* This article appeared on our Huff Post column, 6th September 2012 *
Truly sustainable economics and widespread prosperity can only be based on the viability of the land and its soil–not on increasingly unsustainable supplies of oil.
A discussion with a senior County Council officer revealed much that is wrong with our economy. ‘Nothing’, he said, ‘in terms of local infrastructure built after 1914 has any long-term value–however, everything remaining from before 1914 is of permanent value.’ This change occurred around the time that our costly meddling in Middle Eastern affairs really got under way–that is, as we moved fully from a soil to an oil-based economy.
Short-term thinking (particularly in the form of planned obsolescence) is inherent to our modern oil-powered economy. Worse still, this economy has been largely supported by national and consumer debt, which after dramatically lifting living standards has suddenly petered out, leaving behind declining living standards for most.
A constantly debt-fuelled economy is not a wealth creating one, yet Treasury planning seems not to have recognised this. With China, India and the other BRICS all trying to build on a similarly flawed model–competing with cheaper labour for the same business, resources and capital, and turning the tables on us in the process–this is now being brought into sharper focus.
It is painfully obvious that Quantitative Easing (US$Trillions worldwide) has failed to jumpstart our economic Frankenstein–much like a driver flooring the accelerator pedal, the car isn’t going anywhere. No matter how much we rev it up, we’re now only likely to blow the engine.
Free markets–like the now defunct centrally-planned economies–both exposed for their own inherent deficiencies. Perhaps we need to declare a Perestroika in the West, as Gorbachev tried to reform the Soviet system. But where do we start? We’ll need to dig very deep into the economy’s foundations for this to succeed. Calls for less or more taxation can do very little to alter these fundamentals.
Rio+20 was a big disappointment. The sensible sustainability protocols forged at the original Rio Summit in 1992 (e.g. the Convention on Biological Diversity and Agenda 21) have long since been dumbed down and distorted. Sustainability was never properly understood. Its essence can be summed up as ‘long-term safety and economic viability’–the two cornerstones we should always have built our economy and communities upon (a myriad array of vested interests having determined otherwise, however). Current day ‘sustainable development’ is not conducted in this manner. Instead of tackling the core problems, it has become an oddly concocted, grant-funded ‘bolt-on’ to enable more business-as-usual–overall, just a ‘Greenwash’ scam.
In the unfolding Greek economic tragedy, as city life becomes unsustainable here, those with sense are returning to the land–our true life-support system. Food production–that most basic of human needs, along with water and energy–best attainable through closer contact with the land. A more agrarian economy–‘soil rather than oil’–it seems, beckons us now toward a new future.
As Rivers Trusts Chief Executive, Arlin Rickard, asked at their recent Exeter conference, ‘What has happened to our soil-science in the UK?’ We should also ask, ‘What has happened to our agriculture?’ Perhaps there is no better illustration of the economic monster we have created than this sector.
Indeed, Rivers Trusts, along with the Environment Agency and our water companies, are struggling with the consequences of modern farming practices–primarily their effect on our soil and water resources. Large grants are now disbursed to deal with the consequences–using field buffer strips, cover crops and so on–but as the farming practices that cause these problems are also subsidised, this approach rapidly descends into the economics of the madhouse.
Agricultural chemical contamination that ends up in our aquifers is the major limitation on the UK’s public water supply, as well as its deleterious effects on soil structure. Increased flood and drought risk arises directly from this degraded farmland and the soil’s consequent inability to properly recharge aquifers. As a result, all UK household insurance is now threatened with a 10% surcharge to meet the cost of raised flooding–just one of the many incurred expenses. Are OFWAT and the Treasury fully competent here–or maybe just following political and commercial interests? They are certainly not protecting those of the public.
Dealing with the effects rather than the causes has become central to our economic activity. Our healthcare costs are inflated by obesity and other effects of nutritional breakdown. Medical and agricultural ‘progress’ may be based on very impressive science, but much is nonetheless the wrong science–a science that cannot connect the dots and address the interdependent nature of all these growing costly problems.
We have known for over 50 years that chemicals destroy soil structure–the very foundation of food production and the maintenance of our water cycle. Yet, by ignoring all this, or worse, suppressing it, we have continued a succession of flawed short-term, myopic farming practices (of which GMOs are only the latest) in over 5,000 years of our ‘raping-the-land’ mentality–which it seems we can no longer afford to maintain.