I must speak for myself. How else can I speak? I have mentioned obstacles to appropriate behaviour – now to what may encourage appropriate behaviour. These are things I’d ask of others: institutions, NGOs and government departments, in reply to their criticism, Well, what would you have us do?
That we can and must act for ourselves and must also perennially mistrust such institutions, is the central theme of this book. But that good governance is possible must also be true. That it is unlikely is the evidence of history. I propose that a good life is possible to varying degrees beneath the variable restraints of bad governance. Moreover, I propose that a good life can only be achieved by the actors of it and that governance (good or bad) has played no part in the creation of cultures – or in what is good in the good life. Of course bad governance can make the good life difficult to varying degrees by variably restraining it. Good governance behaves by settling disputes and maintaining the structures of an inherited moral common. It passes on the common to future governance and is temporarily rewarded by the dignity of its position and the fact that unlike the rest of us it has leisure to administrate – because it has been given a token wealth, which goes with the position and is free from toil.
So what would I ask of others?
CITIZENS – Governments and corporations may influence what we do, but we do it one by one. So there is only one way for societies to live within their means and that is for citizens to live within their means.
Governments and corporations are abstractions. All that is palpable is people, doing this or that, and moreover doing it one by one. To defer responsible behaviour to a higher authority is to defer our warm identities to an abstraction.
It has been evident for too long that both governments and corporations are ignoring climate change, soil infertility and resource depletion. This should be no surprise, because abstractions have no senses – no powers of observation. It is easy to become angry at government inaction. We march with placards. We subscribe to NGOs to present alternative models for governance. We shake stupid politicians by the lapels. All these things are futile, because governments (having no senses) can change only when citizens change.
Citizens over-consume, swell oil-powered retail parks and burn away more than a year’s allowance of carbon emissions in a single holiday flight. Is it reasonable to ask governments to change what we can change ourselves? Is it rational to ask an ephemeral idea (of governance) to change our own very real behaviour?
What would I ask of my friends and neighbours?
Firstly, to search for ways of living which avoid burning coal, gas, oil and biofuels – I mean oil-seeds, alcohols and biomass, such as straw, wood chip, miscanthus, kelp, ryegrass, algae and so on. Since fermentation is an essential part of renewal, I think that collecting gas from anaerobic digestion is useful. Those are easy things in some ways, but difficult in others. The difficulties are in communal infrastructures, which can only be changed in concert with others. Many of us are trapped in poverty.
Secondly, to stop asking authority to do what we can do for ourselves.
The easiest thing of all is to stop flying and to stop forever. Not a soul on Earth has a need to fly. Both rich and poor can stop on an instant. Politicians and international businesses have internet and telephone for instant communication.
Living by laws of physics could provide an endless resource for study and conversation – to live by laws of nature, we must study nature – to travel we must do the travelling. Air travel has placed us in fantastic destinations while avoiding both. We avoid physics by fossil physics. We avoid the future by trusting government carbon targets, while remaining aware that on the contrary, both emissions and fossil-fuel-use are increasing. They are increasing because of the ways we live and consume.
Instead, we could actually travel – through cultural and physical terrains; down rivers; across seas. Flying has been a marvellous achievement, but it is now impossible. Living within limits of singular seasons as they pass in sequence into the hands of our children could become a similarly marvellous quest.
Balloons and hang gliders can still be built for fun.
The infrastructures of work and shopping and the roads which connect them are obstacles to change. We can escape them at a single step, only if we are lucky. For most, it will be a process of many steps.
For instance, as a farmer, I can easily stop buying fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides and then learn to farm without them – so I am lucky in that respect. I can do that as swiftly as deciding not to fly. But to change my practices to do without a tractor is more difficult, because I must replace it with more hours of toil then my mortal frame can bear – or with labour whose wages exceed my income – or by redistributing some land to that labour and by living on less. Likewise, changing the market for my produce depends on those who might buy it. If I stand behind a stall in a market square today, it is unlikely that I’ll meet sufficient customers. Most people will be shopping in that edge of town super market. I’d like to build a wind turbine to be responsible for my energy-use, but may also have insufficient funds. My NIMBY neighbours might also object to it.
Giving market signals by our shopping habits has been promoted as an agent for change. We might buy fair trade labels in super markets so that super markets will buy-in more such labels, so that, in turn, more labourers and communities receive fair wages. However, it is an attitude which pre-supposes dependency on a market – which may be a bad market. It pre-supposes our dependency on a super market and also (for instance) on the dependency of a distant coffee growing community on the power of that super market.
If we don’t like the way commodity markets impoverish primary producers, then swelling that commodity market with our “market signals” for a fairer or more sustainable trade will only dispossess still more primary producers and marginalise evolved communities of proper shops and market squares. That sort of “Fair Trade” authenticates dispossession.
I think it better to seek out convivial market-places and so diminish the “ethically-labelled” commodity market. Ethical labels such as Fair Trade and Organic have come to promote commodities stripped of both resource and labour value. They promote unfair trade and destroy organic systems.
Brands and labelling are consumerist fictions – My folk movement does not improve them, but (if it can) avoids them. The starting point of that movement is the understanding that governments and corporations are doing nothing to adapt to a world of diminishing resources. The truth that governments, throughout history have had no hand in the creation of cultures will be a comforting revelation, as we settle – as comfortably as we can – back into our personal contribution to history.
Another movement-inspiring revelation may be that in adapting our personal economies, we contribute to the bustle of smells; textures; colours; sounds of whole communities shuffling to get comfortable in their terrains – that bustle will be composed of many other personally-adapted economies.
Obviously, a convivial bustle is achieved one person at a time!
Listen carefully and we can isolate the voices that make the whole sound. That we add to the orchestration one by one could seem a slow process, but it also means that our contribution is important – all crowds are collections of individuals – even though we all seem the smallest parts.
People meet in high streets, villages, pubs…. – We fall into step as we walk into town. All trade begins with just one to buy and another to sell. As we evacuate retail parks and re-occupy towns and villages, so new means to a living will follow. Many trades must be re-learnt from scratch – but the word amateur – one who loves – is not much of an insult. I think it provides a fertile air for the comedy of learning. You think learning is a serious thing? You are wrong. We learn by the laughter which follows our mistakes.
The road into a civilised future is essentially one of very many mistakes. That is a comforting thought as I approach my next pitfall, or comeuppance, because folly is the source of revelation. Pitfalls are the birth-places of renaissance.
Well, what do I ask of citizen scientist, citizen labourer, citizen technologist, citizen scholar, citizen poet, citizen priest, citizen ukulele player? – that they occupy roles, which are less than the whole – that each ordinary balanced representative of humanity is all of those things. All those aspects are contained in the single human frame of Everyman. We learn roles, simply for efficient division of labour. They describe not who we are but what we do as a particular contributory part. The roles are less than we are and we are less than the whole. If a physicist thinks he has more of a “brain” than his neighbour, who is green grocer, then I ask her to re-consider. I think she is merely practised in her role – if her practice is good, then that is a good thing – if her practice confers a station in life, in which she asserts a superior brain, then that is a bad thing.
What’s more, post modernity has blurred our roles for political ends. Science has been misnamed as technology, so that ethics are removed from actions, elected representatives have been misnamed as leaders, so that centralised consensus overrides constituent concerns and the probity of trade has been shifted to the demands of consumption.
So I ask of citizenship that it reclaims its roles, or discovers new ones and then contributes them to the whole. For instance, the scientist must “learn” her scepticism. It is a cultivated frame of mind. To remove our moral selves from our work is not easy, but it makes the scientific perception unique and useful.
The scientific perception may be useful to a farmer; an engineer; a plant breeder; a boat builder; a medical practitioner, but everything we do has a moral, because all acts have consequence. So when science transmutes to technology it regains its moral being and moreover it enters a world of trial and error – of the application of limited human tools to an unpredictable nature.
There is no higher authority than the common good. That is surely the guidance for all our separate roles. Yet, no-one can teach a baker to bake better bread, other than her own experience and the shared experiences of fellow bakers. So while we can re-assert our expertise, while we do so, we become aware that the greater the assertion the greater the responsibility – and also the greater the complexity of its effects.
I propose that the return of that moral complexity to our particular roles may be the source of more convivial cultures, in which contributory parts are valued. Simple probity has been removed from our trades by the prescriptions of an ignorant and insentient state. Instead of acting responsibly, we deliver prescribed rights. Rights are blind, static, aggressive and parochial. Responsibility is curious, diffident, catholic…… Of course right and responsibility are both essential to the common good, but – I reckon a renewed happiness will lie in restoring a proper balance.
Nothing can teach us our trades, better than experiences of applying them alongside our fellow tradesmen. Those experiences should be unsullied by politicians. Our contributory part of the common good is also gently sanctified in an abstract guild of the heart, which says simply, this is who I am.
In my Midsummer Night’s Dream, everyone who wants one will have a trade. It is fortunate that coal, oil and gas, which had been removing both people and their moral perceptions from social decision-making, will be gone.
In short, I ask of citizens to rise from their diminishment and to be unashamed of the moral purpose, which every one of us inherits.
MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT – It is supposed that constituencies elect a Member of Parliament to represent their region in parliament. Unfortunately, consensus party politics has reversed the process. MPs present the policies of their parties to the constituencies. Voters have come to choose from a small list of national political parties as they do brands on a super market shelf. They choose the packet. Very few think to choose a member of their community to represent them in parliament.
In consequence, as they suit for the same averaged middle ground, the main parties have become identical. Likewise, parties (not people) select candidates not for their qualities, but for the lack of them. The thesis of this book is that throughout history, the powerful have been idle and stupid, not by their nature, but by both their inexperience and the drug of power itself. After all many have been powerful by accidents of birth, they were not born idle and stupid – Historically, power has had no role, but to be in power – hence the idleness, amorality and inexperience. But to be blunt, powerful parties now select candidates for stupidity – for a presumptive and false representative of Everyman.
The complexity of life in a constituency is unrepresented – I ask constituencies for a politics in which it becomes so. The colours of red, blue and yellow, worn as football scarves could change to a complexity of changing shades. The tragedy of democracy is that amorality, having no weight of self-doubt and probity will always rise. We cannot change that. So I ask those MPs who may have more weighty qualities (there will be very few) to make them evident – to resign from their parties; to represent all shades of a constituency; to be unafraid of the contradictions and compromises of a happy social life.
Nothing I’d ask of political parties can be heard over the drone of their projected consensus. But as they bustle past in the latest packaging, I’ll ask Labour to do what it was created for – represent the trades and the trade unions. I’ll ask Conservative to represent and conserve the complexity of evolved cultures from wild ideas of radical fanatics. I’ll ask Liberal to represent our civil liberties. If they did so, I could support all three – but that’s complexity for you.
I do vote – My ballot is crossed in Wales, Westminster and Europe for Plaid Cymru. It could equally be crossed for the Green Party. I can choose but one – I’d support both teams. – but….
Here’s a thing I’d ask my MP to propose in parliament – Reduce MPs wages to that of a class-room teacher. Sixty thousand a year attracts the worst – no-one should earn such amounts. Between twenty and thirty thousand pounds is a decent living for an honest job. We begin with dishonesty if we begin at sixty. It has never been true that a high wage attracts a high talent. It attracts greed, dishonesty and carelessness. You say that such a wage would mean that wealth, which has no need of it, would predominate in parliament? A majority of today’s cabinet posts (and shadow cabinet) are occupied by multi-millionaires.
TRADE UNIONS – Stick around. I ask you to devolve to your constituent parts. Those corporate identities mimic what you should oppose. We need Bottom the Weaver’s Union, Snug the Joiner’s, shoemakers’, boat-builders’, black smiths’, bakers’, butchers’…. farmers’. Farmers’ Union? How we’ve fallen. We can still have a union of unions though. For myself I’ve sympathy with a revival of the trade guilds – proposed by some socialist and also anarchist writers. I’m not sure how the mutation to the worshipful companies of this and that came about in the City. With regards to the union of unions, I suppose that was the founding first principle of the Labour Party. ‘Nuf said.
LOCAL COUNCILS – I know that local councils – parish, town and county – are stuck between the hard place of government and the rock of corporate and super market power. The Right of Appeal against planning decisions, heard in high courts and milked for despicable barristers’ fees at every turn has brought many councils to bankruptcy. Knowing that council coffers are insufficient for a string of appeals, so that a rejected super market will eventually get its way, many councils now prudently give way at the first application.
Corporate identity must have its citizen’s right of appeal removed, so that an open court need not be a high court. Those within corporations already have citizen’s rights. Corporations are abstractions created by the punts of a casino and although those punts have given them rights to property, right to citizenship is ridiculous.
Local democracy does not function. Town centres are drained of their life-blood by utterly unaccountable power. Ring roads, visible from space are tamely provided by county councils to direct people towards the pockets of those powers.
Of course the transition town movement is well-understood and the simplest thing I can ask of councils and councillors is to begin the transition – to an economy without coal, oil, gas and biofuels. That’s an engaging, fascinating and not an easy quest. That it’s not easy makes it more fascinating. For instance, Westminster government is currently bending planning departments over painful barrels, while dangling bribes – with regards to shale gas. A French corporation is sniggering in the shadows. Fracking, having been expelled from France is attractive to French mercenaries.
Somehow, counsellors must resist torture from both the rock of corporations and the hard place of Westminster “government”.
To me, what can liberate such a quest is the idea of commons, which I explore elsewhere in this book. Anyway, some commons are roads, market squares, greens, parks and allotments, water – and (as I’ve explained) biomass. A common is inherited from an ancestry to be passed on the descendents – or from the previous council and on to the next – That should be right up any council’s street.
Restoration of local democracy; two fingers at corporate power; increasingly lively and convivial towns and villages – surely these could provide populist adventures for newly-popular councils and councillors?
Of course, as with MPs, lawyers, GPs, dentists and so on, whose despicably-high wages attract the worst of people, council officials and leaders should not expect more money than a class teacher in a primary school.
NGOs – I ask you to end the pretence that bad institutions can be changed for the better by improvements from within. Those small improvements do more harm than good, since they give credence to bad behaviour by endorsing it (to however small an extent). Change happens by what we do citizen by citizen. Those bad institutions exist by either the consent, or otherwise the restraint, or channelled manipulation of citizens. Institutions protect their states, whereas change comes by methods. NGOs should encourage citizens to withdraw consent and also find ways to escape the restraint. In doing so, better methods become liberated from the restraints of bad institutions and change becomes possible.
Since it is the organisation which affects me most, I send this suit to the Soil Association. It could be equally applied to Fair Trade certifiers.
Remove your certification of the centralised distribution and procurement chains which supply super markets, endorse their bad practices, prolong oil-dependency and even more importantly – delay a resurgence of more resilient and appropriate systems.
It is very difficult to sell organically-grown produce from a proper shop or market square, because shopping streets have been evacuated for the encampments of Soil Association-endorsed ring roads and retail parks. Transition town efforts to create humanised, localised and convivial supply chains are negated, because shoppers can buy “organic” and “fair trade” dispensation for their guilt at shopping in a retail park.
On the other hand, the Soil Association symbol could become a way mark to the future. Instead of encouraging people in to super, it would lead them out towards an experimental, organically-integrated economy. I say experimental because revival of towns, villages, corner shops, workshops and an integral agriculture, must evolve by trial and error – by doing it – and by doing it one by one – sometimes a lonely thing. The failures will prove as important as the successes.
The Soil Association symbol could appear like pilgrims’ cockle shells in convivial places and would never be seen in the satanic mills of Azda, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Tesco…. Surely that’s an engaging prospect? – one to revive the Soil Association by a symbiosis of soil, plant animal and culture and around which the spirits of Balfour, Massingham, Howard and friends would gather – whispering history’s encouragement.
Improving the image of an amoral corporation by a moral endorsement does nothing to change either the amorality or the corporation. Amorality cannot picture morality. Rather it corrupts the probity of the endorsement to one of political expediency. “Organic” expediency has gained sales, but has also lost the meaning of organic. There are those within the Soil Association who have striven (and won) to change the symbol to a brand – and a super-marketable brand – one of health. In the process organic has jostled in the aisles with all the other health mountebanks. Also in the process the word has lost its definition as a method and gained another as a meaningless state.
“Organic” sales are now falling, because health food is a luxury to the hard-pressed. Sales could have been rising, because organic systems answer the times – resource depletion, climate change and dispossessed labour.
ORGANIC – Method which gains efficiency by imitating the cyclic behaviour of organisms.
Anyway an organic cockle shell could be a reassuring sight to weary travellers – It could mark some paths similarly followed by the transition town movement. And it could appear on the hats of a swelling folk movement back into workshops, dairies, breweries, bakers, green-grocers, butchers, fish-mongers… and so on, of high streets and the complementary chandlers, iron-mongers, pubs, cafes, bookshops, music shops, cycle shops, libraries, post offices…. and then new buyers will move back into a marketplace for the more diverse produce of a diversity of holdings – from rural market-gardens, fields, pastures and orchards to suburban and town sites as blockaded, oil-deprived Cuba did.
Today the Soil Association releases guarded policy statements in imitation of a small and irritable nation state. Yet organic methods are flexible methods which learn from the physics of nature and will also learn from the physics of the future. Subtract input from output and organic methods out-yield all others – and in a world in which those inputs are fast-dwindling.
An alternative course would be to abandon organic standards and certification altogether. After all, organic methods are ordinary methods to produce ordinary food from ordinary resources. We could propose that extra-ordinary (and ephemeral), anachronistic, green revolutionary methods of artificial fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, growth-regulators and growth promoters should require labelling. That could easily become a populist demand of a folk movement. However, and certainly in transition, I’d support the cockle shell.
There has been a tendency for NGOs to present themselves in the image of small governments – issuing guarded policy statements and occasionally publishing reports of “in-depth” inquiries. For every statement government issues, the NGO will mirror its own. The serious language of state is shared by both governments and NGOs – and so curiosity, doubt and ingenuity are impossible to both. In wishing to be taken seriously, NGOs have become imprisoned in the serious and irresponsive language of state.
However the language of tools is the language of cultures and NGOs must relearn it. Issuing occasional documents in state language for the state may be OK now and then. But the language of discourse is the language of tools. NGOs could be a great and eloquent help if they’d use it.
Sadly, most continue, just as governments do, frozen in state and corporate identity – issuing those state documents and worse – also issuing colourful leaflets and magazines for “public” consumption – composed in the imagined baby language of an insentient public dependency.
Here is something, which I sent to members of the Soil Association Council in January 2013.
ORGANIC – THE STATE OR THE METHOD?
Organic methods hold answers to our post-modern question – How do we live happily from depleted resources and within physical limits? Of course, if alternatively we attempt to transcend those limits as we have been doing by the massive powers of fossil fuels, then those limits will be dramatically and cruelly forced on us by desert, flood and storm. Nicolas Stern has recently proposed that a four degree rise in temperature is very close – he means that our economies are heading towards the end of civilization.
How do I define “organic”? – Adjective to describe methods which seek efficiency by imitating the behaviours of organisms.
We immediately face a problem –
The word organic has been adopted by a health-food industry, which has had no interest in organic techniques, but much interest in the health-giving properties of organically-labelled products.
The accepted usage of “organic” has become an adjective to describe a pack of food which is free from pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. The definition is of negative qualities – for what it is not, which has made the husbandry to produce that food more taxing and so more expensive. The implication is for both sacrificed efficiency and sacrificed yield.
However much “organic sector bodies” counter that view, their cause is lost because of that false definition – the state not the method. Moreover in promoting the state of organic produce by promoting its health qualities those bodies have joined the many other mountebanks similarly promoting the qualities of other products. “Organic” has become just another label in the marketplace. It has also become another label which endorses the anti-organic and linear market we know as the super market. Shoppers, who would otherwise avoid super markets, are encouraged inside by the purchase of an organic dispensation. Meanwhile, those same organic shoppers have evacuated the durable, complex, long-evolved, deeply-imagined market places we know as market squares, proper shops, corner shops, village shops and their cyclic and diverse supply chains.
That the UK Organic market is shrinking, while for the rest of Europe, it is expanding is easily explained – In the UK we have promoted organic health food, whereas Europeans have promoted the virtues of organic husbandry.
An organic state is a ridiculous state, which has no meaning. Organic (carbon) chemists will find nothing to differentiate an organic from a none-organic product.
What’s still more – A state may be dignified, but it can never be interesting, whereas a method immediately suggests questions, improvements, engagement, new ingenuities and so on. All methods are fallible, but fallibility is what binds societies. All new discoveries are hidden in mistakes.
Cultures (& civilization herself), are methods of settlement. When they become states to be protected, they decay into decadence and become irresponsive to what feeds them. I suggest that the organic movement is in a decadent phase – protecting its state and identity and forgetting that it is but a technique – and that all techniques change and that change is their stimulus and life-blood.
Of course Post Modernity is in a similar state of denial – believing its fossil fuelled elevation can be maintained by “The Future” bringing replacements for fossil fuels on the tide. We are reminded of those forlorn, still-magnificent stone figures on Easter Island, gazing at nothingness. I suggest that the Soil Association (for instance) has adopted a similarly noble pose.
Perhaps the scriptures of the Organic Standards should be written in sand – like fleeting lives – rather than on her powerfully-imagined stones. They should certainly be distanced from the cargo cult of post-modernity.
Within all decadence there is tragedy – the tragedy of the mutation of original methodologies into settled states, because all states decay.
Organically-imagined economies are those which sit most happily and so most efficiently within their ecologies. Our organic economist must become curious about that ecology, particularly because – as an ecology changes so must human settlement of it. That curiosity engages the trial and error of technology, the scepticism of science and the imaginative story-telling of Art.
Let’s slay some ghosts – Some of our (to me) worst organic, complacent, consumerist, health-food dignitaries still speak of a holistic view, which transcends “old, reductionist paradigms”!
Firstly, holistic imagination and reductionist scepticism are essential parts of what makes us human. They are not at war.
Secondly, wild holistic ideas (untempered by scepticism) have been the cause of much of human misery – communism, capitalism, fascism, “scientific” progress…. On the other hand, an entirely-sceptical, truly-scientific position is incapable of action, or of recommending courses of action – and so remains innocent.
Another ghost to be slain is related to the ghostly elephant in our room – that is the use by NGOs such as the Soil Association of the language of states and not of the language of methods. The one is dignified, defensive, strategic, advised and serious (even when adopting the over-jolly, but cynical languages of advertising and politics) – while the other is curious, humorous, diffident, specific……
This state language has been adopted as a means to out-state the state – to change it from within. For every government document an alternative NGO document is produced to counter it.
What hope has a little geezer of slowing humanity’s trajectory into an Anthropocene, which will very soon remove the agent of its cause?
Even within the Soil Association, I’m utterly invisible.
Anyway, at least I have something to address there.
Firstly – It is essential to remove organic licenses from centralised distribution systems.
The Soil Association could do so with very little disruption to the current “organic” market place, but with a renewed and dynamic re-focusing on organic methods as solutions to our economic questions.
Soil Association licensees could still sell through super markets by using organic certification by other “organic sector bodies” of pack houses, dairies and abattoirs.
Those shoppers who have no shops but super markets will still find organically-grown produce there, bearing the EC logo and that of other certifiers.
However the Soil Association logo would become a way mark towards more durable and convivial systems, such as proper shops and market squares. It would not be seen in super markets.
In consequence the evacuation of town centres and village centres for the expansion of edge of town/out of town retail parks would be reversed to the extent of the Soil Association’s powers.
At present, the Soil Association certification endorses and offers false-dispensation for utterly unsustainable systems.
In spite of the more human corporate structures of the Co-op and Waitrose chains, both are as ruthlessly centralised in that competitive market as Tesco and Sainsbury’s are – No organic logo for them either!
We have to make a start. The ways out from this mire are step by step through it. We don’t change the mire from within without becoming a part of the mire. We prudently and necessarily compromise with it, while walking towards something better.
I appeal to the Soil Association to abandon the futility of improving a suicidal system from within and then to begin the journey through it to the other side.
This is a noble purpose. At the moment organic certification is doing far more harm than good.
As an organic farmer, I am considering my own position. I wonder if I have anything in common with the New Soil Association and also wonder for how long I can display her symbol on my produce.
I would prefer to wear it with pride.
Tragically, organic techniques out-yield all others – simply subtract input from output. Also consider how those inputs are fast-dwindling…
I expand on the above in appendix (1)
So I ask NGOs to think of their best function. I suggest those functions are as forums for citizens: citizen farmers; gardeners; house-builders – meeting houses – libraries – clubs – convivial and catholic conversation facilitators. I ask them to abandon delusions of influence – to stop taking subscriptions for futile lobbying of deaf governments. Subscription can defer the good behaviour of citizens who buy it as dispensation for doing nothing. Yet cultures are what their citizens get up to – not what their governments do. NGOs can help the better behaviour of citizens by providing a medium for sharing knowledge, tools and delight – by being a part of that warm, social muddle of trial and error, which is the only route to the future.
In short, NGOs must abandon futurism and embrace the present. The present creates the future.
The Transition Town Movement is on that track – as are societies of ramblers; bird-watchers; singers; knitters; gardeners… Of course, better or alternative lives have been historically cultured in both church and pub.
Let’s meet beneath the sign of the Hope and Anchor; the News from Nowhere…. the Cross; the Crescent; the Mistletoe…..
AGRICULTURE – I shall be brief with regards to agricultural organisations, such as the Country Landowners Association, the Countryside Alliance, the NFU, the Organic Trade Board and so on – Bugger off!
They merit no more conversation, than do the Adam Smith Institute, the Heartland Institute, Sense About Science and so on, to whom I re-iterate, Bugger off!
They are all lobbyists for the protection of hidden moneys and interests.
We could converse with those interests, if they’d converse.
Anyway, since all modern cultures are agricultures generated by the labours of fields and gardens, the primary concern of modernity should be farming and growing, the distribution of produce and the return of wastes (fertility for future crops).
Well-managed fields have released labour for other trades and for trade itself. Oil-power has released still more labour for still more trades – so many, that most are unnecessary – and exist simply for exploitation. Many people have become unnecessary too.
Since oil-power is now impossible, unnecessary people will become necessary again and unnecessary trades will evaporate.
It is nice to be needed. It is nice that superfluous energy will evaporate.
Every necessary trade will call for a flood of people to replace the massive powers of small streams of oil. Those small streams had seemed so innocent, though marvellous in what they provided. Such an accepted gift, as in many a fairy tale came with another – terrible in its potency. Climate change deniers hold onto the belief that the gift was both infinite and benign. Is it that they are so grateful, that they’d not insult it? However, infinity cannot belong in mortality’s world. Those fairy tales hold truth. The black gold holds the last puckish laugh.
However the gift’s contract is citizen by citizen. We can refuse the gift. The choice is Faustus’s – to live as a god for a span, then to descend into Hell, or to refuse the gift and remain in ordinary human nature in an ordinary limited world. But here’s the thing – mortality ain’t so bad and what’s more, those worldly limits actually reveal the beautiful forms of the world – To refuse the gift of oil will set many things straight – extremities of wealth, unemployment and weary dependency on its supply will shrink into a road, which Everyman can travel on her own feet with a new responsibility and worth.
Fields can shrink to the compass of man-power, rather than oil-power. If we manage to produce fuel for internal combustion by anaerobic digestion, then it can only be for much smaller engines than farmers use today. The same is the case for the size of renewable electricity vehicles. Not only that, but they’ll be used intermittently and strategically.
For instance, intensive horticulture may need a tractor (or a horse) for primary cultivations, but then not at all. It is convenient that such a system can produce crop yields equivalent to, or often in excess of green revolutionary, prairie monocultures – and without the massive inputs of fuel, fertilisers and biocides.
Of course true yield is output minus input and so prairie monocultures are extremely low yielding on that reckoning.
The low-yield of intensive, organic horticulture, relative to human labour and its extremely high-yield relative to resource-use, have suddenly gained two major advantages, because many people would love to provide an input, while many natural resources have been mined to extinction.
Cereals aside, the bulk of a city’s food could be supplied by such a horticulture, both within the city, (commercially and non-commercially, in the Havana manner) and also by a ring of commercial market gardens and orchards. An integrated low-energy-use distribution system could be easily arranged over those short distances. Some pastures could provide useful horticultural rotations, while also adding dairy produce to the supply chain. Pasture will be useful to receive human manure, while over-wintered animal manure (produced by the pasture) can be used in horticulture.
How wastes can be returned to more distant arable fields needs some answers. The necessary rotation of pastures or green manures will severely reduce the acreage of cereals and pulses. I hope that some answers will be found naturally by a reduction of meat in the diet. Feed-lot cattle, pigs and poultry are utterly unsustainable, both economically and ecologically. As they go, so will a massive and unnecessary use of arable acreage. A judicious quantity of grain can be fed to poultry, perhaps in rotation with more-distant arable fields – for gleanings and the return of manure.
The fertility of arable fields far from population centres may be remedied by a migration towards fertile land – thus easing both supply-chain problems and fertility problems. Once again intensive horticulture can ring new settlements and can also be built into their design. Strategic garden cities will provide for a migration from anachronistic, inland manufacturing towns.
Here are some figures for contemporary UK wheat production and consumption from the June 2009 returns.
Total wheat production – 14.8 million tonnes
25% export – 3.7 million tonnes
40% animal feed – 5.92 million tonnes
28.72% flour milling – 4.25 million tonnes
6.28% biscuit-making & etc. – 0.93 million tonnes
Average yield – 7 tonnes/hectare (2.8 tonnes/acre)
Flour milling consumption – 5 million tonnes
Imported for flour milling – 0.75 million tonnes
I imagine that the UK can keep the same acreage for wheat production (and maintain its fertility) by considerably-increasing the arable area of traditional dairy/livestock districts and similarly-reducing the cropping area and increasing the green manure and/or pasture areas of arable districts.
If we guess at a crop reduction of 40% by the withdrawal of artificial inputs, then we can probably grow 8.8 million tonnes of wheat, giving us 2.87 million tonnes leeway (for poultry feed perhaps) – Cake-makers and fried egg butty-lovers rejoice!
I hope that an increasing variety of farmers will attempt an increasing variety of systems, crops and diets. I use wheat, as an example, because bread from wheat flour is our staple. Elsewhere we’d find statistics for rice, sorghum, or maize.
So what should farmers do now, locked as we are in existing supply and distribution chains? It is simple to farm organically and it is urgent that every farmer does so. It is the highest yielding system. It sheds dependency. It maintains the common good of soil. It is also the technique (or range of techniques) which holds most possibility for improvement – many new farmers will provide many new experiences and many new brains. The single-minded entirely-monetarist and corporate brain of Monsanto, Bayer and their acolytes has lost connection to natural laws of physics and biology. Simply to be liberated from dependency on that anachronistic brain will bring many new methodologies. In any case the green revolution will eventually grind to a halt, because it will have consumed the resources which once drove it.
But markets are social systems. We cannot conjure them from nowhere. They are a battleground – the central battleground where the future will be fought. I cannot sell without another to buy, nor can another buy without me to sell. Chicken and egg situations require a transition period of faith, hope and compromise. I cannot sell my produce in a market square, when the town has been evacuated to occupy an encamped ring of militant super markets. As we’ve explored, organisations which should be side by side with our attempted creation of more durable markets are instead standing in super market aisles – attempting to make them better places. The NFU, the Soil Association and so on are all contriving to endorse the retail park and so to destroy the village; the town; the street market; the proper shop; the proper tradesman (sexless term). So for the moment we have faith, hope, anxiety, compromise and perhaps rage at those who should be with us (and profess that they are so), but who are in effect, emphatically against us.
As producers we must plod on – the revival of town centres may be such a delight that we can hope it will be a contagious delight. The arrival of many newly-skilled tradesmen in the market will stimulate both its variety and its ability to adapt to scarcity and surplus. As the number of buyers swells to a similar number of sellers so it will become a naturally fairer market. Today we take what we’re given by a super-market-tied pack-house or abattoir. Tens of thousands of producers supply a single buyer.
One thing, I’d ask of farmers and growers, is to avoid the now fashionable dispensation cult of sequestration. Those who control land are increasingly boasting of the carbon they have stored in their ownership. Worse, many claim it as dispensation for carbon emissions from unrelated activity. We must manage fields well in any case and cannot offset bad behaviour by good behaviour elsewhere. Moreover, such sequestration is the exclusive claim of those who are privileged to hold land. Must those without land be guilty of their landlessness? Can farmers be called not guilty of the same emissions for which the landless are called guilty? That is not a durable relationship in which to build a convivial marketplace. To own property, such as woodland or meadowland can be no dispensation for any sort of behaviour. The propertied, once exclusively held the “democratic” vote, while women and the landless had no vote at all. Claims for sequestration as dispensation is a return to such times – an enclosure of carbon into the property of the privileged.
Doing the right thing should not be at the whim of “market signals”, of true cost accounting, or the current size of “organic”, or “fair trade” markets – or of agricultural subsidy incentives. There is right and wrong. Some wrongs are written in law. Others are inherent in perceptions of proper behaviour – In other words if we want to be respected and befriended as a good citizen, we must behave as one. The reward of respect and friendship is a good one.
In my Midsummer Night’s Dream, soil is a common. It cannot be owned as dispensation for anyone’s profligacy. In the dream, good behaviour is a rule of belonging to the culture and cannot be bought and sold. We should behave well on every occasion.
Some promote true cost accounting today as a means to bring the effects of bad and good behaviour into the market place. It has similar dangers to carbon trading, in which we can opt to buy some bad behaviour with the money we have made from the good. A market place for morals is not a good idea.
Of course, meanwhile, avoiding leaching and excessive gasification is the art of husbandry. Maintenance of soil life in both mass and diversity is the route to good cropping and to the emergent resilience of cultures. It is good and laudable behaviour. Part of good behaviour involves the trial and error of new techniques, which may leave us out of pocket, but may also leave us curious and engaged. Perennial cereal varieties, mixed species and variety cropping, agro-forestry and so on are all still in their delightful infancy.
But the greatest (and also perhaps the most delightful) challenge is the replacement of oil power by man power.
It is a pleasure to put the food we’ve grown on the family table and I’ve hopes that allotments and vegetable gardens will blossom in villages, towns, suburbs and cities. Amateur (those who love) gardeners can be highly-skilled and in my future, I see many becoming commercial growers – accompanied by increasingly-colourful street markets.
I still see ancient, slowly-evolved market places as the best. No CSA or box scheme can replace a bustling town centre. And so I see farm shops, box schemes, CSAs and so on as tools of transition, as we hang on by the skin of our teeth for everyone else to join us in a return to the ordinary flows of history. There is no better community involvement than by simply paying a fair price for a fair wage – or conversely charging a fair price for a fair wage.
In my future, I suggest that farmers’ will return to their fields and gardens. New opportunities will emerge in villages and towns for newly-skilled people to transform the produce and pass it on. After all, that is how our agricultures began – efficiencies of husbandry released labour for further ingenuity of trade and the trades. All we have of modernity is an emergent property of fields.
For ourselves at Bryn Cocyn we’ve set our course through farmers’ markets to pin a banner to the cause of ordinary food from ordinary soil by ordinary labour for ordinary customers in an ordinary marketplace. We hope that the ordinary will prove a comfort to extra-ordinary times. When we’ve all grown accustomed to being ordinary again then I hope the farmers’ market may vanish to mingle invisibly in the street market, which has a pedigree at least as far back as the Bronze Age and probably the Neolithic too.
Both market hall and market street should be provided as a restoration of the common good by every town council. There, added value produce can be traded. Redundant super market buildings may also prove ideal as town auction buildings for fish, dairy, vegetable, fruit and meat as primary produce. Buyers will be numerous tradesmen, from the town and surrounding villages – not the two, or three super-market buyers we see today. Prices will certainly rise in consequence, but in such a relatively-true market-place, they cannot rise too far.
Super marketed enclosure of responsible moral behaviour would be visibly and loudly overturned – likewise the consumer’s right to be dependent on that super market’s amoral behaviour. The early-morning intoning of auctioneers would be regular as cock crow and would bring a new excitement to town life.