Jason Mark

Looting Spree Pits Native Americans Against Anti-Government Militants

By all accounts, the looting was terrible. Across the Southwest a century ago, 1,000-year-old Native American granaries were pillaged by clay pot hunters. Grave robbers worked in the open. In the sandstone dwellings perched high in the cliffs, tourists cut souvenirs out of the ancient ceiling beams. Vandals carted off heirlooms by the wagonload.

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10 Most Important Environmental Stories of 2014

The calendar is about to flip over once again, meaning it’s time for the obligatory roundup of the most important environmental stories of the past year.

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How Our National Parks Are Meeting Modern Challenges

Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service, had a childhood seemingly tailor-made for a career in public lands conservation. His family’s farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley backed up to the Washington National Forest, and as a boy the woods were his playground. He was an avid angler and hunter, and by the time he was 12 had climbed every mountain he could see from his house. “I grew up in the outdoors,” he says.

These days we hear a lot about “nature deficit disorder.” What is the Parks Service doing to ensure that we’ve got a new generation of wilderness enthusiasts?

Well, in many ways, that is the intent of our [upcoming 2016] centennial celebrations. We need to build the next generation of stewards. We need to connect at a deep level with this next generation. When I say “this next generation,” I’m talking on the one hand about the Millennials – sort of the 18- to 25-year-olds – but also the K to 12 folks. The National Parks and the public lands at large out there have a strong base of support, but that base has a couple of characteristics that are concerning. One is that they’re older and not very diverse. And this has been in the news a lot lately. And so we have actually structured our centennial around building relevancy into this next generation. Specifically, to answer your question, particularly with young folks there is this potential disconnect. We see it. But we also see that it doesn’t matter – socioeconomic status or ethnicity or whatever. If you get them into these environments, there’s something that clicks. A light comes on. There’s a power of these places. The trouble is, a lot of kids don’t get there. So one of the National Park Foundation’s major philanthropic programs is what’s called, “A Ticket to Ride.” That’s all about providing transportation for kids to get to parks. And then we built up our education curriculum around the parks, whether it’s the geology of the Grand Canyon or the history of the Civil Rights Movement, that relates directly to these places so that the teachers can utilize that when they come on their field trips. I think the other aspect of this is the role that urban parks currently and will in the future play in creating these threshold experiences with wild spaces.

You mean a place like Crissy Field in San Francisco or the San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles?

Absolutely, absolutely. Now, that may not be wilderness in the purest sense of terms, but it is enough of a contrast to the highly urbanized environment that you can have a wild experience for sure. And that in some ways whets the appetite for this next generation to come and experience, you know, truly wild places. In some ways it may be too much of a contrast for some kids to go from Downtown LA to Death Valley. We’ve actually seen that. We’ve had a couple of experiences where we brought kids from Los Angeles for an experience at Death Valley and they won’t get out of the van. They’ve never seen pure dark. They’ve never heard complete quiet. And the environment is so unfamiliar that they have no experience or knowledge base as to what’s out there. That could feel threatening to someone.

So urban parks are going to play a really, really important role, particularly if they are well constructed and designed like we’ve done in Golden Gate and like Crissy Field. You can get a taste of the experience.

I agree that the gateway experience of the nearby nature is hugely important. I happened to be at Muir Woods National Monument this past weekend, and it’s a wonderful place. But it’s sort of like “nature Disneyland.” Could you talk about the difference between the experience of a Muir Woods and, say, the deep backcountry of a North Cascades National Park?

I think that one is: You go to Muir Woods, and it’s pretty hard to find quiet. Even though we’ve constructed a certain section of the trail there where you’re supposed to be quiet, there’s always somebody talking. But if you go into the Fisher Basin of North Cascades or McAlester Pass and you’re in there for a little longer time, like a couple of days, I think that all of the detritus of a modern living sort of begins to melt away. And I think part of it is time. You begin to sort of really appreciate the quiet and the ebb and flow of the day – sunrise, sunset.

I tell my wife: We only recently came inside. [Laughs] We’ve been outside for a long time as a species, right? And our sensory perceptions were built around being outside. It’s just that we kind of turn them off. And so when you get back outside … We do this things with kids where we get them into an environment like that, and we actually get them to shush, and we say, “just listen.” And they realize that it’s not really quiet. There’s a lot going on out there. Birds are singing. There’s a breeze blowing through the trees. You hear water. There is a lot of sound if you tune your ear to it. It’s just different than the cacophony you hear in an urban space.

So I think that being in wild spaces gives you that opportunity to experience it over a longer spell. Frankly, my view is – I certainly know this about myself – I need that on a periodic basis in order to cleanse the noise from the day-to-day city life.

A lot of folks have written about the restorative experience of wilderness. Is there some sort of ethos that you think people kind of gain from spending time in wild spaces?

Well, we know that these kinds of opportunities not only allow you to appreciate those kind of spaces, but it’s also an opportunity discover things about yourself. To give you time to reflect, to contemplate your place in nature, if not in the world and the universe. I mean, it is a powerful reminder of who we are. And, you know, if you sit there long enough, you can begin to realize that you have some relationship to all of this, you’re not a foreign body in it, and that you have some responsibility for it, too. We should give ourselves credit that somehow the innate understanding of the importance of these places resulted in the political will to protect them. We have to remember that.

I mean, they were there before we decided to draw a circle around them – but we did do that. The Wilderness Act and the multiple [wilderness] designations that have occurred since then were somehow a manifestation of that feeling that is generated in those places. When we set them aside, it was an act of altruism. We did it for everybody. Which is very, very powerful. So, I think it does touch something pretty deep in us. Again, regardless of our upbringing. I don’t think wilderness is just something for the elite. I think it’s something for everybody.

You’ve said that for most Americans wilderness is an idea more than an actual experience. Only a sliver of a minority of Americans are going to get into the backcountry. Yet people still benefit from just knowing that it’s there. Why?

Well, I think that there are lots of things that American citizens have established for the benefit of the people that they may never personally, experience themselves – you know, equal rights or civil rights. A comprehensive system of justice – they may never participate in it, but they sure are glad it’s there. I think wilderness, to me, falls into that category. I think wilderness taps into something very deep in the American psyche, as well. Americans want to be proud of something that this nation symbolizes for the rest of the world – the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence are part of that. But also the natural heritage that this country had, and we had the opportunity to preserve it. So, in many ways, the establishment of the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War – that was a place he had never seen and probably would never get to see. And he did that during a period when he was pretty busy. And then onto Yellowstone; those two can argue about which was “first.” The Wilderness Act was just the next manifestation of that. If you look at land designations in progression from National Parks to National Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness Areas – all those areas are in some sort of aggregate way saving something that makes Americans feel good about who we are, about us as a country. You know, these are our cathedrals.

I want to ask you about some of the new contemporary threats to these cathedrals. Last year, the National Parks Conservation Association put out a report detailing how the new oil and gas rush is threatening many of our parks and monuments. I’m wondering what the Park Service is doing in cooperation with other federal agencies to ensure that we’re not compromising the character of the parks and the monuments?

There’s an old adage that “only the losses are permanent.” Every time we win a fight about protection, we just pretty much have to fight it over again. So the protection of these places is a constant battle. We have a lot of successes that you don’t read about, and then we don’t always win either. Certainly the rapid growth in fracking in the Bakken Fields [of North Dakota] and others are hammering the air quality and view-shed and in some cases even threatening the water systems of some of our national parks. We are every day actively engaged in working with other agencies around energy development and transmission lines. And not just traditional energy, but renewables as well. I mean, they don’t get a free ride, either, in terms of what they require: Transmission lines, they require large landscapes. But what I would say is that we have the analytical tools today that we didn’t have in the past to look at landscapes.

I want to make a key point here: Yes, we’ve set aside wilderness areas and yes, we’ve set aside national parks. But this concept of them as a static piece of ground – we are realizing that that is not long-term sustainable, and that really the key to long-term conservation is connectivity. Connectivity for migratory species, connectivity for waterways, for transition of species that are going to be driven by climate change, all of that.  So we have that analytical ability now. I think that the Bureau of Land Management – which is sort of the principal developer of energy resources on the public land estate – is applying those principals. We have the desert renewable-energy planning going on in the California desert. So, if we are going to do development, where is the best place to do it that minimizes or completely eliminates or – if necessary, mitigates – its impact on our protected areas? I would say we have the tools, we are applying them. I wouldn’t say we are completely there yet, but we are definitely making that kind of effort.

You mentioned climate change. What are your thoughts on how to manage the new stresses of climate change – the threats to species like the pika or the pines – without wanting to micromanage? How do you balance the competing goals of wanting to preserve some species but also wanting to maintain the character of wild places?

You’ve seen our “Revisiting Leopold” report? That was our first attempt to articulate a new management paradigm for these National Parks where we know that we are going into a period of unpredicted change. I have a very strong team that’s working on our climate change adaptation strategy. There’re four components to our climate approach here. One is monitoring parks. We have a very robust monitoring program around indicator species and climate change. Parks can be a very, very important canary in the coalmine for larger landscapes in terms of the changes we are seeing. The second is our own carbon footprint. We know we aren’t going to solve climate change by going carbon neutral, but we need to clean up our own house, and we are doing that in terms of design and facility and fleet and all those kinds of things. The third leg of the stool is really adaptation and that is: OK, if we know climate change is coming, sea level rise, species will migrate, what are we doing to adapt to that change? And there’s a whole range of things. Everything from restoring habitats that can then be re-inhabited as species are driven [from their current habitats], creating duplications in the system.  You know, we sort of used to say, “As long as we’ve got one of it, that’s good enough.” Well, I think we’re recognizing now that we need duplication not in just the parks system, but beyond protected areas. When you talk about ocean rise, you say, “what’s uphill,” right? What’s going to be the next sea-grass bed? What’s going to be the next salt marsh? So building green infrastructure and resiliency in our coastlines is going to be incredibly important. And then the fourth leg of that stool is education. You know, the Parks Service is a respected educator of the public. When people come to parks they want to learn something, and we’re quite open and willing and are training our employees to be able to talk about climate change.

Now, at some point we are going to be challenged with issues like assisted migration. You know, we’ve got Isle Royale [Michigan] right now with a very, very small population of wolves. I have an old buddy who is a biologist who’s said, “Hey, Jon, when are you ready to put the sprinkler system on the giant sequoias?” [Laughs] Because, the giant sequoias are not going to migrate, right? Nor are Joshua trees. I mean Joshua trees will, but pretty slowly. So if you’ve got a climate that’s driving these iconic species out of their present environment, we need the analytical tools to predict what’s the next place that giant sequoias might persist for 3,000 to 5,000 years. Is that in the Southern Cascades? I don’t know that yet. But, we’re going to have to face those kinds of issues.

One other question about contemporary challenges: Our friends north of the border, at Parks Canada, recently announced that they are going to be expanding wi-fi service within their parks. And it led to some hand wringing: Does this mean that people are not going to be enjoying wild places because they are going to be too busy online? What are the National Park Service’s thoughts about connectivity and how much to offer, or notoffer, in the parks?

[Laughs] This is such an interesting issue. I’ve talked about this issue dozens and dozens of times. If I get an audience of typical Parks Service officials and I say, “What about technology?” they’re like, “Ohhhh, make them leave those devices at home. We don’t need that.” And I go, “Oh, so you’re still hiking in wool and wearing a wicker pack, huh? You’re not using any technology, right?” We’ve sort of picked on one piece of technology in this debate – the one that connects us to the rest of the world. And yet we’re using carbon fiber pack frames and Gore-Tex and high-tech stoves and solar whatevers. We’ve completely adopted that – that’s fine – in spite of the fact that it gives us the ability to travel wider and farther. But we’ve picked on this one technology. And then the second piece is – it’s no substitute. I read a review from some guy who watched Gravity on his iPhone, and he said it wasn’t that good. [Laughs] It’s like: I’m sorry, but looking at a picture of the Grand Canyon on your iPhone is not exactly the same as standing on its rim. So it’s not a substitute. But it is a potential teaser. It is a potential threshold.  It is a potential opportunity. And also it’s an opportunity for someone who is experiencing it to share it within a broader social network. And so I’m actually supportive of [more connectivity.] Now I’m not saying that we need to put up cell towers so that when you’re in the Fisher Basin of the North Cascades you can get connectivity. That’s all going to get solved soon anyways with satellite uplinks. So we don’t need to worry about that. But I do think within the visitors’ centers, within the hotels, within the front country, the high-visitor-use areas, there should be connectivity. One, it’s a powerful tool for us to provide communications to this next generation who, by the way, are going to bring their devices with them. They’re not going to leave them behind, and they’re going to expect that they can stay connected. And I think that’s OK. I don’t view it as competition. I view it as a potential to expand the experience.

I was on a BioBlitz at Golden Gate [National Recreation Area] just a couple months ago. We were out doing moths surveys in the evening and there were a bunch of fourth graders out along with some crotchety old entomologists who were helping us identify species. These kids, they were photographing moths with their iPhones and uploading it to iNaturalist and getting it crowd-sourced identified as we were standing there. A few years ago, Dan Janzen [biologist and former head of the US Fish and Wildlife Service] told me we are not far away from being able to slide a leaf in a slot on the side of our iPhone and being able to pull the DNA. I think technology could deepen the experience.

One more comment on this: If you look at a photograph of a park ranger talking to a group of kids, you see their eyes fixating on whatever that ranger is saying. And the ranger, let’s say, is holding a box turtle and talking about turtle biology. If you took that picture ten years ago, all the kids are just enraptured. You take that picture today, and every one of those kids is taking a picture of that turtle with their iPhone. They’re all holding their phones and sharing that story across their social network. And they’re posting it to Instagram or Facebook or whatever. That expands our ability to reach this next generation. Because somewhere out there, one of those kids that got that picture is going to say, “I want to do that in person. I want to have that experience.”

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Has Earth Day Lost Its Way?

It probably has something to do with the fact that I’m one of the last sentimentalists standing in this ironic age, but I’ll admit that I get a little misty eyed when I think about the first Earth Day.

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Can We Overcome Our 'Nature Deficit Disorder'?

I’ll admit that in the grand scheme of Washington politics, the news last week out of the Department of the Interior isn’t exactly earthshaking. During a news conference at the FDR Memorial in DC, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that retailer American Eagle Outfitters will contribute $1 million to her effort to create a “Twenty-first Century Conservation Corps” that will, as a DOI press release explains, “put America’s youth and veterans to work protecting, restoring, and enhancing America’s natural and cultural resources.”

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Naomi Klein: Why Big Green Groups Can Be More Damaging Than Right-Wing Climate Deniers

Canadian author Naomi Klein is so well known for her blade-sharp commentary that it’s easy to forget that she is, above all, a first-rate reporter. I got a glimpse into her priorities as I was working on this interview. Klein told me she was worried that some of the things she had said would make it hard for her to land an interview with a president of the one of the Big Green groups (read below and you’ll see why). She was more interested in nabbing the story than being the story; her reporting trumped any opinion-making.

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Van Jones: Why Did We Abandoned a Great Progressive Victory?

“The arc of the moral universe is long,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “but it bends toward justice.” That famous line could also serve as an apt description for the comeback of Van Jones. In 2009 the veteran social justice and environmental activist was hounded out of his White House job by right wing loudmouth Glenn Beck. “A high tech lynching,” is how one commentator described the concocted controversy that led Jones to resign his post as special advisor for green jobs. Fast-forward four years, and Jones remains one of the most inspiring figures in the progressive movement. He has a new organization –Rebuild the Dream, dedicated to repairing the United States’ tattered social safety net – and is a paid pundit on CNN. And Glenn Beck? He’s off somewhere in the hinterlands of Internet television, peddling goldbug fantasies.

Jason Mark: When we talked to you right before the Forward on Climate rally in Washington you had some pretty strong words for President Obama, saying that if he approves the Keystone XL pipeline, the first thing it will run over will be his credibility. If you were a betting man, where would you put your money on whether the president is going to approve the pipeline?

VJ: Well, I think if you look at the signals that [the administration] is sending, you would have to come to the conclusion that it’s more likely that they will approve this awful pipeline than that they will reject it. However, they did just receive a million online comments almost entirely opposing the project. The EPA just came out saying that the State Department’s environmental review was inadequate, which I think shows there are cracks inside the administration. And I don’t think this fight is over. I think you would be kidding yourself if you said that the environmentalists are in the lead – but I think you’d also be wrong to say that the race is over. I think that environmentalists – and not just environmentalists, but people who have the good sense to understand economics and math and have any intelligence at all – can still win. But it’s going to take more pressure. The other factor I would say is that never underestimate the power of a really good film. Al Gore showed that. He changed the entire global conversation with one really good film. Well, Bill McKibben just put out in the online world arguably an equally powerful film, Do the Math. Never underestimate the power of that to wind up on the screen of someone with power, or that person’s spouse or child or neighbor. So this fight is not over.

JM: Some important progress was made in President Obama’s first term, including a significant down payment on the green economy via the stimulus package and increased fuel-economy standards for car and trucks. But in general I think many people are disappointed that the president hasn’t shown more leadership around the climate crisis. Why haven’t we seen more passionate leadership from the president on the environment?

VJ: I don’t think we have seen consistent and passionate leadership from any part of society —including the environmental movement – on the climate issue. With the exception of a few lonely voices. I think the failure to pass cap and trade left the entire environmental movement somewhat disoriented. When you get as close as we did and you come up short, it takes a while for people to get life back into them. I think that 350.org, the youth, and the other people that are in this fight – the Native Americans and the farmers and the ranchers have been fighting against the [Keystone XL] pipeline – and Bill McKibben have been carrying the banner since 2010. And it’s definitely good work. But in general a president does not get too far ahead of the public on any major issue. If you look civil rights, it wasn’t Lyndon Johnson who led the civil rights movement. There was Selma, and you had people in the streets, and you had people going to jail, and you had a spokesperson like Dr. King – and it was in that context that Johnson did what he did.

I think we have this myth that presidents lead great movements. What happens is that presidents ratify the achievements of great movements. And you see that in the LGBT movement. The president was able to come out and say he was personally for marriage equality after a tenacious movement and fight in the streets, in the courts, and in the media. Hollywood had already won ground so he can safely occupy it.

Usually presidents don’t bail out failed movements. They usually stand behind rising movements. You can see that with immigration, you see that with marriage equality.

JM: This is the 64-million-dollar question that everyone in the environmental movement is asking, but what do you think are some of the explanations for why we haven’t seen an ascendant movement that would create the political space for the president?

VJ: Well, I think that to the extent that climate solutions seem abstract and the concern of an intellectual elite, it makes the movement more vulnerable to being dismissed. And then there’s the importance of the state of the struggle. Al Gore raised the alarm with his film An Inconvenient Truth, and then an overlapping set of people raised up the solution of a green economy that would fix the problem while delivering more work, more wealth, and better help to people who who need that. That particular formulation really threatened the polluters. The idea that we were coming forward with economic solutions that were business-friendly, pro-innovation, pro-investment, pro-American independence, that could actually deliver more jobs than the coal companies – that scared the bejeebers out of the Koch Brothers. And it scared the bejeebers out of the Heritage Foundation. And it scared the bejeebers out of Big Coal and Big Oil. Those forces don’t get together and attack ideas they think are weak and stupid. They get together and attack ideas that are strong and promising. And they declared on the front page of the Heritage Foundation website that “ending the myth of green jobs” was their number one priority. And then they came after the idea, hammer and tongs, to obliterate it from public discussion.

Rather than the environmental movement, and the labor movement, and the civil rights movement, and the anti-poverty movement rallying around the idea – saying that if they are attacking the idea with this much force, we must be onto to something – people backed away from it and handed them a victory. The reality is it’s very hard to deliver economic change of any kind inside of 12 months. You can easily say, “Well, they passed the stimulus bill, and there are no green jobs, and therefore the idea didn’t work.” But that’s a pretty stupid idea for us to buy. The very first time that green jobs was even incorporated into federal law was in the 2007 energy bill – the Green Jobs Act of 2007 that Bush signed. And there was not a penny put behind [the idea] until 2009. The very first time that you had any federal funding for green jobs at all was in 2009. And people were already saying, “Green jobs do not work.” I mean, it was the most ridiculous surrender of high ground that I have seen in a political movement. To actually give up on your best idea 12 months after you just got your first penny for it. And then to never mention green jobs again.

Even civil rights was not popular at one time – obviously, since it took 100 years to get to civil rights. Civil rights was desperately unpopular for 344 years. The forces that convened and converged to make green jobs such a hopeful possibility couldn’t even withstand 344 days of hard attack. So we have to go back and look in the mirror and think.That shows the fragility of the commitment to this idea. That’s what I think there isn’t a very broad [environmental] movement. A very broad movement would have to be an eco-populist movement, not an eco-elitist movement. It would have to be an eco-populist movement pointing to solutions that would help ordinary people. When we had that, we got hammered as any promising movement is going to get hammered. But rather than staying the course, and fighting it through, and doubling down, I think there was this sense of running for the hills as soon as the polling numbers started to tank on the idea.

JM: Speaking of an eco-populism, despite some good-faith efforts to forge more solidarity between environmental groups and people of color organizations, the environmental movement continues to be very monochromatic. As I wrote right after the election, if your social movement looks more like a Romney-Ryan rally than an Obama-Biden rally, you’re in trouble. What will it take to have an environmental movement that really reflects the diversity of this country?

VJ: That may the wrong question. It may be that trying to figure out how to make the environmental movement more brown might not be the right question. It might be that the better question is: How do we make other movements more green? It could be you just have some built in cultural patterns inside of whatever is now called the environmental movement, patterns that will be too difficult to overturn in a frontal way. It might actually be more fruitful to say, “How do we take these rising movements that are much more diverse already and get them to be more green?” Get them to hold ecological solutions much closer in their own hearts as they try to solve their economic problems. That might actually wind up being more fruitful.

JM: OK, then – how would that happen?

VJ: Well, the Latino community polls off the charts as pro-environment. The African-American community polls nearly off the charts in numbers. In fact, by polling, not by intensity, but in terms of broad support, the African-American community is much more environmentally friendly than the white community. And so I think we should go fishing where the fish are. There is a lot of environmental sentiment in the rising majority already that we don’t have to go fight for. We don’t have to get the Tea Party to join the environmental ranks. I think there’s a lot to work with in existing rising movements. The challenge is that those communities have a lot of other tough problems. So there’s an intensity question. But I mean, honestly, most Latinos and African-Americans are not going to get jobs in the coal industry. They are not going to get jobs from the oil industry. But they could get jobs in the clean energy economy, either putting up solar panels or selling them or marketing them. Or creating the hydroponic, organic food co-ops. There are a lot more economic solutions available to the rising majority that are green than what the Koch Brothers are going to be offering.

So there are innovations out there that we could drive more deeply into communities of color that might actually have the effect of more environmental ideas taken into the bloodstream without having to overturn 30 or 40 years of cultural dynamics in the self-identified environmental movement.

JM: Your newest organization, Rebuild the Dream, is focused on bread and butter issues. How do you put these ecological solutions “into the bloodstream,” as you say, while working on student loan debt, the foreclosure crisis, the continuing unemployment crisis?

VJ: Well, first, I want to come back to the green jobs thing, since a lot of people are critical of it. According to Brookings, there are 2.4 million green jobs in America right now. I don’t think anyone knows that. According to the Department of Labor, there are 3.1 to 3.2 million green jobs in America right now. That’s compared to 80,000 coal miners. There’s 70,000 people who got up today and went to work in the wind industry alone. We almost have job parity between coal and wind, and that’s despite the fact that fracking has flooded the market with cheap natural gas that is undercutting the wind industry. We still have 70,000 Americans who went to work in the wind industry today, this morning. That doesn’t include the solar industry.

Depending on what you call a green job and how you define it, there are as many as 3 million green jobs. So why is that considered a defeat? I really just want to circle back on that before I talk about the other stuff I’ve been working on. We don’t claim the victories we get. I don’t know any other movement that got its first nickel of federal money in 2009 that’s got 3 million jobs. I mean, I don’t know why people say, “Well, jeez, green jobs are such a failure.” OK, can we ask for some more failures like that? I’d like to have a few more failures like that. I think the main problem is that we didn’t say, “We want a million green jobs by 2013.” Had we said that, we would have overshot our goal by twice. If you completely shift the economy into a clean energy economy I suppose you could have 7 million green jobs. What happened to the green jobs idea is that it suddenly became an overnight panacea to produce a utopia – as opposed to an economic development opportunity pathway to create a few million jobs. In our enthusiasm for the solution we kind of suggested it would happen in 12 months – and then it was a failure. I think that kind of mistake is understandable for a young movement, for a new movement, for a new idea. But there’s not even an idea to replace it.

This is where my frustration comes in. For some people this was just another way to frame what they wanted to do. For some of us, it was survival. Like, this is how we’re going to have jobs for our children. In a survival fight, you don’t give up in 12 months just because the mainstream media has given up on it. In a survival fight, you don’t give up on it in 12 months just because Koch Brothers don’t like it. In a survival fight, you don’t give up in 12 months because the polling data isn’t as strong as it was. So I think that is part of the problem. For some people, it was never a real commitment to marginal communities, to laid-off workers, to folks in Appalachia who could have better work while we fix the climate. It was just a frame. And once the frame was damaged, it was just a sound bite. And once the sound bite took heavy fire from our opponents, a lot of people just walked away. When they walked away, they forgot to look over their shoulder and see 2 to 3 million Americans working right now who wouldn’t be working. And since you’re not looking for that, you don’t see it.

People say, “I don’t know anybody with a green job.” Well, how many people do you know who work in coalmines? There’s only 80,000 of them. You probably don’t know any of them. But the people who are pro-coal sure make sure you see them everywhere. You can conjure up the image of a coal miner in your mind. Because the people who believe in that make sure it’s in the public mind even though there are not that many people coal mining. There are just as many people working in wind. But how much time do we spend celebrating them?

We’d rather talk about how we couldn’t have done better and shouldn’t have done better. It’s just to say that it’s very hard to do better tomorrow if you don’t claim your victories of yesterday and today.

I’m in this strange position of being frustrated and critical. But I don’t only want to be frustrated and critical, because we have actually done some amazing things. Think of the big picture. Gore’s movie came out in 2006. Nobody was talking about climate change on the national stage in 2005. In the 2004 campaign between Kerry and Bush, climate wasn’t even an issue. In 2008, four years later, it was one of the main issues. In 2012, it didn’t fall off the radar – it was driven off the radar by a concerted effort of some of the most powerful forces in American society. After we had got $90 billion of funding though the stimulus bill – 90 billion with a B – for the biggest clean energy investment ever, after we had got the House of Representatives to pass climate legislation, and after we had gotten the president to push fuel economy on automobiles for the first time in years – then we got a counterattack. Which is understandable. But we didn’t have a strong enough coalition who was committed to our strategy to withstand that. So now we’re back on our heels, and now we have to get back in the game. But that’s not, “We suck, and green jobs mysteriously never happened.” It did happen. It just didn’t happen at the scale people had hoped. But people’s hopes were ill-defined in the first place.

JM: You’ve worn a number of hats in your career – community-based attorney, author, White House official, now CNN pundit. In which of those roles did you feel the most empowered to make progressive social change?

VJ: Well, it’s interesting, because it’s the two extremes. But I think that when I was a broke, marginal, grassroots organizer I felt like I could get a lot done because you have no ties to the system. You can just fight the fight you just want to fight. And often you end up winning. Because it’s that kind of David and Goliath syndrome where you don’t know how much strength you have until you throw the punch. And you don’t know much strength they have until they get punched. Sometimes you end up pulling these miraculous victories. I was very happy, for instance, to play a big role in preventing the construction of the superjail for kids they were going to build in Oakland in the early 2000s. I’ve always been proud of that victory, more than anything else I’ve ever been a part of. Or in the mid-1990s, getting the SFPD to fire Marc Andaya for his role in beating to death Aaron Williams. That fight was back in 1997. It was my first real true victory for community justice. I look back to those fights with joy because it just shows what ordinary people can do with literally nothing more than determination.

And then, on the other extreme, working in the White House was a great opportunity. Getting the chance to basically play the role of an organizer inside the federal family. The inter-agency process that I headed was moving $80 billion out the door into communities across the country. I got a chance to work with almost a dozen agencies on behalf of the White House. So all my organizing skills from my grassroots days suddenly became incredibly handy. So at the furthest end of being an outsider and the furthest end of being an insider were the two times I probably felt the most effective.

JM: So what would you say to young, up-and-coming progressive organizers who are not going to find themselves on either of those ends, but instead somewhere in the squishy middle?

VJ: I think finding mentors and role models always pays off. I’ve been so lucky. In my early life I had veterans from SNCC [the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] who took me under the wing. Dinky Forman and Dottie Zellner were two SNCC workers who took me under their wing and continue to give me council. Carrie [Caroline] Kerry Kennedy and Arianna Huffington at different stages of my journey were instrumental in connecting me with opportunities, advisors, and donors. Josh Mailman, who founded the Social Venture Network, was there for me at critical times. Al Gore was one of the first people to call me after I left the White House to encourage me. He said, “People have lost much bigger jobs in the White House than you have.” Which I thought was the perfect thing to say. So I’ve been open to getting that kind of help.

What worries me about some of the younger activists is how isolated they seem to be at times in their own sub- sub- sub-cultures. And people in my age group, who are in their 40s, have a real responsibility to go above and beyond the call of duty to reach out, to be supportive, to be encouraging, and to learn from the next generation. I think that’s critical.

If there’s anything I would say, it’s, embrace failure. Almost all of the things that get put on your resume are successes, and that’s what tends to make it into your self-esteem bucket. But all of my failures are the things that tend to give me real insight about what works and what doesn’t work. Your successes give you your confidence and your setbacks give you your character. And you have to have a lot of setbacks, and as a result have a much more sober and realistic view about how hard this work is. But, I’ve never been beat up, I’ve never been shot at, I’ve never had dogs set on me or fire hoses on me. Compared to earlier generations of activists, that’s pretty good. I think it’s important to keep that perspective. Any good planet needs a lot of sunshine and a lot of shit in order to grow. The question is if you can turn the shit into fertilizer.

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It's Not Easy Being Green: Are Some of the Biggest Enviro Groups Giant Sell-Outs?

About a year ago, on March 26, 2012, Sandra Steingraber, an environmental writer and activist against natural-gas fracking, wrote a public letter titled “Breaking Up with the Sierra Club.” Breakups are never easy, and the letter, published on the website of the nature magazine Orion, was brutal from the start: “I’m through with you,” Steingraber began. 

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Whoa, Is Organic Food No Healthier Than Non-Organic? Controversy Erupts Over Study

I had barely drank my first cup of coffee when I heard the news yesterday morning on NPR – organic food, it turns out, may not be that much healthier for you than industrial food.

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Methane’s Contribution to Global Warming Is Worse than You Thought

Methane is 21 times more heat-trapping that carbon dioxide.” If you’re a frequent reader of environmental websites, no doubt you’ve seen some version of that sentence many times. The “twenty-times” figure is the most common way of explaining how methane (or CH4, or uncombusted natural gas) reacts in the atmosphere.

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Can We Save the Environment and Our Communities By Giving Nature Legal Rights?

Cathy Miorelli doesn’t think of herself as an environmentalist. When Miorelli decided to run for the city council of Tamaqua Borough – a small town in central Pennsylvania where she has lived her entire life – she didn’t have any sort of eco-agenda. It was 2004, and the hottest controversy in Tamaqua involved a proposal by an outside company to dump sewage sludge and coal fly ash into abandoned mining pits on the edge of town. But the main issue on Miorelli’s mind was creating more transparent governance on the council, which she says had long been dominated by an old boys’ network. “I was just concerned about everything overall, not really so much the environment,” says Miorelli, who has worked for 16 years as the nurse at the Tamaqua high school. “You know, I didn’t run on any kind of platform, saying that I was going to change the world here or anything.”

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Are You Willing to Go to Jail for What You Believe In?

The words sent shivers down my spine. Last Thursday Tim DeChristopher stood on the steps of the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City and told a large group of supporters: "We know that now I'll have to go to prison ... That's just the job that I have to do. ... Many before me have gone to jail for justice and if we are going to achieve our vision, many after me will have to join me as well."

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Is There A Rift Between Progressives And Environmentalists?

I have to admit I was a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t heard about the October 2 One Nation March in Washington, DC until just a week ago. I was in the middle of an interview with Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins – the energetic, young leader of Green for All – when, in response to a question about the state of the progressive movement, she mentioned the upcoming capital rally as an encouraging example of grassroots organizing by progressive groups. I had no idea what she was talking about. And that’s a problem – because it reveals how the broader center-left remains silo-ed and how environmental issues continue to be disconnected from the larger progressive agenda.

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Shake Up at the Sierra Club? Group Names New Executive Director

The board of directors of the Sierra Club has picked Mike Brune to replace Carl Pope as the organization's executive director. Pope, who will work with the board on special projects,* has headed the US's largest environmental group since 1992, and his departure has been planned for close to a year. Brune Head

Since 2003, Brune has been the executive director of Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a San Francisco-based group that runs corporate accountability campaigns to halt clearcut logging, mountaintop removal coal mining, industrial palm plantations, and the tar sands extraction in western Canada, among other types of environmental destruction. RAN regularly grabs headlines for its Greenpeace-style protests against corporate targets such as Bank of America, Royal Bank of Canada, logging giant Weyerhauser, and Home Depot.

Reading the tealeaves on this kind of transition is tricky, since Sierra Club board members and staff I contacted in the past week have been reluctant to discuss a personnel issue. Still, the selection of Brune hints at a coming shakeup at the 700,000-member-strong group as the green movement struggles to translate growing mainstream interest in the environment into meaningful political action to address the cascading collapse of global ecosystems.

The final selection supposedly came down to Brune and Bruce Nilles, the charismatic head of the Club's coal campaign. In choosing an outsider to run the organization, Club directors may be considering a shift toward a more muscular, in-your-face posture to press its agenda.


Brune comes from the activist-oriented, dark green wing of the environmental movement. Before joining RAN in 1998, he was the outreach director at Greenpeace's San Francisco office, where he honed his skills in public education and retail politics. While at RAN, he has been arrested in protests at least five times, including mostly recently last June, when he was detained along with Darryl Hannah and James Hansen at a mountaintop removal site in West Virginia. Last July -- as part of a campaign calling on Royal Bank of Canada to stop funding tar sands extraction -- Brune appeared in a one-minute video appealing to Janet Nixon, the wife of RBC CEO Gordon Nixon, to help with RAN's campaign. Bank officials told the Canadian newsweekly MacLean's that the video was "emotional extortion, inflammatory, and ultimately not useful to either party.”

It's unlikely that Brune will bring such provocative tactics to the Club. But he will probably adopt a more uncompromising tone than did Pope. As the Club's former political director, Pope's experience was based in navigating the whitewater of Washington. In contrast, Brune cut his teeth running campaigns to reform corporate policies. As executive director of RAN, Brune sought to focus public attention on the root causes of environmental destruction -- namely, corporate predations and the government bureaucrats that aid and abet them. In a 2007 interview with the web site Mongabay, Brune said: "The only way to permanently save rainforests is to transform the underlying economic and social factors that are causing their destruction. … Our primary approach has to been to challenge Corporate America.”

By Sierra Club standards, this rhetoric is radical. But any concerns that Club directors might have had about Brune's more aggressive politics were probably softened by his charm. At six-foot-four-inches, he looks good in a suit and can, when he wants, attract a room's attention. He is quick-witted and affable, and is adept at using humor to disarm opponents.

I met Brune right before he became executive director at RAN. At the time, I was working as a campaigner at the human rights group Global Exchange. Brune and I (along with Jennifer Krill, a RAN campaigner who is now the ED at EarthWorks) conceived and launched a "Freedom from Oil” campaign calling on Ford Motor Company to dramatically increase its fuel economy. In often-tense meetings with Ford executives, Brune demonstrated a knack for being, as he told me then, "hard on the message and soft on the messenger."That is, unfailingly polite and willing to engage in discussion while at the same time keeping firm to his position.

That combination has been the signature one-two punch of RAN's strategy during Brune's tenure as its leader. Even as the group wages creative, hard-hitting campaigns that involve civil disobedience, the organization engages its corporate targets in high level negotiations that have led to impressive success, such as getting investment banking firm Goldman Sachs to adopt a comprehensive environmental policy.

Brune's biggest test will be whether he can bring that fighting spirit to the Sierra Club, which -- along with Beltway groups like NRDC and Environmental Defense -- often makes the mistake of confusing compromise with victory. Although tightly run and well connected, RAN likes to promote itself as a scrappy green outfit, an underdog storyline reporters can't resist. At the Club, Brune will have exactly the opposite task: Taking the sometimes slow moving, cautious, $80 million organization and recommitting it to the grassroots dynamism of the John Muir and David Brower eras.

At the very least, the appointment of the 38-year-old Brune marks a generational shift within the leadership of the century-old Club: Baby Boomer out, Gen X-er in. This is part of a trend in the environmental movement as younger leaders take the reins of some of the most influential green groups. Both Phil Radford, the new head of Greenpeace-US, and Erich Pica, the newly appointed ED at Friends of the Earth-US, are in their early thirties. One of the key challenges for Brune, Radford, and Pica will be getting people in their twenties and thirties -- who are not "joiners"in the fashion of their parents -- to go beyond point-and-click activism.

Brune's anti-corporate track record might just be what the Sierra Club needs at time when populist sentiment is running high thanks largely to the poorly managed Wall Street bailouts. But even if Brune can make the Club more comfortable with the idea of combat, the organization won't achieve its goals unless it can mobilize younger people to get our from behind their monitors and, as the organization's motto says, "Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet."

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Why the Economic Downturn Has Been Good News for Amtrak and the Future of Rail Travel

In a recession, everything slows down. A year after the first signs of trouble appeared, the financial system remains sluggish. Most other sectors of the economy -- from housing construction to auto manufacturing -- are also at a standstill. But at least one thing in the U.S. is speeding up: the nation's passenger trains.

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Thousands Storm Capitol Hill in Largest Protest Against Global Warming

Blaine O'Neil believes he and his friends are on to something big -- namely, saving the world.

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New Food Safety Rules May Do More Harm Than Good

Dale Coke has been farming in California's San Benito County for nearly 30 years, and the thousands of days of wind and sun are etched in the deep lines of his long, lean face. His hands are tough, with fingers that are as adept at fixing a broken water pump as they are at handling a freshly cut head of lettuce. Coke, 54 with salt-and-pepper hair, was one of the pioneers of the organic farming industry. In 1980, he started growing salad mix in the valleys of California's Central Coast, and by the end of the 1990s he had nearly 500 acres under cultivation. But then the salad mix market "got too complicated," he says, and so he downsized to 250 acres, and today focuses on specialty crops such as fennel, dinosaur kale, and beets, which he sells to Whole Foods and restaurants.

When talking about the economics of organic farming, a joker's grin flirts with the edges of Coke's mouth, as if he knows the punch line to some inside joke about a business he has seen transform from a mom-and-pop enterprise to a multibillion dollar industry that is the fastest growing segment of the food market. But for Coke, recent changes in the fresh produce industry are nothing to laugh about. A year and a half after an E. coli outbreak traced to bagged spinach killed three people, hospitalized 100, and sickened dozens more, farmers and processors are still struggling with how best to ensure food safety. According to Coke and other farmers, some of the new practices intended to improve food safety are misguided and misinformed, and risk undermining environmentally sound farming practices in the area surrounding California's Salinas Valley. The region produces more than half of the country's lettuce, and is affectionately referred to by locals as "The Nation's Salad Bowl."

"This is all a knee-jerk reaction by the salad marketers to get their market back, because no one would touch spinach," Coke says. "It's a sham foisted on the consumers by the salad processors. ... The farmers are caught between these two things [food safety rules and environmental protection], and now they don't know what to do. Are they going to tear out all the trees?"

It's a chilly December day, and the rolling hills surrounding Coke's fields are just starting to turn from gold to green. We're driving in Coke's mud-splattered Honda Element as he takes me on a tour of his ranch, which is just down the road from the sleepy mission town of San Juan Bautista. We pass a Latino field crew harvesting chard and burdock root, then turn past a shelterbelt of pines. Another turn brings us alongside an irrigation ditch bordered with reeds and native willows. As Coke complains about how "it seems like the new vision of salad crops is bare dirt or lettuce with no room for wildlife to hang out," a great egret steps from the brush. The tall bird stands in the sun for a minute, and Coke and I silently watch the animal. Then Coke puts his foot on the gas and the bird takes flight, a bright white streak against the dark brown fields.

It's a lovely sight -- unless, that is, you work as a food safety inspector for one of the bag lettuce processors, in which case that bird could be considered a risk for spreading dangerous pathogens.

The September 2006 E. coli outbreak dealt a major blow to the $2.5 billion bagged salad industry, as sales dropped 30 percent. To help ease consumer worries -- and to forestall any new federal or state regulations -- the salad packagers created the "Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement" (LGMA). The agreement, which most of the large growers have signed on to, sets up baseline standards for sanitizing equipment, field worker cleanliness, water testing, and restricting wildlife encroachments. To further distinguish themselves among consumers, some processors are demanding even stricter rules -- often called "super metrics" -- from their grower-suppliers. For example, some packagers won't accept lettuce grown within 150 feet of a waterway that attracts wildlife, and are requiring fields to be set back a quarter of a mile from any cattle pasture. If livestock or wild animals do gain access to a field, the grower is expected to "destroy any product potentially contaminated by the animal." According to some standards, Coke's tree-lined canal, the amphibians that live there, and the egret that uses it as a watering hole are unacceptable vectors for disease.

Such requirements are causing frustration and anger among both small-scale organic farmers and larger conventional growers who say that the food safety rules have gone too far, and in the process are rolling back decades of progress in maintaining water quality, establishing wildlife corridors, and protecting biodiversity.

A spring 2007 survey conducted by the Monterey County Resource Conservation District found that 40 percent of farmers on the California Central Coast have removed wildlife from their fields on the recommendation of food safety auditors. About 30 percent have eliminated non-crop vegetation from their farms, and seven percent of farmers have bulldozed in ponds or other waterways to meet processor requirements. One grower lost $17,500 worth of crops because deer tracks were found in his field; another had to halt a harvest because frogs and tadpoles were discovered in a nearby creek. Many growers who participated in the survey expressed concern about the conflicting priorities of food safety and environmental protection.

"I am all for the environment and safe food," one farmer wrote, "but feel many new food safety ideas are being driven by fear and uncertainty rather than sound science."

Another farmer wrote: "We are very concerned about upsetting the natural balance, but we have to comply with our shipper's requests."

"Growers aren't happy at being put between a rock and a hard place between food safety and the environment," says Melanie Beretti, who conducted the farmer survey for the conservation district. "At every level, there's a lack of understanding of the in-field realities and what farming looks like in the Salinas Valley."

Though surrounded by the produce plantations of the Salinas Valley, the inside of the Fresh Express processing plant couldn't be farther away from the gritty experience of the farm fields. Fresh Express is the giant of the bagged salad industry, selling more than 40 percent of all the packaged salad in the U.S. -- more than its next three competitors combined. The $1.3 billion company, owned by Chiquita Brands, provides salad to 25 million Americans every week; institutional customers include Taco Bell and the U.S. military.

The processing plant is a marvel of industrial design. Inside the climate-controlled plant, kept at a crisp 40 degrees F, hundreds of employees are busy trimming, sorting, rinsing, and bagging salad mix. The scale is awesome: Huge 55-gallon stainless steel drums containing 180 pounds of romaine lettuce move about on thick cables; a river of spinach passes through a double wash, then is spun dry in a six-foot tall robotic colander. Giant bins of chopped cabbage, lettuce, and carrots line one wall, waiting to be combined.

The commitment to sanitation is intense. All employees and visitors are required to pass their hands through an automatic wash on the way in, and also to dip their shoes into a blue-colored cleaning solution. Hair and beard nets are required; jewelry and watches are prohibited. In the processing room, the sharp scent of the chlorine used in the rinse water is unmistakable. Massive tubs of citric acid maintain the water at an even pH.

In trying to explain the peculiarities of our industrial food system, Michael Pollan, writing in The New York Times Magazine, has pointed out that "in effect, we're washing the whole nation's salad in one big sink." If so, then this factory in central California is that sink: The Fresh Express factory in Salinas packages 10,000 cases of salad an hour, or roughly 240 million bags of lettuce every year.

One has only to glimpse the tall stacks of bagged lettuce at the grocery store to gauge the popularity of packaged salad. It's the ideal product for a rushed age. Fresh Express -- along with competitors Dole, Ready Pac, and Earthbound Farm -- are largely selling convenience. Most obviously, this means the luxury of not having to wash the leaves (though independent groups such as Consumers Union do recommend a second rinse). It also means, for salad mixes, not having to combine several different kinds of lettuces on your own. At the same time, the salad processors are in the business of marketing cleanliness. Fresh Express executives are explicit that a large part of the value they provide their customers is simply sanitation.

"We wash our lettuce more thoroughly than do our consumers at home," says Bill Clyburn, Fresh Express's vice president of manufacturing. "Do you sanitize your countertops daily? Here we swab everything down, all our stainless steel equipment, daily. ... Personally, I don't eat head lettuce. Go to the grocery store and look at how people are breathing all over the head, putting their nose right in it to smell it, even though it doesn't have a scent."

If cleanliness is a key part of your marketing strategy, then there is no greater threat to your company's success than the implication that your product might be tainted with dangerous pathogens -- which is why Fresh Express, along with the grocery and restaurant chains it sells to, has gone to such great lengths to demand new practices from farmers. Practices, some say, that are more about protecting public relations than preserving public health.

The Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement was intended to provide the produce growers with a single set of rules for in-field food safety. The agreement -- written by a small group of the largest produce growers -- calls for monthly water testing, regular site inspections, and frequent cleaning of harvesting equipment. It suggests that farmers maintain at least a 30-foot buffer of bare ground between grazing lands and row crops; that field workers do not harvest crops within a 5-foot radius of any animal feces they find; and that fields be left fallow for at least 60 days after any flood.

Fresh Express has a much stricter set of standards. It requires its suppliers to maintain a several hundred-foot buffer around grazing lands; requires 150 of bare ground around waterways; and won't accept food from any lands that have experienced a flood in the last five years. These rules are clearly designed to attract favor from retail customers such as Wal-Mart, McDonald's, the Walt Disney Company properties, and Publix Supermarkets, all of which have established a zero-tolerance policy regarding animal encroachments and field flooding.

"I think that some of the processors are pushing way too hard, absolutely," says Jeff Gilles, an attorney with the Salinas firm Lombardo & Gilles. During the course of his 29-year career, Gilles has represented so many Central Coast growers, shippers, and processors that he is something of an establishment voice within the region's agricultural community. "They are using it for marketing purposes, and for no other reason than that. I also think that the buyers are pushing way too hard on the processors. ... I don't think farmers want to build eight-foot-high fences. If you find a hawk turd in your field and you're forced to disk up the field and lose $80,000 -- that's something a farmer would never do."

During the last 20 years, government agencies have worked hard in California to encourage growers to adopt more sustainable land management practices. Because it is so close to the Pacific Ocean, the Salinas Valley has a major problem with salt water intruding into the local aquifer. In an effort to maintain healthy aquifers, government officials have launched programs in the area to maintain and construct wetlands and native plant corridors. An estimated 90 percent of farmers in the region have, over the years, taken some action -- planting hedgerows, creating storm water ponds, using off-season cover crops, or constructing wetlands -- to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. Now, because of some food safety rules, those accomplishments are at risk.

"My concern is the ripple effect, things getting worse in addition to the setbacks we've already seen," says the Monterey Conservation District's Beretti. "It's disconcerting to see this having such a broad impact."

Many farmers are reluctant to talk to the press about the situation. I made numerous calls to a half dozen growers in the region who did not return my messages. One large-scale conventional farmer who did call me back is Joe Pezzini, who manages land around Castroville, CA, a burg of 7,000 people in the flat center of the valley that boasts being "the artichoke capital of the world."

Pezzini, a slim man with silver hair, comes from a farming family; his grandfather started farming in the valley in 1930, and his cousin Guido today manages a local produce stand. Pezzini is the vice president of operations for Ocean Mist Farms, a family-owned company that grows and markets its own produce. The company, which farms 10,000 acres in California and Arizona, is the country's largest supplier of artichokes, and is also a major producer of broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and romaine and iceberg lettuce. When the E. coli outbreak occurred, Pezzini was serving as the chair of the Central California Grower-Shippers Association, a position that put him at the center of the effort to create new in-field food safety standards. Today, he is concerned that the demands from some grocery chains and processors have gone too far.

"A lot of farmers are getting stuck in the middle," Pezzini says. "They're saying, 'I want to survive economically, but we can't do that if we keep the pond in the middle of the ranch.'"

Pezzini's company, while following the LGMA rules, doesn't have to meet some of the super metrics required by other packers. Since Ocean Mist has its own brand, it enjoys the luxury of resisting some buyer requirements. "We have turned down some customers because they had unreasonable expectations," Pezzini says. "A lot of growers have less leverage, and are getting pushed down upon."

Ocean Mist's independence has allowed the company to maintain the wetlands and wildlife corridors on its properties. As an example, Pezzini took me on a drive to Del Sante Ranch, an artichoke farm (he says "ar-TEE-choke") a few miles from the beaches of Monterey Bay. When we climbed out of Pezzini's dusty Ford pickup, we were surrounded by long, neat rows of artichoke shrubs, and, behind us, a slough full of young willow trees. In the midst of the waterway stood several tall posts, placed there to serve as stands for passing birds.

"There used to be a lot of wetlands around here, and they served a useful purpose," Pezzini says. Not only do the wetlands help keep salt water out of the aquifers, they also provide habitat for raptors that prey upon gophers, voles, and mice looking for a field snack. "These wetlands house predators, and they do keep the rodents down, who otherwise would eat the artichokes. It does have a benefit, and we see that benefit."

Pezzini, like other people I spoke with, is especially worried that some of the super metrics don't seem grounded in science. At least one set of standards suggests that only potable water should be used to irrigate crops. There is also a preoccupation with keeping any deer, rodents, or wild pigs out of farm fields. Yet the science is inconclusive as to whether such animals are common carriers of E. coli O157:H7, the pathogen that has sickened people. According to a research brief prepared by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California at Santa Cruz, "research has shown that wild animals exhibit relatively low levels or an absence of E. coli."

Ironically, some of the in-field production rules may be counterproductive to the goal of reducing pathogen spread. For example, while many of the new requirements discourage non-crop vegetation, studies reveal that hedgerows and other vegetative barriers serve as a kind of natural water filter.

"There's some very promising work that shows biotic processes can reduce the risk of pathogen contamination -- there's a buffering and filtering effect," says Beretti. "I think everyone acknowledges that there's not a lot of scientific documentation for these requirements."

Indeed, they do. As the conflict between food safety rules and best land management practices becomes more pronounced, industry players are rushing to conduct research that can serve as a common basis for field production standards. In December, members of the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment came together to discuss ways of combining the various studies being conducted by government agencies, universities, and private companies.

"All of the farmers would love to see a uniform set of standards, so that everyone is playing by the same rules, so that standards aren't driven by unilateral moves in the market," says attorney Gilles. "The farmers want to make decisions based on science -- not on whim, whether it's the processor's whim or the consumer's whim."

Gilles, however, may not be reading the situation entirely right: Not all farmers want a uniform set of standards. In fact, that's exactly what many small- and medium-sized organic farmers fear. They worry that the LGMA rules could become mandatory. Such a move, many organic farmers say, would jeopardize one of the very solutions to large-scale food-borne illnesses -- local production for local consumption.

As they watch conventional growers struggle with the new demands of processors and retailers, organic farmers are concerned that either state or federal regulators might use the LGMA as a basis for government-enforced standards. Another worry is that the California Leafy Greens Marketing Board could vote to make the agreement's rules compulsory, so that anyone wanting to sell produce to a wholesaler or restaurant would have to follow them.

To prevent that from happening, some of California's organic farmers have begun organizing against a one-size-fits-all approach. They say that the problem of food-borne illnesses isn't a concern for leafy greens in general, but for one specific kind of product: bagged lettuce. They point out that 98.5 percent of E. coli-related illnesses involving produce have been traced back to processed salad.

"It poses some problems when you pre-cut salad and put it in a bag," Dale Coke says. "Basically, they made the perfect incubator. It's just problematic."

Andy Griffin of Mariquita Farm -- which sells to several top San Francisco Bay Area restaurants such as Zuni Café and Chez Panisse -- agrees. For him, the trouble is not the farms, but rather the food system.

"When everything goes through one tiny aperture, you have the opportunity for everyone to get sick," he says. "The problem isn't the source of E. coli. The problem is this grotesque system of food industrialization. That's the real food insecurity."

Such talk makes others in the organic market uneasy. Will Daniels is the vice president of food safety at Earthbound Farms, which is the fourth biggest seller of bagged salad and has a virtual monopoly on organic processed lettuce. Daniels says that the conflict between food safety and environmental protection has "been blown a little out of proportion," and that many organic farmers are worried because they weren't involved in writing the LGMA rules. As the chair of the board of Certified California Organic Farmers, Daniels says he tried very hard to represent organic growers in the process. "We don't support a scorched earth policy," he says.

While acknowledging that bagged lettuce has unique challenges, he says that all farmers have a responsibility to maintain food safety. Uniform federal rules for produce handling, Daniels says, is his company's preferred solution. "What we're trying to focus on is that everyone needs to be concerned about food safety, regardless of scale or product or market," he says. "We'd like to see national legislation, because it's important that we have a level playing field."

Judith Redmond, a co-owner of Full Belly Farm and chair of the Community Alliance of Family Farmers, isn't so sure. "It's a complex situation," says Redmond, who has led the fight against making the LGMA rules mandatory. "We think this farm-by-farm approach is really flawed. We need to look at the whole environment, and interrupt this pathogen, and that involves looking at the cattle industry. We know that the biggest reservoir of E. coli O157 is in the cattle industry and the big feed lots. ... Neither of those industries [the salad processors or the cattle ranchers] want the attention where it belongs. They want the attention on the small-scale family farmers. At some point they need to turn the mirror around."

Of course, blame is always in the eye of the beholder. The processors claim the biggest worry is production practices: "More than likely the contamination is happening out in the fields," Daniels says. The farmers prefer to think that the problem lies in the factories: "No one seems to question why the processing part is failing at its job," Coke says.

What everyone seems to agree on is that much of the trouble resides in "the market" -- that is, the expectations from grocery stores and restaurant chains that appear to want food created in a sterile environment. In a sense, then, the greatest challenge facing the produce industry is how to overcome people's ignorance of the natural conditions under which their greens are grown.

The hullabaloo over food safety rules represents something of a culture clash. Lettuce and other greens have typically been sold as fresh goods. With salad now a packaged shelf product, the expectations of food safety professionals -- who are accustomed to inspecting indoor factories -- are coming into conflict with the realities of vegetable farming.

That, at least, is how Ken Kimes sees it. For the last 27 years, Kimes and his wife, Sandra Ward, have operated a small farm called New Natives that grows sprouts and specialty micro greens for farmers market customers and restaurants around Santa Cruz, CA. According to Kimes, many of the new challenges facing farmers are due to a class of consultants who are unaccustomed to inspecting outdoor environments.

"There's this whole group of people who have risen up recently that I call the FSP -- the Food Safety Professionals -- and they have come over from the processing industry," Kimes says. "They are used to the idea that you can eliminate let's say 95 percent of the risk through environmental controls. And they are literally kind of stunned by the idea that when you get out to the farm, birds will fly around. They are surprised by that.

"When you try to control every risk, you are trying to control nature in the extreme, which is hard, because you are outside."

To be sure, the Salinas Valley is a manufactured landscape already well under the control of human hands. It is a terrain carefully shaped for our needs, a tightly managed checkerboard of lettuce crops, artichoke fields, and strawberry plantations. A visitor to the valley is more likely to see the straight lines of irrigation piping than the meandering route of a creek. Still, even in this controlled environment, nature persists, and driving along the valley's farm roads one can glimpse a hawk or a turkey vulture up in the air, or deer creeping out of the hills with the morning fog.

"Agriculture is not a very natural thing," Coke says, his joker grin lit up. "We're always manipulating the earth. But we'd like to co-exist with nature as much as possible. ... You're not going to control the wind or the birds or the insects."

The expectations of food safety professionals and the logic of biological systems are, perhaps, irreconcilable. Our modern food system demands uniformity; nature, in contrast, is an unruly polyculture. When you try to graft industrial practices onto agrarian systems, you just end up flattening out biodiversity.

The conflict stems, in no small part, from ignorance about the basics of agriculture. In a nation where less than two percent of the population are farmers, many people simply have no idea what is required to grow food. And, because they don't know, they are afraid. "I think a lot of people lament the fact that few of us here in the U.S. have a connection to farms," Pezzini says.

One solution, encouraged by farmers such as Coke, Kimes, and Redmond, is for people to get closer to their food -- to shop at farmers' markets or join Community Supported Agriculture programs, and by doing so learn more about the farms that produce their food and the people who work there.

Another solution may be for the processors -- and, by extension, for consumers -- to accept some risk. Of course, no one wants anyone to get sick from the food they eat. At the same time, it's important to recognize that there are some things we have no power over.

"I would like to hope that the consumer would understand that their health and welfare is paramount to what we do here -- but done in balance with the environment," Pezzini says. "We believe we've created a model that includes the best practices for minimizing the potential for contamination. And that's the key word -- minimizing. It's not eliminating."

That's because farming -- even with 21st century technology -- remains more of a craft than a science. Agriculture is an art that occurs in the open, subject to the whims of the weather, the unpredictable movement of water, the instincts of animals. It takes place in a space that, unlike the inside of the Fresh Express factory, is not entirely controllable.

"We are in the open air here -- there are no walls or ceilings," Pezzini says. "Mother Nature still has a hand in what we do."

How a Community Is Saving Itself and the Environment

The following conversation with Omar Freilla is an excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. You can read more about the book here.

Though only 33 years old, Omar Freilla has already distinguished himself as a leader in the movement to create a sustainable and just economy. As the founder of the Green Worker Co-op in the South Bronx district of New York City, Freilla has laid out an exciting vision of how to balance economic needs with ecological wisdom. That vision rests on the basic principles of environmental justice-ensuring that no one community has to bear a disproportionate burden for society's toxins and wastes. The way to do that, Freilla believes, is by creating worker-owned co-operatives that will have no incentives to pollute. He spoke to us from his office in the Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx.

Q: How did you get the idea for the Green Worker Co-op? Was there any "aha" moment that you remember?

Omar Freilla: There have been a couple of "aha" moments. The most recent came when I worked for Sustainable South Bronx. I was involved in a collaborative effort to try to attract green businesses into New York, with the hope and the desire that they would be locating in low-income neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, it didn't go anywhere at the time. I realized that I wasn't really comfortable with the approach that we were taking as a group, which was to try to attract businesses -- traditional, corporate-structured businesses -- into an area from outside. I felt that an approach that produces even more results and maximizes benefits to an even greater extent would actually be building up business from within the community. And creating it as a worker-owned business. So that way the profits would actually stay within the community, and decisions would be made by people from the area.

Q: A key part of the vision is recycling and reusing all the waste produced in New York. How do you plan to turn trash into opportunity?

OF: Well, that's part of the vision. Our vision is to incubate and let fly a number of worker-owned businesses that are able to improve environmental conditions generally. It's not specific to waste. We just happened to latch on to this idea of creating a co-op that could reduce waste. This particular co-op would be salvaging building materials that would otherwise get thrown out and get sent to a landfill, or even worse, to an incinerator. We have latched on to that and really promoted that as an idea.

The next co-op or the third one or the fourth one could be anything. It could be energy efficiency, doing anything related to improving environmental conditions. For us, the big issues in the South Bronx are reducing air pollution, and reducing waste.

Q: Why is it important to you to have a worker-owned co-operative? How does that fit in with your broader philosophy?

OF: There are two reasons. One is economic. It's about being able to maximize the resources within the community. We have an incredible amount of money that just cycles out almost immediately, as soon as it's generated. People don't make a lot of money, and the money we do make winds up going into stores that aren't owned by people in the community. In many cases, especially if you are talking about big chains, the money immediately flows out to some corporate headquarters and distant stock owners in other parts of the country and other parts of the planet. There's really no financial benefit coming back to the person who actually shops there or who works there, other than maybe getting a particular product. We felt that the worker co-op model is a great way to go.

Q: What is the second reason?

OF: Democracy. We live in a country that is counted as a great democracy, but in day-to-day life few of us actually experience it. We go to school and we go to work under conditions where people don't have a say in their day-to-day life; they don't have a say in the things that happen around them. And then people are surprised that there is little participation at the voting booth, or that people don't really take seriously this idea of living in a democracy. So that is a really big part of it, creating an opportunity for people to have ownership of their lives.

Q: We have an industrial economy that's built on extraction. How do you envision a different kind of economy that's more sustainable?

OF: I think there are lots of different pieces that need to be there. One is requiring that everything is counted for, that you don't have natural resources that are being exploited without any kind of accountability. But there is an even larger question of accountability in general: Not being able to exploit anything without being accountable to other people that use it.

My point is that you have corporations that get away with really noxious, destructive practices because the people that are being impacted don't count. They don't count in the political structure or the economic structure. They don't have much clout, and that's why we see environmental racism and classism in poor neighborhoods.

Communities of color wind up bearing the greatest burden of all the environmental horrors that are out there, whether it's places like the South Bronx, with high asthma rates, or the Gulf Coast, known as Cancer Alley because of all the oil refineries. As long as those practices are allowed to happen, as long as those companies and governments feel that they have a dumping ground, then there is no incentive to do things better.

So I think, first, you really need to close that gap. And we can't have a green society or a green economy as long as you have social and economic injustices. Because that's always going to allow for someone to be exploited. We live in a capitalist society. We have businesses that are out to make a quick buck and they will do that, regardless of what the latest ideology is or however many groups are out there trying to promote green as a win-win strategy. There are plenty of people than can make an even quicker buck by exploiting and taking advantage of people's weaknesses. As long as you have that, then, I don't see it as possible to get to some pure sustainable economy. I think sustainability requires social justice.

Q: Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, California, warns that in rushing to a green economy, people of color are at risk of being left behind. How do you make sure that doesn't happen?

OF: I think we need to be in the driver's seat. We need to be the ones taking control of resources and shaping the kind of world that we want to live in. That is the nature of what our organization is about. Our approach is very different for lots of other groups that are out there. We really feel it's necessary to create the model ourselves. I don't have much faith in our governments-local, regional or federal-or the benevolence of outside corporations to implement the things that we want to see and the way that we want to see them.

Q: Is this about creating a new game, since the old game is not working?

OF: Yeah, that's essentially what it is. I draw a lot of inspiration from every effort that I have ever come across where people in their communities have decided that they were going to take on their own development and really create their own economic structures under their own circumstances --from the Mondragon Co-operatives in the Basque region of Spain, to workers that have just taken over their defunct factories in Argentina, to Native Americans in the U.S. that are building their own energy co-ops and are doing different things to sustain their own economies. There are different things that are happening all over the country where people are trying to do that.

Q: You have written that, "We don't have the luxury to wait for alternatives. That's why we are creating them." What drives that sense of urgency?

OF: Asthma, cancer, every health problem and threat that is associated with the environment; pollution in the environment. All of that. If you are living with power plants and oil refineries and sewage-processing plants, you are also living with the horrible health threats and problems that those things generate.

Q: Twenty-five years from now, what do you want to see your neighborhood looking like?

OF: Lush, green, clear skies, happy people smiling. I'd like in twenty-five years for "worker co-ops" to be a household phrase. For people to understand what co-operatives are, and to know at least somebody in their family who is working in a worker co-op in the South Bronx; for these businesses to be green, environmentally friendly; and for the South Bronx not to be known as a dumping ground anymore, but instead to be known as a place where visions become reality.

How the Environmental Movement Can Redefine Globalization

The following conversation with Michael Shuman is an excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. You can read more about the book here.

Michael Shuman is an economist, attorney, and Vice President for Enterprise Development for the Training & Development Corporation (TDC) of Bucksport, Maine. He has written, co-written, or edited six books, including The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition (Berrett Koehler, 2006), and Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age (Free Press, 1998). He lectures widely across the United States and is one of the most important thinkers writing about the local green economy.

Q: What motivated you to write your recent book, The Small-Mart Revolution, and what are some of the main points of the book?

Michael Shuman: In 1998 I wrote a book called Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age. It got a very positive and broad response and helped promote the emergence of two business networks-the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), and the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA). So what started as anti-globalization in the 1990s morphed into engagement by progressive-minded small-business people. So when I saw the innovations that these grassroots groups were coming up with, I wanted to expand on the theme and explore all the innovative organizing going on in the small-business sector.

The book has three big themes in it. The first is to lay out all the reasons why locally owned businesses are much more reliable actors in promoting economic development in an equitable way. The second point is that small businesses are a lot more competitive than most people think. In many places small businesses are competing successfully against bigger retailers or bigger manufacturers or bigger banks, and I document the strategies they're using. And the third theme describes a coherent agenda on what communities can be doing to advance this local business revolution even faster.

The book examines how we should think differently about economic development, how we can promote local entrepreneurship, how coalitions of local businesses can be more competitive acting together than they might be if they operate just as individual firms. Then I talk about new ways of promoting buy-local campaigns and local investing (this is where some ideas for local stock markets have come out). And then finally, in public policy, I try to show that right now the economic development system is rigged heavily against local businesses. We're trying to get rid of those biases so that small businesses have as much chance of succeeding as large businesses do.

Q: In your book, The Small-Mart Revolution, you say "The small-mart revolution is not about ducking globalization, it's about redefining it." Can you elaborate?

MS: Some people have said, "If you're telling communities to withdraw from the world and be internally focused and less interested in global affairs, then this will be a colossal failure. We're in an era of globalization and we can't isolate ourselves from that." So the last chapter of the book shows that there are many ways that we can support local economies on a worldwide basis without falling into the trap of just getting involved in more conventional trade. That's what I mean by redefining globalization: promoting the globalization of mass movements, globalization of the sharing of ideas of public policy, sharing of small business technology so that every community that's engaged in this small-mart activity thinks of itself as having a duty to help other communities around the world to achieve a similar level of self-reliance.

Q: You contrast two very different models: local ownership and import substitution (LOIS) and the status quo position, which says, "There is no alternative" (TINA). Can you elaborate on this distinction?

MS: One of the questions that has dominated public discourse in the last ten years is, what kind of capitalism should we embrace? For discussion purposes in the book, I simplify the debate with two types of capitalism that I gave the names TINA and LOIS. TINA embodies the most conventional ideas about economic development. People with this perspective are trying to attract as many global companies (whether it be manufacturers or big-box stores) to come into their backyards, and they are trying to export as much as possible to the global economy. They're trying to convince the small-business community that the first two activities are somehow in the best interest of the local community.

The alternative is LOIS (locally owned import substitution), which is really saying that the most dynamic development stories are coming from communities that are mostly made up of locally owned businesses. They are trying to diversify their economies through greater degrees of self-reliance. There's a confidence in those communities that if you have a strong homegrown economy, then you can selectively participate in the global economy from a position of strength ra ther than one of vulnerability and weakness.

Q: You say that small firms produce 60 to 80 percent of all new jobs in the United States and 13 to 14 times more patents than large firms. Can you contrast locally owned companies and big corporations in terms of their impact on jobs and tax revenues?

MS: Let's focus on the local ownership piece for a moment. There are probably three big differences between local and non-local businesses that help explain why local ownership is so important. Local businesses don't run away as easily; they spend more of their money locally and thereby generate higher economic multipliers; and they tend to be smaller in size and thereby have a kind of a character that's more consistent with locally controlled economic development. Let me elaborate. The impact of local businesses not moving is that the wealth that they produce stays in the community for many years, often for many generations. It also means that the kind of catastrophe that one sees around the country when the big TINA firm leaves town is much less likely to occur. That catastrophe-if you're dependent on one big plant-can be enormous.

My current affiliation with the Training and Development Corporation in Maine came about in late 2002 after a paper company decided they wanted to shut down this hundred-year-old plant and to set up a new plant in Canada. The unemployment rate over the next year in this part of Maine grew to 40 percent. It was the equivalent of a nuclear bomb going off in that section of the country. So having a strong local business sector for your economy is an insurance policy.

On the second issue of economic multipliers, there have been about a dozen studies comparing local vs. non-local businesses-one study is by Dan Houston of Civic Economics-these studies have all shown that in terms of the economic multiplier, which is the building block for community economic development, local businesses generate two to four times more benefits than non-local businesses. That is because the local businesses spend their money locally. One great study of this was done four years ago in Austin, Texas. It looked at a hundred dollars spent at a Borders bookstore, compared to a hundred dollars spent at a local bookstore. Of the hundred dollars spent at Borders, 13 dollars stayed in the local economy and of the hundred dollars spent at the local bookstore, 45 dollars remained in the local economy. So in multiplier terms, every expenditure that one made at the local business led to roughly three times the local income, three times the jobs, three times the tax benefits. So it's not an inconsequential distinction between the two.

The last issue is the size and character of the local businesses. Local businesses are small and they tend to have their own unique character. So if you want to create diverse communities where people live close to school, shopping and work, it really takes smaller businesses to create a walkable community. When it comes to tourism, what attracts tourists is the unique character-driven kinds of businesses-not big-box stores that can be found anywhere.

Then there is the phenomenon explained by Richard Florida in his book The Rise of the Creative Class. He presents empirical evidence showing that the strongest communities are those that have a lot of diversity, tolerance, fun, and jobs that are creative: scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, and the like. Diverse small businesses controlled by local people give lots of different opportunities for people to enter into the economy and take full advantage of their skills-that's a creative economy. A local economy is the one that is going to be more creative and generate jobs that can attract and hold the best and the brightest.

Q: Would you say there is a movement happening? What is the evidence that leads you to believe that there is a movement?

MS: Time had a cover story in early 2007 that said "Forget Organic, Eat Local." It is the zeitgeist of the moment. It's just one of the many pieces of evidence that this movement is gathering steam. Everywhere you go in this country you see signs that say "we are a local bank" or "we serve local food" or "we manufacture local jewelry." It is so universal now, cutting across every single political divide. I think this is an important trend in American culture.

It is equally significant that a lot of non-local companies are trying to pretend they are local to take advantage of this trend. McDonald's has put out some posters and newspaper ads that say "Locally Owned" to give you the feeling that maybe they are a local food outlet. Borders now has sections of its bookstore that say "Local Interest." The local economy networks have expanded from zero to fifty networks in six years. Formally, there are fifteen thousand businesses that are members of these networks. But if you counted all of the local businesses in these fifty areas, it's more like a couple hundred thousand. I just saw another list that had networks that are in various stages of formation in another hundred places around the U.S. where there is some form of activity.

We are almost to the point where a majority of the country is now being influenced by these business alliances. It's not quite there yet but given the growth rate of these movements, I think it's not that far off that we'll see that. In my adult lifetime, I have never seen a movement that has grown so fast and appealed to such a broad range of people in this country.

How to Hold Corporations Accountable

The following conversation with Thomas Linzey is an excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. You can read more about the book here.

Thomas Linzey thinks of himself as more than just a lawyer. A co-founder of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), Linzey is a practicing attorney, committed to the idea that change happens at the grassroots. Much of his activism occurs through CELDF's "Democracy Schools," an innovative curriculum that encourages people to go beyond the single issue they are working on to think of their struggle as part of a larger fight against corporate power. The schools prompt citizens to question basic assumptions behind our legal system. Linzey and his colleagues encourage communities to create local constitutions, or "home-rule charters," enumerating the rights of local citizens and backing up those rights with enforceable laws.

Q: Can you tell us about "democracy"? It's a word used by everyone and can mean so many things.

Thomas Linzey: Well, I don't think we have ever had a democracy in this country. I think it's a myth that majorities have ever been able to decide what happens to their communities and their lives.

It goes back to the American Revolution when we jettisoned the king, but we didn't jettison the English structure of law. That structure of law developed at the same time England was developing into a global cultural empire. And the folks that wrote the U.S. Constitution, which serves as the DNA or hardwiring for this country, in essence worshiped English common law. We got rid of the King but we didn't get rid of an English structure of law that placed property and commerce over the rights of communities and nature.

Amazing as it might sound, a community that may want to stop toxic waste, or stop toxic sludge from coming in, or stop a big corporate hog factory farm from coming into the community, not only runs up against the corporations and the state regulatory agencies, it runs up against the Constitution.

Q: Some people might say you are anti-business. Is that the case?

TL: This work is not anti-business. In fact, it's not even anti-corporate, in many ways. We all need toilet paper and toothbrushes, stuff that needs to be made. But the question is: Who makes decisions about how those things are made? And, in addition, the question is whether those corporations should be governing entities, or should they merely be business entities? And over time, corporations and the few people that run them have become governing entities; they make governing decisions over us.

When we try to make our own governing decisions, they slash us by using our own governmental institutions, legislation, and the courts. The work is not anti-business at all. It's simply a recognition that if you are a business entity, you should do the work of business, but you should not have constitutional rights. You should not have privately enforceable rights in the U.S. Constitution, and you should certainly not have the authority to nullify community authorities.

Q: Many people in this country don't understand that corporations have personhood rights. Why does this come as such a surprise to some people?

TL: That's a very good question. People only begin to peel back the layers of the legal opinions under which they are governed when they have something threaten them personally. One or our most able organizers -- a woman named Jennifer England -- is from southwestern Virginia. She has seven children. And she's an evangelical Christian. There were plans to dump sludge right next to her house. And it was that imminent threat to her kids, to her land, to her family, to her home, that drove Jennifer to start questioning how this entire structure of law is set up.

She asked, "Why can't we just have a law that says 'no sludge can be spread in this community'?" So we had a conversation with her, and we told her that you can't do that, because it would be illegal. It's unconstitutional to ban something at the community level that the state has permitted, because it violates the corporation's constitutional rights. So the question is, as Jennifer asked, "Why?" When you explain to people like Jennifer that corporations are persons, it just doesn't make any sense to them.

The perplexed look on people's faces when they find out that corporations are deemed to be persons under the law generally leads to two things. Number one: asking questions about why corporations as persons do such damage to communities. The explanation is that when you pass a law at the local level and it somehow violates the corporation's constitutional rights, the corporation can use the federal or state courts to strike down the law.

Number two: going on the offense, meaning that if you are going to pass a sludge ordinance or a factory farm ordinance, or some ordinance at the local level, it is absolutely foolish not to anticipate the challenge that will eventually come down the road, and to build into the ordinance a frontal challenge to the assertion of those rights of the corporation.

And so the "Why?" being asked at the local level -- why can't we control the destiny of our own communities? -- is leading to an offense that's very sophisticated in terms of attempting to dismantle the structure of law.

Q: Speak about the regulatory system. It's supposed to keep corporations from doing harm, but everywhere you look -- the water, the land, the air -- everything is polluted.

TL: It's funny, because people come up to me and say that the regulatory system is broken. It's not protecting our health. It's not protecting our welfare. To which, increasingly, we look back at government and maybe we say the regulatory system is working perfectly because maybe its purpose was not to protect health and welfare.

Maybe its purpose was to legalize corporate harms that would otherwise be illegal without a permitting system in place. In other words, we think of regulatory agencies as folks that attempt to save us from being harmed, but in reality the history of regulatory agencies is much different.

In essence, it's about writing a script for our activism and channeling us down to a regulatory point where we can't win, and even if we do win, we don't win much of anything at all.

And of course when you regulate something, as opposed to when you ban or prohibit it, you are giving up your authority and, in this case, being stripped of your authority to decide what comes in and what doesn't. So I think if our activism is really going to evolve, we have to start seeing how the regulatory agencies really are enablers for the corporations to come in and do the damage that they do.

Q: Some believe that laws such as anti-corporate personhood ordinances are a waste of time because they will be challenged and shot down, so why bother? What is the logic behind civil disobedience to the law?

TL: Well, the law changes. The law changes when people stand up and say we can't take this any more, we are not going to do this any more. In fact, lawyers have never changed the law in this country. It's always been community organizers who are pressing up against existing structures of law that have changed anything in this country.

Rosa Parks, she knew she was subject to a criminal conviction, but she did what she did anyway. The civil rights movement, those brave kids that sat down at the Woolworth's lunch counter, of course the police where going to arrest them, of course they were going to jail. How does that change anything?

They change something when a spark happens. When people see other people doing democracy in a different way and it catches fire -- then it has nothing to do with the individual law. It has to do with a movement that builds, with people no longer willing to live under a structure of law that continually screws them. Because there's nothing left to lose, and when there's nothing left to lose, people whose backs are against the wall tend to come out kicking.

What this work is about is knitting together those communities who are finally learning that they are always on the losing end of the stick, that the regulatory agencies are not a remedy, that they can't turn to their state legislature or their courts for a remedy because those courts are carrying out laws that are written by the corporations in the first place.

And the legislatures are passing laws that were drafted and given to them by the corporations. And so the question is: Where do these folks turn for a remedy? They have to create their own remedy -- just like the suffragists did, just like the abolitionists did, just like the great people's movements of this country did.

Q: Do you believe it's possible to change the role of corporations in our society?

TL: I think it's the beginning of the beginning of the beginning. And I think the people that are willing to change the structure of law are the ones that are directly affected by how law operates, are going to be the ones that push it forward. Which means it's not going to come from environmental organizations.

It's not going to come from social justice organizations. It's not going to come from the top down, from existing organizations. It's going to be pushed upward by these groups of people who are courageous enough to come together around their kitchen table to say "we want this for our community" and are being told that they can't have it, and then they are pushing back and they are saying, "we are going to take it anyway."

The bulk of people who are going to be driving this stuff are the Jennifer Englands and other folks who are very different leaders than we perhaps expect to see. Leaders serve in that they are essentially facilitators and translators to explain to people how the system of law is operating, and why, when they try to stop sludge, they have to stop corporations as well.

So I think when I say we are at the beginning of the beginning of the beginning, it's as if we are the abolitionists back in the 1830s, thirty-seven years before the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were written into the Constitution, and I think that's where we are now.

It's an exciting time, because it allows us to lay the framework and the foundation in the right way so that the house doesn't fall over later. But it's also a fairly depressing time, because things are really bad and things are getting worse, and we want to see this thing accelerate.

Eventually, it means rewriting the state constitutions; eventually, it means rewriting the federal Constitution. And now in polite company, you can't even talk about those things yet. I think as the years roll on, more and more people will understand that we actually need to change the DNA of this country to have any chance. I think that as the ball starts rolling faster, more and more people will clearly see how the structure of law operates and the necessity of changing it.

How to Build a Local Energy Economy

The following conversation with David Morris is an excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. You can read more about the book here.

David Morris is a Co-Founder and Vice President of the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis. He is the director of their New Rules Project, an excellent resource on the best practices for getting local control over energy, agriculture, retail development, finance, and other key areas. He is the author of many books and reports, which are available from the New Rules website. His regular articles are featured on AlterNet.org.

Q: Why does local control of energy make sense?

David Morris: Local control of everything makes sense. But local control of energy makes sense for two reasons: one is that ten cents on the local dollar of the community goes directly to pay for fuel, and all of it is imported. Only between ten and fifteen cents on the dollar spent on that fuel stays in the local community. So from an economic development standpoint, it is probably the worst expenditure that you can make in a community. The other reason is that you don't have to. Cities, unless they are high-density cities, can in fact generate much, if not all, of their own energy, either internal to themselves or within 50 to 100 miles.

Q: What has been the federal government's role on these issues? Is it getting better or worse?

DM: The federal government has not been wise on these things, ever. On the issue of decentralization and energy being produced from the bottom up, the federal government's policies undermine it at almost every level. And it doesn't matter whether it's been Democrats or Republicans; there has been no change in that whatsoever. The federal government wants more energy, but they are either indifferent to where the generation occurs, or they encourage large absentee-owned facilities in most of their incentives and regulatory policies.

Q: Could you give us some specifics on how federal government policies undermine local energy production?

DM: Sure, one is that the federal government has preempted a significant amount of state authority on the siting of high-voltage transmission lines. The federal government is doing everything in its power to build these transmission lines like a national highway. They argue that this is "efficient," and I disagree, but that is their argument.

What it does is encourage the generation of energy far away from where people tend to use it. The federal government has also encouraged absentee ownership of energy facilities. For example, in wind, if you have a wind turbine and you only meet your own internal needs, you actually don't qualify for federal incentives. The only time you qualify for them is if you sell the energy into the grid system-then you can qualify for a tax incentive. There are many examples like this, and the federal government would probably admit it. Their feeling is that large is better than small, absentee is better than locally owned, and it's much better to attract the capital of Wall Street and global investment firms than it is to attract local finance.

Q: How does the issue of net metering factor into this?

DM: Net metering was a revolution, a very quiet revolution. It said that the utility companies had to allow you to turn your meter backwards. Since 1979, by federal law, the utility companies had to agree to buy your electricity if you had solar panels, but they could put any conditions they wanted on it, and they put on conditions that made it uneconomical for you to do that. So what net metering says is that the utility can't charge you for a second meter; it has to allow the meter to run backwards, which means you get the retail price for your electricity. So that redefines the electric system as a two-way system, by law.

Q: Is there any state with full net metering, where if I put more into the grid than I take out, they have to pay me for the electricity I put back into the grid?

DM: Yes, there are many states that allow that, but every one is different. There are some that have a carry-over from month to month and at the end of the year you settle up. There are some that have a carry-over from month to month and at the end of the year you lose any surplus you might have. There are some that require them to pay you, but they would pay you for the voided costs, they're not going to pay you the retail price. You could turn your meter backwards, in effect getting the retail price, but when you get a surplus you're getting a voided cost (between a penny-and-a-half to two cents a kilowatt hour) instead of getting the displaced retail price of anywhere from 7 to 15 cents a kilowatt hour.

Q. Can you discuss the biofuels debate?

DM: The key issue is ownership. In 2002 almost 50 percent of all ethanol facilities in this country were majority farmer-owned, and about 80 percent of all the new ones coming on line were majority farmer-owned. By 2007, about 95 percent of all the new ones are absentee-owned. So we've had a big change in the ownership structure of ethanol.

Q: What caused such a big shift?

DM: Wall Street came in. We had oil going for 60 to 70 dollars a barrel, and we had a mandate for ethanol at a national level. Wall Street found out it could earn 30 to 40 percent turnaround on its investments, and they flooded in and began building 100 million gallon-a-year plants rather than 30 or 40 million gallon-a-year plants. If that becomes your basic size template, that's too large for any local equity to get control of. So that's a serious problem.

Q: What about the issue of taking land away from food production by growing corn for ethanol instead of for human consumption? Or the issue of horrible working conditions for sugarcane workers in Brazil?

DM: Previously, the majority of sugarcane in Brazil was family owned. Now, with the ethanol market taking off, they're getting Japanese capital, Chinese capital, American capital pouring in there, and they have to deal with the absentee ownership in terms of bad working conditions. In terms of the food vs. fuel issue, the point is that if you want to go to a renewable sustainable future, then the question is: "What materials do you rely on?" And when it comes to energy, you can say, "Well, let's rely on direct sunlight," and "Let's rely on wind." And that's fine, as long as you don't need storage.

But if you need storage, you need matter, you need molecules -- and where is the material for that going to come from? Furthermore, where are the molecules going to come from for everything else? For desks and for cars and so forth, where's that going to come from?

You have two alternatives: vegetables or minerals. So if you want minerals, with recycling you can do a lot, but in the longer term you want to shift to vegetables. I wrote a book in 1992 called The Carbohydrate Economy and I will stand by the fact that it has to be a piece of the renewable materials puzzle.

Then the question becomes, what do you use that biomatter for, aside from food and feed -- it's an interesting question. It's a challenge to design public policy correctly because obviously, nutrition should be the highest priority. But when you get below food and medicine, what should it be: should it be liquid fuels, electricity, heat, biochemicals, construction materials, what should it be? That's the real challenge in designing these policies.

Right now, corn farmers without government subsidies are earning more than the cost of production of corn for the first time since the drought year in 1996. Since the 1930s we've had a federal policy whereby the taxpayer pays 20 to 35 percent of the cost of production and in return the grain is artificially low-priced.

We find now that the corn is priced slightly higher than it probably should be, and people are screaming that everyone's going to starve to death should they have to pay the real costs of growing these things. It would be laughable if it weren't so sad. Farmers in other parts of the world have been complaining for many years about the U.S. dumping our cheap, subsidized grain on the world market and driving them out of business.

Q: You've written about energizing rural America through the farm bill and trade policy. Can you talk about the link between increased rural prosperity and energy security?

DM: Rural areas have a competitive advantage in only a few things. The primary one is that they're got a lot of land and relatively few people. It also turns out that the wind blows better and more consistently in rural areas. So that's their competitive advantage: plant matter and wind. Right now those are national priorities, and I'm saying, let's do it right this time. The federal government favors quantitative goals. They want more and I want better.

We did it wrong last time. We should have learned from that experience, and the best way to do it right this time is to let the farmers and local owners control the process so they're not 100 percent dependent on a commodity price they don't control.

Q: Can you talk about green-energy pricing programs?

DM: We're opposed to green pricing programs and I've always been opposed to them. There is a difference between green pricing and green citizenship. Green citizenship says that if the majority supports renewable energy, then the majority should pay for it through the utility bills that go to everyone. Standards are mandates that the majority imposes on themselves, and if there are any increased costs, they are spread out over all the ratepayers.

Green pricing, on the other hand, says that I, in return for taking a moral stand, I will pay a significantly higher price for my electricity because I want renewable sources. This punishes ratepayers who want renewable energy-making them pay 10-25 percent more for their electricity -- while those who don't choose renewable sources pay less. If we want green electricity then we should demand it and everyone should pay for it.

Environmental Justice in Action

The following conversation with Gopal Dayaneni is an excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. You can read more about the book here.

Whether he's working with Indigenous communities in North America to oppose oil extraction, partnering with Nigerians to resist human rights abuses, or trying to uncover the modern-day slavery of prison labor, Gopal Dayaneni can be found on the front lines of environmental justice struggles. Friends and colleagues know Dayaneni as an especially thoughtful activist. While he is busy doing his own small part to promote progressive social change, he is also a big-picture thinker, always encouraging those around him to consider the long view of what it takes to create a more sane and humane world. That trait distinguishes Dayaneni as an important resource for communities looking for the strategic, tactical, and imaginative skills necessary to effect change. We caught up with the 37-year-old campaigner at his home in Berkeley, California, where he was busy tending to his young daughter.

Q: You use the term "environmental justice." Can you define that?

GD: Environmental Justice is a term that talks about a movement that developed over the last 20 years to really take on the disproportionate impact of environmental toxics and pollution on poor communities and communities of color. At the heart of that movement is a commitment to bottom-up organizing and grassroots community organizing. Environmental justice is not about a bunch of people trying to lobby for better laws or a bunch of high-level policy people trying to change environmental policy. It's about communities organizing themselves and resisting environmental abuse by industry or government. And because it is grassroots led, and because it is driven by communities directly attempting to make concrete improvements in the quality of their daily lives, it is ripe for an opening to see the intersections between environmental policy, economics, race, class, the war.

Q: You talk about the difference between defending your concrete interests and defending the environment in general. Is it because when the stakes are higher, the passion is greater?

GD: Yeah, I think there's something to be said for the expression, "There's nothing to lose but your chains." I think there's a greater sense of solidarity. I think people are much more willing to share their successes to work together. I think there's a much greater sense of empowerment because people are actually in control of the campaigns that they are organizing. People are not passive participants watching somebody else try and make things better. They are actively the voice of the issue. People are telling their own stories, they're speaking for themselves.

Changing policy may open up political space to stop the immediate bad things from continuing to happen. But if we're talking about fundamentally transforming our society to be more democratic and more equitable and more humane, the strategy is grassroots community organizing, in my opinion. A good friend of mine once said to me, "Campaigns don't change the world, organizations do." And my response to him was, "Organizations don't change the world, organizing does." That's really for me what's important. For me, that's central to my theory of change.

Q: There is a stereotypical view of U.S. environmentalists as white, middle class, and into bird watching. What do you think of this issue?

GD: Race is a scary thing in America. Race is scary to most white people in America. Race is scary to most people of color in America. Being people of color does not make us smarter, or more revolutionary, or more right, or better. It just makes us oppressed, and there's no great glory in that.

Race is a problem for Americans. It's easy to talk about saving the trees or saving the birds. When you start talking about the relationship between saving the trees and saving the birds and white supremacy in America, you start losing people. It takes a lot of work to help build that consciousness. Just in this conversation, we won't start talking about it by calling it white supremacy. We have to figure out ways of helping people to understand the dynamics of power in this country, and how those attitudes and structures and systems serve the interests of some classes and communities of people over the interests of other communities.

Q: As we try to move toward this whole green economy, what are some of the things you think that these bigger organizations can learn from community-based groups?

GD: The grassroots community-based organizing, I think, is the most important thing that people can learn. I think the other thing is, as people begin to fight for concrete improvements in their daily lives, they also have a taste for what they really want. People start building their own alternatives. People build their own organizations. People start building their own co-ops. People start running their own community farms. It's not enough to get rid of the polluting power plant. People are also building community gardens in those same neighborhoods. It's not enough for them to just say, 'We don't like that there are polluting diesel trucks in our neighborhood.' As you fight that and as you experience victory, your revolutionary imagination is liberated. I think that's where the great promise is.

It's not enough for us to make the oil industry start investing in photovoltaics. There's not a technical solution to our environmental problems. There may be technical things that we can use to help us transition, but the solution is deeply political, and deeply structural and societal. It's about really changing the way we organize our relationship to resources. It shouldn't be mediated by mega-corporations who make a huge amount of money off of it. It should be directly controlled and distributed by communities in their own interest.

Q: What's a vision of what an environmentally justice-informed green economy looks like?

GD: Well, one of the things that we have to open ourselves up to when we embrace the idea that we are going to build from the bottom up is that we don't know exactly what it's going to look like. We can't have this idea that there's this road map. We need the creativity of everybody diving into the mix.

But I think there are a few different pieces that are really important. In terms of the scale at which we currently operate, there's absolutely no question that we're not going to suddenly go from where we are today-where everybody drives a car and the box stores and all of that-to everybody getting their produce from a farmer's market. That's not going to happen overnight. And that may not even be the collective vision of everyone. But given the scale of where we are at right now, one of the places where we need to start is empowering workers and communities to have greater control and input over the resources in their community and in their workplace.

Another big part of it is people working hard to meet their own needs within their local environment. All of the models of urban gardening that have been driven by community needs-not just recreation-really demonstrate the power of that. I think one of the areas where we have been an exception is really looking at the relationship between organized labor and these community-based needs. What does it mean that most people in the United States get their groceries-heavily processed foods and all of the things we know that are terrifying about them-from big chain grocery stores? But let's also not forget that a significant portion of these big chain grocery stores are unionized. And they do have workers who have fought hard to get protections and to protect themselves. And we're not talking about suddenly saying, 'Oh, everyone's going to get their food from community-based gardens.' It's about also figuring out how we're going to integrate the needs of people who are existing in this economy into our meaningful alternatives and into our positive solutions.

Q: Speaking of solutions, we live in a one-size-fits-all, silver-bullet kind of culture. Could you talk about how we're going to have to juggle a number of different things?

GD: I don't know when and how it's going to happen, but I personally believe we have to break the expectation that you can have whatever you want, whenever you want. There's a desire to be able to have every kind of produce year-round. There is this idea that we should have access to everything at any time, like changing your cell phone every six months. And I think we're going to have to break that. Part of breaking that is going to be learning to appreciate the local and regional diversity. The more people have the opportunity to embrace the localism and the value of the localism, I think that will help us break that monoculture and allow us to appreciate diversity.

We have the ability to imagine a different future. It's not about going back in time. It's about going forward in a way in which we are living within our ecological boundaries.

Is It Good that Big Businesses Are Going Green?

This is reprinted with permission from Grist. For more environmental news and humor sign up for Grist's free email service.

"The test of a first-rate intelligence," F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, "is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

If so, then the growth of the green economy -- embraced by corporations, heralded by politicians -- marks something of an IQ test for the progressive movement. How can we at once celebrate companies that move toward better practices while acknowledging how much farther they need to go?

The signs of change are everywhere. General Electric and BP are ramping up their renewable energy as wind becomes price competitive with coal power. Prominent architects are using recycled and reused materials, and the market for non-residential green building is at $43 billion a year. More than $2 trillion in assets are invested in socially responsible funds. Sales of organically grown food are skyrocketing at 20 percent a year growth. Sustainable living has gone from granola fringe to glossy fashion.

This poses a real dilemma for those of us who have long advocated for a cleaner, more humane way of doing business. Of course, it's a tangible benefit to reduce the amount of toxic substances in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the homes that surround us. But are megacorporations -- the same companies that sold us the toxics in the first place -- really the best vehicles for lasting reform?

As this quandary proves, victories are rarely ever clean-cut. Success almost always comes with compromises and contradictions. Progress is, in a word, messy.

Is it a victory when Wal-Mart is the No. 1 seller of organic milk and organic cotton? Should we applaud when Ford offers a hybrid SUV? In short: What does success look like? How will an ecologically sustainable and socially responsible economy take shape?

After careful consideration, our response is a cagey "Yes, but." Yes, it's progress when big companies take steps to lessen their environmental impact. But it's not quite victory yet.

There are real advantages to the Fortune 500's adoption of more environmentally sound business practices. More organic food and clothing means less poisons in our soil and water. More solar energy means less greenhouse-gas emissions. More hybrid vehicles mean fewer gallons of gas burned.

At its most basic, the green economy movement -- which has been spearheaded by small entrepreneurs and is only now being embraced by giant corporations -- is merely the takeover of the very simple act of buying and selling. We all need some stuff, after all: food, clothing, shelter, and maybe an iPod for kicks. The trick is how to produce that stuff in a way that doesn't destroy the planet or abuse workers.

For too long we've allowed corporations to co-opt our social movements through greenwashing and phony charities. It's about time that we started co-opting the corporations. Let's use what businesses are good at -- marketing, distribution, retail sales -- and make it work for us. This is the idea of the "triple bottom line" economy: balancing financial sustainability, social justice, and environmental restoration. It's an idea that's increasingly popular, as the 3,000 green enterprises that are members of the Co-op America'sBusiness Network prove.

Yet the dangers of a big-business takeover of the local, green economy movement are equally real. Will transnational corporations use green practices to more effectively wipe out their mom-and-pop competitors? Will organic standards be weakened by the power of large corporations? Will Americans retain their bad habits of overconsumption but simply switch to earth-friendly products?

In truth, we are not going to spend our way out of a social and ecological crisis 500 years in the making. The revolution does not take American Express.

The inherent contradictions in the trend toward more green business need not be overwhelming. Instead of succumbing to an either/or thinking that says we can either have Safeway organic broccoli or we can have local farmers' markets, we should adopt a both/and mentality that makes room for each path. Our movement for a local, green economy must mimic the wisdom of nature, which always bends toward unity of diversity. Nature abhors a monocrop, and so should we, recognizing that there isn't just a single way forward. There are many roads to the future, and while some get there by bike, others may choose to carpool or take a biodiesel bus.

In practice we encourage people to take whatever actions they are capable of. Call it smorgasbord politics. For the pioneers and the early adapters, there will continue to be community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, off-the-grid energy, bike lanes, and co-ops. For the newcomers just beginning to think about the impacts of their purchasing decisions, buying organic frozen dinners at Whole Foods is at least a step in the right direction. By all means, buy local. But keep in mind that your neighbor might still need some convincing that the green economy is not a fringe movement anymore.

The idea is to construct a green economy broad enough to accommodate a range of interests, niches for both the deeply committed and the newly curious -- while of course at all times pushing farther and constantly redefining "mainstream" and "normal" and "acceptable."

No, we can't buy the change we wish to see, not when buying too much has gotten us in this pinch in the first place. But we can put a down payment on a future that will have no clear-cut forests, no starving children, no sweatshops, and no endangered species.

Now that's smart business.

Government Food Safety System a Sham

Located south of the tiny town of Tarpley, Texas, Debbie Davis's Seco Valley Ranch is something of a model farm. On her 1,800-acre spread, Davis grazes 225 longhorn cattle, every one of which she closely monitors so that she can better manage the herd and its health. Davis' meat is prized in the supermarkets of Austin and San Antonio, where her grass-fed, pastured beef sells for a premium. In many ways, Davis is the very ideal of a local entrepreneur -- profitable and secure, succeeding on her own terms.

Which is why it angers Davis so much when she considers the government's plans to institute a "National Animal Identification System" that will give a 15-digit tracking number to every cow, chicken, pig, turkey, goat, sheep and horse in the United States to trace animals' every move from birth until slaughter. The federal government and large meat producers are promoting the ID system -- usually referred to by its acronym, "NAIS" -- as a way to better control animal disease outbreaks. But the plan has small and organic ranchers in an uproar. They complain that the animal tracking system will place an undue burden on their operations, giving the biggest meat producers additional economic advantages in an already highly consolidated industry.

"It really does feel like Big Brother," rancher Davis said in a recent interview. "The proposal is that I report every animal I have, every time an animal is born, every time an animal dies, and every time I move an animal from my property. ... There's a lot of expense for everyone. The ones who are going to get impacted are the little guys."

If you're a typical American consumer -- for whom meat usually means supermarket "pink in plastic wrap," not animals out on the range -- then why should you care? Because, say critics of the government's plan, the national livestock tracking system will do nothing to actually prevent animal sicknesses such as mad cow disease or avian flu. According to smaller farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates, the complicated and expensive government proposal is mostly a marketing gimmick. They say the program is simply a way for the largest food corporations to sell more products overseas without addressing some of the key weaknesses in the U.S. food system.

Since the first confirmed case of mad cow disease in 2003, U.S. beef producers have struggled to sell their products abroad. Pork producers fear that a similar market closure could one day hit them if there were an outbreak of, say, swine fever or hoof and mouth disease. The creation of an animal tracking ID system is largely intended, then, to give foreign importers some piece of mind by establishing a way to quickly trace back diseased animals to their source and quarantine that specific herd, while letting the rest of the industry go about business as usual. But the program conspicuously does nothing to address the root causes of livestock disease -- improper diet and a confinement system that encourages epidemics. Instead, say small producers, the proposed plan will simply drop unnecessary costs onto those farmers who are already using best practices.

"I believe big business is behind it," Davis said. "It's a way for the giant, monopoly beef industry to export more meat. The whole thing about tracking disease is a bunch of BS to brainwash the general public."

Essentially, taxpayers, ordinary meat-consumers and ranchers are poised to spend tens of millions of dollars on a scheme that will improve the bottom line of the meat packing corporations without improving the health of the animals from which they profit.

To date, much of the controversy surrounding the national animal tracking system has hinged on whether the program will be mandatory or voluntary for farmers. At first, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said that the program would be compulsory for all livestock. A year ago the USDA announced that it wanted all farmers and ranchers to register their premises. The next step was to implant radio tracking devices in all cattle and to assign tracking numbers to groups of hogs and chickens, which are usually raised by lot. By 2009, according to the plan, all livestock in the United States would be tagged, and a tracking database would be in place.

Then farmers and ranchers pushed back. They complained that the system was too complicated, too costly, and, essentially, unnecessary. Websites and email listserves opposing the ID system proliferated. Protest letters flooded the USDA offices. In Acres USA -- one of the most influential newsletters for the organic farming community -- one Texas rancher wrote: "It appears that the ... unstated reason behind [the program] is to get rid of those independent farmers, ranchers and homesteaders."

Confronted with this grassroots opposition, the USDA backpedaled. The agency now says that the animal tracking program will be voluntary.

"People can decide whether they want to participate and whether it fits their needs," Ben Kaczmarski, a spokesman for the USDA, told AlterNet. "We have decided to make the system voluntary at the federal level because of responses we were getting from producers and farmers."

Many farmers, however, remain worried. They point out that three states -- Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana -- are mandating some or all elements of the animal tracking system; a fourth, Texas, is on the verge of making similar legal requirements. Farmers opposed to the program say that the USDA is quietly -- but firmly -- urging states to make the plan mandatory by dangling extra federal funding as an incentive.

"The USDA is trying to get states to make it mandatory at the state level," Walter Jeffries, a Vermont hog farmer who is a leading anti-NAIS activist, wrote in a recent email. "Thus it is still aimed to be mandatory. Not good. ... NAIS is fundamentally designed to favor the large producers and burden the small producers. This is probably primarily by accident, but the effect will kill small producers and homesteaders off. Our country will lose the ability to produce food other than in the large factory farms."

Missouri farmer Doreen Hannes agrees. She says that while large producers can use their economies of scale to absorb the new regulations, the extra time demanded by the tracking will be unworkable for small farmers. She also worries that the cost of ID tags -- at least $3 per unit -- and scanners to read the tags will be prohibitively expensive for smaller operations.

"It's just going to add overhead, and add overhead, and add paperwork," Hannes said. "It will be like doing your taxes every week. They [small ranchers] aren't going to put up with this. They will just get out."

The result, Hannes says, will be more concentration in an industry already dominated by giant agribusiness corporations. For example, just four companies control 83 percent of the beef packing industry and 64 percent of the pork packing business, according to a William Heffernan, a researcher at the University of Missouri.

"If you eat, you need to be concerned about this program," Hannes said. "NAIS will bring about absolute consolidation of our meat supply. And these big corporations are pushing for it."

Indeed. The National Beef Cattlemen's Association and the National Pork Producers Council have been among the primary drivers of an animal tracking system. They say a livestock ID database is necessary to maintain access to profitable international markets that doubt the safety of the U.S. meat supply. The loss of several overseas markets after an outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in 2003 still looms over the U.S. meat industry. When it comes to small farmers' complaints that the NAIS is all about maintaining a globalized food system that prioritizes exports over local food production, industry representatives and government officials essentially agree.

"Our trading partners will feel more confident if we have a system of rapid trace back, then we can keep our markets open," Dave Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, said. "You've seen what happened with the cattle industry with BSE. That happened in one cow, and Japan and South Korea closed their markets. It took them forever to deal with that."

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns has been even more explicit about how the program is driven by international trade concerns. "You don't ever want to put this massive economic system at risk," he told a gathering of meat industry executives in a speech last August. "I've been asked why we've been putting so much effort into the animal ID system. At its core, the system is a critical tool in safeguarding the health of agricultural animals from disease. When it comes to an outbreak, time is money."

But opponents of the plan point out that the tracking system does nothing to prevent animal disease. Rather, it's about controlling disease outbreaks after they've already occurred -- identifying and quarantining certain areas, while keeping the rest of the meat industry running. The tracking system, then, is a way for meat corporations to sell more beef, pork and chicken abroad, without really addressing the root causes of animal disease -- confinement, massive overcrowding, improper feeding, and poor care.

"ID systems only solve sort of the marketing problem," Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation said. "An ID system does not address the causes. What are the fundamental issues we need to address to solve the disease problems? They are feed, confinement, overuse of antibiotics."

As farmer and agrarian essayist Wendell Berry has said: In trying to solve one problem, the industrial food system often creates another. In this case, building a complex and costly system that will only add to farmers' burdens.

So what would be a simpler solution? Veterinarians agree that the best way to avoid animal diseases is to raise animals in ways that mimic their natural predilections -- give them fresh air and sunlight, plenty of space to roam, and food sources (like grass instead of corn, in the case of cattle) that the animals evolved to eat. That is, adopt the kinds of practices currently used by precisely those farmers who say they will be hurt most by the NAIS.

Consumers can help out by supporting local farmers and ranchers. When you go to the farmers market or locally owned butcher and buy meat raised by someone like Walter Jeffries or Doreen Hannes, you are helping promote a food system that is less prone to disease and disruption, and therefore more sustainable and secure. Not only does that allow shoppers to get closer to their farmers, but also to the animal they are about to eat.

"This can be market driven by the consumer," Texas rancher Debbie Davis said. "The consumer, by how he spends his dollars, can dictate that confined animal feeding practices are not sound. If you want to buy free range chicken and pay a dollar more a pound, you are voting with your dollars that this is a more sustainable way of agriculture, instead of putting a chicken in a cage."

Will the End of Oil Be the End Of Food?

Farmer Richard Randall doesn't believe in the notion of "peak oil," the argument that civilization will soon experience an acute -- and irreversible -- petroleum scarcity that will fundamentally alter our way of life. A 61-year-old wheat and sorghum grower from Scott City, Kan., Randall says he's seen high oil prices before, and that today's expensive petroleum is just part of a natural market cycle that will eventually adjust itself, leading to lowered fuel costs.

"I think there's plenty of oil there," Randall said recently. "I feel that if we allow the marketplace to work without interruption in the supply, we will find a level. It's not going to be as low as it was, but it will come down. We do need to produce oil where we can."

Randall may not be certain when oil prices will level out, but it's abundantly clear to him that $70/barrel petroleum is taking a huge bite out of his business. Nearly every part of his farming operation is being impacted. The price for the diesel fuel that runs the tractors and trucks on his 4,500-acre farm have more than tripled in the last four years, rising from 80 cents per gallon to close to $3. Fertilizer prices are also up sharply. Since synthetic fertilizers are made from natural gas, they too are impacted by higher fossil fuel prices; the cost of fertilizer has gone from about $160 per ton to $460 per ton in the last three years. Smaller, organic growers are also feeling a pinch from costlier petroleum. The price for the plastic drip irrigation tape commonly used on organic fruit and vegetable farms is up 20 percent from two years ago.

Because farmers operate in a commodity market where buyers and brokers dictate the price of the harvest, high oil costs have been particularly painful. Unlike other businesses, farms have no way to pass their rising costs on to consumers.

"All of our expenses have gone up pretty well, but we can't put on a surcharge for fuel like everyone else can." Randall said. "It's made it a lot tougher."

Tomorrow's crises

For farmers like Randall, today's challenges may be tomorrow's crises. The problems of coping with high oil prices reveal how utterly dependent our food production system is on nonrenewable fuels. As long as oil is plentiful, that dependence isn't a concern. But in some circles fears are growing that if global petroleum production begins a steady decline, our entire food system will be strained, testing our ability to feed ourselves.

"How dependent on oil is our food system?" Richard Heinberg, a leading "peak oil" scholar and the author of The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies said in an interview. "Enormously dependent. Fatally dependent, I would say."

Of course, you won't find any oil on your dinner plate, but petroleum and other fossil fuels are inside of every bite you eat. About one-fifth of all U.S. energy use goes into the food system. The synthetic nitrogen fertilizers that are essential for high crop yields are a byproduct of natural gas. Gasoline and diesel fuels power the combines that rumble through the grain fields. Countless kilowatts of electricity are burned up in the factories that process all of the packaged goods that line the supermarket shelves. And then there's the gasoline required simply to get food to market. We now have a globalized food system, one in which the typical American meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to fork. Organic products -- though they may have a more sustainable veneer -- are in many respects no different; 10 percent of organic products come from abroad. Without oil, we would all be on one harsh diet.

"We've created an agricultural system where, on average, for every energy of food calorie we produce, we need to expend about 10 calories of fossil fuels," Heinberg said.

Such an imbalance would not be worrisome if there were an inexhaustible supply of oil. But, as every child learns in elementary science class, petroleum is a nonrenewable resource. A heated debate is under way about when that resource will begin to decline. Some say that we have already passed the summit of peak oil and point to a leveling of global petroleum production as proof. The U.S. government argues that we have decades before oil extraction begins to decline. Others calculate that we will hit the peak oil mark sometime in the next 10 years. Regardless of when exactly oil production starts to drop, it's clear that in this century humanity will have to learn to live without cheap, abundant oil.

What this means for our food system is also up for debate. At the very least, costlier oil will lead to more expensive food, especially for processed and packaged goods. At the very worst, peak oil could seriously disrupt agriculture, especially in highly industrialized nations like the United States, where food systems are heavily reliant on oil.

"This era of increasing globalization of our food supply is going to draw to a close here in the next decade or so," Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumers Association, said. "I think it (eventual oil scarcities) is going to mean the end of importing billions of dollars of food from overseas. It's going to mean the end of relatively cheap food in the U.S. And it's going to mean a significant increase in starvation and malnourishment across the world."

Fuel vs. food

In response to alarms about the fragileness of the food system, some farmers are taking initiatives to wean themselves from petroleum and find more sustainable ways of growing food. One of the most popular approaches is biofuels. For farmers, it's a solution to high oil prices that makes intuitive sense, as it raises the possibility of growers cultivating their own fuel, just as most farmers did a century ago when they harvested oats to feed their horse teams.

Phil Foster is one farmer who has made a commitment to reducing his farm's reliance on fossil fuels. A prominent California organic fruit and vegetable grower who is a supplier to Whole Foods, Foster runs nearly all of the trucks and tractors on his 250-acre farm on B100-pure biodiesel. The remainder of his machines -- older tractors with more finicky engines -- operate on B30, which is a blend of biodiesel and conventional petroleum diesel. At the same time, Foster is trying to reduce the amount of electricity his farm pays for. Several years ago he installed a bank of solar panels to help power his packing shed, refrigerators, irrigation pumps, and sales office. He calculates that the sun provides about 20 percent of his energy.

For Foster, using biodiesel and employing solar technology isn't just an effort to be environmentally correct. It's simply smart business, he says, a way to ensure that his farm will be economically sustainable over the long run.

"It was kind of a no-brainer for me to move in that direction," Foster said. "Especially in a business like ours, customers that buy organic would tend to like their growers to be kind of on the forefront. As a business that wants to think about longevity, I want to know how we can position ourselves."

Organic growers aren't the only ones bullish on the future of biofuels. Large, conventional grain farmers are also looking at biofuels as a way to reduce their costs, and many corn growers are hoping to make money by selling their surplus harvest to ethanol processors.

"Diesel fuel used to be a minor cost, but now it's become a major cost," said Paul Penner, who farms 1,000 acres of wheat north of Wichita. "It looks like biodiesel is going to become a long-term solution. So I think we are going to be seeing some bigger switches across the country."

Some people, however, caution that biodiesel is unlikely to evolve into a permanent fix. Though biofuels may be useful in reducing petroleum dependence in the near future, it's doubtful that fuels made from plants could completely unhitch us from oil. Why? For the simple reason that making biofuels requires lots of land, and at some point -- were biofuels to become widely popular -- the nation would face a choice between growing food and growing fuel.

"As good as it sounds, you're taking crops that initially were being used as a food source and now are being used as fuel sources," said a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist who asked to remain anonymous. "So where will all the additional food crops come from to feed the demand from American consumers? I expect some problems coming."

Problems involving the trade-off between cultivating food and cultivating fuel are already appearing. According to Ferd Hoefner of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, last year farmers in North Dakota sold a large portion of their corn harvest to ethanol processors. But that left local cattle ranchers short of grain to feed their cows, and so they had to import corn from Canada to beef up their herds, corn that was more expensive that the locally grown stuff.


As the North Dakota experience shows, there are no simple solutions to agriculture's deep reliance on oil. The fundamental challenge facing farmers -- and, by extension, everyone who likes to eat -- is how to reduce off-farm inputs and make farms more self-sufficient. That will likely require a dramatic overhaul of the food system, a wholesale restructuring that would return agriculture to a system of local production for local consumption.

"The only good thing about this is that there will be a massive stimulus for rebuilding local and regional food and farming systems, and a big increase in organic and sustainable farms, which are less energy intensive," the Organic Consumer Association's Cummins said.

Amy Courtney is a farmer who is pioneering less energy-intensive ways of farming. Courtney is the owner and sole employee of Freewheelin' Farms, a tiny operation on California's Central Coast. Four years ago Courtney, 31, started farming by herself on a one-acre plot just a few hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean. On her oceanview parcel she grows strawberries, blackberries, hothouse tomatoes, cabbage, squash, leeks, and a range of other vegetables. Her produce goes to 16 households in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and some restaurants in a nearby town, all of which she delivers on her bicycle after a seven-mile ride.

"I was a bike activist and chose not to have a car in my life," Courtney said on a recent sunny afternoon as she stood near the chicken flock that supplies eggs to her CSA members. "Then I got involved with agriculture and saw how much we were spending on diesel and oil spills on the fields, and the whole thing was kind of gross to me. I don't want to support that with my life. Or at least I want to unplug as much as possible. And now, with everything in the Mideast, it's like, duh."

Courtney does use some petroleum. She employs a gasoline-powered rototiller to supplement her hand digging of the soil, and she has a biodiesel truck for hauling manure from a nearby ranch so that she can make her own compost. But she estimates that her farm's annual fuel use is less than 30 gallons. She also tries to be more sustainable by using as many recycled materials as possible. She inherited her greenhouse, and the bike trailer she uses for delivering her produce was scavenged from a junk pile.

"There's stuff out there that people aren't using, including land and equipment," she said. "I'm amazed how much food you can grow on a little piece of land. I don't care if they can't make Pez as cheap as they used to. I don't care if GM can't keep it together anymore. If we can't feed ourselves, we're fucked."

Freewheelin' Farms may not be scaled to feed a country of 300 million people. But it is an illustration of the basic principles that will be required to grow food in a post-oil age: Muscle-powered, localized, dependent on personal relationships. Courtney's model -- in which it takes one person to feed about another 20 -- also reveals one other change that will likely have to occur with the agricultural system: More people will have to start growing their own food. Currently less than two percent of the U.S. population are farmers. If we can no longer rely on the muscle of carbon energy, that number will need to grow.

Author Heinberg says the island nation of Cuba offers a model for how such a transition can occur. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Communist nation found itself cut off from the subsidized petroleum it had long depended on. In order to feed itself, the government launched a sweeping program to enlist citizens in urban gardening and composting. In the last decade, the country has become an internationally recognized model of sustainable agriculture.

"[Cuba] basically had an oil famine in the early '90s, and they had to break up the big state-owned farms and start smaller farms," says Heinberg. "They included farming as part of the curriculum in our schools. They raised the salaries of farmers.

"And they had to do these things, or otherwise they simply would not have survived as a society."

The Outsourcing of Food

Ronny Sloan is a farmer to his roots. Sloan's father was a farmer, and so was his grandfather, and his great grandfather, and everyone that family history can remember since the Sloans moved from Kentucky to Illinois in the early 19th century. Today Sloan and his four sons farm near the tiny town of Pana, Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans and oats.

The Sloans are successful farmers, their 6,000-acre operation large by local standards. In recent years, however, they have had to grapple with a problem never encountered before -- foreign competition.

"Things are tough, the farm economy is tough," says Sloan, his voice a rural twang that sounds closer to Mississippi than Missouri. "We used to be the big player and had 75 percent of the soy market. That's not the case. We're now second place, behind Brazil. That's definitely hurting us."

The Sloans are not alone. From the apple orchards of western Washington to the tomato fields of Florida to the potato heartland of Idaho, American farmers are battling a new kind of pest -- imports from international rivals who can produce essential foodstuffs cheaper than they can be grown here.

After decades of being the world's top food producer, the U.S. is poised to become a net importer of agriculture products, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture. By the end of the decade, Brazil is expected to eclipse the U.S. as the number one food grower.

Call it the outsourcing of food. Following in the footsteps of blue-collar workers and, more recently, white-collar employees, the U.S.'s two million farmers face the prospect of being offshored as well.

The shift to foreign food production is clearly bad news for farmers, who have struggled for years to get their sale prices to match the costs of production. The outsourcing of food is also troubling for the U.S.'s ever-growing debt burden, since agricultural products were among the few bright spots in the country's deficit-burdened trade balance. For now, consumers benefit by getting lower food prices. But, say some food policy analysts, the U.S. could, in the long run, face a food security threat if present trends continue.

The U.S. has always been an importer of commodities that can't be cultivated here -- coffee and cocoa, bananas and mangos. But now U.S. markets are being flooded with products that Americans are accustomed to growing themselves. An increasing percentage of the produce you buy at the grocery store comes from fields and orchards thousands of miles away. If you've had any apple juice lately, it's more than likely that the concentrate used to make it was produced in China. Those raspberries you love may have been grown in Chile, the tomatoes in Mexico, and the avocados in Central America.

Even those most American of foods -- good old meat and potatoes -- often are imported. Scandinavia, for example, exports baby back ribs to the U.S., while a portion of our spuds come from abroad. Potato processing giant J.R. Simplot recently laid off 625 workers at one of its French fry factories in Oregon and plans to have the work done overseas.

Reggie Brown, vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, a trade group that represents the state's $500 million tomato industry and which has suffered serious loses in the last decade, puts the issue succinctly: "The fundamental question is, 'Is it America's long term interest to produce these crops here, or to have them produced elsewhere and shipped in?' We feel it's in Americans' best interest to be a producer of our own food supply. But there doesn't seem to be a national agenda to do that. The opposite seems to be the national agenda."

Trading Away the Farm

Many farmers and academics say that a decade of free trade agreements is responsible for the plight facing U.S. agriculture. During the heated debates over the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Washington political establishment told U.S. growers that the new trade deals would be a net benefit for farmers. In hindsight, it appears that the politicians promised too much.

"A lot of growers would be negative or skeptical toward trade agreements," says Desmond O'Rourke, a former professor at Washington State University and editor of a newsletter for the fruit and vegetable industry. "They would say, 'What has it done for me? Not a whole lot.'"

The problem, according to Phillip Abbot, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, is that other nations have successfully grabbed the markets U.S. farmers were counting on. Exports of the U.S.'s biggest commodities -- cheap commodities such as corn, soybeans and wheat -- have been flat for a decade as other nations boost production. At the same time, imports of pricier items like fruits, vegetables, processed foods and some meats are surging. The largest challenge for American farmers is that foodstuffs -- just like televisions or T-shirts -- can be produced more cheaply in low-wage countries. It's simply less expensive to grow oranges and soybeans in Brazil than in Florida or Illinois.

While the new trade deals have reduced the political barriers to food imports, technological improvements in refrigeration and irradiation have reduced the physical barriers to shipping food long distances without spoiling. All of which leaves American farmers on shaky ground, desperate to keep their costs as low as possible in a market environment in which their harvest prices are not increasing. Thousands of farmers have not been able to keep up and are now out of business.

"I've seen a lot of farmers go broke because of NAFTA," says a California-based land manager for a major American food corporation who asked that his name and company not be identified for fear of getting in trouble with his supervisors. "We can't compete with the labor. In Mexico they pay $5 a day. We pay $8 to $10 an hour. It's a shame -- there are greenhouses for sale up and down the state."

Asparagus is one of the crops hit hardest by the wave of food imports. Since the 1930s, Washington state has been the center of U.S. asparagus production for the processed market. But in the last decade, overseas asparagus, most of it from Peru, has devastated the state's growers. According to an official at the Washington Asparagus Commission, who says the industry is in a "state of collapse," two-thirds of Washington's asparagus fields have been taken out of production since 1990, and 2004 marked the first time in more than 60 years that there was no asparagus processing in the state.

Jim Middleton, one of Washington's few remaining asparagus growers, says that the industry's collapse has caused an irreplaceable loss of natural and financial capital. Because asparagus is a perennial that takes several years to come to maturity and then lasts for 15 to 20 years, tearing out an asparagus stand isn't as simple as plowing in a row of broccoli -- it's more like bulldozing an apple orchard.

"It's not something you do lightly," says Middleton, whose family has been growing asparagus since 1966. "It's a tough decision to pull out your crops. But if you're making no money, what choice do you have?"

Middleton says the near destruction of the asparagus industry -- which is labor intensive in both picking and processing -- has cost thousands of people their jobs. "This has always been a real stable part of the farm economy," he says. "And now those jobs are lost. I hope our state and federal governments do what they can to keep this industry alive. The jobs it provides are really important to us."

Cultivating Influence

If the increase in food imports is a raw deal for many growers and farm workers, then in whose interest does the situation serve? Agriculture analysts say all you have to do is follow the money -- and that leads straight to major processors and commodity brokers such as Cargill and Archer Daniel Midland (ADM), corporations that continue to post impressive profits even as farmers struggle.

"Who does this really work for? It's a system set up to benefit the large food companies," says Ben Lilliston, spokesman for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a Minneapolis-based think tank. "They are playing farmers in the U.S. off of farmers in Brazil, India, Australia, even China. These companies don't care where the food comes from. They just want the cheapest price possible."

By encouraging more food imports, corporations such as Cargill and ADM -- along with the major supermarket chains like Wal-Mart and other food processors like Philip Morris's Nabisco -- keep their costs low and their profit margins high. The major food companies' first priority is cheap food, regardless of where it comes from. If it seems as if the rules have been written mostly to the advantage of the big agribusiness companies that trade on the international markets, that's because they are. For example, a former Cargill vice president, Dan Amstutz, drafted the original text for the WTO's agriculture regulations.

The large agribusiness companies also have sought to protect their interests by halting "country of origin" labeling. The 2002 Farm Bill called for the USDA to start identifying where all imported food comes from. But agribusiness allies in the House of Representatives -- led by Texas representative Tom Delay--have delayed implementation of the labeling and are trying to make it voluntary.

Stickers or decals stating food's country of origin may be small, but the issue is a major one. That's because consumer surveys consistently show that most American shoppers would prefer to buy food that comes from the U.S. If country of origin labeling became universal, it could cramp the major food processors' business model.

"The food companies are afraid," IATP's Lilliston says. "They [the corporations] have set up a global food chain. But they know Americans want to eat local when they have the opportunity. If you're in a supermarket and have a choice between American beef and Australian beef, most people will choose American beef even if it costs a little more."

For the 270 million Americans who enjoy three square meals a day, more imported food has real benefits -- among them, lower food prices and greater variety at the supermarket. Some analysts, however, caution that being dependent on other nations for a large share of our food endangers U.S. security in an unstable world. Of course, there is little risk of nationwide food shortages any time soon; when it comes to total calories produced or tonnage of food harvested, the U.S. remains the biggest farmer in the world. Yet as the U.S. becomes more reliant on food imports, the country's vulnerability to events in far-off places increases.

Phil Howard, a researcher at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California-Santa Cruz, says the U.S. is losing a key element of self-sufficiency. "This isn't like computer chips from China -- we can live without that," says Howard. "If we keep importing our food, we'll be completely dependent on other countries. Are we going to send the military around the world to protect our food imports as we do now to protect our oil imports?"

Harvesting Chaos

Most keyboard jockeys would die for the view from Orin Martin's office window: apple trees in blossom, lines of citrus, dozens of varieties of flowers and neat rows of peppers, garlic and potatoes. Martin is a farmer in Santa Cruz, Calif., where for last 30 years he has been an instructor at the University of California's agro-ecology program, one of the nation's oldest organic agriculture curriculums. Strong, stout and built like a tree trunk, with sun-bleached cornsilk hair, thick hands, and deep crowsfeet around his eyes from years of working outdoors, Martin loves farming, and it shows whenever he starts to talk about his craft, as he will happily do for hours on end.

In recent years, however, something has been amiss in Martin's idyllic setting. The weather is changing in strange ways. And for a farmer that's bad news.

"I don't know if you can talk about predictable weather anymore," Martin said on a recent walk through his three-acre plot. "Each of the last ten years has been anomalous in one way or another. The weather here used to be like clockwork. Around March 15 it would stop raining. But all through the '90s we had rain into April, May and even June. If you talk with farmers and gardeners, oh yeah, they think there's something off."

Martin is right. From New England to the Midwest to California, farmers and scientists are noticing that once-dependable weather patterns are shifting, and concern is growing that those changes will have a significant impact on our agriculture system. Farmers in the United States and around the world are likely to face serious challenges in the coming decades as new kinds of weather test their ability to bring us the food we all depend on.

The culprit is climate change, caused by society's burning of fossil fuels. When it comes to global warming, farmers--who are more attuned to weather patterns than most people--may be the proverbial canaries in the coalmine.

"Some of the changes in weather are consistent with climate change predictions, and that's real troublesome," says Michelle Wander, a professor of soil science at the University of Illinois. Wander recently published a report with the Union of Concerned Scientists which predicted that within 25 years Illinois summers may resemble the hotter climate of Arkansas. "By the end of the century, I think we will really be suffering."

The weather changes underway differ by region. In California, which has a typical Mediterranean climate with a wet winter and a dry summer, rainfall is stretching later and later into the spring. New England is experiencing a warming trend, with average temperatures up 1.8 degrees F over the last century. Winter warming in the northeast is even more pronounced; temperatures between December and February increased 4.4 degrees F in the last 30 years, according to a study by the University of New Hampshire. In the Midwest, the springs and summers have become unseasonably wet, while the summers get hotter and drier.

"What we're experiencing is rather abnormal," says Dave Campbell, who farms 225 acres of oats, wheat, corn, soy and hay in Maplepark, Illinois, land that has been in his wife's family since the 1830s. "It just keeps raining and raining. Last year, from May 10 to June 21 we had 13 inches of rain. Normally we have 38 inches of precipitation the whole year. Last year we had real trouble with our wheat crop because it was so excessively wet. We just get dumped with rain."

The weather, of course, has never been exactly dependable--farmers have always been at the mercy of the vagaries of sun and rain. But general weather patterns have at least been broadly predictable, allowing farmers to know when to sow their seed, when to transplant, when to harvest. As weather patterns become less reliable, growers will be tested to develop new rhythms and systems for growing crops.

For a city dweller who thinks that food comes from Safeway, rain may seem like an unqualified benefit when it comes to growing food. Farmers know better. Too much rain at the wrong time can make it difficult to plan or harvest crops. Above-average rainfall also contributes to fungi and insects that can dramatically reduce crop yields. Too much warmth is equally problematic. Some plants require a certain number of frost days each year in order to thrive the following spring. As temperatures warm, farmers who are accustomed to growing, say, blueberries in Maine or soybeans in Indiana may find themselves having to either shift to different crops or actually move their operations to new locales. Unreliable weather will make it harder for farmers to be as productive as we have come to expect.

"When it comes to the weather, we expect the unexpected," says Henry Brockman, 41, a vegetable farmer in Congerville, Illinois. "It's not as predictable as it used to be. It used to be that the ground was frozen all winter. Now in the winter it freezes and thaws, freezes and thaws. Some of the models show this part of the country getting very dry, and that would be a big problem. If the weather got any drier, I wouldn't be able to farm as I do."

Climate change is likely to impact different parts of the world in vastly different ways, climatologists and agronomists say. Scientists at a recent international conference in London reported that warming temperatures could lead to substantial harvest reductions in major food crops such as wheat, soy and rice. And for years the World Bank and others have been warning that climate change will be especially burdensome on poor countries in the tropics, where soil quality is generally inferior. According to a study conducted in the Philippines, for every one degree C increase in temperature, there will be a 10-percent reduction in yields for rice, a staple crop for billions of people.

But here in the U.S., most observers agree, it's doubtful that climate change could cause a food security crisis. The U.S. food system--though highly concentrated in terms of ownership and control--is geographically very diverse, which means that crops could be shifted to other areas if necessary. Also, the U.S. produces so much surplus grains for animal feed and food processing that it would take enormous crop failures to create real food scarcities. At least for residents of the U.S., a climate-change induced famine is unlikely.

The uncertainties wrought by global warming, however, could be make-or-break for many already-struggling farmers unless they are prepared to adapt to new conditions.

"For farmers, climate change is yet another darkness in the night, another stress for farmers facing uncertainties," says Bill Easterling, director of Penn State's Institutes of the Environment and a longtime researcher into climate change and agriculture.

Farmers are a famously adaptive lot, well accustomed to reacting to forces beyond their control. The worry among scientists is that if the agriculture establishment does not take climate change seriously enough, it will become much more difficult to respond effectively when weather disruptions hit. Easterling says the window for farmers to successfully adapt to new weather conditions is about six to 10 years--the time it takes for researchers to breed new seed varieties suited for specific conditions.

"What would worry anyone is if climate change starts to exceed the system's built-in adaptive response," Easterling says.

Among farmers and researchers, there is disagreement about which types of growers climate change will impact most--large agribusiness growing operations, or smaller, family-run farms. Some agriculture industry observers says that the bigger farmers will have an advantage in coping with weather changes, as they will have more resources to switch to new crops. Others says that since family farms usually grow a wider range of crops, their biological diversity will make it easier to cope with whatever changes occur.

"A large corporate potato farm may be more vulnerable because they have all of their eggs in one basket," says Vern Grubinger, a berry specialist at the University of Vermont. "It's very hard to find small, family farms that have only one thing. They may have 100 or so species. You won't be in nearly as bad a shape if you were growing only one or two crops."

"When you have a real diversified profile with what you're planting, you know that at least something will do well," says Santa Cruz farmer Martin. "And that's an advantage."

What all agriculture experts agree on is that farmers need to start preparing today for climate change. Growers ought to be thinking about what warmer temperatures, fluctuations in precipitation, and an increase in extreme weather events will mean for their farms, and how they can respond.

"This is change; it's not necessarily disaster," says Grubinger. "The disaster will come if people aren't prepared."

Big Business Follows the Green

The labels on some of your favorite organic products are the very picture of Mother Earth. Sunlight streams over fields, birds perch in trees, rows of bright crops glisten on the hills. But read the fine print and you may find that the organic garbanzo beans or fresh apple juice you enjoy is brought to you by a conventional food processor not known for its environmental stewardship – companies such as General Mills, Heinz and Philip Morris's Kraft.

Today a significant – and growing – percent of organic foods are owned by corporations more often associated with the predations of agribusiness than with the ideals of sustainable farming. The increasing presence of conventional food processors in the organic industry is raising debate among farmers, shoppers and consumer advocates about whether the values of organic agriculture and the motives of big business can co-exist.

Does the mainstreaming of organics represent a victory for farmers and the environmentally minded, or is it a case of corporate co-optation? Can success be reconciled with the organic movement's original intent, or will the very term "organic" be rendered meaningless? How can the organic food industry be at once popular and principled?

Who Benefits Most?

"There's this image that 'organic' means local, family-owned farms," said Ryan Zinn, campaigns coordinator for the Organic Consumers Association, a nationwide network that promotes organic and fair trade foods.

"But the reality is that mainstream food processors have set up front groups," he continued. "The big point of contention is whether this is co-optation, or if the organic movement is the victim of its own success. The biggest beneficiaries are consumers, who have more access to affordable organic foods. But in the long run there's a lot of downsides. As corporate consolidation increases, you'll see a reduction of choice as small and medium-sized operations are simply pushed out of the market."

Figures supplied by the Organic Consumers Association reveal the degree to which conventional food processors have penetrated the organic market. General Mills owns the organic brands Cascadian Farms and Muir Glenn. Heinz holds a 20 percent equity share in food distributor Hain, which owns Rice Dream soy milk, Garden of Eatin', Celestial Seasonings, Earth's Best, and Health Valley, along with 15 other organic brands. Kellogg owns Sunrise Organic, while Kraft owns Boca Foods, maker of the popular vegetarian Boca Burgers. The largest organic seed company, Seeds of Change, is controlled by M&M/Mars. Your morning Odwalla is now brought to you by Coca-Cola.

The large conventional food processors aren't entering the organic market simply because they think it's a nice thing to do. They are buying up organics enterprises because it's smart business. Although organics represent just a sliver of all food spending in the U.S. – about two percent of the market – organics are the only sector of the food industry experiencing sustained growth.

Since 1997, total U.S. food sales have grown between two and four percent, according to the Organic Trade Association. During that same time, sales of organic foods grew about 20 percent. Total organic sales – food plus personal care products, pet food and household cleaners – are now at $13 billion, and projected to reach $30 billion by 2007. General Mills and Heinz are simply doing what any savvy business does: They are following the green.

We've Come a Long Way

Clearly the organic movement has come a long way from its roots. What started out as fringe effort inspired by back-to-the-land types who wanted to live in greater harmony with nature is now firmly in the mainstream, with some 58 percent of US households having purchased organic products, according to a 2002 survey. Organic foods used to be available only at local co-ops or self-described health food stores. Now you can find organic products at Safeway, Albertson's, Kroger's and even Wal-Mart.

The spread of organics from the neighborhood co-op to the supermarket shelves helps explain why many mom-and-pop companies have been bought up by (or sold out to, depending upon your point of view) larger corporations. Small, local organic operations simply do not have the reach to coordinate nation-wide distribution. Bigger companies do have the expertise in getting products to shelves across the country, and as the market for organics has grown they have stepped in to fill that role.

"I can't supply an Albertson's in Wyoming," said Tom Broz, owner of Live Earth Farm, a 30-acre organic operation in Watsonville, Calif. "But the large companies can."

The Organics Consumer Association's Ryan Zinn says the explosive growth of the Whole Foods and Wild Oats stores, national organic food chains that together account for about 17 percent of all organic sales in the U.S., has fueled the corporate consolidation of organics.

"Much of the stuff at Whole Foods or Wild Oats are organic segments of bigger processors," Zinn said. "They have pushed the corporate-organic mold. To go from regional to national distribution, you need to get bigger and take advantage of economies of scale that big corporations can provide. What Whole Foods initially did, out of necessity, was to source from small or medium sized operations. But as they grew they had to approach conventional operators and see if they could meet the demand for organics."

A Whole Foods spokeswoman declined to be interviewed for this article and said that company executives who could address the issue were unavailable for comment.

Move To the Mainstream

Farmers, advocates and ordinary shoppers all share the view that organics' move to the mainstream carries both benefits and risks. On the one hand, more organic foods are available to people than at any time since the start of the industrial food age, and this should have very real benefits for public health and the environment. But some people also fear that big business doesn't really believe in the values of sustainable farming and that, in the long run, their participation in the industry will dilute the very meaning of the term "organic."

"I'm torn," said Julia Wiley, who with her husband, Andy Griffin, owns Marquita Farms, which grows 200 varieties of organic fruits and vegetables in Watsonville, Calif. "As a mother, I'm glad that more organic food is accessible to more people. I do love that I can buy organic oatmeal. But I'm conflicted, because what the big boys are doing is still conventional agriculture if you have a 100-acre monoculture of organic crops."

A similar ambivalence appears to prevail among consumers. Shoppers leaving the bustling Whole Foods market in San Francisco on a recent Saturday expressed surprise when told that large conventional food processors own many of the organic products they buy. When asked what they thought about that fact, about half said it was cause for concern, while the other half felt that it was an encouraging sign of organics' success.

"If an increasing percentage of profits is coming from organic agriculture, then they [conventional processors] will keep building up the market for organics, which is a good thing," said shopper Jeff Plotts.

Gil Roybal, another Whole Foods shopper, had a different opinion. "I would be concerned that maybe they aren't really organic," he said. "Large corporations like General Mills have never been organic, and maybe they're trying to circumvent the system just to get higher prices, because people will pay more for organic."

Roybal's concerns are well founded, and they represent what advocates say is the biggest threat posed by big business's role in the organic market: the drive to loosen regulations governing the definition of "organic."

Organic Standards

When the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) first moved to create a single organic standard in the mid 1990s, it did so largely at the behest of the largest organic operators, who were eager for a national definition after years of juggling different state rules. For local farmers, having a national standard was less of a concern since they typically only sold their produce within a single state.

To the shock of many longtime organic farmers and consumers, when the first USDA guidelines were published they allowed for the irradiation of meat, the inclusion of genetically modified crops, and confinement of livestock. After receiving some 275,000 letters protesting the lax proposals, the USDA backed off from the looser requirements and put in place the definition in use today.

But efforts by some of the larger organic companies to create a less stringent definition of "organic" continue. In April 2004, the USDA announced that it was considering allowing farms to retain the organic seal even if they used animal growth hormones, fed cattle non-organic fishmeal, or sprayed some kinds of pesticides. Consumer advocates mobilized against idea and sent thousands of emails and faxes to Washington, DC within just a few days. The USDA backed down.

As the fight over the federal standard reveals, there is an inherent tension between the principles of sustainable farming and the imperatives of big business. Sustainable agriculture puts a premium on biodiversity, on small scale production, and on intimate relationships between producer and consumer. In contrast, corporate capitalism prizes uniformity, large scale production, and mass marketing. The organic movement's growing pains center on the question of whether these two disparate value systems can be reconciled in today's economy.

Combining Worldviews

The people at Stonyfield Farms believe the two worldviews can be combined. Founded in 1983 in New Hampshire, the organic yogurt brand says its mission is to "support family farmers and sustainable farming methods ... to serve as a model of environmentally and socially responsible business ..." and to "recognize our obligations to stockholders."

Today Stonyfield is the number one seller of organic yogurt in the U.S., and well known for using its recyled plastic lids to plug various progressive causes. The company is also 80 percent owned by Group Danone, the French manufacturer of products such as Evian water and Dannon yogurt.

A Stonyfield spokeswoman, Cathleen Toomey, said that when the Stonyfield executives were in negotiations with Group Danone they were adamant about retaining full management control of the company, and that the legal agreements governing the merger lock that arrangement in place. According to Toomey, Stonyfield is as committed as ever to its founding principles of preserving family farms. When asked if the company can remain close to family farmers even though it is owned by the world's 12th largest food processor, a corporation located on the other side of the Atlantic, Toomey replied:

"The question is: Can you maintain your mission? It's different with each company. We try to stay close to the farmers and the mission and that keeps it real. Because if you take the mission away from Stonyfield, you lose the value of the brand."

What About Sustainability?

For farmers and advocates, the tension between commercial success and staying true to the movement's values also hinges on the difference between organic farming and truly sustainable agriculture. As some see it, what the big companies are practicing may be organic, but it's not necessarily sustainable. Truly sustainable agriculture requires local production for local consumption; soil conservation; and farming practices that respond to nature's cycles rather than dictate to them.

The large organic companies may not be using pesticides or animal growth hormones, but they continue to engage in industrial farming. They plant monocrops in which hundreds of acres are dedicated to a single plant, and they remain involved in a system in which the typical American meal travels 1,200 miles from farm to fork.

"In the long run, this kind of farming – in which you have 10,000-acre organic farms – won't help," said Broz of Live Earth Farm. "It won't help the environment and it won't help the workers. It's not sustainable. Sustainable means growing food in a harmonious way with nature. There's also the social aspect, to have fair practices for workers. There's also the economic factor; I would rather see 100 small farms than two giant ones."

Julia Wiley of Marquita Farms agrees. "The federal standards are just about what 'thou shalt not do.' It doesn't talk about what you should do: soil conservation, reducing the distance food had to travel, staying away from monoculture. Staying local is important because it means that the food on your plate used less fuel to get there."

Both farmers say that consumers who are concerned about the corporate consolidation of organic farming and want to support sustainable agriculture should buy from local farmers markets or join a CSA (community supported agriculture) in which city dwellers receive weekly produce deliveries directly from the farm. Farmers markets and CSAs, these growers say, are the truest expression of the original ethic of the organic movement: That by getting to know our farmers, we will also get to truly understand our food.

And if current trends continue?

"We could end up with just one or two kinds of organic tomatoes," Ryan Zinn of the Organic Consumers Association warned. "And then we end up facing the same pitfalls in terms of environmental sustainability and food security that we now face."

The Politics of Yucca Mountain

One hot-button issue riling voters in Nevada is the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. For decades, the nuclear power industry has grappled with questions of how to dispose spent nuclear fuel, which remains dangerously radioactive for centuries. Industry and government officials figured the best plan was to just put all the hot stuff in one site, and picked a section of the Nevada desert well outside the state's former nuclear testing ground. Not surprisingly, many Nevadans did not take kindly to the idea of being the dumping ground for the nation's nuclear waste, and for years the proposed repository has been one of Nevada's most inflammatory political issues.

During the 2000 campaign, Bush and Cheney said they would not agree to open Yucca Mountain unless the science was sound and the site proven safe. Bush won the state by 3.55 percent of the vote.

Less than two years later, in July 2002, Congress and the White House, overriding the objections of Nevada's elected officials, agreed to start sending waste to Yucca Mountain. But, according to Peggy Maze Johnson of the local environmental justice group Citizen Alert, a host of safety questions remain unresolved. "Two hundred and ninety-three scientific questions about Yucca Mountain are unanswered,' Johnson says. "If you weigh the options, it just doesn't compute.'

The Bush Administration's support for Yucca Mountain has many Nevadans crying foul, and it has provided the Kerry campaign with a wedge issue. In a recent visit to the state, Kerry said he wouldn't support opening the nuclear waste site, detailing his reasons in a May 16 Op-Ed in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Kerry has consistently voted against appropriations for the project and, in fact, voted with 39 other members of the Senate against moving the waste to Nevada.

However, Kerry's selection of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina as his running mate may be problematic with Nevada voters in the election. Some appear happy with the selection. For example, although Edwards voted twice in 2002 in favor of sending the waste to Yucca Mountain, Nevada's senior representative and Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, said that Edwards has changed his mind.

"John Edwards supports John Kerry on all issues important to the people of Nevada, including Sen. Kerry's pledge to stop nuclear waste coming to Nevada,' Reid said in a released statement.

If Edwards has changed his mind, he hasn't yet told his home state of North Carolina, which wants 2,248 metric tons of irradiated fuel from its nuclear power plants buried at Yucca Mountain. North Carolina newspapers have carried no reports of an Edwards switch on the Yucca issue. The New York Times noted the difference in opinion between Kerry and Edwards on the Nevada site without reporting any change of mind.

One of the centerpieces of Edwards' legislative record is a measure he introduced in November 2002 to provide for procedures for transporting the waste to Nevada (to reduce fears about moving the poisonous stuff on the nation's highways and railroads). Moreover, if Edwards tailored his position to Kerry's for the purposes of the election, he could still revert to his own position on the dump if he became president through succession.

Johnson said that the Yucca Mountain controversy will likely increase voter turnout this fall. Her group is organizing 25 town hall meetings across the state between now and November to discuss Yucca Mountain and other issues.

"If people could have been shown that it was safe, they would have been OK with it,' she said. "But the science is not there to support the myths that the Administration is putting out. People feel that the science has been manipulated to give us Yucca Mountain and they're right, it has been manipulated. I think people in Nevada feel they were deceived.'

Regardless of the final findings of the scientific analysis of Yucca Mountain, the issue remains politicized and polarized in Nevada, with some Nevadans of the belief that Yucca Mountain is a done deal. In fact, in an abrupt about-face of decades of state policy of not parleying a deal with the federal government to take the nuclear waste, this year's Nevada Republican Party platform included a plank that demanded the party "minimize negative impacts from federal control and exploitation of federally-managed lands in Nevada.'

Outsource the CEOs

April 1, 2004 -- As veteran corporate accountability activists, we both have spent years challenging big business to be more responsive to the needs of workers, communities, and the environment. We have picketed outside corporate headquarters, organized sit-ins, sponsored shareholder resolutions and bird-dogged company executives. When it comes to pressuring Corporate America, we've done it as much as anyone.

But the protesting thing is getting old. We figure it's time to give up our placards and trade them in for some PowerPoint presentations. We've decided to drop our commitment to advocacy and adopt a more lucrative career -- consulting.

With long histories as gadflies, we bring a unique perspective to business consulting. Since we've never been inside the box, we think outside the box as a matter of course. Our unique point of view can provide shareholders and management with solutions that will dramatically cut costs and raise revenues.

In this era of ruthless of competition, we deliver ideas that will boost a company's earnings and productivity. We can show you how, by firing a single individual, you can save millions of dollars. We show you how to outsource your CEO.

In recent years, hundreds of U.S. companies have generated significant savings by sending high-skilled, well-paid positions to countries such as Singapore, India and the Czech Republic. The economics are clear: If a job can be done equally well somewhere else for less money, then it should be sent abroad. Our consulting firm takes this concept to the next logical step by outsourcing all the way to the top of the corporate ladder.

Why not? After all, equally skilled and experienced chief executives in Europe and Asia earn a fraction of what U.S. executives take home. The average chief of a major U.S. company receives $10.83 million in compensation per year. The typical CEO in Europe receives about $2.7 million. Japanese CEOs are a downright bargain: Your company can expect to pay as little as $300,000 to $500,000 per year for an executive based there, with year-end bonuses averaging just 10 percent. Even if you exclude the value of stock options and bonuses -- which account for the bulk of American CEO pay -- CEOs in the U.S. on average receive twice as much as executives in other industrialized nations.

The prospective savings to your company's shareholders are immense. You get the same quality of corporate leadership, but at a much more reasonable price. Goodbye Michael Eisner, hello Gunter Thielen and Nobuyuki Idei.

We understand that your company may be concerned that off-shoring the CEO could impact performance. That's why we have a Two-for-One Plan. For the same salary you pay one American CEO, you can get a CEO in Europe and one in Asia. By having an executive on each side of the globe, you get uninterrupted service, corporate management around the clock. Instead of putting your back office in Bangalore, you put your front office in Berlin and Tokyo.

The benefits to your company go beyond cost savings alone. When you offshore the boss, you get rid of the person that hourly workers and management employees alike love to hate. Just think how it will boost worker morale to see the CEO booted out the door. The resulting increases in worker productivity will pleasantly surprise you.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If it makes sense to increase profits by outsourcing skilled labor, let's save big money by outsourcing the most uncompetitive worker in the U.S. corporate hierarchy -- the CEO.

Jason Mark and Kevin Danaher are the authors of 'Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power' (Routledge, 2003). They work for the human rights organization Global Exchange.

White-Collar Anger

Pete Bennett is fed up, and he's not going to take it anymore.

"People are tired and angry and upset," says the 47-year-old unemployed worker from Danville, California, frustration noticeable in his voice. "People are hurting, losing their homes. If we keep pulling jobs out of the country, how is the economy going to stay up?"

Coming from an autoworker or a steelworker, these would be familiar words. But Bennett isn't a laid off Ford or GM employee. He used to work for companies such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, where, as a contract database programmer, he earned between $80,000 and $90,000 a year. But in the last year, he says, he hasn't been able to find any programming work -- such jobs, he is told, are moving overseas.

Bennett is not alone. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of highly skilled, well-paid positions have been sent abroad.

These days architects in the Philippines are producing blueprints for Fluor; electronic engineers in India are designing cell phone chips for Texas Instruments; and computer programmers in the Czech Republic are building software for Kodak. The stream of job loss is set to become a torrent; a November 2002 study by the consulting firm Forrester Research estimated that over the next 15 years some 3.3 million US service sector jobs would be sent abroad. A more recent report by economists at UC Berkeley says as many as 14 million programming, accounting, paralegal and other service jobs are at risk of being "off-shored."

The off-shoring of service jobs is déjà vu all over again. In the 1970s, U.S. corporations started shipping manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries such as Mexico, China and Indonesia in an effort to cut labor costs. Now, that same drive to reduce labor costs is hitting more highly skilled workers as service jobs go to well-educated workers in New Delhi and Prague and Singapore. As skilled workers are painfully starting to learn, the logic of cost cutting doesn't distinguish between blue collar and white collar.

While the economics of sending manufacturing jobs and service positions abroad may be the same, the political consequences promise to be different. In American politics it's one thing to attack the working class, but quite another to undermine the middle class, which votes in higher percentages. As any political consultant will tell you, as the middle class goes, so goes the nation. By cutting white collar positions, American businesses are sowing the seeds of a populist backlash that could redraw the political map.

One political topic that is bound to be influenced by the off-shoring of service jobs is the hot-button issue of trade policy. Surveys by the Pew Center show that support for free trade policies splits sharply along income lines. Among families earning more than $75,000 a year, 63 percent of people see globalization as positive; among families earning less than $50,000 a year, support drops to 37 percent.

In effect, better paid workers have supported free trade policies so long as they aren't impacted by them. But now many of those people are suffering the same cold fate that manufacturing workers have grappled with for decades. As more and more skilled jobs go abroad, supporters of free trade are almost certain to reassess whether corporate globalization is in their best interests.

The loss of high skilled jobs could also have a significant impact on next year's presidential election. Voters' job anxiety is shaping up as the number one election issue, with President Bush struggling against the loss of more than 2 million jobs on his watch and a so far "jobless economic recovery."

Off-shoring skilled positions is only going to make the anemic job market worse: According to the industry consulting firm Gartner Inc., one in 10 U.S. technology jobs will move overseas by the end of 2004. The disappearance of those good-paying jobs gives Democrats a chance to reach out to more affluent voters whose natural sympathies may lie with Republicans -- but whose anger could translate into Democratic gains.

Winning elections is in large measure about managing expectations -- and it's the newly unemployed skilled workers whose expectations are being downsized furthest. As Pete Bennett puts it: "These people have never experienced this before. ... What are we going to replace these jobs with? Flipping burgers?"

The long-term political effects of the off-shoring of skilled jobs promise to be larger than one single issue or one election. The export of skilled jobs could very likely cause an anti-corporate backlash that will reverse the decades-long drive toward deregulation and the weakening of organized labor.

During the heady days of the late 1990s, America's high tech class by and large supported the push for deregulation and laissez-faire economics. Now, the software designers and tech engineers who didn't think the government needed to play a role in overseeing the economy are the victims of uncontrolled economic forces. The once comfortable are becoming the insecure. The shift from being a winner to a loser is bound to prompt some serious rethinking about whether corporations should be given free rein to do whatever they like.

The first signs of this are already evident. Newly vulnerable high tech workers -- traditionally not big union supporters -- are starting to listen to the entreaties of organized labor. The Communication Workers of America says it is seeing increasing enthusiasm for unionization among off-shored high tech workers. Calls are also increasing for government regulation to staunch the hemorrhage of jobs. In response, state and federal legislators are considering laws to keep service jobs in the United States. The laissez-faire mentality of the 1990s is being replaced by demands that government act to restrain corporations' basic instincts. The political pendulum between dislike of big government and dislike of big business is swinging in a new direction.

Those businesses shipping high skilled jobs overseas should beware: Short-term profits may come at the cost of future political peril.

Kevin Danaher and Jason Mark are authors of the new book, "Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power" (Routledge Press). They work for the human rights group Global Exchange.

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