Fifty-three years ago on April 22, 1970, environmental activists created Earth Day in response to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil well blow-out that spewed 3,000,000 gallons of oil off the California coast. An ecosystem of “amazing richness, amazing biodiversity, amazing biological activity was transformed into an Armageddon of blackness” in the words of David McCauley, Marine Biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
In the spring of 2010 when this website was launched, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, operating in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded and sank resulting in the death of 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon and the largest spill of oil in the history of marine oil drilling operations. Over an 87-day period, nearly 5 million barrels of oil (210,000,000 gallons!) spewed off the Louisiana coast before it was finally capped on July 15, 2010.
We noted back in 2010, in the first book review posted on this website of Christopher Henke’s Cultivating Science, Harvesting Power – Science and Industrial Agriculture in California (The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008) that careless deep-sea drilling focused on maximizing production and corporate wealth, regardless of the danger to the environment, would likely result in the number of ordinary people who consider themselves environmentalists to grow substantially.
The first annual Earth Day event in 1970 was focused on the United States after the Santa Barbara oil well blow-out. Fifty-three ears later in 2023, Earth Day is coordinated globally by Earthday.org and includes a wide arrange of events reaching 1 billion people in more than 193 countries. Invest in Our Planet is the official theme for 2023.
Our mission for the past thirteen years is rooted in spreading the awareness that every time you make a decision about food, in the words of Kentucky farmer and writer, Wendell Berry, “you are farming by proxy.” Evidence that industrial agriculture has “externalized the costs” for environmental degradation was stunningly demonstrated by the news earlier this month that more than 13 million tons (26 billion pounds!) of Sargassum, a yellowish-brown seaweed is drifting in the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the news story, Those Seaweed Blobs headed for Florida? See How Big They Are by Elena Shao in the New York Times (4/19/23), patches of this record amount of drifting Sargassum (part of the so-called belt of Sargassum, which can stretch thousands of miles from the western coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico) have already begun to wash ashore beaches in in southern Florida and Mexico, as ocean currents in spring and summer carry floating mats of Sargassum toward the Caribbean, eastern Florida and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast.
According to reporter Elena Shao, as the Sargassum washes ashore and begins to decompose, scientists say it degrades the water quality and pollutes beaches. The decaying algae releases ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which has an unpleasant odor like rotten eggs and can irritate the eyes, nose and throat. According to a study in The Lancet, the respected peer-reviewed general medical journal, decomposing Sargassum “represents not only an environmental and economic disaster but a real threat to human health.”
How did this blob of Sargassum come into existence?
According to the article in the New York Times, the immense blooms of Sargassum have continued to grow almost every year since researchers started noticing abnormally large accumulations a dozen years ago in 2011 “in large part because of excessive, nutrient-rich runoff from the Congo, Amazon and Mississippi rivers.”
Brian Lapointe, Ph.D., a research professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute has studied Sargassum for more than four decades. There’s no doubt that “fertilizer use” in global industrial agriculture is a major reason why Sargassum has become an environmental and economic disaster and a threat to human health. In a story on the News Desk of the University’s website, Scientists Discover World’s Largest Seaweed Bloom, Gisele Galoustian writes “the pattern seems clear: the explosion in Sargassum correlates to increases in deforestation and fertilizer use, both of which have increased since 2010.”
On Earth Day 2023, we encourage our readers, once again, to know where your food comes from and to support a local family-scale farm that practices regenerative agriculture. Especially with the stunning news of the record amounts of drifting Sargassum, we urge participation in a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm or to shop regularly at a farmers market where you’re able to know your farmer and understand how your food is grown and produced. A commitment to Regenerative Agriculture is the ideal.
Regenerative agriculture counters climate change and promotes food security by restoring soil, organic matter, and biodiversity as well as reducing atmospheric carbon. it’s an evolving holistic nature-based approach that boosts topsoil, food production and farmers’ incomes. The robust soils and diverse ecosystems that its organic practices create yield more high-quality, nutrient-rich produce than conventional agriculture, fostering fruitful farms, healthy communities and thriving economies.
And achievable without the use of fertilizers and chemical pesticides!
(Frank W. Barrie, 4/21/23)