Culture, Economy, Ecology and Climate

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A Horticultural Society by Way of the Ferny Brae

A more horticultural society that learns to garden its land – that retreats into its terrain, while the wilds expand, may still have domestic animals for meat, milk and eggs. We cannot grow annual crops, without fallow, regenerative phases in rotation. My rule of thumb is two years of green manure, or pasture to one year of cropping. Pasturing removes the considerable manual labour of cutting and mulching – I assume a world without both oil and electricity for agricultural machinery. I suspect Earth-limited electricity will stretch only as far as domestic heat, light and some refrigeration. Naturally, we’ve legs and bicycles for transport and we’ve direct traction of wind and water for mills, pumps and manufactories. I doubt we can retain the internet.
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There is a very old vein of green socialist thinking, which runs deep into medieval times – almost certainly as deep as the Bronze Age and probably the Neolithic… When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? Here is GK Chesterton describing his hopes for a Distributist movement, which is rooted in that same vein. “Capitalism is the state run by big business, while communism is big business run by the state. I dream of very many, very small businesses.” (from my memory) That yearning may lie dormant in most of us.
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And that yearning must flower and fruit if we are to accomplish this massive transformation – re-centring suburbia into towns and villages, so that work and pleasure are walking distance from everyone’s door.
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Only the intelligent senses of “very many small businesses” could possible achieve that complexity. We must be parochial, to understand both the specific complexities of terrain and the desires of the parish’s people. Good soils, good water and connections of tracks, canals, navigable rivers are all best understood by those who live by them. Those new and old towns and villages, can be ringed with market gardens, cereal fields and orchards and the growing must weave its way through the town too, by the specific means of singular ingenious finger-tips. Strange, isn’t it? If we come to love our personal terrain – our garden, we more easily love another’s.
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You say, such a transformation is impossible. Well, yes. It is. But our current ways of life in Europe and America are also impossible. A greening of how we live, or a middle way is just as impossible. So, every road we take is impossible. The future is impossible. So, why not choose the very best – the loveliest impossible route? Why not choose happiness and grit our teeth through what is to come to achieve it?
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Actually, a more horticultural society is the most likely road to succeed – the obstacles are political and violent – that is, human obstacles – other people. All other roads are certain to fail, because the obstacles they face are physical – flood, wind, heat and a cascading evaporation of species on which all cultures depend. Try arguing with the tide.
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We may think we are doing our bit by paying a little more for an electric car, by recycling, avoiding plastic packaging and by lobbying for a greening of our power supplies – all that, with the social advantage that it is not extreme, or extremist. No-one wants to be “an extremist”. However, it’s very plain that such a middle way will end in utterly catastrophic heating of our only Earth and utter misery for our own children. It fails right from the start.
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However, what if we let an ancient yearning rise in all its romance. It’s neither radical, nor extreme as an idea. It’s only radical in its effect on the extra-ordinary way we live today. European and American ways of life are so extra-ordinary – so radical that they will draw the final curtain over all human cultures and are set arrive, by their own boast, at the end history. My vision, (and that of ancestors from every period) is, on the contrary, ordinary, very old and very easily understood. We don’t want a radical culture. We want a timeless, conservative one.
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To return to our horticultural culture, we’ve many perennials, such as fruit and nut trees and bushes, but the Land Institute’s perennial cereals may offer a less destructive route into a durable terrain. But still, they mean harvesting the whole plant, both grain and straw, as with annual cereals and so may similarly need a regenerative phase – perhaps a season or two of grazing?
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Fallow, regenerative phases mean that animals can add to the complexity of a cycle, but are also limited by its plant biomass. We can add pleasurably, to the whole, while having no malignant ecological effect. The same desire for bread and beer also creates the special, but rationed pleasures of milk, butter, cheese, eggs and meat. I think it unlikely that we can maintain additional pastures purely for meat and milk.
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Anyway, very many, small prairie fields could remain within our horticultural mindset. The scythe is a pleasant tool and scything cereals is not hard work – unlike mixed meadow grasses. Grains are also precious, because they can be stored from good years into bad and they are very light – only 15% water, so that they can be easily transported between surplus and scarcity of regions. Thus, they are useful in both time and space. Anyway, as of old, communities can come together for the harvest. Many hands…
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Here in temperate UK, many of those rolling acres of grassland, were first enclosed to remove people from the land and replace them with sheep. Sheep made wool-money for the few –they bled dry the true economy of people and land and became a blue-print for all monopolies and most dispossessions. Those grasslands can be returned to their natural state as woodland – woodland for photosynthesis, the return of the wilds and for timber. We’ll need timber and we’ll not need that 80% of Welsh lamb for export. Of course, we’ll have no land to spare to feed biomass boilers, broiler houses, batteries and feed lots. What of hill and upland farming communities? Some traditions go back to at least the Bronze Age and some older still – They can adopt the same horticultural mind-set for better soils and of course, forestry and its trades, will provide more employment than sheep ever could. If wool is re-valued as it should be, then sheep may play a part in a new complexity, but it is not only hill communities, whose lives must turn upside down – it is all of us. Just as all of us must dramatically reduce our consumption of things in general, so we must dramatically reduce our consumption of land. Those extensive pastures, which many now claim, “draw down carbon” and turn inedible-to-people grasses into valuable protein, are profligate pastures creating consumerist luxuries. Breathe deep, and let as much land as we can, return to the sounds, scents and sights of the wild. We’ll still have those luxuries, but within the limits of the rotations of a horticultural mindset and they will be special – set aside for feast days and holidays.
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Now, let’s consider this – Old Socialism, Old Tory, Old Liberal (Wig) and so on, would have been similarly connected to soil, materials, labour, the trades – diverse ways of both urban and rural living. They’d find a common truth in material things. Their dispute would be a similarly ancient one – in distribution of materials and between classes and power structures; between urban and rural. They’d share the same evidence of their own eyes – climate and ecological catastrophe, empty holes in the ground, which once held resources, increasingly lifeless soils, wealth and poverty both accelerating wildly, and no-one in control of the ship of fools.
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They might well share a common acceptance of fair rationing (war-footing) and of an urgent need for utterly-changed behaviour. At any rate, they’d share the same horror as the great ship, the Newly Marketed Centre Corporate Green Ground, embarked without touching the ground, or without noting winds, currents, tides, or ice bergs (unfortunate metaphor).
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It is easy to be enlightened to the virtues of the centre and very easy to ridicule the endarkened edges – that is, the old dark ways of rivers, trees, fields, bird songs, crops, workshops, pianos, wild flowers, mountains, frying onions, pub songs, parishes, gravity, tides, passing seasons, harbours and people.
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Nigel Farage’s pint glass has been a potent image. It is attractive, human-sized and is not measured in statutory litres. People are not wrong to yearn for a good life in a simple world. That Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson both represent something quite different – and horribly different, while presenting such homely images, does not negate that genuine yearning. Farage/Johnson represent total deregulation of the same corporate levitation, which is supported by New Labour, Liberal Democrat and Greens. All support the corporate levitation, but the “centrists” would negotiate consumer and environmental protections within it. Neither extreme right of Johnson/Farage, nor the status quo of the prosperous middle-ground will protect themselves from that same corporate self-destruction.
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G K Chesterton also stood, pint in hand like Falstaff in merry England, or Robert Burns with a jug of wine, lying in the heather, or Willian Barnes – I’ve got two fields and I don’t care what squire mid have a better share… Or let’s follow Thomas the rhymer under the hill –
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See ye not yon braid, braid road that winds among the lily leven? – That is the path to wickedness, that some ca’ the road to heaven. – And see ye not yon narrow road, s’ thick beset with thorn and briar? – That is the path to righteousness, though after it few enquire. – But see ye not yon bonny road that winds among the ferny brae? That is the path to fair Elfland, where thou and I this night maun gae…
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When all roads fail, choose the bonny road. It is right because our souls will choose it and because yet half visible truth has long ago chosen it.
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I like to think that the old Socialist, Conservative and Green movements are all closer to a true median ground which stands on (and in) soil, biodiversity and physics, than the currently and powerfully marketed idea of a centre. They are closer in their diverse ways, to the model for all economies. They are closer to the household – to everyday personal behaviour. Meanwhile, the powers behind government, corporation and bank entice left, right and green to their marketed middle ground and to an illusion of franchises in the world of power. The same powers wear enticing left, right and green clothing which is then adopted my many in those groups (such as UK Green Parties), who propose that they are moving towards a reconciliatory centre. They are not. They are endorsing utterly amoral and destructive power. They are abandoning their “family values” and embracing a kind of amorality for all, into which any morality can fit and then argue its corner. That world of power is also an idea. It has no substance. The substance, once again is in the billions of small purchases and in the millions of accepted wages…
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Let’s stop spending the idea into reality and then look to each other (Really, we all know it’s true) – and one, by one, take the bonny road.
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The Wealth of Fields and Nations

As we end bad practice and attempt good practice, so farm and garden soils can accumulate some vital biomass and biodiversity. But that increase in soil biomass will always end at an optimum point, at which the farmer/gardener can only attempt a balance – a stable, living mass. That balance is precarious, because it is subject to human fallibility, unpredictable weather and very human choices, such as attempts to cultivate, or harvest – to salvage something, in unsuitable weathers. Even here, in temperate Wales, such unsuitable weather is becoming more and more frequent. This season we’ve had extreme rainfall, extreme heat and extreme winds – all of which are likely to grow worse. It’s plain that unsuitability will accelerate – that is, current human cultures will be increasingly ill-matched to the weathers, which once sustained them. The lovely yeast of soil, which gave rise to a more or less stable harvest, will be diminished by flood, drought, wind and human desperation. However skilled we are and however hard we struggle, beyond an optimum point, we will not “draw down further carbon” onto our virtuous fields and gardens.
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Anyone who raises an eyebrow at the word, desperation, is plainly not a grower, or farmer.
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Even in perfect weather, the best husbandry can only aim for balance, while knowing that it will often fall short of that balance – all farming and gardening disrupts the natural ecology it has replaced. I think we should begin with that primary knowledge. We should also assume that we will make mistakes. Our task is to grow food, while causing as little ecological and atmospheric harm as we can. We will cause climate heating and we will disrupt natural systems – knowing that, is the best frame of mind to learn how to limit that disruption.
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There are outrageous claims for farming and gardening systems, which “draw down carbon” into their lovely soils. These are often made by the “newly-enlightened”, new farmers and growers and by writers and journalists passionately applying a revelatory idea – a permaculture; an agroecology; – and too easily finding evidence for their own virtue. It is used to promote produce in marketplaces and since it is often a genuine, if deluded aspiration, there are few of the kindly, who’d rock its boat.
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If we consider organic as a method which attempts as best it can, to imitate the optimum cycling of organisms, then we have in the word, a fine rule of thumb for farming and gardening. And it is true that the linear gift of sunlight can repair some very human cracks in our attempted cycles, but only to a point. That point is an optimum (durable maximum) photosynthetic leaf area, much of which will have disappeared down those cracks.
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Like sunlight, there are other linear contributions, which are often accepted as a gift from nowhere. They are no such thing. They have come from somewhere – an emptying hole in the ground, a broken organic cycle in some-one else’s field, or from a once-vibrant ecosystem, such as a forest.
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Many practitioners have made outrageous boasts of soil sequestration by importing large amounts of mulching material. They import from another’s impoverished organic cycle. In short, this is either narcissism, or simple anti-social behaviour – it diminishes a common good. If one field receives biomass grown in another field, the sum of the two masses will end as less than the original mass, which had been thriving in the soil and plants of the two separate fields. Although soil biomass will increase in the importing field, it will increase by less than the loss of biomass in the exporting field. The sum of the biomass of both fields will be smaller and Atmospheric CO.2 will increase accordingly. Where is the missing mass? – In energy (heat), gas from uncycled fermentation and in leached minerals from the importing field and in cascading diversity and mass of soil fauna and plants in the exporting field.
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We could imagine a world without artificial fertilisers, in which the powerful appropriate green wastes and sewage for their high-yielding, money-making fields, while the disempowered struggle to scratch a living. As always with inequity, overall yields will fall, while a few become rich. Overall photosynthesis will fall, along with the shrinking soil biomass and increasing atmospheric CO.2.
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The human economy is also an organic system. Adam Smith, the moral philosopher, observed, Economies with high wages and low profits achieve the “greatest wealth of nations”, while those with low wages and high profits achieve the least.
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That equity of wealth distribution, applies equally to both economy and ecology of fields. Of course, a field which is most knit inside the webs of its ecology, achieves greatest economic success. But that success can only be achieved for a community of fields, if so called, wastes (wages) are distributed fairly between all fields. If those biomass/wages are taken by an elite group as profit, then the wealth of the nation of fields will fall.
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The greenhouse effect of lifeless gases will increase to the same degree.
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Having left fossil mass to lie quietly sequestered in its strata and having ended the burning of living biomass (the lungs of lovely Earth), and having re-arranged our ways of life to do without what those fires and explosions have brought us – suburbia, the family car, aviation… – we must look to Adam Smith’s prescription for a bio-massive wealth of nations.
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Fields can shrink from the compass of oil-power to the compass of man-power and we must limit growing areas to just our dietary needs – and I’d say, pleasures. Meanwhile, we must let the wilds expand – only the wilds can “draw down carbon”. They are Eden. Sorrowfully, we cannot escape the Fall. As the poet, Edwin Muir tells us – Time’s handiworks, by time are haunted. He continues – blossoms of grief and charity bloom from these darkened fields… Strange blessings, never in Paradise, fall from these beclouded skies.
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Energy

Blake, William, 1757-1827; Adam Naming the Beasts

Blake, William; Adam Naming the Beasts; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/adam-naming-the-beasts-83208

All life is busy – energetic – converting mass to energy and energy to mass. We note energy in the causes and effects of motion and in the growth of individual organisms. A continuous fermentation both within organisms and in soil and sea through which all terrestrial cycles must pass, breaks biomass into simple, original minerals (biomass nutrients) and gases. To a farmer, as fermentation accelerates, so does the growth of her crops. Receding, or increasing fermentation is plainly visible, week by week in the paling, or deepening green of foliage. The energy is plain. The mass is plain. The increasing mass of her animals, or indeed, her children, is a consequence of the increasing mass and energy of her plants, which in turn, are a consequence of the power (acceleration) of soil fermentation and photosynthesis. That deepening green of cereal blades indicates increasing speed and increasing energy. Yes. Time and velocity are also plain – we say slow-growing; fast-growing and we have impatient appetites, dependant on Winter stores.
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Temperature is critical to energy/mass exchanges and to rules of good husbandry. Fermentation happens anyway if temperatures and moisture are right. If plants are not available to take up those minerals (as in a bare fallow, or planting delayed by bad weather), then they will escape to water courses. The gas that escapes to the air, will not be returned by photosynthetic re-balancing, but will accumulate in the atmosphere, to the degree and duration of the ferment of that one fallow field. Subsequent crop yield from that field will be smaller, because soil biomass will be smaller. Lifeless minerals and gases will have increased, while biomass and bio-energy will have diminished. We could look at it in these terms – a tendency for lifelessness will have become larger than a tendency for life. Optimum husbandry success is for dying and living to remain in balance. Dying and living are both dynamic, whereas lifelessness and dying are not at all the same things. Minerals and gases are either a part of a tendency for life, or of a tendency for lifelessness. My husbandry can swing the balance one way or the other. Humanity as a whole is choosing to swing the balance towards a lifeless planet.
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Those who’d burn energetic biomass for mere energy, gas and ashes are approved by the IPCC and most government departments as achieving “carbon neutrality” – that is, to say that future photosynthetic energy will repair that loss. How such a ridiculous hypothesis gained consensus is a mystery – even though it is universally accepted, it has not been proved by any research that I can find – and no-one, who supports it, has been able to find me any. IPCC say that biomass burning can achieve, so called, negative emissions if the gases are captured and stored in some way in a “carbon sump”. Farmers and growers can refute the hypothesis, season by season. If we grow a crop, remove it from the farm and make no biomass return to the soil, then soil biomass and energy will shrink, subsequent re-growth will shrink and leaf area presented for photosynthesis will similarly shrink. Year, by year, a tendency to lifelessness will increase and a tendency to life will diminish. The only way we can replace the loss of fertility is by importing it from elsewhere, so that the “elsewhere” is similarly diminished – a hole in the ground with nothing in it. It follows that burning coal with CCS is a far, far better thing than burning biomass with CCS. I do not advocate burning coal.
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The obsession with carbon as mass in the air, or mass in/on the soil and for a direct cycle between the two, without exchanges of energy, has led to another error. Embedded structures, such as timber buildings are accounted as “carbon sumps” – denying that carbon to the atmosphere! The opposite is true. If we remove life (the tree) from a life-cycle, we shrink both the energy and mass of that cycle. Biomass will be denied to the soil to feed subsequent regrowth and photosynthetic energy of one tree will be removed. The energy of the forest’s life-cycle will diminish by the power of that tree and atmospheric CO.2 will increase accordingly. Embedded structures are not a large part of carbon auditing, but future audits may include James Lovelock’s carbon sumps, in which large tonnages of biomass are buried – sequestered like coal, oil and gas. It is proposed by many that those sumps will deny carbon to the atmosphere – they will achieve the opposite.
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So, here’s a thought for economists – that balance of death and life is the measure of a stable economy: one in which economy and ecology become one. Food and soil become one and so human energy (life) and soil become one – also cultural sense of place and soil become one. As lifelessness increases, so the primary economic asset (food-supply) diminishes. It’s well to pause here to reflect on our ignorance. A trawling of scientific literature won’t help. With regards to biological complexity, we are lost in intellectual chaos. It’s plain that the interweaving of an only partly-understood biodiversity is essential for an optimum (that is a durable maximum) bio-energy and mass. Part-understanding is a very dangerous thing. So, in this regard, science is a pleasure, and I’d say, an essential pleasure, but is of little practical use. Application of such ignorance is a definition of stupidity. However, there are other ways towards other kinds of truth – trials and errors of farming and growing bring us close as we can to the truths of dynamic reactions – as I say in the first paragraph – in the deepening, or paling green of foliage – in sustained crop yields. As with much in life, humility and innocence receive the greatest revelations. Of course, the studied scepticism of true science is an attempt at a similar innocence and it can uncover delightful pictures of complexity. But the grower does not need to unravel complexity – structural anthropologists and linguistic philosophers have long-ago failed at that – the grower must only answer the question, what should I do? She can marvel at complexity and enjoy the scientific literature – both of which may increase the diffidence of her footsteps, but her task is to grow the primary economic asset (food) in a way that future growers can attempt the same. All of the above is moral philosophy, it unravels for me, what I should do. Every day, I must do something, by my judgement and cannot wait for scientific corroboration. That, (if you believe in progress) may be centuries away. For myself, I think, we will wait forever, because the answer we seek is complexity itself – not the addition of many broken down elements. The broken-down elements are interesting, but of no practical use.
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Here’s another thought – as Richard Douthwaite has taught us, money-flow must shadow energy-flow, so that within the realm of money-exchange it must shadow acceleration due to people. Of course, acceleration due to people also extends beyond the realm of money. We’d regard a lot of what we do to be tainted by money – we would not accept it. So, for many exchanges, money is taboo. In consequence GDP (spending) should be far less than energy due to people. This makes for a more flexible and safe money system, since where money fails, people can step in.
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I think, many tragedies that are currently unfolding can be attributed to the enclosure of money as property. As Adam Smith warned, money as property would bring capitalism tumbling around our unprotected ears. I’d go further – all enclosure does the same. Rent for money, status, land, ideas – all idly extract money from the true exchanges of what people do. Rent even extracts money from activities which would otherwise be moneyless. It creates a class system of rent-lords on the one hand and of rent-payers on the other. Rent-lords are plainly what we think of as the middle class, while the rent-payers are in a turmoil of bewilderment, loss of identity, increasing poverty… so that they cannot identify with any class. No wonder we have the dark side of Brexit and of Trump’s America – people seeking recognition, belonging and class. Anyway, rent money (debt) has sent money-flow on a trajectory, far beyond acceleration due to people. Not only that, acceleration due to people is sickening in consequence – intelligence of a changing world, ingenuity, dexterity, hope, enthusiasm – all are bled by enclosure – all slowly die, while a tendency for lifelessness accelerates by acceleration due to rent; acceleration due to fossil fuels…
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If we suddenly inject an energy far greater than acceleration due to people and a further acceleration of money-flow as a consequence, we can not only have a world where death overwhelms life, but in which lifelessness overwhelms death. Once-quietly-sequestered and fossilised life, laid down over many millions of years, has been released by fire to create a plague of human-power, wild dis-cultural money and a blanket of atmospheric gases beyond the capacity of merely contemporary life to draw back into her cycles. We can plainly see by the growth of GDPs and GWP that all life will very soon be spent.
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Our current GDPs, or GWP are measuring the end, if not of life on Earth, at least of all human cultures and most of the holocenic species of plants, fungi, invertebrates, insects and animals, with which we are familiar.
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The largest part of current money-flow, measured by GDP is enabled by the carbon (here I can use the word) once safely-sequestered in the quiet strata of fossilised years. We can also use the rather beautiful word, sequestered for the idle fossils once peacefully reclining in those strata. However, the use of the words, sequestration and carbon, when describing the essentially energetic cycles of life, has led to disturbing errors in climatic models. Perhaps it would always have taken an innocent grower, or a child, to point out those errors. Sadly, and for reasons outlined above with regards to enclosure and here particularly, status enclosure, farmers and growers have been tongue-tied – deferring, quite wrongly to the dignified ignorance of enclosed soil and atmospheric science. The same can be said for the supressed intelligence, which would otherwise be noted by all the trades. Where a tool touches its materials is the closest, in both time and space, that we come to the reactions of those materials. Of course, there are many exceptions to that “dignified ignorance”, but on the whole it remains true – certainly in the realms of IPCC, many universities and all government departments. Lazily accepted hypotheses (career-enhancing doctrine) have steered the consensus away from the truth. They’ve steered cultures away from the soils on which they depend. An easy metaphor – the idle fancies of rent-collecting architects have replaced the functional and elegant buildings which could have risen from the intelligent senses of builders.
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Science cannot tell us what to do. Beautiful and detached science has alerted us to a climatic disbalancing, which has been selected by human behaviour. I accept, admire and humbly wonder at the hours of true dedication – the data gathering, the studied patterns emerging… But what we do with new information, brings us to the realms of the effects of causes. It brings us to the trial and error of tools, to ways of life and so to the judgements of moral philosophy – that is, of right and wrong behaviour. One branch of moral philosophy is economics.
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Many dedicated scientists have understood this – wearing a sceptical coat for the science, then exchanging it at the end of the day, to wear the moral, pragmatic coat of a whole person. Kevin Anderson and James Hansen are famous examples, but there must be many others. Anyway, I can only admire the science – I sit at her feet – but in the world of economics (of what we do) I can speak on an equal footing with anyone – all trades contribute their insights. Science, being essentially amoral, cannot tell us what to do. Don’t forget, although we haven’t spent earnest years in gathering and seeking patterns in the data, yet we can all understand the conclusions. We can all delight in the research.
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In farming, I defer only to my farm, as she repels, or accepts my behaviour. That is my duty as a commoner. Otherwise, I must defer to others – medical practitioner, stone-mason, boat-builder, house-builder, forester, turbine maker… There is the trust that should bind a modern society. It is the world of moral commons – of a common history and future. One of the dangers of our current way of life is the legitimisation of “technologists” hiding behind the amoral cloak of science, so that ethics can become detached from actions. Status enclosure consolidates that position, as does career-connected peer-review. Examples include pharmaceuticals, gene technologies, medical practice, pesticides manufacture, “applied climate science”, architecture… All these are crafts; arts; tools; technologies… All that we do has an effect and so also a moral. The beauty of science is that she sees from the cultivated position of amorality, which allows for the unexpected to make sense. A “scientist” who leaves that ivory tower, while forgetting to put on her everyday coat of social loves and responsibilities, becomes a dangerous creature, unhampered, libertarian… It is fortunate that true science has an essential humility – a quieted self – so that she immediately puts on the moral coat of an ordinary citizen, as she shuts the door of the ivory tower, reclaims her-self and mixes with family and friends.
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To function properly, the tool of money cannot be bought and sold. It is a useful tool for more complex energy exchanges – in which unseen actors can contribute. Enclosed money – money as property is irresponsible money. It can create acceleration due to money; to personal power. It can be bought and sold and it can be rented – all without commons of restraint and good behaviour.
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Enclosed status (medical practitioner, solicitor and so on) is irresponsible status. It can charge a rent for that status, which is far beyond a wage for work done. It accumulates money as property and so also achieves acceleration due to money.
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Enclosed land is… Well, the ill-effects are so well documented that I’ll point you to Tom Paine, J S Mill, Henry George… to Oliver Goldsmith – Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey – where wealth accumulates, and men decay.
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This is an article about acceleration. We can have acceleration due to people, the effects of skill, ingenuity, dexterity, muscle – people can then rely on acceleration due to gravity – hydro-turbines, pumps, mills and factories, acceleration due to the moon – tidal shipping currents and tidal turbines, acceleration due to biomass – food and building materials, acceleration due to temperature differences – wind turbines pumps and mills, sailing boats, or acceleration due to oxen and horses (I’d hope, within kindly limits).
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We can no longer have acceleration due to burning things – either fossil biomass, or living biomass. Perhaps as a first step, we should ask ourselves, how can I live without explosions and fire?
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However, we can have acceleration due to fermentation. Since those gases will rise anyway, we can gather them to burn safely, changing one gas for another, plus useful energy.
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We can no longer have acceleration due to money; to inequality; to enclosure; to anything, which acts outside the cycles of life, or which breaks our connection to both the time and space of soil, such as fossilised produce of ancient soils. Of course, our cultural history is stuffed full of inequalities, empires, enclosures, deforestation and destructive farming, but now that we have risen so far above the true physics of the world, we must scramble back down by every means we can – or like the baseless fabric of this vision, we’ll leave not a wrack behind… Already – we are such stuff as dreams are made on and those in positions of authority almost universally consider that we can make stuff from dreams. The idea of progress is that we make stuff from dreams. Acceleration due to dreams is just a longer dream.
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If we can’t have acceleration due to money, then using money – carbon taxes, carbon trading, true-cost accounting, ecosystem services will only endorse what we should rectify. A better way is agreed rationing, re-distribution, and an enthusiastic story-telling of the moral commons of proper behaviour. We don’t stop air-travelling, because a tax has made it too expensive, but because it is the wrong thing to do. Once it has been accepted as the wrong thing to do, it can be made illegal. Use of other resources can be similarly rationed, because unfair distribution is plainly wrong – or so the new stories say.
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Once upon a time, we could live happily ever after. We can aim for such a time, but first, the plot must pass through a variety of tragedies to get there. In a previous chapter, we chose (from a passing mountebank) future tragedy for a moment of exquisite pleasure. Ain’t that a proper tale to tell? It was a dark and stormy night. We said to the tale-teller, tell us a tale. He stepped into the light and began, “It was a dark and stormy night. We said to the tale teller…” You see, we already know what we need to know. We must live through the tragedies we have created. We cannot ask, how can we avoid tragedy? We have already chosen tragedy. Now we must choose the best tragedy and we must live by acceleration due to people; gravity; moon; sun; temperature. But acceleration due to people is primarily dependent on acceleration due to biomass. Our arts, cultural commons and taboos should all (as probably once they were) be focussed on optimum maintenance of that biomass. All the rest are tools to help, or hinder the journey. After all, ours has to be an agriculture, a hunter-gatherer culture, or a mixture of both. At the moment, cultural consensus is choosing minerals, gases, chemical reaction, fire, gravity, the moon, temperature and the linear energy of a lifeless sun.
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Diary of a Baby-Boomer Nobody

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My world is very small. I’ve not travelled much and not at all beyond Welsh, Scots, Irish and English shores. Yet, I think the parish of Llannefydd, where I’ve lived and worked since 1975, provides an accurate-enough microcosm of anywhere that has not been ravaged by war, invasion, empire, flood, drought and famine. Earlier, as a teenager in suburban Woking, I devoured books of all sorts, absorbing the knowledge and insights of revered authorities and resting in what I thought was their beauty and truth. I decided then, in the 1960s that oil and its ways of life were destructive and I also vowed never to fly – and I never have and never will. I suppose John Ruskin, William Morris, On Walden Pond and so on, led me to that conclusion. I was what is now called a school phobic. I have no education. That has been a valuable asset to finding my way. Everywhere, I see education’s distorted and blinkered perspective – particularly, of course in people of influence, because I must repel that influence. A friend has written that he and I are the Shakespeare-quoting outlanders of Huxley’s Brave New World. Would I still love Shakespeare and Chaucer, had I an education? – I doubt it.
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I hope this is not a narcissistic journey. I remain uneasily in the first person, because I’ve stumbled into a need to explore why I think and feel as I do. I focus on myself, because what I think and feel is mine (my fault) and not that of the “we” of family, friends and influences.
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Having escaped suburbia, I spent five years working on archaeological digs, until I fell into farming by accident. Now in my mid-twenties, I spent a winter at leisure (on accumulated wages) in a very beautiful place and when eventually I ran out of money, I found that I did not want to leave. Farm labouring was the only local work and I came to enjoy it. Soon, I began to rent some nearby fields. It was very much easier for me than it is for today’s young people. In 1976, a friend and neighbour, simply and trustingly, bought me fourty-six ewes – selected with the skilled advice of another friend and neighbour. With that first lamb crop, I repaid the money in the first year. That also, could not happen today. It could not have happened then, without the kindliness, trust, time, money and wisdom of neighbours – most of whom were born and hefted into that cynefin. They displayed the timeless common of such communities – hospitality to and curiosity for strangers. Meanwhile, because I continued to work for five days a week as a farm labourer and so needed no other maintenance, the ewes soon increased to three hundred. This is not a story of hard graft and steely determination rewarded – not at all – I enjoyed regular music nights in the local pub and partying generally. Tragically, for anyone today, it would have to be hard graft and steely determination and even then, it would probably end in failure.
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It was a world of unspoken commons, untouched by NGO, government, corporation, or bank. Although that world has almost gone, it does remain in us all, as a kind of folk memory and I speculate that there are few who’d not long for its revival if they just let the emotion to rise. Most commons have been enclosed – by consumer rights, consumer dependency and by monopolies of supply, information and the ballot. However, I think the common does survive in the ethics of the household; in filial codes and memories. Once upon a time, many aspects of the commons were preserved in church, chapel, mosque, temple… Even though the power of religious institutions led to the very human problems of all power structures, nevertheless those institutions often stood as foils to many forms of enclosure – latterly, at least of ethics.
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Of course, under the wing of Protestantism (of course, Protestantism herself was not guilty), older commons of both land-use and the trades were swept away – mutating into fabulous wealth for aristocrats and larger yeoman farmers and into new slums, starvation and prostitution for the migrating dispossessed. Power’s excuse was a conveniently-adopted cult religion. We can see a similarity today, as the powers put on a fervent green mantle, as a means to the coming new money-spinner – claiming both virtue (as in the Reformation) and a new source of enclosed and fabulous wealth. As the old sources (oil) slip away, the opportunistic see that “renewable” energy must be exploited and enclosed – Monopolies get used to monopoly. How marvellous that a new money-spinner can wear a cloak of green virtue, just as the vicious enclosures of the sixteenth century Reformation wore a cloak of religious virtue.
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What are commons? I say they are the long-evolved (and evolving) moral guidance of the similarly long experience of ancestors. Those morals survive, embodied in the living, at many levels from shallow to deep. They urge what must be done to conserve both the culture and the species – including species on which ours depend. They overrule ephemeral coercions of power. Often, they define the roles of power. At the deepest level they emerge in the intrinsic morals, which we think (or rather, feel) make us human. We have the muscular form of who we are, but also the moral form of what we do. Taboo belongs in that realm. I think enlightenment is wrong to sneer at taboo. Meanwhile, at the shallowest level (though tinged with the deep) commons emerge in rights to land and water responsibility, to pannage, estovers, pasture, piscary, flotsam and so on. All commons define rights to responsibility. They outline both rations of what we can have and a ration of what we can do. Don’t forget that the true home of economics is moral philosophy. It is also the household itself. If we understand household budgets and household rules of behaviour then we know all we need to know of economies generally. Casino “economists” will disagree.
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Commons define behaviour. Present cultural behaviour germinates the cultural future. The future cannot undo what the present has done. That is a potent thought. Enclosure – property – only concerns nouns. It is a fence line for irresponsible protection of time-freed nouns (the liberal economy) and for the exclusion of unruly verbs – that is, the effects of causes, including the guidance of moral philosophers and real economists.
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Because they’ve evolved to do so, children quickly learn the subtlety of commons. Often, commons involve rituals of initiation and coming of age, in which we put on the spirit of passed ancestors – to live in the same bequeathed and rationed space. We curate our inheritance as we can and then bequeath it in turn.
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Enclosure defines right to irresponsibility – to private property with which I can behave as I choose. All enclosures are the same – of land, money, ideas and status. They remove both lessons of history and needs of the future. That is the state we are in today – total enclosure of the last social commons, with no past and no future. Land-owners can pillage as they choose – money owners likewise. GP; solicitor; consultant; “professional” people, extract terrible rents (that is riches) from communities they once served and to maintain the ways of life, (the class system) to which they’ve grown accustomed. Their monopoly cannot be challenged by other than their own professional bodies – peer review has become a mutually supportive career ladder. In theory at least, peer review once provided useful insights to those with open minds, but today it serves only to increase the barbs of the fence-line, which excludes schismatic “peers” who’d rock an established and lucrative boat. And so it is, that my simple mind has no trust for scientific papers – even though it is curious for the science. To those who ask for a list of sources beneath my articles, I say Pshaw! The source is mine. If we cannot think for ourselves, why burden the world with more clutter? A paraded dignity of peers cannot increase the dignity of my words – they are what they are for themselves… Of course, I’d attribute quotations and influences.
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Anyway, it came to pass, as proper stories say, that I met a farmer’s daughter and married into a small farm. In 1987 we decided to register the farm with the Soil Association for organic conversion.
My rented hill land had been organic since 1978, but we now had the pleasure of arable crops and eventually an orchard and veg field. Eventually too, we managed to escape the commodity market and sell much of our produce over market stalls as food – not commodity – to real people, face to face – that is, all our vegetables, apples, apple juice, beef and lamb. We sold only what we grew on the farm. For the future, we must do the same for cereals and pulses.
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Here is this season’s picture of our small, organically-managed farm – 66 acres of marginal to good land (grade three) and a further 23 acres of rented hill land, which is unsuitable for cropping – The 66 acres breaks down as 10 acres of an oats/barley/pea mix and 7 acres of oats – all for combining, plus 2 acres of apples and 3 acres of vegetables. The bulk of the energy required for the 5 acres of apples and vegetables is manual. Whereas, the 17 acres for combining is almost entirely diesel powered. The remaining 44 acres provides minimal woodland, being mostly grassland. It is diesel powered for hay and silage, but mostly “dog and stick” for the rest. Is that sustainable? For the apples, vegetables and dog and stick – If very well managed, possibly. For the rest – No.
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The rented 23 acres of hill land, includes about an acre of grazed oak woodland. Our (entirely benign) landlord has retained about 4 acres of oak woodland which is a part of the whole – but our part is pasture and mostly by dog and stick. Is that sustainable? No. Such land would be more beneficial as woodland – economically, ecologically and photosynthetically.
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I reckon a rule of thumb for crop rotation is one year of extractive crops to two years of regenerative green manure or pasture. (we practice 2 years cereal to 6 years grass/clover) I think there is little to choose between green manure, or grazing – both are effective. Yes, I do think we could have a vegan agriculture. However, grazing has two advantage – One – it removes the considerable energy required (human, or diesel) to cut and mulch. Two – it provides useful eggs, milk, butter, cheese and meat to the community. There is a plausible third advantage – a balance of plant to animal, could replicate the proportions of that balance in nature. Nature has evolved for optimum success. So! – introducing animals into a rotation may achieve optimum agricultural success. Of course, for the future, our meat ration will not stretch to every day, but only to weekends and special occasions. Cereals and pulses must feed people. We’ll have none to spare for batteries, broiler houses and feed-lots.
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So, at Bryn Cocyn, the 20 acres of arable and vegetable cropping, need 40 acres of green manure/pasture to maintain their fertility – leaving only 6 acres, of which 2 are woodland and 2 are apples. That means we must plant a further 2 acres with trees. We are about to do so. However, what of those 23 acres of hill land, which cannot support cropping? I think they should be returned to their natural state – that is woodland. We haven’t done so. I am guilty.  Because we easily sell all our lamb and beef by market stalls, providing a large part of our income, my economy has trumped my ecology, stepping beyond its sustainable ration. It is no dispensation that most UK farms are far, far worse. My excuse? – We are step-by-step in transition.
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In Wales, we export 80% of the lamb we produce, which makes for an obviously precarious future. If we thought of 80% of sheep-producing land, repurposed as new woodland, then we could also think of both a more stable economy and a more stable ecology. In addition, we’d add considerably to Welsh photosynthetic power. I don’t like the word, sequestration – it implies a still and quiet mass. It also leads to wrong thinking. The truth is that life in soil, bacteria, fungi, plant and animal is dynamic, fluid, inter-changeable and vivacious! Those who use the term to describe an accumulated mass of carbon (such as IPCC & most of the climate glitterati) are deluded. Climate glitterati? I borrow the term from Kevin Anderson.
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In short, I think we need cropping land to grow food and unless two thirds if it is dairy/meat-producing ley pasture, only a third of that area can actually produce food for people. I think all other land should grow trees. Readers must know that I don’t share the wild sequestration claims of the “pasture-fed” evangelists. Neither do I share the polemical yield statistics by those such as George Monbiot, who attribute to vegetable yield, three times its true yield – by ignoring the regenerative phases of rotation – and by similarly diminishing animal yield, by dismissing its integrated part in that rotation. Animals (as in nature) add to, rather than diminish the whole. George is polemical for the animal part of re-wilding. Why should he not be so for the increased biomass (yield) of vegetable/cereal/pulse production? I like George’s rewilding ideas (although we shall need timber for construction), but he is lazy and conveniently-selective when he comes to food production. Even so, I agree with George that fields dedicated purely to animal production are a waste of space (I am guilty). What’s more, those fields for the most part (unless Bronze/Iron Age field systems) are not “traditional”, they are a legacy of the brutal clearances of people from the land to allow for the golden fleece. Wool made aristocrats fabulously rich. As Thomas more accurately said, Sheep have devoured the people. Now, although it shouldn’t be, wool is worthless and sheep meat income is purely subsidy. We’ve an acute shortage of timber and forestry (per acre) provides far, far more employment than beef and sheep production.
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We let our hedges grow untrimmed – I’d say they are about fifteen feet tall on average – with blossom in the spring and nuts and berries in autumn. Most new agroforestry schemes in large-field arable land have no more “forest” than we have with small fields and wide traditional hedges. From Bryn Cocyn we can look East across the Vale of Clwyd to the Clwydian Range beyond and we can scan from Prestatyn and Rhyl in the North to Llangollen in the South. That vast area is a desert of neat and tightly trimmed hedges. No wonder it has become routine for our neighbours to spray for aphids. What if all those thousands of farms let hedges escape to the sky? It would provide the most rapid ecological and photosynthetic benefit I can imagine. We have an 8.5 acre and a 9.5 acre field, which I’d like to divide with new hedges, to make all the fields in Bryn Cocyn about 3 or 4 acres – good for organising arable and grazing rotations. But my family does not agree – I point out that tractor passes would remain the same if we divided longitudinally – I like the idea of the old strip fields – but no – those fields are similar to our neighbours’ fields – they fit; belong in the community. We are a family democracy.
Anyway, to assist our step-by-step transition, five years ago, I cashed in my small pension and bought a 6kw wind turbine. We also have 4kw of older solar panels and 3kw for my son’s new house. We don’t borrow money and we’ve never accumulated enough for electric vehicles.
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Because my world is small, small influences to the wider world can remain large to me and also serve as a paradigm for the far larger influences which they have reflected.
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The following is very close to me and my small world. I believe it to be a shrunken replica of most citizens, large NGOs and the larger world. Around 1990 or so, a charismatic, ambitious and rather narcissistic group rose to steer the course of the Soil Association. They saw their task as pushing “organic” into the mainstream. They wanted organic products in super markets, large restaurant chains and in “mainstream” thinking. They focused on this alone – the larger the organic market, so the greater the beneficial organic acreage to supply it. They adopted the necessary code phrases – such as paradigm shift, green-sky thinking…- while also creating the necessary human-sized imagery – community supported agriculture, box schemes… Neither of those had power to dilute their vision (as they should have done) rather, they lent the Soil Association false credence.
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The annual Soil Association conference, became not a place where delegates from the shires assembled and shared news, knowledge and concerns, but an outright political rally, in which those charismatic leaders and panels of invited “celebrities” took (pre-submitted) questions from the floor. Those celebrities would know nothing of organic techniques, but would convey the illusion to attendees that they had entered a world of serious “movers and shakers”. At one conference, Vandana Shiva spoke eloquently of lost commons and the fight to reclaim them. Like Greta Thunberg, she is a powerful speaker and I, most of the floor and the charismatic leaders were left with tears in our eyes. Yet one by one, having listened to Vandana, each charismatic leader, addressed the rest of us with the same message – that the world is as it is – that super markets are here to stay – that we’d better get real about enclosures – that we’d better goddam get on the Titanic, because the rest of the world was going nowhere.
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Of course, that was my last conference. I failed utterly to influence that NGO and yet I remain a member – hoping against hope to revive its original commons.
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Those who’d electrify the Titanic, can’t see that the problem is the Titanic. Those who’d green their wealth can’t see that the problem is wealth. Those who’d green the super market can’t see that the problem is the super market. Those who’d green the enclosures (by a green new deal perhaps), can’t see that the problem is the enclosures…. They can’t see that to be effective, a green new deal must enter the common.
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For renewable energy to stand inside terrestrial limits, it can only service the rationed limits of good behaviour. It has not capacity to service bad behaviour. Wind turbines and solar panels face terrestrial rations of mass, acceleration – space and time. I speculate that we can gratefully accept their energy for domestic heat, light, refrigeration and cookery, but no more. For transport, we must return to the world we had before fossil fuels. We must abandon suburbia, centralised procurement/distribution, all aviation, the family car… Why not? We can have sail trade, vivid and vivacious villages and towns, canals and navigable rivers. We can have a re-centred suburbia, interspersed with market gardens and dairies … We can have lively coastal towns and villages – their harbours re-built along every mile of coastline, for small-boat fishing and both shore-hopping and open-sea trades. We can have full employment. We’ll have plenty of now-idle metal work and so on for re-purposing. We will have acceleration due to people and not acceleration due to oil. What’s more two people working side by side are more or less equal, until one gains an oil engine, car, aeroplane ticket, large high-consumption house… Money flow must shrink from acceleration due to fossil fuels to acceleration due to people – the energy of people – the power of what people can do. Why does no-one speak of acceleration? Why in carbon calculations does no-one enter the energy in living biomass – that is the power, not merely the mass of life? They (IPCC and most others) enter nouns, but not verbs. Anyway, GDP (spending) must shrink to at least a tenth (probably more) of what it is today (UK). It must shrink from fossil mass to biomass. That fossil mass was expendable, being converted into both energy and a mass of atmospheric CO.2 and other gases. However, biomass must remain as biomass to live breathe, photosynthesise, die and recycle. – only its intrinsic energy, including human energy (converted from food-mass) can be thought of as energy. Our lives cannot transcend the cycles of all the other lives. We must learn (or re-learn) to join those cycles to find optimum cultural success.
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GDP may be a useful measure of money exchange, but it is a ridiculous measure of an economy. Ebbs and flows of the market are the concerns of a casino. Casinos wreck economies. My readers will know that the economic destruction of war, natural disasters and so on, increases GDP, even though, in the process, cultural assets have been considerably shrunk. Of course, for much that maintains economies, no money passes hands – the activities of households, parenthood, fairs and festivals – we can list many things. Economies are maintained by agreed commons of good behaviour – the good life as it learns to fit its rations of space and time.
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Have Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion been manufactured, just as the organic movement has been manufactured?
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1 – Yes. I’ve no doubt that Cory Morningstar’s research is largely accurate.
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2 – No. I’ve no doubt that Greta is Greta – flesh and blood and heart and soul. I’ve no doubt that most who swell the Extinction Rebellion are so likewise. I’ve also no doubt that there are some members of the Soil Association, who still dream of lost organic commons – vivacious towns and villages, re-centred suburbia and a renaissance of the skills of the trades – accompanied of course by the decay of oil-powered super market, large food manufacturers, restaurant chains and out of, or edge of town retail/industrial parks.
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3 – Yes. How else could the school strikes and the extinction gatherings have reached all forms of media so fast without shady manipulation? How else could Greta, so swiftly address the UN, parliaments various, assembled Hollywood super-stars, or be photographed with jet-setting Naomi Klein, Al Gore and so on…?
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4 – No. The imaginations of many have been fired by both movements – not by the manipulators, but by the movements themselves.
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So, we could put the problem like this – Have the movements been enclosed? I’d say both yes and no. Both are sufficiently on the common to entirely reclaim their commons. Yet both are sufficiently in an enclosure to be in very real danger of total manufacture and manipulation.
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I say, Viva school and extinction rebellions! But I also say, where are you going and what do you mean? I say, governments and corporations have not caused species extinction, or climatic instability. Governments and corporations have assisted we little people to behave badly, but because governments and corporations are merely ideas, the physical causes are entirely ours. Our rebellion should be against ourselves. We can step out of enclosure and onto a personal moral common. Government manipulation has assisted the rich to become richer and so the poor to become poorer – so is that where the true government-against-people battleground lies? – an inequity emergency? We can say that ecological destruction and climatic imbalance are largely caused by the rich – that the poor have not the spending power. That’s true, but even if justice was done and we were re-empowered, we’d still need a clear picture of where we were going and of right and wrong behaviour.
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It’s plain from the above that my own life has some small successes, but also a large portion of failure. I know this – I cause climate change. I contribute to ecological catastrophe. How much? Forget that. All I know is that I must contribute less to destruction and more to a durable way of living. Collectively, we are at a point, where every road we choose will be through a variety of differing tragedies. We cannot avoid tragedy. Nemesis was our consumer-choice. Listen – literature, theatre, music, painting… can make tragedy both beautiful and true – so can a good life. For any future at all, the casino (which most call an economy) must collapse, or be collapsed about our ears. It will be highly unpleasant. I leave that to your imagination. Our task is to begin to construct an economy and a culture which is disconnected from the casino – one that can emerge more or less alive – tragic and comic – conversing and loving – laughing and crying – beautiful and true – from beneath the rubble. Greening our current way of life will be suicide.
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The common is a realm of rationing, maintenance, knowledge and celebration. Scattered here and there, some cultures still practice those things – people call them indigenous cultures – I’ve not fathomed why.
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All cultures are indigenous. It’s urgent to discover both how and why. Then we must come to see that cultures are not what we have, or have achieved. They are what we do.
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The Committee on Climate Change Report

Here are the committee’s findings with regards to economic changes required for a zero-carbon emitting UK by 2050
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• Resource and energy efficiency and some societal choices that cut demand for carbon-intensive activities.
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• Extensive electrification, particularly of transport and heating, supported by a major expansion of renewable and other low-carbon power generation.
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• Development of a hydrogen economy to service demands for some industrial processes, for energy-dense applications in long-distance HGVs and ships, and for electricity and heating in peak periods.
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• Carbon capture and storage (CCS) in industry, with bioenergy (for GHG removal from the atmosphere), and very likely for hydrogen and electricity production. CCS is a necessity not an option.
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• Changes in the way we farm and use our land to put much more emphasis on carbon sequestration and biomass production, while shifting away from livestock.
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In short it recommends that our way of life need not change at all.
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1 It says (elsewhere in the report) that little can be done for aviation, since the technology does not exist. It does not recommend a reduction in aviation.
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2 Similarly, it recommends no reduction in domestic, or commercial transport, merely that they will be electrified. It does not point out that rapid replacement of internal combustion engines will require a massive injection of fossil fuels for manufacturing and of scarce materials from the Earth.
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3 It says that our existing domestic/commercial infrastructures need not change – again merely that they will be electrified. It does not tell us how that electric industrial revolution will be enabled by anything other than an increase in fossil fuels for manufacturing and installation and cement (a large emitter) for construction. It proposes a new industrial revolution powered by electricity to replace the old one, which was powered by coal, oil, gas and timber.
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4 It makes no reference to the fact that a very large part of UK emissions is from out-sourced manufacturing – that is by the purchasing powers of a high-wage economy from the supplies of a low-wage economy. Similarly, it makes no reference to the inequity of emissions within the UK and that the richer we are – the more we spend – so the higher our emissions become. It ignores the remedies embodied in that equation.
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5 It does not connect climate change to GDP, even though the two follow almost identical trajectories on a graph.
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6 It proposes a large roll-out of non-land-use-change biomass production for electrification – from forests and from existing arable areas. Although it also proposes that carbon capture and storage must accompany that production, it falsely concludes that this can achieve so-called, negative emissions. Its founding hypothesis is false. It assumes that if we remove biomass from a living cycle and without land-use change, future photosynthesis will replace that loss.
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Every grower has tested and refuted that hypothesis, season by season. If we remove a crop and return nothing to the soil, but gas and possibly ashes, then the following season’s crop will be reduced – photosynthetic metabolisms will shrink and soil biomass and biodiversity (which some call carbon) will also shrink. Burning biomass has a far greater greenhouse effect than burning coal, because it emits the same CO.2 while also impoverishing soils on which the future depends. It follows that coal with CCS is far better than biomass with CCS. What’s more, Earth does not grow sufficient timber for the scale proposed. Alone, the three Drax biomass power stations in Yorkshire, already consume a mass (annually), which is three times that of the total annual timber production (for all uses) in the UK. The bulk of that timber is imported from South American and Canadian forests.
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7 It proposes a new hydrogen economy for transport and shipping, but hydrogen is not a source of power. It is a means of storing surplus electrical energy – perhaps generated from distant-from-population sources, such as large and remote hydro schemes.
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8 It avoids agriculture altogether, substituting superficial and safe assumptions. For instance, it says that the Welsh agricultural economy will be hard to change, because it is so dependent on sheep. It does not connect the 80% Welsh export of sheep with both a precarious future and the obvious solution of forestation for both photosynthetic power and an acute shortage of timber.
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Neither can I find a reference to the benefits of the mostly manual, yet highly-efficient use of land, that is horticulture. It mentions increasing yields of diesel-powered, very high-input, existing arable systems. . It does not mention how that can be achieved – military invasion of Tunisia for her phosphate reserves perhaps? GM?

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9 It implies that we need not change our lives at all and that silly hypotheses, carbon trading schemes, energy efficiencies and new undreamed techniques (progress), along with CCS will propel our mass silly walk to chaos and finally oblivion.

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Coda to the Differing Forms of Tragedy

Nemesis was our consumer-choice. The bargain was struck. We paid for her and she is ours. We bought the present by selling the future. Our purchase cannot be passed back – please read the small print in Nemesis’s Little Earthly Book of Rules. What we’ve done cannot be undone. Those thickening layers of debauchery are not like the deeds themselves – careless, narcissistic, hedonistic, ephemeral, shallow, easily-forgotten – instead and in terms of human life-spans, they carpet the atmosphere immutably. Let’s be dramatic – the die is cast. We bought storm, flood, drought and a new precarious way of life. We chose it. We knew that we chose it, but said that the natural ingenuity of children (born and unborn) would sort it out. We said that marvellous technologies, such as commercial flight, the internet and so on had been devised and applied so quickly that remedies to the causes of climate change, which lie heaped in the colourful labels of our shopping basket, would come just as swiftly.
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Still, most of my friends – seeking remedies to resource depletion, green-house gas emissions, and the terrible cascade of vanishing species, say they’d improve the same technologies and ways of living, which caused those things in the first place. They say, we’ll have electric aviation, electric family cars, improved insulation of our homes, solar panels on the roofs of every super market and a mass roll-out of new renewable electricity sources. They say that we need enlightenment, education and forward-thinking. In short, they say that our ways of life need not change at all. Enlightened progress will save us, in the same way that endarkened progress led us to this cliff edge.
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Here’s some sober truth – gaze at Nemesis for a while, and you’ll also see its potential beauty. Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold… A terrible beauty is unleashed upon the world.
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1 The present creates the future. The future cannot refuse the legacy. Only the present has the power to choose, because only the present has physics. The future cannot choose. Likewise, the present cannot refuse the legacy of past causes. It must work within its inheritance and generate new causes.
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2 Ingenuity can never replace shrinking resources – it can only change perception of that shrinkage. Only physical mass, or energy can change physics.
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3 The magnitude of tools enabled by coal, oil and gas cannot be matched by man-power, or by wind, sun, tide and gravity. No earthly sources – even though combined – can ever replace the power of those many millions of years of sequestered photosynthesis.
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4 We must devise new ways of life whose tools are powered by wind, sun, tide, gravity, animal, or man and whose behaviour is organised to fit inside the organic cycles of life. It is dangerous to think of biomass as a source of energy, since we must do all we can to allow an optimum biomass (a durable maximum) to regenerate, photosynthesise, while also providing food and building material. Since fermentation is an essential part of seasonal regeneration, some fermentation gases can be usefully captured without harm, or disbalance (anaerobic digestion).
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5 We cannot build new infrastructures (houses, canals, harbours, streets…) with anything like the speed and power we had when using fossil fuels. Acceleration due to fossil fuels will dramatically shrink to just the acceleration due to man.
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6 If our demands are small enough, we can step gracefully beneath the lintels that Nemesis has provided. Only a tiny period of human tool-making has been powered by fossil fuels. We have a deep cultural memory of pre-fossil-fuelled ways of life. Our deepest moral commons evolved without fossil fuels and we possess a pre-fossil fuelled legacy of beautiful field systems, houses, streets, harbours, bridges, market squares, work-shops, mill and manufacture wheels, sailing boats, pubs, churches, temples, mosques… which await re-occupation. Of course, fossil resources also fuelled our massive populations. Well, we shall do the best we can. Fossil fuels spawned a massive increase in inequality. Well, again, we shall do the best we can and as the monopolies crumble… Current inequalities, once remedied, provide the economic solutions to apportioning fair rations for all. I’m not denying the rapacious nature of many pre-fossil fuelled cultures – and particularly of empires. Nor am I denying that we seldom learn from history. Our task is to learn that lesson. Of course, we may not learn and the odds against us are very high. Nevertheless, remember – we are living a tragedy. We can resolve the final pages beautifully – and all our yesterdays… Then the new book opens.
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Nemesis was our consumer-choice and our new task is to make her tragic form both beautiful and true. Let’s celebrate that. She has form, mass and energy. She embodies our new spirit of place, in which we can live according to our ration. Some have called her Gaia.
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The bargain was struck to the degree of our spending.
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However, we can make other choices, while yesterday’s choices howl about our ears, lifting roofs off houses, uprooting trees, breaking flood defences and withering crops where they stand. Of course, since Nemesis reflects the magnitude of past spending power, she belongs to the rich, far more than to the poor. That goes for both the physics of citizens and the coercive ideas of nation states. Now, tragically, she belongs to us all. Nevertheless, if we are to remove the causes of species extinction and climate change that means removing the ways of life of the rich. That includes a majority of people in UK, Europe, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand… A large part of the greenhouse gases emitted from the new manufacturing regions, India, China… can be apportioned to the purchases of UK, Europe, USA and so on. Those purchases are first requested and then owned by the rich and appropriate greenhouse gases should be apportioned to them. Nemesis says so. She also points to the inequality inherent in the contract – between high-wage and low-wage economies – between the “professional” class and the “working” class. She says that equity and social justice are inherent to all solutions to slowing and hopefully (against massive odds) pausing the rate of climate change.
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The rain falls on the Just and the Unjust fella, but mostly on the Just, because Unjust has just pinched the Just’s umbrella.
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That’s also true, which is why my passions rise at reports of the enlightened middle class, marching through London to protect rents, enclosures, monopolies, and low-wage purchases – that is, to maintain property rights to previously-stolen umbrellas. Inexplicably (to me) the UK Green Party marches alongside, shouting, Enlightenment! – and also, Viva middle class entitlement to a corporate-supplied, but carefully and incrementally negotiated, pastel green shopping basket!
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Pshaw!
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We Have a Choice – Between Differing Forms of Tragedy

My passions rise at the sound of the middle class – a million or so of them – marching to protect lucrative ways of life – their property price collateral, and rents for status, money, land and intellectual properties. Those ways of life have become rich by the poverty of others. Such opulent, extractive living is also a central cause of cascading ecologies and climate change. The European project is for a regulated “professional” class, which collects rent from a “beneficial” dependency of the rest. But that European way of life is also causing catastrophic climate change and so is set on self-destruction. If we do not wish to self-destruct, then we must change our ways of life. Reason says that if we are to build an economy which lives within its ecologic means, then we must leave the European Economic Union. We’ve seen by the example of Greece how an attempt at a real, egalitarian, economic revival was crushed by the EU. Similar egalitarian and Green attempts will be similarly attacked. All attempts to slow spending and so resource-use will be attacked. But, such a slowing (and dramatically so) is essential if human cultures are to survive more, or less intact. That slowing means the end of both debt-created and oil-created growth, which in turn, means the collapse of today’s casino of traded stocks, bonds and shares. Money must begin to flow at the rate of energy flow – of the powers of what people can do. Without oil, our powers will diminish by least ten-fold. That is an egalitarian opportunity to at last put our own shoulders to the wheel – acceleration due to people and not acceleration due to many millions of years of once-sequestered photo-synthesis.
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Yet how can I not admire the richness and diversity of European cultures – and that admiration is re-doubled by the hateful bigotry and open scape-goat racism and English (it is English) nationalism of the Brexit campaign leaders – also of course, their entitled right to lie and inveigle – to float above both statutory law and moral commons. European culture and the EU are far from the same things. A Green, egalitarian Brexit and the current Brexiteers are also far from the same things.
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I see these things rising – inequality, consumerist dependency, corporate right, disempowerment, hopelessness, usury, wealth of the professional middle class and poverty of the so-called working class – all of which have been the effects of the European project and will also be of the aims of right-wing, Leave campaigners. Both sides of the conflict – of this civil war – have their separate dreams of the same thing – the continuing prosperity of existing infrastructures. As well as causing increasing social divisions, those infrastructures are trashing the ecologies on which all infrastructures must depend and are causing the end of the stable climatic era, which has enabled civilisation to emerge in the first place.
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Brexiteers and Remainers are trashing our green and pleasant land in identical ways.
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The EU project is a negotiated exchange of a guaranteed quality of corporate supply (mildly greening & so on) for similarly guaranteed consumer rights to receive those qualities (fair trade, regulated pesticides…). Thus, consumerism and democracy have become confused as the same. It is no accident that the same advertising agencies will market political parties alongside airlines, car manufacturers, restaurant chains, super markets, a new potato crisp flavour, or a new energy drink. The result is a desolation of retail parks, boarded-up town centres and derelict work-shops and manufactories – and with that depopulation – the evaporation of convivial meeting places, such as market squares, theatres, concert halls, pubs, cafes, libraries, allotments, public gardens, playing fields, village greens, churches, temples, mosques, synagogues…
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I must sort out my Brexit emotions – my instincts and involuntary reactions have become quite different from my reasoned unpicking of the complex threads. Of course, my reasoned unpicking is limited to a small experience and then is fallible, as all reason is, even inside that experience. That should go without saying, but sadly today it does not.
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Now, whatever happens will be towards two differing forms of tragedy. I hope we may choose the best tragedy – the one most diluted by hope. I fear we will choose the worst.
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The best tragedy is rapid and deliberate de-growth and so the collapse of the casino – of banks and stock trading. That is a tragedy, because as trading systems collapse, so companies fold, unemployment soars, tax revenues wither and so essential social and infrastructure spending withers with it. You can imagine the horror of that. I’ve no need to expand. Yet, I say we must be bold enough to choose that course, because it is the only course by which, working together as a community, we can cobble a new economy and a new social system that will function without oil – and can emerge alive from beneath the wreckage. Consider this – what will have changed? We will have stepped towards a bearable level of greenhouse effects and, if we are wise, regeneration of the natural world – but also these things will remain unchanged – agricultural acreage, housing stocks, old infrastructures of roads, bridges, harbours, towns and villages – these can all be re-occupied in new and exciting ways, using the skill and ingenuity of all. Power will shrink from oil to Man. It will shrink from single monopolies, to shatter and fragment into the open palms of all of us. We can devise new currencies and new trusts. That’s a wild impossible dream? No. It’s a wild unlikely dream. It’s possible. It’s also beautiful. Our current European ways of life are impossible. They are also ugly. I must be realistic? No. Our European ways of life are a fantasy. I am realistic and they must end.
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The other tragedy is much simpler and in which we continue to bolster the casino. We spend the Earth. Human culture – its economies, cultures, hopes and dreams, all collapse utterly with none to inscribe the headstone. That will happen quite soon – money supply (by debt) has far outstripped its energy supply and as that supply diminishes further, banks will collapse. The sooner that happens the better – if it happens later, it may well be too late to slow utterly catastrophic climate change.
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Both an unpleasant, right-wing, nationalist Brexit and a planned, hopeful Brexit with an egalitarian road to de-growth will end with de-growth of sorts and both may trigger a casino collapse and so also, both a crash in spending and a pause in the causes of climate change. Remaining within the EU will prolong the casino and so lead us to catastrophic species loss and inevitable climate change. Caroline Lucas and the Green Party, take note.
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It follows that Brexit in any form is better for our children than remaining within the EU. Remaining is only better for a temporary liquidity and – an untouched for a while – but still utterly ephemeral shopping basket, which personally contributes to that two or three percent of expanding and suicidal GDP.

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