart, production is rising, the journalists are all keen as mustard to get home and write up their stories, the film crew and photographers are coming next week, he didn’t have to go back to London on Wednesday which would have been a real setback and he reiterates his gratitude to me for intervening.

Saturday November 22 2008

Up to watch sunrise with Rick, he invites me to be a sponsor of the Rotary Club’s (newly formed, he is the Chairman) plan to refurbish the park in Punta Gorda. It’s the triangular shaped space where the Cacao Fest was held last year and where the Settlement Day celebrations were this week. They are going to put in a kids’ playground, repaint the clocktower (done, by a US artist and a local guy, great evocative murals of toucans, jungle, multiethnic faces etc) and put an arbor in front of the stage, in which gazebos can be erected. It’s a nice plan and for BZ$1000 I can have my and Jo’s names engraved in a stone plaque for posterity to wonder who the hell we were.

Then Elliot turns up in the van and Arthur and Marco and I head off to San Antonio for the AGM. Elliot will come back later for John and Jessica. On the way we pass two fishermen who are on the roadside, their small dugout dory tethered along the shore, skinning a massive jewfish – it is the largest of the grouper family and must weight a good 120 lbs, worth about $1000 BZ for these guys. We ask where they are planning to sell it and they say to Emery’s and Marion’s (which is where we are planning to eat that evening). Rachel from Blue Belize, who is the world’s leading whale shark expert and a grouper lover who exhorts fishermen not to keep the 30-40 pound young fish as they are the future breeding stock, has already been notified of the catch and has seen it. We bounce along and get to San Antonio just as Neil LaCroix has finished his speech in which he assures the farmers that Green & Black’s is there for the long term and that we are endowing scholarships for farmers’ kids to go to high school (cost is BZ$500 per year to cover tuition, uniform and books). There are 400 people, farmers and wives and kids and a real festival atmosphere but also real focus and attention on the agenda. We also missed the Agriculture Minister’s speech. The San Antonio Buying Centre isn’t quite complete,

but it looks spanking new with fresh paint and roof and a big sign at the front describing it and with the names of various sponsors of its construction. Green & Black’s aren’t a sponsor but get pride of place at the bottom centre of the sign. There must be 20 buses parked up along the road that the TCGA has laid on to bring farmers from every village. 5 Hogs have been roasted and cooked up with red beans and rice to feed the farmers once the business of the AGM is completed. It started at 8 am, finishes after noon.Justino Peck then speaks, acknowledging my presence in the audience, giving the history of the TCGA in brief detail and explaining how the new buying centre here and the one in Maya Mopan will relieve farmers of the burden and cost of taking their cacao all the way to Punta Gorda to sell. The drying units mean farmers can sell wet fermented beans to the association and they will be dried, without heat, but under cover with air circulation so that they are nice and clean and even and mould-free. It’s a big step forward in rising to the challenge of increased production that has come from the tree planting of the previous 4 years. Then the Minister for Foreign Affairs speaks, taking farmers through the sad history of how Hershey got them to buy seeds that weren’t that good, then dropped the price after the aid workers went home, then how Green & Black’s came in and how they have been struggling to keep up with demand ever since. He talks about fair trade and organic and tells the farmers that they have been a beacon to the rest of the world, that fair trade began with them and that it is now worth $3 billion worldwide. They have much to be proud of, he says, and all of Belize is proud of what they have achieved. During his speech someone starts serving orange juice so lots of people are getting up and walking to the side to get a cup but the majority are listening. Then the accountant goes through the numbers: very profitable year, grants have been a help, new buying centres fully paid for, the association is asset rich and has BZ$ 460,000 in the bank. Wow! That’s $230,000 US, a lot of money by any measure for a cooperative of poor cacao farmers. He proposes more scholarships for high school kids and also a ‘Disaster Fund’ so that if a farmer is hit by hurricane, fire or other natural calamity the association can afford to help them to get back on their feet with new trees, grafting budwood etc.

Then Diego, who is Master of Ceremonies, urges the Minister to help the farmers build roads so that they can get closer to their farms without having to go up foot paths. The minister promises to consider it.

Then it is time to debate the big issues and elect the officers.

The scholarship proposals go through with total support, but one farmer proposes that, as San Antonio produces the most cacao, the scholarships should go to kids from there in preference to other villages. This is firmly slapped down by all – the scholarships will go to the brightest kids, regardless of how much their village produces, but they must be kids of cacao farmers. All agreed.

Then the issue of land tenure. There is a big debate going on where the village leadership have called on the government to recognise the ownership of the land in Toledo by the communities and for communal land ownership, based on ownership by the village but use decided on the basis of whether a farmer is actually using the land actively or not. The alternative is ‘lease land’ where a farmer leases the land and after 20 years has an option to buy it at a discounted rate. Many farmers want lease land as, with cacao, once you’ve planted trees, you want to be sure that you can pass them on to your kids and be secure in ownership. However other farmers who don’t’ grow cacao or on a smaller scale prefer the old system. This is difficult If a farmer owns land they can use it as collateral for a loan, if they can’t repay for any reason, the bank repossesses and the land can be sold to anyone, Maya or otherwise. It is the ‘alienation of native reservation land’ that so vexed the US Congress that they voted in1932 to prohibit it in all cases. By then it was too late for many reservations, including the Winnebago Sioux in Nebraska – I was born on a farm that my great grandparents bought from a trader who had carved out hunks of reservation land to repay debts for, probably, whiskey sold on credit. It was disgraceful, but the title was legal. And no going back. The Indians used to hang out on the slopes on the south side of Emerson, disgruntled and landless, begging occasionally, gradually finding barbed wire hampering their progress across their not-ancestral (they came from Wisconsin) lands. In the end, after animated debate and an organised chant of ‘lease land, lease land’ the vote is heavily in favour of lease land. As the ministry has been refusing to issue leases until the court case over communal lands is resolved, it’s a hollow victory, but farmers continue to put in applications pending resolution of the debate in the Belize Supreme Court. This whole debate is rooted in the decision in the 1990s by the Minister of Natural Resources to give a logging contract to a Taiwanese company called Atlantic Industries that mobilised a massivle local protest. I contacted the Indian law Center in Washington DC, who fight cases using funds from rich Canadian and US tribes, on behalf of their poorer cousins. I met their lawyer in Belize in 1997 and one thing led to another and a landmark decision granting communal land rights to 3 villages in the Toledo District in November 2007. Now all the villages want the same and the Maya are divided.

Then on to the election of officers. Cayetano Ico gets the mike and announces that last year he was elected to the Committee (4 elected officers, 5 appointees ) but went to the meeting and was told he had to go out, which he did. ½ hour later he was told he wasn’t on the committee and should go home. Justino Peck then explained that Cayetano had abandoned his cacao so was no longer a grower, had been nominated by a non member of the TCGA and was therefore deemed ineligible. The matter was left to smoulder.

Justino and 2 other candidates were nominated, Justino with103 bominations, the other with 12 and the last on on the day. Diego called for a show of hands but there was a call from the floor for a secret ballot as people could put up their hands twice, Then papers were handed out where, to cover the illiterate farmers, each candidate was a number : Gregorio Choco 1, Justino Peck 2, the other guy 3. The votes were cast but then there was an objection that some farmers may have cast 2 or more votes. So the voting was resumed with a long queue before a station 1 large box for votes. The votes were cast and nobody came around twice. As Maya women are easily intimidated and the earlier shouting of 'lease land' showed how mob rule can prevail, it was a good result and women were voting in large numbers where few had raised hands on the first round.

Justino won handily and everyone ate a lot of pork caldo with rice and beans.

There were a few large bottles of rum around that were looking dangerously low, the rum must have gone somewhere, so I gathered up John, Jessica, Arthur and Marco and we headed off to Lubaantun to see the ruins. Santiago Coc was in great form we had a great tour, exchanged anecdotes about Anna Mitchell Hedges, who had been there 11 years before. Jessica felt obliged to distribute her wealth equally among all the handicraft sellers who lined our way, we then drove back to San Pedro where I popped in to see Leonardo Akal, leader of the Toledo Maya Cultural Council, strong advocate and leader of the movement for communal land rights, but he was not at home and I just left my card and a note to say I was sorry I missed him. Back in Punta Gorda it had started to rain, we chilled for a few hours, then off to Marion’s Bay View where we thought we’d be eating jewfish. No such luck, nothing but snook, which was very good but we were disappointed as we’d seen the giant monster and had been looking forward all day to eating it. Cassava pudding for dessert somewhat compensated for our dismay. Early night as we had a 0645 plane to catch in the morning.

Sunday November 23, 2008

It’s 0637 and John and Jessica are still not ready to go. I go up to chivvy them along and Jessica is still getting a few things sorted. I grab a suitcase to start moving them along. Rick has already warned that Maya Island Air are sticklers for punctuality, that Tropic Air would wait but Maya go whether or not you’re there. Jessica is mad at me, in a friendly way, for rushing them and, as it turns out, we get to the airfield by 0643, which is OK, we all check in and Jessica takes farewell shots of Elliot, our wonderful driver and others. Then we fly direct to Belize City, high over the mountains and the various nature reserves, forest reserves, privated protected reserves and other wooded land that we want to slowly and sustainably turn into charcoal. We pass over a large Mennonite community, a few token trees, mostly pasture, all livestock, cows, pigs chickens. Bloody Germans, and as I am the descendant of German Lutheran farmers who share the same attitude I feel qualififed to comment. At Belize City we check our bags through to Ithaca and go up the restaurant and ‘waving gallery’ to have some breakfast. I’ve brought along one of Justino’s cacao pods that I pre-cut around the edges. Justino pulls it open along the cut lines and we all feast on the sweet beans and Marco offers some to the waitress, who, it turns out, is from Barranco and for whom cacao seeds are a known treat. She is delighted to share in our after breakfast snack. I hadn’t realise that John and Jessica hadn’t tasted cocao fruit pulp before. Justino then shows us how to eat the placenta, which is also tasty, the stringy thing that holds all the seeds in a bunch as you lift them out of the pod. I ask the waitress if she knew Andy Palacio and she says that his family lives just across the street from hers. Barranco had a few cacao growers but the soil isn’t good for cacao. The Garifuna eat yams, cassava and seafood so this isn’t a big problem for them as these crops grow well on the poor soils of Barranco. In the departure lounge the shop has a display of Green & Black's but no reference to the fact that it contains Belizean cacao, just stuffed onto a Cadbury's display rack, grabbing prime space from Dairy Milk and Bournville.

At Houston we part company with Jessica. She has been a real trouper and her presence and uninhibited female energy had leavened what would otherwise have been a bunch of men and all work and no play. We got a lot done in the past 3 days, understand things a lot better, have gotten to know each other better and we are all, John, myself, Arthur, Marco, Justino and Bartolo Teul from YCT, looking forward to the course. Niclaos knows most of it already, but he has been a mine of information, though he needs to be asked before he comes out with it. That’s fine, scientists should be on tap, not on top, as Churchill once said.

The flight to Newark is uneventful, arriving half an hour early. Then we make the connection to Ithaca, arriving at 10:20, the bags come off the carousel, except for John's and mine. We go to a desk where a woman struggles to work the computer, calls a guy out from the back who is clearly pissed off that we have interrupted his nap, who sorts it out, snaps at her and disappears into the US Air back office. Then to the Statler Hotel where they have an emergency razor/toothbrush/deodorant kit. I advise John to keep his undershirt on to avoid BO tomorrow.

Monday November 24th

We all meet for breakfast, Jerry, Teri, Craig and Richard are here, too, so we all head off to Cornell's ag school building, which looks like Treblinka, no windows, forbidding brick 10 storey edifice, for the char course. Stephen's is more complex than I'd expected for an introductory course and the audience are intimidated by all the science. John then comments "I've got a degree in physics and I don't know what he's talking about so don't worry if you don't." This relieves the anxiety. Stephen also dwells on explosions, crop failures from the wrong kind of char and other downside aspects without really extolling the positives at any point. I tell him at the break that he's scaring the pants off the Belize group and he comments in a later session that he is just trying to make people aware that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things and this course is about the right way. We then do a workshop outlining a project plan, our group does Belize, of course and Arthur is nominated as our rapporteur. Before we report we go to a Cornell-owned farm out in the boondocks where we see a lot of woodburning stoves that are being trialled with different kinds of biofuels made from pelletised switchgrass and other biomass as well as just burning wheat grains. I hold my tongue. Then we go across to see a demonstration of a cookstove that converts biomass into a stream of gas for cooking and leaves a residue of charcoal. It isn't working and the student demonstrating it has eventually put more starter material in than actually pyrolysis material. The wind is blowing through the barn, smoke in everyone's face, snow howling down from the hills beyond, Jerry and I go into the other barn to warm up in front of burning grass pellets. Then we do the presentations and Arthur does a very clear explanation of the range of possibilities, putting the rice mill on the back burner for his talk as it is a very different project, but connects to the rest. Back at the hotel everyone is tired and we regroup at 7 for a very jolly dinner in the Statler's Tuscan style restaurant before retiring, tired little bunnies. Justino is most unwell, but I'm flagging too.

Tuesday November 25th

After 2 weeks of getting up at 4:30 or 5 each morning and being at full attention all day until nearly midnight I finally run out of steam. Really tired but soldier on as the interesting nub of the course is this morning: our chance to design a reactor. Stephen has given us designs with deliberate flaws and our task is to modify them and to improve on the design. We do a great job and John O’Donnell does our presentation but I have to leave before he’s finished as we have a conference call booked for me, Johannes, Debbie, Dan and Jerry for 2 pm. We dial through on Skype, usual echoes and poor comprehension, redial to his land line from Skype and we’re away. The strategy unfolds and Dan will be there from the 4th to the 6th. I may go on the 9th or 10th, if needed. Then I decide to go back to the hotel and lie down in a darkened room. I feel better but don’t join the crew who go out for a Thai dinner, instead eat with Stephen (who’s also reached the end of his tether physically) Niklaos and John O’D. I explain my ‘rags and famine’ approach to biochar – if we just grew biomass for one year and turned it all into char and didn’t eat food or buy new clothes we could remove 60 Gigatonnes of C, that’s 200 Gigatonnes of C02 from the atmosphere in a single year. It’s unfeasible but the calculation helps to put the scale of the task in perspective and we realise it’s not that daunting, we could do it in 10 years with a 10% reduction in food and clothing usage, 20 years with a 5% Reduction. And that’s not counting benefits from solar, wind , insulation etc. We then work out how to utilise the dead forests of British Columbia that are now dying due to a beetle that’s moving northwards in response to global warming. I’m in bed by 9 pm and sleep fitfully until 6 – the longest, if not the best, night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks.

We foregather in the hotel lobby at 7 and the cars are there to take us to Ithaca airport. Jerry comes down and some of the cars leave but no sign of John. I check at the desk and he’s on his way. Jerry and I wait in the lobby rather than sit in steaming cars in gently falling snow. Damn it’s cold here. Eventually we’re all at the airport – they have framed the famous timeline map of the history of civilisation, starting with Adam and Eve and going through to the present. John looks for the Greeks and finds them well represented, I look for Sheba and she’s not there in the time column that includes Solomon. The Arabs get short shrift, too, with the line ‘Ferdinand and Isabella rescued Spain from the Arabs in 1492”

Then onto a 15 seater Jetstream, snack trays from Wegmans, unimpressive pastries and bagels, a little tea and coffee facility, - it’s only an hour to Winchester VA. At Winchester some Homeland Security crew are playing around with empty suitcases, putting little ones inside big ones. Bartolo goes off to the toilet, comes back and his bag has disappeared. He follows the uniformed guys into the room where they’re taking the suitcases and recovers his bag. He emerges but soon a large angry guy appears shouting at him “We’re doing important work training dogs here and you shouldn’t have left your luggage unattended. Do you understand me!??” Bartolo listens to this rant patiently then responds: “But my bag wasn’t empty.” It was the obvious point – how could they have not noticed that one of the bags they were lifting was much heavier than any of the others? It reflected badly on their competence and the guy in uniform then launched into a loud, aggressive and threatening rant against Bartolo saying “When you come into this country you should look after your bags and never leave them unattended, you hear me?” At a small private airport where we are the only people and we've come off an internal flight in a plane with no toilets this isn't quite as relevant as having a fit over someone leaving a bag unattended at JFK but this guy clearly has an inflated sense of the global importance of whatever he is doing here at Winchester VA. Bartolo calmly walks away towards the door with me and this guy keep ranting “Are you walking away from me while I’m talking to you? Are you?” as he follows us out to where our cars are waiting. I should have asked if I could speak to his commanding officer but he was in full spate and the best thing was just to get away from him as soon as possible. This was a small private airport that has no security, the only luggage of the occasional private plane that lands, it’s obvious these guys should have taken more care and not blame their incompetence on the victim. Sadly, Obama being President won’t change this situation. We apologise on behalf of the USA to Bartolo for this scandalously unprofessional behaviour and head off to Josh Frye’s chicken farm at Wardensville in West Virginia. When we get there we huddle in the kitchen and eat chicken noodle soup cooked up by a real country girl in her forties called Jackie. Arthur and I chat to Josh and the subject of moonshine comes up and I quote the old line from White Lightning: “G Men, T men Revenooers too, looking for the place where he made his brew, They just kept on lookin, Poppa kept on cooking: White Lightning.” Josh laughs - it's probably as close as West Virginia gets to having a national anthem.

Then Jackie asks me if I like chocolate and I explain my particularly fondness for it. She has some moonshine filled cherries coated in chocolate back at her place and I say I have a bar of chocolate with rum soaked raisins and candied orange peel out in the car. I get one from the car and give her a bar and she promises to go and get the cherry bombs later. When everyone's arrived we go and look at the gasifier. The engineers who put it in are there and they say they can make char, but the boss says that at first when someone asked him if he could make biochar he said ‘Sure, what’s biochar?” The chicken poop is mixed with woodchips from a local tree surgeon and also the 75 or so dead birds every day, out of a 96,000 flock, that don’t make it to maturity every day. All end up as grey dust with a byproduct of a lot of heat, which heats the chicken units. There are 3, each with 32000 birds. The heat is drier than propane and this helps reduce ammonia formation and means chickens reach maturity 8% quicker, in 37 days instead of 40. Apparently KFC like these birds as the flesh is more open and cooks more quickly. Maybe that ‘s why they’re called Yum Brands.

We see the whole process and Stephen has lots of ideas for making it work better.

Then we take a peek at the chickens. The ammonia makes the eyes water, I can only look into the long shed full of 32000 birds for a few seconds before I have to withdraw, the chicks are just 2 weeks old, ready for a change of feed – they start as chicks, then growers, then finishers. The chicks and the feed are supplied by Greenfields, who also buy and slaughter the birds. The outsourced farmers get paid on a formula that compares their efficiency to each other, so they are competing to be most efficient. If things go wrong it’s the farmer’s problem, they still have to pay for the feed, chicks and bank loan to put up the unit. Jackie is blithe about the ammonia, saying she can work there all day without a mask or eye protection. I guess you can get used to most things.

She had brought back my cherries and Josh insists she puts them out for everyone to try but there are still plenty left for me to bring back.

We pile into the cars, drive to Washington Dulles, say our fond farewells and head off to Miami, San Francisco and London.

This Triple Whammy on Climate Might Just Hit Home

In 1990 my daughter Rima commented to her friend Dan as they choked their way across a fume-filled Harrow Road: “Wouldn’t it be nice if the drivers of these filthy cars had to plant trees to mop up the pollution they created?” Dan Morrell agreed and founded Future Forests to do just that. When we launched Whole Earth organic wholegrain cornflakes back in 1996, they became the first ‘carbon neutral’ food product. Dr. Richard Tipper of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management did a lifecycle analysis of the cornflakes to establish how many trees Future Forests should plant to balance off our CO2 emissions. We were pleasantly surprised to find the cornflakes were almost carbon neutral already – because they were organic.

A few weeks ago Future Forests invited me to a preview of The Day After Tomorrow, the blockbuster teen romance thriller whose plot revolves around a greenhouse gas disaster. This movie will move the global warming debate beyond climate scientists on one side, and the hired guns of the oil industry on the other, and put it squarely in the mass consciousness. At the launch of the Climate Group a few weeks earlier, Tony Blair told us “Commitment to preventing global warming has to transcend the electoral cycle and become a permanent part of national policy. We need the public to support us on this if we are to achieve real results.” When I asked Margaret Beckett if future emissions trading arrangements would reward the huge contribution to greenhouse gas reduction that comes from organic farming, she smiled thinly and said that she couldn’t comment on policy still under development. But Steve Howard, the Climate Group’s CEO, responded positively and the President of Timberland Boots said they already used 5% organic cotton in the lining of their boots and counted it towards their carbon reduction targets. Here are some facts. Organic farming uses half of the fossil fuels used by agrichemical farming, per unit of food; emits less nitrous oxide than agrichemical farming (a greenhouse gas 310 times more warming than carbon dioxide); absorbs one tonne of carbon per hectare into the soil every year. Combine all of these and you have an annual saving of the equivalent of 2 Gigatonnes of carbon. To bring greenhouse gas back to a stable level requires an annual reduction of 6 Gigatonnes of carbon. So if we adopted organic farming practices worldwide, including green manures, non-use of nitrates and pesticides and composting of animal manures, we would be a third of the way towards saving the planet. What does agrichemical farming offer the future? Every tonne of nitrogen fertilizer costs one tonne of carbon to manufacture and transport Nitrogen fertiliser runs off into water and becomes a nitrous oxide source - nitrous oxide is 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide Animals eat subsidised soybeans, and fart prodigious quantities of methane into the air – methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more harmful than CO2. Cheap subsidised feed also produces a proliferation of meat animals. Organic cows fart too, but they don’t suffer the chronic acid rumen digestive problems that lead to E.coli O157 infections in ‘normal’ cattle because 80% of their diet must be pasture or hay - cows’ natural food. And the Soil Association supports the CIWF campaign to reduce meat consumption and move from quantity to quality. I was born in Nebraska, a prairie state. When my pioneer ancestors first built their houses from prairie sod, many proudly preserved a few acres of virgin prairie so their grandchildren could see what the land was like before it went under the plough. Those bits of prairie now stand as much as 8 feet higher than the surrounding farmland – Nebraska’s shame. Unsustainable farming practices have turned all that rich organic matter into dust, sand and a hell of a lot of CO2. We are at a crucial juncture: grain prices are at historic highs, which will impact on meat prices, oil prices are at historic highs, which will make chemical fertilizers and pesticides more expensive - now public concern about global warming is about to reach historic highs. This triple whammy might be extra momentum we need to swing to organic farming - one of our planet’s best hopes for as sustainable future.