08/29/2012 11:43 am ET Updated Oct 29, 2012

Why the Election Really Matters: Depletion, Disease and Drought

If ever there was a time to focus on meaningful, open dialogue, it is now. Election-year white-washing and glossing over substantive issues to create personae's based upon crowd appeal charm and pseudo-brilliance continues without solution, the business as usual political trench warfare we Americans have experienced in the past several election cycles.

We haven't had an open conversation or leadership on any of the above except partly focused on health care, thanks to the well-intentioned leadership of President Obama. One stride in the right direction appears poised to be stripped by reversionary thinking that refuses to give even well intentioned leadership decisions a chance to be tested, and refined over time.

Leadership during this last presidential and congressional term didn't address many equally as important issues -- energy and climate policy and soils and water resource issues. And, remember, not taking action is essentially making a decision to do nothing.

Failing to plan for food security, human health and safety, how we will adapt to drought and water supply shortages, is as certain to contribute to political and economic upheaval, as it has in many other countries.

Three factors have the potential to take down entire civilizations:

1) Soil nutrient depletion

  • According the USDA, soil organic matter, which in part helps soils hold nutrients and provides part of the soil's water-holding capacity, has been depleted by almost seventy percent in some places.

2) Prolonged, severe drought and weather

3) Epidemic diseases

  • Over 40 million U.S. citizens live in poverty, making daily tradeoffs between paying the mortgage and buying food. Nutritious, healthful food is seldom an option under such circumstances.

These three triggers often hit in a sequence or go hand-in-hand, usually starting with soil depletion, which causes already nutrient-poor crops to be further susceptible to drought impacts. Crop failure means poor nutrition, weakening populations while increasing vulnerability to disease.

The remedies are vital, yet, unfortunately, so poorly understood:

Addressing Soils Nutrient Depletion -- Rebuilding healthy soil is easily and quickly accomplished and is needed to compensate for years of heavy uses of Anhydrous ammonia fertilizer (which provides temporary nitrogen for crops) while it further degrades soils and contributes to declining organic matter, erosion susceptibility and contributes to essential soil nutrients washing from the land, polluting our rivers, lakes, estuaries and oceans.

Addressing drought -- An investment in re-growing soil is a hedge against drought, disease and famine. The relationship is straightforward -- more sponge-like soil organic matter, holds more nutrients and water. Drought packs less of a punch if soils are healthy. Every farmer and gardener knows how to improve and re-grow soil organic matter. The 60,000 gallons of water held in the soil sponge for every 1% increase in soil organic matter replenishes potable ground water, water in lakes, rivers, and ultimately assures us that our tap continues running with clear, clean, healthy water.

Addressing epidemic diseases -- As for disease, our citizens at less vulnerable if they consume healthful, nutritious food. Our resistance to disease hinges on our disease susceptibility as well as our ability to arrest and treat illness, which depends on accessible health care and affordable treatment -- which many people in the U.S. and across the globe lack.

Maybe the near-miss of Hurricane Isaac, looming over the Republican convention, is a not-so-subtle reminder to take life seriously. The seeds of contempt and discontent are in place, and leadership foibles and indecision, exacerbated by severe drought, higher food prices and failing soil systems, are now aligned to test our mustard. In addressing each of these causes lays the potential for contributing to solving our nation's needs for solutions to creating new and meaningful jobs for our citizens, addressing a legacy of deferred repairs and improvements to our land, and nurturing a culture of collaboration and understanding around our overall welfare, as a society.