Is It Organic?

words by Willow Defebaugh

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.

“Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization,” Pope Francis told oil executives who were summoned to the Vatican. “Future generations stand to inherit a greatly spoiled world. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay the cost of our generation’s irresponsibility. Indeed, as is becoming increasingly clear, young people are calling for change.”


This stern warning comes at a time when EU leaders are gathering in Brussels today to discuss whether or not going carbon neutral by 2050 should be made an official part of its collective agenda. Officials are saying that 22 out of the 28 states are in favor of adapting this goal. This also comes alongside the news that Trump’s EPA is rolling back a key initiative to curb fossil fuel emissions established by the Obama administration. The replacement rule will allow states to individually decide whether they want to enforce efficiency upgrades in energy plants. By contrast, New York has proposed new legislation that would have the entire state running on 100% renewable energy sources by 2050.


Meanwhile, there’s a race for solutions regarding another form of energy: food. The global population is expected to hit ten billion by 2050, meaning even more mouths to feed—at the same time that farmable land is decreasing and warming temperatures are changing growing conditions across the planet. So farmers and plant breeders are working around the clock on what they call “speed breeding,” in conjunction with gene editing, to try and create new crops that will weather the coming storms.


With a network of 10,000 farmers and over $600 million in funding, Indigo has a bold vision for the future of agriculture. Recently, the startup announced the Terraton Initiative, which will incentivize farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture—which involves sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil. The goal? To sequester one trillion tons of it.


In the UK, a new V&A exhibition called FOOD: Bigger than the Plate “explores current experiments at every stage of the food system – from compost to table.” The collection of works includes edible water bottles, urban mushroom farms, meat substitutes, and ceramic toilets made from excess cow manure that reimagine our relationship with resource consumption.


For Atmos Volume 01, artist and entrepreneur Sean Raspet opened up about why he founded nonfood, a brand to challenge notions about nutrition, flavor and sustainability, as well as dichotomies between nature and technology with “radically sustainable” algae-based foods that aim to reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture.


For those who are concerned about a theoretical future where we get our nutrients from bars and bottles, Raspet has some food for thought: “In our present culture, many people believe that all things ‘natural’ are good and all ‘artificial’ or ‘synthetic’ things are bad. In fact, the entire division between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ is a construct.”

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