A Year Out, the Election Day Hangover We Can’t Get Rid Of

(Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

About a year ago I woke up with one of the more punishing weekday hangovers of my adult life. It was a bleak, headachy day, and I’d been up late hastily rewriting a piece about the 2016 election. That was how “making America great” started for me.

Although Hillary Clinton won about 3 million more votes, Donald Trump gamed our rickety, 18th-century election system by flipping several Rust Belt states President Obama had won, including my home state of Ohio.

Trump made a two-pronged appeal to states like mine. First, with racially tinged invectives against immigration, “inner-city crime,” and “political correctness.” And second, with a populist-sounding line on economics that spoke to voters long overlooked by Washington.

“What truly matters is not which party controls our government,” Trump said at his inauguration, “but whether our government is controlled by the people.”

A year out, how are the people faring?

Amid pledges to “drain the swamp” in Washington, Trump appointed the wealthiest ever U.S. Cabinet — one Newsweek recently called “the most corrupt in history.” A Daily Beast investigation into hundreds of Trump appointees found that more than half profited from the industries they were tapped to regulate.

What he’s done on Capitol Hill is almost worse.

He’s pushed health care bills that would strip health coverage from more than 20 million Americans. When those failed, he nixed subsidies for companies that insure low-income customers — about 70 percent of whom live in states he won, by the way — and virtually guaranteed a hike in premiums for everyone.

And his tax plan? It would permanently slash the corporate tax rate and completely eliminate taxes on multi-millionaire estates. Meanwhile, it would end popular middle-class deductions (sorry, student loan payers) while actually raising the rate the lowest income payers face.

All this would blow a $ 1.5 trillion hole in the U.S. deficit. As my colleague Josh Hoxie has written, that’s enough to double college grants and cancer research, treat 300,000 people suffering from addiction, train 3.5 million workers, and help 6 million kids get child care — every year for 10 years. Instead, it goes to tax breaks for people like Trump and his Cabinet.

On the environmental front, pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and letting companies dump coal ash in freshwater have done precisely nothing to bring back flagging coal jobs. Yet Trump has duped many miners into rejecting job retraining, Reuters reports.

So Trump’s economic populism was a hustle. But what about his not-so-subtle threats against people who don’t resemble his white base? Well, there things are happening.

Immigration arrests are way up. Authorities insist they’re targeting “gang members” and “bad dudes.” But they seem to be spending an awful lot of time haunting schools, domestic violence centers and hospitals — where they recently picked up a 10-year-old girl getting treatment for cerebral palsy.

At the same time, refugee admissions have been dramatically curtailed, and the administration says it wants to cut legal immigration in half.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is canceling reform plans for police departments with records of racial discrimination and brutality. The FBI has labeled black civil rights activists a domestic threat. And the Department of Education is rolling back protections for LGTBQ students and sexual assault survivors.

No wonder so many read making America “great” again as making America “white” again. But handing the government over to racist billionaires isn’t a great deal for most white people either. Neither is threatening war with Iran and North Korea.

Trumpism, journalist Matt Yglesias concludes, is “a bet that if you punch nonwhite America in the face, white America will be so busy gawking they won’t notice their pockets are being picked too.” Sad!

The silver lining? A new era of activism.

Ordinary Americans have rallied to stave off assaults on their health care, preserve the climate, protect immigrants and refugees, and take a knee for racial justice. Record numbers of women and people of color are running for office. And a majority of Democrats now want their party to move left — away from the corporate center Hillary Clinton never abandoned.

For those reasons I’m cautiously optimistic, but we’re walking a real razor’s edge. If we make it through the next three years intact, it’ll be with a hangover for the ages.

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Detroit’s Revival Can’t Happen Without Women of Color

Detroit is full of what the late, legendary Detroit civil rights activist, Grace Lee Boggs, called solutionaries— women who have a revolutionary fervor for solving the city’s deep-rooted, chronic problems that threaten true, long-lasting revival of the city. The Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies spent a year surveying 500 women of color solutionairies through focus groups and a citywide survey in response to their near absence from the story about Detroit’s comeback. What we found is relayed in our new report, “I Dream Detroit: The Voice and Vision of Women of Color on Detroit’s Future.”

Solutionary women of color across the city work tirelessly to address problems like the fact that 33 percent of African-American and Latino boys do not graduate from high school. They support families caught in the crisis caused by the water department shutting off 30,000 delinquent residential accounts in 2016. And they help Detroiters who want to work, but are challenged by the fact that only 16 percent of the region’s jobs are within city limits and regional transportation is limited.

Detroit’s solutionaries are anchors within their communities; architects who build badly needed infrastructure that meet basic human needs; entrepreneurs who create jobs for people that the labor market overlooks; and advocates who represent the interests of those at the margins, as elected officials and leaders of community-based organizations. Most of the realities they confront are inextricably linked to poverty, a condition plaguing 40 percent of Detroiters, including a whopping 57 percent of the city’s children.

Read the full article in the Detroit News.


Trump Can’t Hold Back the Tide of Climate Action


(Photo: Garry Knight / Flickr)

One of the sad ironies of Donald Trump’s victory is that climate change has risen up the political agenda only after the campaign, when both candidates and debate moderators largely ignored it. Trump’s denial in the face of an urgent, planetary threat provides some potent imagery for how the devastation caused by his presidency might look.

Climate scientists have been quick to condemn Trump’s election as a “disaster,” and it’s not hard to see why.

The last three years have broken temperature records, with 2016 set to become the hottest yet. The UN Environment Program just warned that we need to do far more and far faster, while a new study of pledges from G20 countries found that even under Obama, the U.S. remained a long way off meeting its share of the global effort to tackle climate change. Yet we’ve just elected a man who promises to drill more oil, burn more coal, and scrap our national climate plan.

The Trump disaster could hit communities on the front line of climate justice struggles the hardest. Scenes like the militarized response to the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline could be the new normal under Trump if the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure is matched with increasingly repressive policing.

It’s little wonder, then, that Trump’s election has left climate advocates reeling. But as mourning turns to anger and resistance, it’s worth recalling that there are significant limits on what Trump can do to hold back action on climate change.

The transition to cleaner energy will carry on regardless, as coal will remain uncompetitive. States and cities could ramp up their own climate efforts irrespective of the federal government. And international climate action has a momentum that’s not solely dependent on who occupies the White House.

Rogue State

Some of the loudest noises coming from the Trump camp suggest that his administration will withdraw from the Paris climate deal.

Since this process takes four years, it’s rumored that Trump is considering the shortcut of leaving the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which George Bush Sr. signed in 1992 and the Senate ratified. That would set the U.S. apart from every other nation on earth (except the Vatican, which is strongly in favor of climate action all the same). There would be no clearer way to signal that Trump is making the U.S. a rogue state.

Unilateralism on this scale could throw up legal, political, and diplomatic hurdles that Trump’s team might not easily overcome. The Senate might demand a say on leaving the UNFCCC — and it’s not a given that a majority would favor the path of global isolation.

Alternatively, the Trump administration might choose to ignore Washington’s commitments without formally abandoning the international climate process. One of the first victims could be the global Green Climate Fund, which was set up to help developing countries with their climate transitions — and is now unlikely to see at least $ 2 billion of the $ 3 billion originally promised to it by the United States.

But the Trump wrecking ball won’t be able to destroy everything in its path. There are strong signs that U.S. isolation won’t wreck the Paris Agreement. Many other countries (including Saudi Arabia) have suggested that they will stick to their international climate commitments with or without the United States. There’s precedent here, too: When George W. Bush withdrew from the last global climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, the rest of the world continued with it anyway.

Faced with failed harvests, floods, droughts, and ever more extreme weather, most countries now realize that taking on climate change is in their own self-interest. Ultimately, the countries that lead the way in renewable energy, efficient buildings, and improved public transport (among other climate measures) will be best placed to cope with changes in the global economy.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

If Trump follows the path of isolation, as he and his acolytes currently brag about doing, the big loser will be the United States itself. Other countries (notably, Canada and Mexico) might retaliate with border taxes for American goods if Trump welches on Washington’s climate commitments, and going it alone would considerably damage U.S. “soft power” — the ability to broker favorable international deals in other areas, ranging from defense to trade — as well as threatening jobs in clean energy, which already outnumber those in fossil fuel extraction.

Closer to home, the promised bonfire of environmental regulations could leave U.S. citizens choking on smog for years to come. With cities like Beijing regularly under a haze of toxic air, the Chinese know only too well that controlling climate change goes hand in hand with reducing pollution from power stations, factories, and cars. And while Trump has been peddling conspiracy theories about climate change being a Chinese hoax, the world’s most populous country has been shuttering coal plants and factories, alongside a host of other measures intended to help China transition to a greener economy.

Trump promises to take the U.S. in the opposite direction: scrapping the Clean Power Plan and gutting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), starting with the appointment of climate denier Myron Ebell to lead its transition team. But scrapping the Clean Power Plan could lead to a long legal battle, as would attempts to ditch long-standing regulations like fuel-efficiency standards for cars.

Even if Trump succeeds, almost half of the U.S. population lives in states that have already planned for its implementation. Those efforts may continue regardless of the federal government. For example, California legislators have already made clear they will not repeal a recently approved target of 40 percent emissions reductions by 2030. And from Boston to Boulder, a growing list of U.S. cities have pledged to cut 80 percent of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and have developed plans to make that a reality.

Trump’s plans for a return to coal power won’t get far without large new subsidies or a sustained attack on the fracking industry. Otherwise the numbers simply don’t add up. Meanwhile the economics of renewable energy are getting better all the time. Residential solar power is expected to out-compete fossil fuels in over 40 states by 2020, while huge advances are also being made in energy storage and the development of electric vehicles.

The Seeds of a New Economy

While advances in technology and the changing economics of energy could very well dampen the impacts of the climate skepticism emanating from the White House, they obviously won’t come anywhere close to what the U.S. needs to do to actually pull its weight on climate change.

Climate justice activists, on the other hand, are already digging in for a long fight. Thousands of activists joined hundreds of protests around the country in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and other Native American activists opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline, while international climate justice groups have promised to stand with their U.S. allies in resisting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.

Alongside resistance, efforts to build a new economy could, and should, continue from the ground up. The energy transition requires new forms of ownership and a more collaborative economy. That may sound like a tall ask in such a hostile political climate, but there is historic evidence that the Scandinavian model of cooperative ownership grew in response to political polarization and the repression of organized labor, while deeper changes in the way markets work could spur the rise of collaborative production.

In short, while Trump’s election is a disaster for the climate, there remains plenty of fertile ground for an energy transition, and many spaces to sow the seeds of a new economy.

The post Trump Can’t Hold Back the Tide of Climate Action appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Oscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


We Can’t Predict Trump’s Foreign Policy, But We Can Mobilize a Broader Peace Movement to Protect Vulnerable Communities


(Photo: Elvert Barnes / Flickr)

“The big problem we face right now, on the question of foreign policy, is that we don’t really have a clue what a Trump foreign policy will look like.,” Phyllis Bennis told FAIR on an episode of CounterSpin.

“The only thing we know for sure,” Bennis said, “is that social movements are going to be far more important than anyone else” — including who’s in Congress, the White House, or the Supreme Court — “Because that’s the only way we’re going to have to change history.”

We don’t know who will be in charge or what Trump stands for, she said. Bennis noted that he’s said we’ll have better relations with Russia, we should be neutral on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and that he opposes a no-fly zone in Syria.

“But there’s absolutely no reason to think that he’s going to stick to those statements. He’s made other statements completely opposed to them,” Bennis said.

For example, he’s said he would tear up the Iran nuclear deal, called for an expansion of nuclear weapons, and then disavowed those statements.

What is also very dangerous, Bennis said, is that Trump’s election and presidency helped a movement rise up around racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and Islamophobia that could begin to feel they have a legitimacy that they never should have had.

So our social movements that we anticipated in resistance of a Clinton administration to mobilize immediately against wars and escalation is going to have to be done in the context of a broader resistance movement, Bennis said, “where motions to build movements against wars are going to have to also be movements to defend refugees that are trying to come here as a result of those wars.”

She said we also have to “link with movements who are providing the first defense for endangered communities,” whether those be immigrants, people of color, Muslims, Arabs, women, or LGBTQ communities.

Listen to the full interview here.

The post We Can’t Predict Trump’s Foreign Policy, But We Can Mobilize a Broader Peace Movement to Protect Vulnerable Communities appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


It Can’t Happen Here (But It Just Did)


(Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

In the typical time travel story, an enterprising person from the future goes back to 1922 to assassinate young Hitler, or to 1963 to interrupt Lee Harvey Oswald in the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas.

This time, however, the smarter denizens of the future world didn’t save us from the horrors of the present.

Instead, Donald Trump somehow got control of the time machine and used it for the opposite purpose. He brought in voters from the past who remembered (or misremembered) a more prosperous, more homogenous, more imperially confident America. He also transported in a few denizens of the Jim Crow South and Nazi Germany to dust off their ugly anachronisms and rally the alt-right.

More than 59 million people elected Trump president. In this election, the past just trumped the future.

The European Example

The ugliness has been percolating in Europe for some time now.

It wasn’t just Brexit, Britain’s unexpected rejection of the European Union. It was the election of militant populists throughout Eastern Europe — Viktor Orban in Hungary, Robert Fico in Slovakia, the party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland. It was the electoral surge of the National Front in France and the Alternative fur Deutschland in Germany. It was the backlash against immigrants, social welfare programs, and “lazy Mediterraneans” — but also against bankers and Brussels bureaucrats.

The cosmopolitan class had overreached in Europe. Successful urban and liberal elites who supported economic, political, and social policies that left behind large segments of the populace thought that they’d established an irreversible consensus on the trajectory of their countries and the European Union. They’d gone transnational without realizing that large numbers of their compatriots were still quite stubbornly and exclusively national.

I didn’t think it could happen here. Or, rather, I didn’t think it would happen here quite yet.

Donald Trump was such a flawed politician that I didn’t think he could survive all of his self-inflicted wounds. I worried more about 2020, when a more capable politician could serve as a mouthpiece for all those who haven’t benefited from the elite-driven economic policies of both liberals and conservatives.

But this is America. We have a sweet tooth for old white male blowhards, from Rush Limbaugh all the way back to Cotton Mather.

It’s tempting to see our pre-2016 America through the lens of Weimar Germany, when a cosmopolitan German elite created the most liberal society the country had ever seen. That is, until this liberal society came up against the Nazis who, supported by a mob of resentful, provincial Germans, pushed the rewind button all the way back to the savage Middle Ages.

Perhaps Trump will usher in a fascist era and prove Sinclair Lewis prescient in his 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here. He has certainly assembled quite a few capable players — Newt Gingrich, John Bolton, Mike Flynn, Rudy Giuliani — who can unshackle the jackboot army. The alt-right is celebrating his election as a victory for white power.

But Trump has used his time machine to revisit a different point in the past. Before last night, we were living in a pre-1914 era. That was a time of unprecedented globalization. And then, because of a reactionary backlash that started in Europe, the world was suddenly aflame with nationalism. The level of global trade wouldn’t recover for another six decades. Only the horrors of World War II would spur the creation of the United Nations and the return of some semblance of internationalism.

The question now is whether the world can pull together at this moment, as we all stand on the precipice — of aggressive nationalism, of ugly prejudice, of climate change, of despair. In my novel Splinterlands, I’ve gamed out the dystopian scenario. It was designed to be a wake-up call. It wasn’t supposed to be a non-fiction account of our current moment. But even if the past has returned to bite us in the butt and the present looks pretty grim, the future remains ours to change.

Pathetic Fallacy

It’s raining here in the DC area as I write this column on the morning after the election. The weather was perfect yesterday — sunny skies, moderate temperature. That’s when I wrote my first column about the election, which is in the recycle bin. Now the clouds hang low, and the heavens are crying at our predicament.

That’s what literary critics call the “pathetic fallacy,” attributing human characteristics to the inanimate world. It’s the mark of a poor literary stylist.

But think of all the pathetic fallacies that have sheltered us over the last few months. Virtually all the polls indicated a Clinton victory. Virtually all the newspapers endorsed Clinton. Virtually the entire entertainment industry turned its back on Trump. A huge segment of the Republican Party elite refused to support their anointed candidate.

They, we, I was wrong. It can happen here just as it has happened in Europe. Donald Trump was an object in our rear-view mirror who was a great deal closer than he appeared. Now that he has sped out in front and cut us off, how can we and the world avoid a catastrophic pile-up?

The post It Can’t Happen Here (But It Just Did) appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.


I Can’t Watch Another Police Killing


(Photo: betto rodrigues / Shutterstock.com)

Philando Castile and Alton Sterling became the latest black Americans to turn into Twitter hashtags when videos of their deaths at the hands of police circulated on social media.

But I couldn’t bring myself to watch them.

I still remember the helpless frustration I felt, my stomach twisting in knots, as I watched the video of Eric Garner being choked to death while screaming “I can’t breathe.” Over and over again, I subjected myself to the emotional and psychological trauma of watching someone who could have easily been me being murdered.

Afterward, I decided that it’s not worth my wellbeing to ever watch another video like that. That’s meant taking long breaks from social media and TV news.

But it’s not like I can’t see what’s going on.

In my 23 years as a New Yorker, liberal and conservative mayors alike — from Rudy Giuliani to Bill de Blasio — have aggressively targeted struggling black and Latino communities in the city with policing.

Coupled with the war on drugs that the U.S. has been waging on poor communities of color for decades, that means poor black people are more likely to have encounters with the police. And we’ve all seen how those encounters can end.

Similar patterns play out all over the country. Despite a news cycle driven by the latest videos of black people dying at the hands of police — with individual circumstances endlessly debated each time — it’s beyond clear that the men and women who are killed aren’t just unlucky people in isolated encounters.

Instead, as Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayer writes, “They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere.”

There’s ample data to support that the United States has a big problem with police violence and racially biased policing. According to The Guardian, nearly 600 people have been killed by the police so far this year. And young black men are 9 times likelier than other Americans to die at the hands of cops.

Shocking videos will come and go. But this violence will be present regardless of whether we’re watching. The problem is systemic, and demands a systemic solution.

That means analyzing federal, state, and local laws that drive patterns in police behavior and leave no room for accountability. This can give us specific things to rally around for change.

For example, special prosecutors, not secretive grand juries, should prosecute all police officers accused of unjustified shootings. And every department should have civilian review boards empowered to conduct independent investigations and provide oversight.

Congress should strengthen existing laws against systemic police misconduct by lowering the legal threshold for bringing civil rights lawsuits against police departments, and allowing private citizens and organizations to bring pattern-or-practice lawsuits, not just the Department of Justice.

Additionally, when departments are found to have violated people’s civil rights, instead of simply entering an agreement to reform, these departments should have their federal funding immediately suspended. And cases of abuse should be brought to trial in a federal court.

Moreover, all officers should get racial bias training, and training that emphasizes de-escalating tense situations.

Thinking systemically also means supporting community organizers and protesters working to bring the anti-blackness of policing in the United States to the forefront of our national consciousness — and applying strategic, sustained pressure on our elected officials until they do something to end police violence.

Finally, it also means keeping up on the news — while avoiding the urge to click “play” every single time there’s a new video of a police shooting.

In a country with a not-so-distant history of lynching black people and leaving their bodies hanging to terrorize entire communities, these state-sanctioned executions must never seem normal.

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Joshua Serrano is a New Economy Maryland fellow and former Criminalization of Poverty Project researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Big Oil Can’t Go On Like This

Ensuring that our planet remains hospitable requires leaving about three-quarters of all oil, gas, and coal deposits underground or beneath the sea floor. And forgoing all those fossil fuels to avert a climate catastrophe means that loads of companies need to change the way they do business — or go out of business.

So it’s a relief to see Big Oil begin to scale back. But BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, and their competitors aren’t doing that because they’re worried about the climate. They’re just scrambling to keep the industry’s relatively highdividends flowing in this era of cheap oil.

“By the end of the year there will be about 4,000 fewer BP employees than at the start,” BP chief executive Bob Dudley said when he announced the company’s lousy performance between June and September. In addition to firing workers, the London-based company has slashed spending on new exploration and drilling to adjust to what this CEO calls a “new price environment.”

Shell / Flickr

Shell / Flickr

BP’s third-quarter profits were 40 percent lower than during the same period a year earlier. Yet the oil giant has actually bumped up the dividend it pays investors over the past 12 months.

“We spend time with our shareholders,” Dudley said. “We are committed to maintaining the dividend at BP.”

In case you’ve lost track, here’s why gasoline is averaging about $ 2.25 a gallon: The price for a barrel of crude topped $ 100 in mid-2014 before tumbling because of a wave of over-production that hasn’t abated. Oil experts see prices ranging between $ 40 and $ 60 a barrel as the new — and way less profitable — normal.

Goldman Sachs analysts, for example, predict that prices could lumber along like this for 15 years, and may sink as low as $ 20 per barrel. This kind of prognosis is making the industry sound tight-fisted.

“We have to live within our means,” Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told investors while discussing the company’s $ 6.1 billion third-quarter loss, which was magnified by Shell’s decision to hold off on drilling for Arctic oil and mining the Carmon Creek tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

Meanwhile, the Dutch oil giant is “pulling out all the stops” to prop up its dividend, van Beurden said. And U.S.-based oil companies are equally determined to continue paying investors to hang onto their stock.

Chevron recently announced that it will scrap up to 7,000 jobs after the corporation’s third-quarter profits plunged 63.6 percent. Its dividend remains intact after increasing for 28 straight years.

ConocoPhillips, which lost $ 1.1 billion during the third quarter, intends to abstain from new offshore drilling projects and will sell leases it won’t use. The company has no planto cut its dividend.

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson promised a “relentless focus” on cost-cutting when he announced that third-quarter earnings amounted to about half of what they were in 2014. The nation’s biggest oil outfit is boosting its dividend, as it’s done for 33 years in a row.

See a pattern?

But just like it’s hard to make every mortgage payment when you wind up unemployed for a long stretch, unprofitable companies eventually pare dividends or stop paying them. That’s why Marathon, one of the 10 biggest U.S. oil companies, recently slashed its dividend by 79 percent to a nickel per share.

Anyone who sees Big Oil’s stocks as a perpetual source of investment income should take note.

And until paring dividends becomes more commonplace, the industry will inadvertently keep doing its share to leave more oil in the ground.

The post Big Oil Can’t Go On Like This appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies


We Can’t Go On Eating Like This

Corn cob in a corn field

A small family-owned farm in Virginia has used practices such as no-till planting and covering crops to reduce soil erosion since the 1960s. (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

Once the human race stopped throwing spears and gathering berries, our bodies suffered. Planting seeds and harvesting produce made leisure possible, but it also meant we grew shorter, fatter, sicker, and considerably more overworked.

An alien visiting from another planet during that critical transition period to a more settled existence might have thought that we were being domesticated by our livestock and not the other way around.

Sure, hunting and gathering was hard, what with hunger and saber-toothed tigers breathing down our necks. And agriculture allowed for the development of everything we associate with modernity: politics, economics, MTV.

But now that there are more than 7 billion of us on this planet, going up to nearly 10 billion by the middle of this century, we can’t resume a truly Paleo lifestyle. There’s not much big game around anymore, after all. We’re stuck with farming.

And agriculture is helping to push up global temperatures. Up to one-third of all the carbon emissions responsible for climate change come from farming, thanks to everything from fertilizer production to flying raspberries halfway around the world.

Throw in livestock, and things look even worse: a whopping 18 percent of greenhouse gasses, according to one Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, come from the mass production of cows, pigs, and chickens (and World Watch argues that the FAO undercounted by a factor of three).

Modern agriculture: can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

Would a “lentil dictatorship” work? By forcing people to shift to a mostly legume diet, we would reduce the enormous drain of resources caused by eating meat — up to 16 pounds of grain goes into one pound of steak — and naturally replenish the soil by planting these nitrogen-fixing plants.

Given the difficulties that former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg faced when he tried to wean people off sodas larger than 16 ounces, I think this would be a recipe for failure.

The United Nations has come up with a good idea. Its Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture uses the latest technology to maximize yields and minimize the impact on the land.

For instance, farmers can use lasers to create level fields to reduce water use and consult precise weather forecasts to know when to sow and irrigate. This technology has already improved farming in the richer countries.

These are useful techniques. Yet they mostly help farmers adjust to rising temperatures and dwindling water resources rather than reverse the negative feedback loop pushing up the thermometer.

Organic farming advocates argue that a shift way from energy-intensive industrial agriculture will do the trick. But this transformation may not suffice. It’s not clear that purely organic farming could produce enough to feed the planet without cultivating what little land remains in the wild.

And where organic farmers have been able to scale up, they have begun to resemble the very industrial producers they aimed to replace.

Another way to go is low-tech. Instead of plowing up the land in order to plant the next crop, many farmers don’t overturn the soil of the entire field. They simply dig narrow trenches. This “no-till” agriculture produces comparable yields without the considerable erosion caused by conventional farming. Yet no-till agriculture can use more herbicides to get rid of all the weeds that aren’t plowed under.

Every technique poses risks. The danger of industrial farming is precisely its reliance on monocultures: field after field of a single variety of grain that runs the risk of being wiped out by a new kind of blight.

The solution? Diversity. “No single crop or approach to farming can possibly feed the world,” writes Michael Specter in The New Yorker. “To prevent billions of people from living in hunger, we will need to use every one of them.”

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