Now then – modern cultures are agricultures. They are emergent properties of fields. An agriculture without oil is inconceivable today, but it must be so and so it was in my story. Today’s readers will resist my narrative as fantasy – I rejoin that their dual proposals for a world in which ideas replace resources, combined with a continued exploitation of Arctic oil, shale gas and ever more difficult sources for fossil fuels are either wildly fantastical or a deliberate genocide. Contemporary – a favourite word for the transcendence of “nasty, brutish and short” natural laws for a fossil-powered, high-rise cleanliness of hydroponic roof and vertical gardens and some token algae-powered vehicles – all powered by “clean” sunlight – or otherwise by fossil-stored sunlight. Even though very old-fashioned fire remains as Post Modernity’s projected source of both travel-power and domestic power, escaping gases (the risk assessments say) will be “cleverly” captured and stored.
In the seventeenth century, Britain came to a sudden economic end, because she had burnt and felled the last of her trees having had no thought of replacement. Those seams of black gold came to the rescue and created the world we have today. Now, crazily, physicists are turning back to the trees, because, they say (some really do say it) we have an endless source of energy to burn in photosynthesised sunlight! Britain’s largest coal-fired power stations are currently converting to replace coal with timber – and are receiving large “green” subsidies to do so.
Dear listeners, I make no apology for repeating this ridiculous first principle, which informs the calculations of the IPCC, Zero Carbon Britain 2030 and many university departments besides… If biomass is burned, the chemistry is more or less reversed, and the original energy and raw material (CO2 and water) are released. There is then no net gain or loss of CO2, which is why biological fields are considered to be carbon neutral. So, says the mad physicist, we can burn crops from a field forever, returning nothing to the soil but gas and ashes and the wonderful power of photosynthesis will perennially regenerate the same green growth.
Well, ancient laws of life (use and return) provided a solid and renewable ground for the Great Revolt to settle. People floated anxiously down from the uncertain breezes of today’s trans-substantial fantasy, to land with sighs of relief onto soils which yielded crops in proportion to how the soil life was fed!
People with a basic income in their pockets and a wage from the New Rural Deal still had to find their ways in the world after the deal had ended. The same applied in coastal communities stimulated by the New Harbour Deal. How to gain land, fishing boats, or trading vessels for instance? How to set up a new boat-builder’s yard?
History provided one answer in share or bond systems, so that communities could buy into new ventures such as sail trading companies.
Access to land, which is nearly impossible today for those who don’t inherit it (I include subsidy inheritance) became suddenly simpler and very much cheaper to acquire.
Bonds were often issued in local currencies. Local currencies not only provided some protection from the volatility of larger and far from self-determined money flows, they also identified local needs. If my local currency cannot buy what I need, then my search may stimulate a local ingenuity to understand the techniques to supply me.
The common pool of community money may partially protect a local economy from the great river of the national economy which must flow through it. It is a sequestered mill pond to supply the wheel of a self-determined manufactory, while the river to the world of trade continues to flow (also usefully) by.
Anyway, to return to central governments, Ireland, Scotland and Wales unilaterally turned the cumbersome Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) into a basic income for all farmers. Moreover its tradeable value was removed, so that unused subsidy-right was returned to “the common fund” and redistributed. There was some discussion at the time, if agricultural subsidy should not be returned to contribute to the citizen’s basic income. After all, the farmer was already in receipt of hers. Eventually both citizens and politicians accepted that the cheap food policy followed since Nineteen Fourty, which was the foundation for agricultural subsidy should be continued to the extent that food prices were the foundation of all prices. A farmers’ basic income could be easily adjusted downwards if farming incomes were increased by market forces.
Anyway here are some figures for Wales which provide seven thousand pounds for each farmer. The figures could have provided Ninety Eight Pounds for every adult Welsh citizen. In my story, as the transition began, so opportunity increased and subsidy reduced. Eventually, the number of farmers increased ten-fold and subsidy reduced accordingly to seven hundred pounds – but in an easier, more convivial economic atmosphere – until subsidy was ended altogether. Basic citizen’s income was then sufficient for those starting out in farming and growing.
Basic income applied to farm subsidy – Total Welsh agricultural subsidies redistributed as basic income to all holdings equally, would be £7183
AGRICULTURAL STATS WALES 2012
Total population 3 million
All land 2.1 million ha
Agricultural land 1.6 million ha
Permanent pasture 1 million ha
Sole Right 200,000 ha
Grass under 5 years 100,000 ha
Crops & horticulture 100.000 ha
Farm Woodland 100,000 ha
Agricultural holdings 41,277 (Ave size 387.6ha)
Horticultural Holdings 506
Single payment 2012 £244.4 million
Tir Mynydd £24.7 million
Tir Gofal £15.6 million
Tir Cynnal £6.9 million
Organic schemes £4.5 million
Other £0.4 million
Total Ag payments – £296.5 million – £98.83 per head/population
or £7183.177 per farm holding
While we consider the figures, here are some more – Welsh sail-trading figures and ones which became replicated many times in my story. I’ve referred to these in previous books, but since those books remain unread and anyway this is – and pass me the bottle – a fireside tale shared with a passing traveller, I’ll repeat them.
Sea-going vessels have been built in small harbours and beaches up and down the coast of Wales. The brig Anne Catherine was built in 1859 on the beach at Llangranog by Llangranog shipwrights. I use Anne Catherine as a typical example. She was 193 ft in length, 211 tons and built for the ocean trade. Finance for her construction, cargo and crew was raised from within the Llangranog community – as was the custom. Traditionally, finance for such projects was raised by shares issued as “sixty fours”. In this case, they were bought by two master mariners, one shopkeeper, two blacksmiths, two innkeepers, one merchant, one tanner, one joiner, one spinster, two widows, two private individuals, and seven farmers. (Information taken from the excellent, Welsh Ships and Sailing Men, by Aled Eames)
Such a story was replicated along the Welsh coastline. For instance, the village of Llantsantffraed with a total population of 1,286 (1851 census), produced 55 ocean-going vessels between 1786 and 1864.
The famous Porthmadog schooners for the American and Australian trades could match the great tea clippers for speed and modern design. The last was built in Nineteen Fourteen – in competition with both coal-fired steam ships and the new oil engines.
The Lleyn Peninsular was particularly famous for its skills, producing both ocean going and shore-hopping vessels to order from throughout Britain.
History recurs and I evoke history for my sceptical listeners to show that what happened in my story has happened before. Once upon a time is my reassurance. Well, in my story, systems similar to the “sixty fours” pushed much of what had seemed unattainable today into being. Mills, fishing and trading vessels, workshops and small manufactories of many kinds grew spontaneously from the spirits of communities – spirits for both adventure and security and spirits which flowered without a word of “advice” from authorities: from government, university or bank.
With regards to spirit of communities, the following is from Nefyn Shipbuilders and Their Ships, by Mr O J Cowell. He refers to Nefyn in the Eighteenth Century. Bear in mind that a ship may have taken two years to build.
Launching a ship was a most important social event in these seaside towns, to which everyone looked forward to with great excitement, and was considered by everybody as an unofficial public holiday. The headmaster recorded many times in the school log that on such occasions (as at harvest time) he had to close the school because it was impossible to get children to attend. On the previous day of the launch workers would be employed to open a large trench from the stern of the ship to the sea to facilitate an easy passage at the following high tide. The launching would start with a traditional religious service of blessing….
There are those who see a future without oil as one of austere localism, but the opposite became the case. Unexpected scarcity and abundance were inevitable as communities settled in their landscapes – they are inevitable anyway – fickle as the weather. People developing skills and tools are never parochial in outlook. That is the attitude of those who’d protect a settled state of culture and of mind. Curiosity for developments overseas provoked not only international trade but international conversation. My aside to parochial, self-satisfied post-modernists is – in spite of holiday flights to Goa, Sri Lanka, or a variety of Costa Del Something-or-others, they have become far less curious than people of the Bronze Age, or Neolithic. It is not surprising that travelling without travel provokes a parochial state to be protected – from wind, sunshine, topography, cultures, climate change and truth.
Trade by sail to Europe; the Baltic; the Mediterranean and beyond to Africa, India and China became commonplace and an outlet for people (particularly the young) in search of adventure. The Welsh word cynefin expresses more than terrain or terroir, or landscape – It expresses the whole – what has nurtured, or fostered us from history and into the future; in the terroir; the culture; the family; the bed-time stories; the particular way our particular homes sit in the landscape. The word is tender. It holds what mothers do, cradling childhood into adulthood. Anyhow, with a cynefin in her heart the traveller can also respect those of others. What’s more our sail-trader can more easily trade, because she can more easily understand a deeper, mutual, comparative advantage. Cultural identity grows in a cynefin, but travellers are reassured by that identity and are freed to be more curious of the cynefin of another. This is embodied in a saying of the Hebrides – The bonds of milk are stronger than the bonds of blood.
If I seem to be attacking today’s localist movement, I only do so to the extent that it sometimes forgets how communities have lived and traded for thousands of years. An obsession with “low carbon lifestyles” has associated all travel with bad travel – as though the last hundred years contains all models for all communities. But people had sailed the Irish Sea to the Med; the Baltic; the Aegean in the Neolithic. By the Bronze Age, established harbours and trade routes were already ancient history. The last Porthmadog schooner, which was built in Nineteen Fourteen was a serious trading vessel – which could out-sail steam ships. It was built for the American and Australian slate trades.
To return to my story – and as I’ve said – as people took tools into their own hands, it felt at last normal, as though those hands were made for tools. That great common sigh of relief which escaped the lungs of whole communities as they shuffled to get comfortable in their terrains was an understanding of the extra-ordinarily impossible lives they’d been living. In short, history resumed and ordinary life began to follow its courses. Power remained in town hall and parliament, but a citizen with a tool in her hand knew that culture was what she did, not what authority decided. Today, as I tell my story, post modernists snigger at sailing boats, appropriate technologies and ideas of the commons of nature. But as people picked up tools and considered how to use them, simple laws of physics became immediately apparent. The best tools bent to those laws – wind and water for transport was the best transport – economies evolved in their ecologies were the best economies. Communities which passed undiminished commons to their children were the happiest communities, because such impulses are inherent in our nature.