To practice paneugenesis means to generate comprehensive improvements by creating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits. Incumbent with these efforts means we will also be redesigning reality. To redesign reality this means we need to build a better system that supports, encourages, nurtures and reinforces improvements.
To build a better system, a system must have multiple interdependent parts that can function as much on their own as possible while also contributing to making the whole system better. That means that each part contributes to the whole system and does not take from, or is a detriment to it.
This past week I attended the first East Carolina University Sustainability Symposium. It was excellent. While being inspired by speakers and from discussions with colleagues, we realized a way we could help redesign reality to improve the system and encourage paneugenesis. A discussion with Anna Martin, Program Coordinator at the Water Resource s Research Institute, led to this post. The symposium and related discussion yielded these ideas to generate improvements…
Currently, organic farmers pay a premium to grow and sell organic food – while conventional farmers pay nothing additional. This also translates to a higher cost to consumers for organic food. Thus it is a deterrent from buying or growing organic food. Despite the premium costs associated with organic foods, reports suggest purchases of organic foods are growing dramatically, over 100% per year.
From a systems perspective, organic farmers are a positive contributing interdependent component of the whole system. Organic farmers improve the system while contributing to it, by providing healthy food to humans, without taking away from the whole system. Conventional farmers on the other hand are not able to function without getting external inputs in the form of petroleum fertilizers to be able to produce their output. The fertilizers then hurt the whole system in many ways such as contributing to climate change, leaching carbon, and by hurting other species such as bee’s and in many other ways. (see figure below)
Assessment of organic farming relative to conventional farming in the four major areas of sustainability. Source: Nature Plants 2, Article number: 15221 (2016) doi:10.1038/nplants.2015.22it
Obviously, having contributing organic farmers pay a premium while damaging conventional farmers pay nothing does not make sense. After thinking about it, we realized a simple change would yield a better system. Instead of having organic farmers pay to grow their food, have conventional farmers who pollute the land, water and air with petroleum based insecticides and herbicides pay the premium. Currently conventional farmers defer those costs to consumers and citizens who pay for it with damaged water, air, and land which leads to a lower quality of life and additional disease care costs for all. In addition this situation creates a system that nudges or encourages people to make unwise choices.
Despite a system that gives organic food a disadvantage, consumers are choosing organic foods and science indicates it is better for the people, land, water, and air. To improve the system, shouldn’t the polluters, so-called conventional farmers, rather than the organic food producers, be the farmers who pay the premium? Costs to grow organic food are rightly used for inspections and the certification process. It seems it would make more sense to charge farmers who choose to pollute the food and land to pay for inspections and certifications. This then means they could avoid that premium by growing food organically instead of growing food by adding ecologically damaging petroleum based herbicides and insecticides.
If polluters paid a premium, the system would change from encouraging the use of polluting methods to supporting, encouraging, nurturing and reinforcing health promoting practices. Such a change could have dramatic positive effects on the quality of our personal and planetary health. This change would also make organic, not petroleum laced food, the less expensive and natural, or default choice.
Contact your senators and the USDA to advocate for smart policies like this that support, encourage and reinforce agriculture practices that contribute to healthier personal and planetary health. Thank you.