by guest blogger “Coach” Mark Smallwood, Rodale Institute executive director
Americans have a serious spending problem. Our nation is $17.5 trillion in debt; we finance new homes, cars, and educations pretty much as a rule; we use credit cards like free money. And we spend way beyond our means when it comes to the environment. We borrow—some would say steal—finite resources on a closed-system planet.
We’ve overstretched our climate budget so far many fear we’ve passed the point of no return. Global food and agriculture organizations have transitioned from pushing out reports filled with dire warnings and red flags to white papers focused on how best to manage in an already-changed climate. Researchers and activists have resigned themselves to the fact that climate change is a debt we cannot pay off.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “A debt-to-income ratio is one way lenders measure your ability to manage the payments you make every month to repay the money you have borrowed.” And our climate debt-to-income ratio is dangerously high.
Our ability to manage man-made emissions has spiraled out of control. Asking politely for industry to stop pumping out greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide just does not work. Attacking the climate crisis simply by trying to reduce man-made emissions is like trying to get your finances under control by just paying off credit card debt. You can’t just pay off your credit card debt and expect to get ahead. You have to also start a savings account and change your spending habits.
And, according to author and environmental activist Amy Larkin, the environmental impact of climate change is an actual financial issue: “Would you rather federal, state, and local governments spend our money on preventing extreme weather in the future or on recovering from extreme weather? This is not a rhetorical question. This is the real financial equation that has to enter all decisions on public budgets.”
For all the technological wizardry that has been suggested—from injecting carbon dioxide into deep seabeds to creating a sunshade by shooting sulfur out of man-made volcanoes—there is a simple, obvious, and immediately available solution: We can put the carbon back to work making food to nourish our growing population. While excess carbon in the atmosphere is toxic to life, we are, after all, carbon-based life forms, and returning stable carbon to the soil can help us grow more food faster. There is no downside.
Regenerative organic farming can reverse climate change.
We have borrowed enough from the future, and it is time to start building a carbon savings account that will buy us enough time—give us enough breathing room—to begin changing our spending habits and live in a carbon-smart way.
“Coach” Mark Smallwood has been dedicated to environmental sustainability, efficiency, and conservation for decades. Since joining Rodale Institute in December 2010, he has brought heritage livestock back to the institute’s 333-acre farm, expanded and enhanced its research efforts, and launched “Your 2 Cents,” a national campaign to support and promote new organic farmers. In recognition for his sustainability efforts, Coach was chosen as a messenger for Al Gore’s Climate Project, presenting to more than 15,000 people on the effects of global warming. Last, but certainly not least, as a longtime organic farmer and biodynamic gardener, Coach has raised chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs and driven a team of oxen.