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Bill McKibben is an environmentalist and writer who founded the international climate campaign Twenty years ago, with his book "The End of Nature," he offered one of the earliest[…]

These days, the average bite of food you eat has traveled 2,000 miles to reach your lips.

Question: How does farming need to change? 

Billrn McKibbon: Right now the agriculture that we depend on in this rncountry is very heavily fossil fuel based. Soil is a kind of matrix for rnholding plants upright so you can pour oil over them to make them grow. rnThe average bite of food you eat has traveled 2,000 miles to reach your rnlips. It’s marinated in crude oil by the time it gets there. The rnincredibly intense energy use of agriculture is an astonishing problem. rnIt generates lots and lots and lots of our greenhouse gasses and it rndepends on a supply of petroleum that is quickly running short. So we rnneed something different and the outlines of that something different rnare pretty clear I think. We need to replace some of that fossil fuel rnwith human labor and energy on farms. At the moment, one percent of rnAmericans farm. There are half as many farmers as prisoners in this rncountry. We’re never going to go back to 50 percent of Americans on the rnfarm, but we’re going to have to head a little bit in that direction rnbecause we need more hands at work growing our food and substituting forrn some of that endless fossil fuel. And it turns out there are lots of rnpeople who want to do that kind of work. And as we see demand rngrow—farmers markets have been the fastest growing part of the food rneconomy for 10 years now—as we see that growth taking place we get more rnand more and more farmers coming forward to meet it, which is very, veryrn nice to see. It will help immensely if we put a price on carbon at the rncongressional level, at the global level. The day that that happens the rnlogic of the farmers market will be immediately apparent, not just to rnpeople who want good food, but to people who will quickly understand rnwhat an insane subsidy we’ve been giving in the form of cheap fossil rnfuel to big industrial agriculture. 

Question: What rnresponsibility do wealthy countries have to developing nations? 

Billrn McKibbon: The gap between rich and poor in this world has always rnbeen a sin, but now it is a wicked practical impediment to getting done rnthat which we need to do. If you live in China where there are still 600rn million people living in pretty bitter rural poverty the world looks a rnlot different to you than if you live in an American suburb. The easiestrn way to pull those Chinese or rural Indians or Africans or South rnAmericans out of that poverty would be to burn the cheap coal that is rnwidely available in most of those places. That’s how we did it in this rncountry over the last 200 years. That’s what fueled our prosperity. It’srn a cruel thing to say to people in those parts of the world. Look, you rncan’t do this because the atmosphere is already filled by us. So in rnmoral terms and in practical terms we have very strong incentive to not rnonly cut our own emissions to give other people some room, but also to rntransfer some wealth in the form of technology mostly north to south to rnallow those societies to skip over as much of the fossil fuel stage as rnthey can and go straight into the kind of world of renewable power. rnThat’s only just and it’s only smart. 
Recorded on April 13, 2010