The upsidedownness of our world really gets to me. The people doing the most critical work (like producing food and clothing) get paid the least, and the people busy producing crap we don’t really need at all get paid much more, and by an order of magnitude. Worse, the people who produce nothing at all, but just shift numbers around on a screen, capitalising on the work of the afore-mentioned two groups, get paid exponentially more again.
It’s a system of extraction — it’s trickle up economics.
Casting off this system is not an easy ask, but most of us by now are acutely aware of the necessity of doing so. It’s not an easy ask simply because in the blind consumer march of the last century, in our quest to escape manual labour and in our misguided hunger for that mirage of a ‘better life’, we’ve painted ourselves into a corner…. Most of us have no land. Most of us are swimming in debt, beholden to the system that now effectively holds our present and future labour as their own asset — to be traded and ‘leveraged’ as a commodity itself.
Worse, the bankers and SuperCorps have also cornered the market on the natural systems themselves, from which all true prosperity flows, and they’re destroying them.
Taking back these natural systems, and sustainably harvesting their free abundance, is the task at hand. If we can accomplish this, the present centralised, extractive economy can be rendered redundant, and a dying biosphere can be liberated — it can give itself up to an army of land stewards once more.
The word ‘revolution’ is being whispered, even shouted, everywhere. But revolution, if violent, will bring only chaos and immense suffering. Although this system is held together with only duct tape and twine, it is still the only thing that separates most of us from immediate suffering, or even death. Unravelling it now, suddenly, while we’re its utter dependant, is madness. The ‘revolution’ we need must be planned. It must be designed.
One of the key elements to orchestrate change, I feel, is a shift in priorities. We need to stop buying the crap we don’t need, and we need to empower the people producing what we do. More, we need to get back onto the land, and we need to press, vigorously, for economic incentives that see able bodied men, women and youth eager to step into the real economy — working creatively with real-time sunlight to create biological surplus. This is an economy that, holistically managed, need have no end.
Cuba, with its premature and politically-imposed peak oil experience, faced our present dilemma, and survived. A key element in its survival is that it encouraged small scale relocalised resilience — it made small-scale farming attractive, as a career, once more:
Today, 80 percent of Cuba’s food production is organic. As of 2006, there were 10,000 urban gardens in Havana and other cities across the nation, according to the CBC documentary, Cuba: The Accidental Revolution. Schools, hospitals, seniors’ homes and even factories grow these “organiponicoes.”
The US/Canadian agricultural model takes 12 calories of energy to produce one calorie of food. Cuba produces 12 calories of organically grown food with one calorie of energy. Urban farmers use as little as five percent of agribiz energy inputs. The nation has also introduced privately owned farms and cooperatives, in effect incentivizing agriculture and making it an attractive career option for younger Cubans. — commonground.ca
Cuba’s ‘special period’ transformed agriculture from an industrial, energy intensive, centralised and state-owned system to a small-scaled, privatised one — one with a far better EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested). Whether state owned or privatised, however, the key element here is scale. With the absence of cheap oil, tractors and other machinery were largely abandoned. By necessity, farms became human scaled. Farmers became gardeners.
In the North, today, we have privatised agricultural systems, and they’re failing — dramatically and miserably. Again, it’s not the system of ownership that counts, but the scale, and the EROEI. These privatised systems are also ‘centralised’, in that the people working the land, by the sweat of their brow, or, more commonly, from the seat of a tractor, are effectively economic serfs, dictated to by the industries that supply their inputs and which purchase their outputs. The land, the seeds, the chemicals — the entire ‘colour by numbers’ agricultural system — is owned by a small handful of corporations. Again, whether state owned, or privatised, if it’s at large scale, the difference is negligible.
Cuba’s shift to privatised land-holdings didn’t result in the more ambitious types working and scheming towards land mergers, consolidation and monopolies — but why? Because of the lack of cheap energy. Without oil, man is the machinery, and the efficiency of that ‘machinery’ was dependent on wits, not oil. The most observant, the most creative, and the most practical became the real barons — but barons over a human-scaled, manageable land area.
Today, large scale agriculture is undermining itself. It is undermining us. The key drivers towards this state of massive vulnerability were 1) fossil fuels, and 2) Norman Borlaug’s so-called ‘Green Revolution’ and the ‘get big or get out’ policies that started in the 1970s, under the then US Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz:
[Butz’s] mantra to farmers was "get big or get out," and he urged farmers to plant commodity crops like corn "from fencerow to fencerow." These policy shifts coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations, and the declining financial stability of the small family farm. — Wikipedia
This ‘fencerow to fencerow’ large acreage agriculture was only possible, albeit if temporarily, due to industrialisation and its life-blood: oil. The present and future era of expensive energy promises the undoing of centralised agriculture, and, potentially, centralised control — whether by the State or privatised monopolies. With energy supplies waning, we have one small window of opportunity to regain what the oil era stole from us. And, we have the opportunity to regain a sense of the ‘magic’ and wonder of the natural world we’ve all but forgotten we’re part of, and which by biological necessity we were born to partner with.