Why Soil Not Oil

Soil Not Oil Pledge

Original Authors:
Dr. Vandana Shiva
Dr. Ray Seidler
Professor Miguel Altieri
Coordinated by Miguel Robles on behalf of the Soil Not Oil Coalition
(Based on the 2015 Richmond Declaration)

We are living at a critical time where we must address three monumental challenges before us:

  1. An accelerating climate change, biodiversity erosion and desertification resulting from an insatiable appetite of the capitalist economic system that is driving the planet’s environmental crises,
  2. The uprooting of millions from their homes and countries through oil wars, resource wars, and economic wars, creating an unprecedented migrant and refugee crises,
  3. A non-sustainable food and agriculture system that is contributing to soil degradation, climate change, and health crises. Major unsustainable petroleum and synthetic chemical-based industrial agriculture occupies 80% of arable land, generates 25-30% of the greenhouse gases, but only produces 30% of the world’s food. This monoculture model, which increasingly uses genetically modified organisms (GMOs), risks worldwide food security issues and places unacceptable stresses upon human and soil health, biodiversity, and food products.

Therefore, we proclaim that:

  1. The world food system based on oil, toxic chemicals, and GMOs largely functions within a complex socio-economic, political, cultural, and ecological complex that benefits large integrated-corporate interests, not farmers and not consumers.
  2. Corporate mandated agricultural practices threaten governments’ capabilities to meet their responsibilities to secure fundamental human rights for food access and health for their peoples enshrined in the universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights of international law.
  3. Within industrialized nations, up to 1/3 of the total global warming effects have been attributed to current food production systems. Twentieth century industrialized farming practices have transformed food systems from sustainable based and locally focused into a fossil fuel-based, addicted-to-GMO-crop-industrialized-systems with vast hydrocarbon intensive transportation distances from farm to plate.
  4. Industrial agricultural soils are in grave danger since on average they have lost 50% of their soil organic matter during the 20th Century. This loss reduces natural productive processes in the soil, while the lost soil carbon has entered the atmosphere as carbon dioxide which may have contributed up to 100ppm of the total 400ppm currently present.
  5. Loss of soil carbon to the atmosphere takes away significant soil water holding capacity, further limiting crop survival during drought conditions as currently being experienced in the western U.S. and other vast arable areas in the world.
  6. Agricultural soils no longer serve as a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide as has historically been the case. Research is required now to learn how to optimize soil carbon sequestration, a natural phenomenon that can help mitigate the miseries of climate change.
  7. Soils are in danger as described above, due to the persistent, annual applications of massive amounts of fossil fuel-based fertilizers and toxic pesticides that have increased in amounts and variety, especially over the last 20 years.
  8. Organic regenerative agricultural practices builds up living carbon in soil, mitigates climate change, and has the potential to reduce the accumulated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350ppm based on all farmland and rangelands shifting to regenerative practices.

Therefore, we request your help and resolve:

  1. As citizens we will begin the transition from Oil to Soil in our everyday life by promoting organic farming and agro-ecological farming practices, local food outlets to support soil carbon sequestration, build living soils, and return seed integrity, seed ownership, and pride to local family farm enterprises, while respecting the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous communities, as well as creating healthy agricultural ecosystems for generations to come.
  2. We will spread awareness on the “true costs” of industrial agriculture and unnecessary use of chemical pesticides. We will work to ensure less tax money is used to subsidize a non-sustainable system that heats the planet, uses excess pesticides that harms human and environmental health, where soil carbon is lost, not sequestered.
  3. We will resist all attempts by giant corporations to use the climate crisis to expand their control over agriculture through “climate smart agricultural practices” and through GMO-based bio-piracy of the naturally climate-resilient crops that farmers have bred over the centuries.
  4. We ask you to support these concepts by encouraging, enacting, and supporting within your organization, campaigns, resources, actions, and opportunities that more clearly invoke the concepts embodied by the phrase “Soil Not Oil”.
  5. We will encourage all levels of government to pass legislation to take action in support of this pledge, and demand mandatory commitments to reduce all carbon emissions immediately.

Recommended Books

  • Druker, Steven “Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government and Systematically Deceived the Public”
  • Carson, Rachel “Silent Spring”
  • Chomsky, Noam “Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order”
  • “Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots,” edited by Robert Bullard
  • “Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture” edited by Andrew Kimbrell
  • Freudenberg, Nicholas “Lethal But Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health”
  • Fukuoka, Masanobu “The One-Straw Revolution”
  • Gottlieb, Robert & Joshi, Anupama “Food Justice”
  • Hauter, Wenonah “Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America”
  • House, Freeman “Totem Salmon: Life Lessons from Another Species”
  • Klein, Naomi “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate”
  • Kolbert, Elizabeth “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History”
  • LaDuke, Winona “All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life”
  • Luoma, Jon R. “The Hidden Forest: The Biography of an Ecosystem”
  • Lowenfels, Jeff “Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web”
  • “A Line in the Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice” Edited by Stephen D’Arcy, Toban Black, Tony Weis and Joshua Kahn Russell
  • Olivera, Oscar “¡Cochabamba! Water Wars in Bolivia”
  • “Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Economic Globalization” A Special Report of the International Forum on Globalization Committee on Indigenous Peoples Edited by Jerry Mander and Victoriz Tauli-Corpuz
  • Patel, Raj “Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System”
  • Pfeiffer, Dale Allen, “Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food, and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture”
  • Pollan, Michael “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”
  • Preston, Richard “The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring”
  • Reisner, Marc “Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water”
  • Roulac, John “Backyard Composting”
  • Shiva, Vandana “Biopracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge”
  • Shiva, Vandana “Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability and Peace”
  • Shiva, Vandana “Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis”
  • Shiva, Vandana “Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply”
  • Shiva, Vandana “Water Wars: Privitization, Pollution and Profit”
  • Stamets, Paul “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World”
  • Tokar, Brian “Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash”
  • White, Courtney “Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country”

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Recommended Documentaries

  • A Fierce Green Fire (2012)
  • A Silent Forest: The Growing Threat, Genetically Engineered Trees
  • Bitter Seeds (2011)
  • Chasing Ice (2012)
  • Clearcut Nation (2013)
  • Coal Country (2009)
  • Cowspiracy (2014)
  • Crude (2009)
  • DamNation (2014)
  • Dirt! The Movie (2009)
  • Don’t Frack with Denton (2015)
  • Edible City (2012)
  • Flow: For Love of Water (2008)
  • Food Chains (2014)
  • Food, Inc. (2008)
  • Forks Over Knives (2011)
  • Gas Land (2010)
  • Gas Land 2 (2013)
  • Genetic Roulette (2012)
  • GMO OMG (2013)
  • King Corn (2007)
  • Nero’s Guest (2009)
  • Occupy the Farm (2014)
  • Plant This Movie (2014)
  • Queen of the Sun (2010)
  • Scientists Under Attack (2009)
  • Symphony of the Soil (2012)
  • The Big Fix (2011)
  • The Corporation (2003)
  • The Future of Food (2004)
  • The Garden (2008)
  • The Last Mountain (2011)
  • The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil (2006)
  • The World According to Monsanto (2008)
  • Vanishing of the Bees (2009)
  • Vanishing Pearls  (2014)
  • Who Bombed Judi Bari? (2012)


Making Peace with the Earth: A Message for Mother Earth Day from our Keynote Speaker, Dr. Vandana Shiva:

It can take up to 1,000 years to form one centimeter of soil; and with 33 percent of all global soil resources degraded, critical limits are being reached making stewardship an urgent matter.
News Center:  #IYS2015: FAO Kicks Off International Year of Soils, 2015, See Documentary Free Online Until December 12, News Media Wire – News Release Distribution News Center; Rome, December 5, 2014

95% of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils and the essential nutrients it contains
FAO In Action, KEY FACTS, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, XIYS2015 and Frequently Asked Questions, 2015 International Year of Soils

Chemical fertilizers, including pesticides, can gradually increase the acidity of soil until it begins to impede plant growth

Horrigan, Leo; Lawrence, Robert S.; Walker, Polly; “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture,” Center for A Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

In the United States, 400 gallons of oil equivalents are expended annually to feed each American* (as of data provided in 1994).   Agricultural energy consumption is broken down as follows:

  • 31% for the manufacture of inorganic fertilizer
  • 19% for the operation of field machinery
  • 16% for transportation
  • 13% for irrigation
  • 8% for raising livestock (not including livestock feed)
  • 5% for crop drying
  • 5% for pesticide production
  • 8% miscellaneous


*Energy costs for packaging, refrigeration, transportation to retail outlets, and household cooking are not considered in these figures.

“Today, the world burns 400 years’ worth of accumulated biological matter every year, 3 to 4 times more than in 1956.”

Shiva, Dr. Vandana, “Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an age of Climate Crisis” (2008)

Good soil management can prevent damaging erosion, loss of organic matter, soil compaction and degradation of soil structure, thereby sustaining the essential ecosystem functions performed by soils,
State of Maine, Joint Resolution recognizing the Importance of Soils to Maine’s Future Prosperity,
The widespread cultivation of Genetically Modified herbicide-tolerant crops has increased the use of toxic herbicides such as Glyphosate and 2, 4-D harming biodiversity and endangering wild bees and other pollinators.
GMO Inquiry Report – 2015
Monarch butterflies have declined by 90% due to glyphosate use on glyphosate-tolerant crops over the past 20 years.
“Are GM Crops Better for the Environment?” GM Inquiry Report, May 2015

In 2012, an estimated 280 million pounds of glyphosate a main ingredient in Monsanto’s “Round-Up” was sprayed on agricultural crops in the U.S. according to U.S. Geological Survey Data
U.S. Geological Survey Data Report

Atrazine, the second largest selling pesticide in the world after glyphosate contaminates drinking water and is known to be a potent endocrine disruptor that castrates and feminizes male amphibians.  “The Frog of War” – Mother Jones


“If 10,000 medium-sized U.S. farms converted to organic farming, the emission reduction would be equivalent to removing over 1 million cars from the road.” – Vandana Shiva

Shiva, Dr. Vandana, “Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an age of Climate Crisis” (2008)

Diversity of production systems should be able to co-evolve, to ensure respect for the environment and natural resources, respect for cultural and biological diversity, and human values,
Shiva, Dr. Vandana, “The Law of Seed,” http://www.navdanya.org/attachments/Latest_Publications3.pdf

As much as one third of surplus carbon dioxide in the atmosphere driving climate change has come from poor land management practices that cause loss of carbon, as CO2, from our working lands.  Beneficial long term storage of carbon in soils can be achieved through a process called soil carbon sequestration and other beneficial land management practices
“What Is Carbon Farming?,” Marin Carbon Project, http://www.marincarbonproject.org/carbon-farming

September 2013 report by the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), “Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It’s Too Late,” finds that major changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems with a recommended shift toward local small scale farmers and food systems,
UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report titled, “Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It’s Too Late,” September 18, 2013,  http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 805 million people across the globe face hunger and malnutrition, a condition most efficiently remedied by sustainable food production practices.
News Center:  #IYS2015: FAO Kicks Off International Year of Soils, 2015, See Documentary Free Online Until December 12, News Media Wire – News Release Distribution News Center; Rome, December 5, 2014

Industrial Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of water use in California. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2015/04/03/agriculture-is-80-percent-of-water-use-in-california-why-arent-farmers-being-forced-to-cut-back/