Thursday, 15 October 2015

On Fracking

On Fracking by C. Alexia Lane
2013, Rocky Mountain Books, 127 pages.

This is a helpful little hardcover written not in a biased way but with an examining look at the issues. Although it is just a tiny book, one you could slip into your pocket and bring along to the office or the next commute, it looks at “the potential contamination of groundwater source; the potential ecotoxicological effects from fracking, climate change and water management initiatives; and the bioengineering of organisms to enhance shale gas extraction.” Opening with a little history of the story of oil in North America, C. Alexia Lane does a commendable job of discussing the development of this industry, new drilling technologies, and the arrival of Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring 1962 in a section usefully called, “That Was Then.” “Section “This Is Now,” leads into industry interest in the highly controversial method called fracking,“multi-stage hydraulic fracturing of underground rock strata in conjunction with direct drilling- downward, then horizontally or at an angle into the desired formation” using high-pressure chemically-mixed water, involving flow back fluid that slowly returns the chemical cocktail of contaminants and water to the surface, over the course of months. Because it involves what some might call the environmentally suicidal mixing of chemicals into our precious groundwater, industry and everyday citizen alike acknowledge that “fracking threatens the integrity of both our surface water and our groundwater sources.” An industry with a massive lack of regulatory policies regarding contamination, the fracking industry suffers from a lack of understanding about our groundwater, and our species in general suffers from a lack of understanding regarding the future impact of this somewhat experimental new method. Not one to present the reader with recent images of chemically-mixed water issuing from kitchen taps that is actually flammable, C. Alexia Lane focuses on discussing the huge amount of ground water used in this process in an era when all clean water requires protection. Water management is made complicated by the way it is governed, because it is not “based on hydrological connectivity” but is governed at thew moment by piecemeal legislation and regulation. Conflicts occur most frequently when it flows across man-made boundaries, something both surface and groundwater inevitably does. Lane examines some of the better and most intelligent policies and proposals never put in place, and informs us that Canada requires strong new laws protecting water governance that are similar in design to American laws if we are not to risk the wholesale destruction of our water table. Not only laws, cautions Lane, but a need for a national framework, is extremely pressing. While in the United States there are laws overseen and enforced by federal bodies, Canada is beginning to appear to the U.S. as if it is relying upon industry to self-regulate, an absurd situation. Lane examines a case study in Alberta and one in Texas: places where fracking because there is already a water scarcity is creating havoc. In Texas, freshwater resources are dwindling, making drought a new issue in which fracking contamination now plays a role. Interestingly, “acute and chronic components of many individual fracking fluid components have been documented” but not the cocktail of fluid in combination with local geology. With no long term data, stringent measures are needed fast, and, because of the soluble nature of fracking chemicals, it is considered technically not possible to clean this water, and impossible to consider with any advance in future technology the remediating of our precious and ancient groundwater to anything like its original state. As well, groundwater becomes vitally important to our survival as secure clean surface water harder dwindle and change. While proponents of fracking argue that the drilling process goes past groundwater to deeper sites, the book explains that while much fracking goes to depths that pass through potable groundwater, (and some fracking even occurs on the same depth as groundwater) that deep drilling only causes the contaminant cocktail to rise back to the surface after passing up through the pristine groundwater table from below. Lane refers to the issue of water management as “time-sensitive”and states that citizens must participate in encouraging the appropriate implementation of legislation to protect our freshwater. Vermont has banned fracking, North Carolina is “demonstrating the precautionary principle” and other places are well-advised to follow this example. British Columbia and Alberta require enforcement of public disclosure of chemical ingredients in fracking fluid, there is a moratorium of fracking in Quebec, and a full ban on fracking in Nova Scotia until 2014 is being challenges by industry now. Because of the vital and ancient nature of groundwater, Lane states, “we all have stake in protecting its integrity.” However, “in the face of extensive fracking operations across the continent,” this will require considerable focus and Lane directs that “we must be steadfast and vigilant to achieve our water preservation objectives.” Closing with extensive notes and references, the book is optimistic about the urgent need for legislation, transparency and the outright banning of certain procedures in order to defend ancient underground water, as well as massive amount of surface water, from industrial contamination. Remarks Lane, “the power resides within each of us and all of us together.”

Saturday, 19 September 2015

At The Cutting Edge

Environmental Book Review
Elizabeth May
At the Cutting Edge, Key Porter, 2005

Timeless and exacting, At the Cutting Edge is a fascinating investigation of Canadian forestry politics through the eyes of an exceptional Canadian parliamentarian and environmental leader. Farley Mowat comments in the introduction, “the forestry industry will hate this book. But it cannot pretend it is based on false premises...This book is thoroughly grounded on a mountain of government-generated -as well independent data- that inexorably demonstrates that, beyond all rhetoric, the forestry industry is committing an atrocity against this living earth.” Early in the book, May introduces a few very key ideas. Canada’s forests are a public resource. “Only 7 percent of Canada's forest is privately held, compared to roughly 70 percent in the United States and Sweden.” She explains, “the vast majority of Canadian forest is owned by the Crown. For the non-Canadian reader, this may sound perfectly delightful: visions of Her Majesty taking tea in the midst of the boreal come to mind. The term Crown land simply means that the land is owned by the people of Canada, with jurisdictions over forests vested in provinces. Thus, Canadians can exert a special interest, even a proprietary interest, over the management of their forests. The irony is that there has been virtually no public oversight of forest policy.” Written with May's good-humoured style, such an idea becomes an engaging challenge. “When you hear an industry spokesman talking about the threat a park represents or read about the compensation that industry demands if forest is set aside for a park, it is easy to forget that industry, for the most part, does not own the land it logs.” The book relates a perfectly cringe-making history of bargain basement leases with forest companies, disastrously combined with a lack of “accurate inventory information” and regulation. May warns that the Federal government, rather than producing useful forest science research “acts as a propaganda arm of Canada’s forestry industry,” and explains that by reading some of their documents, “a reasonable person might well be convinced of a deep and abiding commitment to ecological values across Canada. But the reality in the forest is far different.” Statistically, the felling of pristine and ancient forests has steadily increased, and - brace yourself - “approximately 80 per cent of everything that is logged in Canada is clear-cut, while 90 per cent of the cut comes from primary or old-growth forests.” May introduces a few more key concepts such as the term “NSR” lands, “not sufficiently restocked” remarking that “Canada is converting forest ecosystems to fibre farms...while there is no track record of healthy second and third growth forests following...clear-cutting,” something she calls “a vast and reckless experiment.” While the creatures and other species which form the intricate life of a forest are losing their habitat, fewer Canadians are employed per tree cut. Recent trends in mechanization, which she refers to as “disturbingly reminiscent of the cod fishery,” featuring machines capable of cutting down forests with the navigation of a single operator, are something May says is comparable to massive draggers which invisibly decimate the ocean floor. Not to ignore large projects such as the Tar Sands, May explains that industries such as oil and gas, are currently “destroying boreal forest with no thought of replanting or restoration.”
A forest a “rich myriad of species and their interrelationships...We can have a landscape of trees, but lose complexity of the original forest.” In her chapter “Myths and Propaganda,” May digs in, illuminating the reader in her energetic style about the number and variety of bullshit claims made by the forestry industry. An example of these offensive proposals include the myth that “clear-cutting increases biodiversity” when in fact, while demolished areas after a clear cut may proliferate with wild species in great numbers, the species have nothing to do with the original forest.” Because the new “biodiversity will not “serve to protect water systems, prevent landslide, mineral exposure, soil erosion and sediment run off into rivers and streams,” it is absurd for the forestry industry to claim clear-cutting has any positive spin-off. Such regrowth does not “protect the complex subterranean mycorrhizal fungi and the corresponding vast networks of this and other soil bacteria which provide a web of life to the forest.” In reality, erosion follows a clear-cut. Fire doesn't do this, but industry clear cutting, the impact of large equipment, and the invasion of roads making it no longer wilderness, does.
May, fond of the ideas of environmentalist Paul Hawkins, cites his words in the book, Ecology of Commerce. “CEO's of large corporations do not awaken each bright new day and ponder gleefully how they can rape and pillage the planet. Nor are they particularly venal and amoral. In fact, on an individual basis, many forest-industry executives share the concerns of expressed in this book. Why, then, does the environment suffer while jobs disappear? As Paul Hawkins brilliant insight has it, what we have here is a 'design problem.'” May makes it obvious in the rest of the book that the “design problem” involves a failure to protect and monitor the felling of our forests and an absence of appropriate legislation and enforced controls in a situation that clearly begs for it.
In her chapter titled “Voodoo Forestry” May sheds light on ridiculous and corrupt methods designed to work tricks with the annual Allowable Cut, or AAC. One of these is to reduce harvest age to allow more logging now. “Through this device, over-cutting is accelerated: a Douglas fir, for example, which can live 750 years, is declared ready for logging at sixty to eighty years old.” Like many of us, May is concerned about pollution and the role forests play in processing CO2. In her chapter “The Lungs of the Planet,” she reminds us that “the planet's boreal region is estimated to hold 65 million tons of carbon in its trunks, branches and leaves, and a further 270 billion tons in its soil and decaying matter. Every single year, the boreal region absorbs roughly 0.4 to 0.6 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere. “ Present environmentally stressors on trees cause enormous impact, including UV-B exposure in Canada’s boreal, with biomass loss ranging from 25 percent for jack pine to 50 percent biomass loss for white and black spruce.” Climate changes, fire, and “Climate modelling by the federal government's forest service and Enviro-Canada has attempted to predict the impact on Canadian forests of the anticipated atmospheric doubling of carbon dioxide. The results are sobering. The climatic zone appropriate for boreal forests would be reduced to areas of Northern Quebec and Labrador, with a small section of the Yukon and Northwest Territories.” May also reminds us that extreme weather has played a role in damaging millions of trees, as have increased fires and assault by insects such as the mountain pine beetle, susceptible only to severe cold and hopefully intervention by pheremone-based science. May offers here a very concise analysis of carbon sequestration, establishing that any forestry claim suggesting that plantations can accelerate carbon absorption are bad science, as young forest will not have anything remotely close to the biomass approaching “old-growth storage capacity for at least 200 years.” She also discusses corruption involved in greenhouse gas “carbon credit” trading, and the offensive first world scams behind Kyoto's Clean Air Development mechanism.
May dedicates the next few chapters to a history of efforts to curb the release of organochlorides by pulp mills, and resistance by the industry. A history of the softwood lumber debate follows, as well as an interesting description of the battle to achieve valid certification for sustainable forestry practices.
While the CSA (Canadian Standards Association) came under fire as not knowing what they were certifying, and alienated “most of the environmental and aboriginal communities...the CSA process created considerable public debate about Eco-labelling” a new stamp of approval came into being, The Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC approach was started by the World Wildlife Fund in 1993. FSC standards are specific: “Logging operations must leave 10 to 50 per cent of the forest in conditions similar to those following a natural disturbance. Plans must be in place to maintain or restore large areas of wildlife habitat. Special management provisions within 65 metres of all permanent bodies of water, and applicants must take steps to reduce their use of chemical pesticides. If Aboriginal community is affected, companies must reach agreement with the community; that agreement must include the acceptance of the management plan, opportunities for the community to participate in long-term benefits, assessment of Native rights and traditional land use, measures to protect Native values, and a dispute resolution mechanism. No other certificate comes close to matching these rigorous standards.” The FSC process has taken off in Canada, however, Canadians should be cautious about a trend in which confidence in industry self-regulation justifies reduction of forest service staff, a dangerous budget-cutting choice to decrease provincial government deficits. The book continues with a description of other pressures on forests, including poor land-use planning, population pressures, and loss of important forest biodiversity through urban sprawl.“Urban sprawl has cleared remnant old-growth Acadian forest near Halifax, and Carolinian old-growth near London, Ontario. These small forests near urban areas need to be vigorously protected.” May also reminds us that “far north of agricultural and urban Canada are huge flooded reservoirs where once there were forests. Thousands of square kilometres of boreal forest have been drowned as a result of hydroelectric development in northern Quebec, Labrador, Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario.” May also lays waste to the notion that Hydoelectricity is “clean” energy. “While hydroelectric developers attempt to promote electricity from the damming of wild rivers as environmentally acceptable, the reality is far different. Hydroelectricity can not truly be described as 'renewable.' Neither is it carbon neutral, the drowning of forests and other organic material has a significant impact on carbon, releasing vast amounts of methane. The environmental impact, besides loss of habitat, include the creation of methyl mercury and its uptake into the aquatic life of the reservoir. The Cree of Northern Quebec experienced mercury contamination as fish, a traditional part of their diet and culture, were poisoned by this 'clean' source of energy. The manipulation of water flow impacts entire water systems, changing hydrology with impacts on wetlands and habitats along the stream and river edges. These areas are among the most productive for a wide range of species.” the book also discusses mining. “There are over seven thousand abandoned mines in the boreal region, with sixty-nine operating mines and fifty-three that have recently closed. The legacy of poor past practices remains an environmental threat throughout the boreal region...Every year, 650 million tons of solid waste are generated by mining, of which at least one-fifth is assumed to be toxic. The abandoned mines pose a range of serious environmental risks, from pooled arsenic to acid mine drainage, cyanide and despoiled landscapes.” Consistent with the work of writers such as Tar Sands journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, May remarks, “the largest of the non-logging threats to Canada' forests is clearly that posed by petroleum development...From the devastated moonscapes of the Athabasca Tar Sands to the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline, the largest ecological footprint hovering over Canada’s boreal is the giant boot of the fossil fuel industry.”
The second part of the book is a cooling green forest one has been traveling toward. However, upon arrival, readers of May's work find they are newly-imbued with enormous concern for the forest, what May terms “engagement” with the issues, based upon the crash course offered in the first half. Part two, “Once a land of trees” opens with a chapter titled, “The Lost Forests,” and is an extremely well-composed description of forests in Canada. Opening with The Carolinian, which spans just 550 kilometres in Southern Ontario, May explains that, although tiny, this forest hold more tree species than any other forest in Canada, specifically, “seventy different species of native trees, over two thousand types of plants, four hundred bird species, and nearly fifty different species of reptiles and amphibians.” May describes the The Acadian. “Unlike the Carolinian, the ecosystem known as the Acadian is found only in Canada” with a “species assemblage that is unique in the world.” Says May, “it was a forest of massive hardwoods: Oaks, Maple, Birch, Beech, Butternut and Walnut. Conifers were also present, including the magnificent Hemlock, Pine and Spruce. Wildlife from lynx to caribou were indigenous in these forests. The caribou has been displaced by moose and deer; the lynx are rarely sighted and are listed as endangered. Fortunately, the raptors do well, with bald eagles abundant, scanning the river valleys and ocean waves for fish. Great blue herons stand stoically at the water's edge with Zen like patience. Herons are also forest-dwellers, nesting in treetop rookeries. Pine martins, river otter and other small mammals live in these forests, as do black bears, red foxes and snowshoe hares. Rare plants can be found below the branches, such as orchids, as well as witch hazel and staghorn sumac.” Because of logging and sprawl, “many of the hardwood species have been virtually eliminated and the softwoods, balsam, fir and spruce-now predominate.” Only approximately 5% of the Acadian is left. Fortunately, the Acadian is a major conservation priority. From here May details with equal beauty the ancient temperate rainforests, “once an abundant ecosystem, it has been reduced (globally) to less than half its range...While British Columbia has a full 205 of all the world's surviving temperate rainforests within its borders,” May cautions that, “more than half the original coastal rainforest has already been clear-cut.” The rest of the chapter is fabulously dedicated to other forests, The Montane, The Columbia, The Subalpine, The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest and the Boreal. May then shifts her attention to describing the forest situation from the basis of provincial legislation, beginning with the Atlantic Provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador, and moving on to a chapter describing conservation challenges in Quebec. This chapter is followed by Ontario, The Prairies, British Columbia and The Territories. Her final two chapters, “Signs of hope,” and “Where do we go from here?” are uplifting and feel a little bit like tips for reorganizing activist priorities after a long camping trip in one of Canada's national parks. Over 50 pages of notes follow, as May is never one to disregard science, and a helpful index of 15 pages round out this brilliant read. Highly recommended, indispensable and enobling reading for any Canadian wishing to grasp the urgent issues facing our nation.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times

Environmental Book Review 
The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times
Albert Bates
New Society Publishers

Hilarious and grim at once, Bates indy-survivalist classic, The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, is a 236 page collection of cosmic life-road instructions, including an extensive index and links to many mysterious alternative resources. Mr. Bates, a smiling American gent with an austere grey beard who terms peak oil depletion a “crude awakening,” closes each chapter with a recipe. Not merely asides, each of Bates’s recipes are accompanied by a difficulty rating, and Roasted Chestnuts are generously followed by Quintana Chiltomate Salsa and Fresh Tortilla Chips only one page later. So Bates loves to cook, but more than this, he ardently wants to provide you with a user-friendly guide book to rescuing both your planet and your life. Bates has divided the book itself into steps and stages. Early on in this volume, Bates hashes out ethical constraints around money and usury in major religions (including Islam), discusses non-inflationary money such as barter systems, and features at close an exquisite Mushroom Quesadilla recipe with an RDA index. It is only the first few pages of this adept and densely-packed classic, written by Albert Bates, “codirector of the Global Village institute for Appropriate Technology since 1984 and the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Tennessee since 1994, where he has taught sustainable design, natural building, permaculture and restoration ecology to students from more than 50 nations.” Followed by a chapter on water dependency, including how to assess one’s “water-readiness,” Bates then offers a chapter on creating one's own energy. Discussing power outages and solar heating, Bates profiles the modular Solar Village design of J├╝rgen Kleinwachter (apparently developed for widespread use in Africa) which heats by transporting hot oil through piping to a Stirling engine where it makes electricity. Bates expounds on wood, fireplaces, grills and how to make a cob oven. Solar water heating and wind turbines are included, as well as how to estimate horsepower, hydro photovoltaic and biomass potential, making the chapter indispensable to the right reader. As each chapter sports a recipe, let’s fast forward to a zinger: the ingenious “Cleopatra,” a salad which includes bite-sized romaine and almond dressing! In fact, in Step 5, “Grow Your Own Food,” the pleasures of gardening, the reality of urban agriculture, and the fabulousness of organic food include a number of salad ideas too tasty and fantastic to be missed. This chapter also includes details on extending the season through greenhouses, making soil, (the product of decay) through composting, and an insert “What Non-vegetarians need to Know About Soy Foods.” Vermiculture and mulching, food animals, sprouting and growing mushrooms are all included. Step 6: (How to Begin Storing Food) reminds us we are truly on a trip into the mind of a guy who lives in a Tennessee enclave where Survivalism is at the top of menu for discussion on Saturday night. Pressure canners, making jams and jellies, food drying, “crazing” fruit, solar-electric refrigeration, and planning food to store are all detailed Recipe? Let me guess. Jam, but quality Tennessee jam, rest assured. And so, as we suspected, we arrive at the Step discussing “Fallout Shelters” and, from the rolling green hills of the rifle-toting American wilderness, Bates calls for us to “Be Prepared!” It may actually good for Bates to get this Big Daddy business out of the way at this part of the book. Crash Proofing, (write down every appliance and fixture in your home that is dependent on fossil fuel energy) preparing for anything, being fit, encouraging your neighbours to be prepared, providing support if there is a crisis, anxieties, speaking to children about all of this, (I think he may want to speak to a psychiatrist about all of this) and so on. Finally, just when we thought, even if there was excellent jam, we would do anything not to be trapped in a fallout shelter with Bates, comes “Retooling.” Here we explore the impracticality of the automobile in its current form. A lovely, relaxing chapter describing the need for new conceptual vehicles and commercial vehicles, air travel industry “dinosaurs,” refueling systems and alternative fuels. Sadly, Bates’ presentation as future-thinking takes a dive evocative of Bush’s floundered energy policy while he wastes time discussing the merits of ethanol and several other Biofuels, which, by the time of publication, have been entirely debunked for their negative net (they create more CO2 in production than they ever displace). Other fuels such as Biogas, which Vanadana Shiva considers respect-worthy, are also detailed, while Biodiesel is offered perhaps a naiive degree of praise. DME (Dimethyl Ether) initiatives in China (although it takes 3 litres of water to produce one litre of DME) are also given more credit than they potentially deserve. Arriving at the more promising choice, Hydrogen, (H2) “four times bulkier than kerosene, but 2.8 times lighter” we find Bates, similar to an earlier make-your-own Biofuel moonshine rap, actually discussing homemade hydrogen units “a small reformer in the car’s luggage compartment, (made from a used propane tank or beer keg with electrodes bubbling water) generating enough H2 pressure in the tank to force a steady stream of hydrogen gas into the carburetor or fuel injectors, thereby increasing the combustion and decreasing the amount of gasoline burned by 15 to 30 per cent.” Commercial version available, but trust that this guy would know someone with a beer keg version. After a few chapters of discussion regarding lifestyle changes and commuting options, including, “get a horse” we arrive at “Imagine Sustainability.” Here again, Bates is back in grim mode, remarking in a cold way that sustainability is nothing, because everything falls apart, and so what we really need is “a more or less steady-state economy in which we destroy nothing, reuse and recycle, and try to keep the natural world, which provides our every need, healthy and robust…to sustain our puny existences for their natural span…” The rest of the chapter becomes Macho as Bates presents the Four Horsemen of Bio, Robo, CO2, and Nuke. Here Bates lists the content of an average light bulb and compares it to the mining required for stocking such a product. Moving on to housing, he praises several constructions such as teepees for their resilience, “Mongolian yurts thwart Gobi dust storms using a Bernoulli Effect, channeling wind harmlessly around a cone of enclosed space.” The author also presents the Maya as exceptional survivors, having lived through major drought in the form of “two and perhaps three major climate changes.” Exploring his ideas in design for sustainability, and a list of elements for design, including those that sustain “values” of the society such as individual liberty and family ties, the author comments that “we want to sustain the regenerative ability of natural systems to provide life-supporting service that are rarely counted by economists…” Bates then explores population growth by comparing it to economic “growth” and citing a bacteria theory, a little over-simplified if you ask me, as he concludes his chapter with economists Kenneth Boulding’s 1971 Misery Theorem.” If the only thing that can check population growth is misery, then it will keep growing until misery makes it stop.” Bates hopes perhaps there is a more cheerful solution, but if that is so, why supply the most disturbing one? Macho. Chapter (Step 11) “Quit your Job” is precious, as are the chapters that follow it. An ode to the “Slow Movement” with headings such as “creative loafing,” “glossary of surf speak” and “dismantling useless things” for inspiration, Bates strongly advocates achieving a quality of existence on the basis of the idea that material wealth will never produce happiness, and that to increase happiness and comfort, we must scale back. Advocating ecological agriculture and the way that “permaculture undertakes the harmonious joining of humans in their agriculture” the chapter wraps up with a perceptably apologetic spicy orange pumpkin mousse. Step 12 “Utopia by Morning” is surely one of my favorite discussions in this book, because here Bates is happy again, revelling in something he not only knows well, but something he hinges his own macho hippy dude hope upon seeing thrive. Because more people now live within cities than outside them, the redesign of cities has become more urgent. Bates refers to New Urbanists as ”those in the city-building business who just won’t give up.” To our delight, Bates is a Jane Jacobs fan. “Jane Jacobs epitomized the old guard. The author of Death and Life of American Great cities, The Economics of Cities, Systems of Survival, and The Nature of Economies, she wrote in Dark Age Ahead an obituary for contemporary city streets: Not all roads are community killers like those that have become so common in North America and in countries influenced by North American highway planning. Some roads are famous for fostering community-life, as they bring people into casual, pleasant and frequent face-to-face contact with one another. Many an ordinary Main Street used to do these services, but Main Streets have proved easily transformable into bleak, standardized community killers...” A Jane-inspired Bates writes that, “versatile boulevards are little-known in North America, and those that do exist are seldom more than a ghost of what they could be.” Curious, for a guy who spends so much rural time on The Farm, but indeed an insight. “Elsewhere in the world, especially in places with Mediterranean cultures, boulevards are places to which people flock for a stroll when the day’s work is done, to see neighbours, get word of strangers, pick up other news, and enjoy a coffee or a beer and chat while they take in the passing scene, including sidewalk play of children. People in cities and neighbourhoods in much of the world understand their boulevard to be at the heart of their communities. A well-designed boulevard is always well provided with trees along its margins and medians, because a major concern of serous boulevard designers is to create environments welcoming to pedestrians.” Nice, and a fresh aspect to the author, who suddenly shines as a bit of a poet trapped into canning fruit. In his new metropolitan tone, Yet more captivating, Bates now turns to a discussion of “Ecocity.” “The Ecocity movement turns new urbanism up a notch. Ecocityists are dedicated to reshaping urban landscape…they want to return biodiversity- including fish, frogs and dragonflies-to the innermost hearts of cities by reopening paved-over creeks and wetlands, returning nature to back lots and planters, and giving nature a longer leash. Ecocity is about growing food in de-paved streets and producing electricity from solar alleys. It is about adding greenhouses to rooftops, terraces, and window boxes for heat and kitchen gardens. It is less about rerouting cars and trucks within cities, and more about eliminating them altogether.” So should Bates not take a break from The Farm and spend some time living in such places? It seems, in fact, that Bates does tour, and that he has developed a special admiration for activists in several. To Bates, China is a land “which will add another 2 billion people in the next 30 years – 18,265 additional people every per day, a small city twice a week, a city the size of Vancouver or Sydney twice each year. With the natural systems that nourished their ancient civilizations now threadbare and seriously imperiled, it is not hard to imagine why the Chinese are interested in Ecocities.” “If one thinks of an Ecocity as a collection of self-sustaining Ecovillages, Bates declares it possible that China can accomplish an Ecocity transition more easily than in the West. There follows a description of wonderful international communities and populist communes throughout history. Ecovillage: Bates has a fondness for the Ecovillage, having spent the past 35 years of his life living on The Farm, a proto-ecovillage in Tennessee. He spent the years from 1992 to 2004 travelling as an emissary for the Ecovillage movement to hundreds of experiments of six different continents. He saw many success stories and many failures. Remarkably, he feels that many Ecovillages fail simply because they don’t have enough members. “Sustainable community is not about dominance, it is about listening.” Bates then addresses developing consensus and solution-oriented behaviour, and how to honestly express yourself without blaming or criticizing, as well as how to clearly request what you need without demanding. Again he provides resource links on this topic. Afterword, the final chapter, Bates reminds us that we have had many stories and myths since antiquity regarding the Earth as our mother, our changing nurturer, our Goddess. He cites the myth of Khali as particularly appropriate for our times, “mad dancing, dishevelled hair, and eerie howl…The world is created and destroyed in Khali’s wild dancing; redemption comes only when we realize that we are invited to take part in her dance, to yield to the frenzied beat, to find her rhythm.” Bates comments, “Peak Oil may be a trigger for a global economic depression that lasts many decades. Or it may not…But if Peak Oil doesn’t wake us up to the precariousness of our condition…annihilating the evolutionary systems that sustain us…what will?” So, “let’s not squander this moment. This will be the Great Change.” Dessert is Candylion Frogurt.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

George Soros On Globalization

Environmental Book Review
George Soros

On Globalization 
Perseus Books 

This book actually invites some interesting reflection on the changes and discussions wrought around the subject of Globalization in the past decade. The prolific George Soros is, of course, a billionaire investor, Number 7 on the Forbes list of America's most wealthy, and is the world's richest hedge-funds manager, with a net worth estimated in 2012 to be approximately 20 billion dollars. He is the founder of the philanthropic think tank, The Open Society Institute, which has given billions to various projects. The OSI was named in reference to the book, Open Society and its Enemies, by philosopher Karl Popper. Soros was a student of Popper at The London School of Economics, and is a supporter of progressive-liberal causes. His selective philanthropy has been credited, among other things, with playing a significant role in the peaceful transition of Hungary from Communism to Capitalism. Soros is also controversial for investing and removing his money from various nations in ways that have destabilized their economies, including his role in creating the economic crash in East Asia in 1997, and he won his reputation as “the man who broke the Bank of England,” after he profited 1 billion GBP during the 1992 Black Wednesday UK currency crisis. His 2002 book “On Globalization” was followed the next year by a book titled “Supremacy; Correcting the Misuse of American Power,” and in 2006 by “The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror.” He has also published innumerable articles on his ideas, can be frequently read in magazines such as The Guardian, and is a lecturer with a number of other books of similar tone.

His first point is that the domination of international finance markets we see today occurred during similar conditions prior to WW1. “Clearly,” comments Soros, “the process is not irreversible.”

“Globalization is an overused term that has been given a wide variety of meanings,” Soros remarks in his opening chapter. Concerned by protests and “widespread resentment,” Soros raises the alarm, stating that “unwitting coalitions between the far Left and the far Right have succeeded in weakening the few international institutions we have.” Soros asserts, “The two propositions that underpin this book have a common denominator: Both the provision of public goods and the improvement of internal conditions require some resource transfers from the rich countries to the poor. This goes against the grain of market fundamentalism, which claims that markets, left on their own, will ensure the optimum allocation of resources.” Soros does not agree. Soros beleives that capitalism left on its own to provide for the populace will fail. He also believes that financial institutions have a duty to fulfil, and that they are failing in many important ways. Proposing SDR's (Special Drawing Rights) at the IMF as a method of creating fair international assistance for applicant nations, assistance would be offered to nations chosen by a board of “eminent persons,” and the assistance would then be audited by a commission. This intriguing plan is only one of many ideas that make Soros truly readable. Refreshingly, Soros remarks that public protest against the mechanisms of Globalization should be heeded, and, as an international finacier interested in supporting progressive policies, he agrees that the market in its present form does not enhance the wealth of the poor in an equitable way. However, while he heeds protest, he objects to protests which attack, in particular, the WTO, and “IFTI's,” (international trade and financial institutions). These he believes “need to be strengthened,” as the resource transfers offered by the existing IFTI’s are inadequate. Most of the IMF’s money is used to rescue countries after a crisis had erupted. The main business of the World Bank is lending, its grant-making capacity is largely limited to the profits generated by its lending activity. The WTO is not concerned with resource transfers at all. The IFTI’s could play a more constructive role than they do at present…but there is a need for a new form of international resource transfer.” Soros reminds us that he has been engaged in providing foreign aid to the amount of $425 million in the last 5 years. Despite, or perhaps because of this, he sees foreign aid as considerably flawed, and outlines five specific reasons for this. His first reason, “it serves the interest of the donors rather than the recipients.” His second reason, “recipients rarely have control over development projects, which are designed and implemented by outsiders. When experts leave, not much remains.” Good point, and were he merely a despicable billionaire, he would not have made it. Soros further points out that, “foreign aid is usually intergovernmental. In some cases aid becomes the main form of support for otherwise unpopular governments,” a rather elegant way of stating the painful truth, that foreign aid supports antidemocratic regimes. His fourth point to me somewhat reiterates his first, in that “donors insist on maintaining national control over the aid they provide, resulting in a lack of coordination,” is basically a somewhat more detailed remark on his opinion that donors do not give up control. Finally, Soros comments, “it is not acknowledged that international assistance is a high-risk enterprise. It is much harder to do good than to run an enterprise for profit.” Honest words from an international businessman and investor. Here at last, Soros introduces his own fresh take, based on his wish to foster the development of open societies. This approach, Soros claims, is intended to serve the interests of the recipient, and be managed by nationals rather than donors, who decide on priorities. In explaining Karl Popper's ideas, he remarks, “open society is often confused with civil society,” clarifying, ”it is one of the components.” Soros defends the WTO as “a very valuable organization,” he considers both misunderstood and misused. “Conventions established through the WTO are under-enforced,” Soros remarks. From this vantage point, there are several issues that concern him for reform within the WTO, and these are labour rights, environmental protection, and intellectual property rights. As well, he calls for reform to “TRIPS, or trade relation investment measures,” as well as “competition, anti-corruption, and tax policies.” Soros proposes international reserve assets that are issued by the IMF, tagged to implement international assistance and sees this as an important missing component. He also supports structural reformation through multilateral development and suggests low interest, long maturity loans to the poorest, educational spending and micro-lending. In his concluding section of the book, the author states that since 911 that the US is the dominant hegemony, and “greater than ever,” but Soros objects strongly to individuals such as Kissinger, and ideas involving US hegemony as having a “practical” aspect requiring the control over resistance movements in smaller nations and the militarism that followed 911. Soros offers “two alternative visions of the US role in the world” that of ”Geopolitical realism” based on the interests of the state, and “open society idealism” based on the interests of humanity. Describing various governments which embody one or the other in their leanings, he explains that Theodore Roosevelt “can be taken as the protagonist of American hegemony,” while Woodrow Wilson might represent the idealist approach. Interestingly, Soros defines the Cold War as an era when the US “successfully combined the two roles of being one of the two superpowers and the leader of the free world.” Because of this, other democratic countries “voluntarily submitted” to US leadership in face of a common danger, and the United States emerged victorious. “Following the collapse of communism… the choice between the two presented itself more starkly.” Both history lesson and optimistic proposal, the book explains past events in a way that is neither rhetorical nor apologist in tone. Soros writes that the general public did not see “under the influence of market fundamentalism” the need for the US to consider reaching out to former communist countries in the way The Marshall Plan reached out to Europe after WW2. Soros calls this a moment where “an historic opportunity was lost.” Speaking further on 911, he points out that ”relations with China and Russia have undergone a remarkable transformation. This is one of several positive by-products of one of the most devastating tragedies in American history.” Regardless, “although no state can challenge American supremacy, we are at risk if we fail to live up to the responsibilities that our leadership position imposes...The responsibilities I am talking about are moral responsibilities. That is the missing ingredient in US policy. It is of course not entirely missing; it is only shunted to the sidelines by the prevailing doctrines of market fundamentalism and geopolitical realism.” Soros defends the vision of an open society as counter to present policy in the United States. “The principles of open society find expression in a democratic form of government and a market economy...One way to foster open societies without running afoul of the sovereignty of states is to offer... incentives for voluntary compliance with international rules and standards.” In his closing statement, an invitation to build a society his ideas, Soros claims, “the difference between global capitalism and global open society is not so great.” Insightful perspective by an international financier, one who counsels us to listen to protestors and to learn from the lost opportunities of the past, Soros is a man with an eye to transforming policies and progressively, even radically improving (rather than dismantling) existing international organizations seen by so many as cause rather than cure.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Consumptionomics: Asia’s Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet by Chandra Nair.

Environmental Book Review
Consumptionomics: Asia’s Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet
by Chandra Nair
Wiley, 2011

While in favour of nothing more than economic vigour for Asia, Nair is in favour of a future, and if indeed Asia is to have any future, it is a future that requires appropriate resource planning against massive environmental collapse. A reputed economist, Chandra Nair opens the files on the lie that Asia is poised to reap the rewards of unsustainable, consumption-driven growth. 
“Given the failure of Western countries to take a responsibility for the future of the planet,” comments Nair, “it is now time for Asia to step up to the block. This is not to suggest Asia has all the answers. But it is to say that Asia has a central responsibility for determining the world’s fate.” 
Nair explains clearly that growth will occur more quickly than many have projected, and that water resources will be extremely hard hit throughout India and China if planning does not respect this dire limitation. 
In Chapter One, “Asia arrives- And wants it all” Nair presents the actual numbers -“Today, the average American uses 250 kilowatt hours of power a day. In China, the average is 40 kilowatt hours, and in India it is 20 kilowatt hours. If Asia’s population were to use as much energy per person as Americans, then they would consume 14 times as much energy as the United States does now. Even if Asia were to restrict itself to European energy levels- around 150 kilowatt hours per person per day- it would still use eight to nine times as much energy as America." While, as Nair remarks, this may seem exciting for business, “be they car makers or coal miners, in insurance or IT, it would seem that Asia’s huge market potential is finally materializing, ” while in reality, imposing American values on Asia represents a deadly endeavour. “If we push the world’s economy towards being six or seven times bigger than now… we can be sure that more and more of those resources will be driven to the point of collapse. The region where these collapses will have the most immediate and greatest impact will be Asia.” 
Nair discusses water. “Water is its most pressing resource issue. Almost without exception, countries across Asia are seeing the amount of water available to each of their citizens fall sharply.” Most extreme is Pakistan’s situation, where agriculture accounting for 96 percent of all water withdrawals, causing per capita water resources to fall by “more than half in the first five years of this century.”
 Not one to deviate to emotional writing, Nair, in creating a solutions-based blueprint for an economically-healthy Asia, leaves perhaps the most important note of the book obvious but unspoken. The act of emulating the Western lifestyle represents treason against the nations impacted, and is an act of war against the people of India, China, and surrounding Asian nations. Most curious about those investors who focus their energies on a “fast-buck” Western-lifestyle approach to the Asian market, is the offensive attitude that suggests appropriate growth cannot be developed upon the pre-existing Asian world when the societies there have been functioning sustainably for thousands of years. The notion that growth requires a model life-destroying to Asia and, by association, the rest of the planet, speaks volumes about the lack of awareness regarding current models of sustainable economic restructuring. Nair comments, “if the countries of the region press forward with turbo-charged, consumption-fuelled growth, always looking to expand their economies at the maximum possible rate, then the environment will be overwhelmed. There is not the water, the land or the air to support such an economic programme. If it were attempted, billions of people would be badly affected. Many would die – tens of millions? Hundreds of millions? It is impossible to say…And regardless of whether they die or not, billions of people across Asia can only be condemned to live in horrendously depleted environments…Asia, because of the scale of its populations, will run into the question of how to maintain the productivity of these systems in ways that nowhere else will.”
 The negative effects of this process have already provided ample demonstration of their force in recent water conflicts, enough to sound a warning everywhere. While the governments of Asian nations and corporations invested in Asian trade may appear to be acting too slowly around resource sustainability, “governments are, however, finding it difficult to ignore the almost inevitable conflicts that will arise over resources." Reminding us that for two centuries Asia did little choosing, and was a subject of Western colonial power and exploitation of people and resources, Nair comments that a “choice” of capitalism or communism was thrust upon them after the Second World War. “In the 1980s and 1990s, it seemed that finally countries could choose whether to embrace free markets. Except this was not really a choice; it was accepting orthodoxy.” Nair states that already policy arising from the “urging of growth on the one hand and restraint on the other” are pushing Asia to delineate real sustainability. As well, where such markets emerge, intense competition between domestic and multinational interests causes business to disregard their responsibility to the Asian environment in order to ensure short-term advantages. 
Presenting the idea of “Risk Minimization” as a “useful precautionary principal,” Nair cites examples regarding fisheries as a particularly helpful template, based on evolving policy that already exists. Asia would “identify the biggest threats to fisheries” while embracing “smaller steps that might lead to greater goals” including “the setting up of marine reserves, the funding of local eco-tourism projects, the use of quotas or the imposing of bans for part of the year, as China now does. Where economic returns (are) already low, it might offer compensation and proposals for alternative jobs.” Nair comments that China already “has been promoting the idea of a “harmonious society” rather than “the pursuit of growth at all costs” and that “through its take-off, Japan successfully shared its wealth equitably, avoiding the huge disparities in the United States.” Another hopeful example moving away from a dire water crisis is that of India, “far better positioned to continue with labour-intensive farming than to push hundreds of millions of people from the countryside into the cities.” Furthermore, “in Indonesia, relatively small revaluations of rainforest would be enormous incentive for their communities to develop businesses centered around caring for trees and their products rather than felling them.” Nair comments that while governments in Asia identify “those parts of Western economic and political orthodoxy that do not work for them, they should also be drawing strength from the fact that despite the relentless onslaught…they have all, albeit to varying degrees, resisted market capitalism’s consumption-driven model.” Asian planners have maintained significant trade barriers, China has the economy under state control, and “many Indians, especially among the poor and tribal people...view globalization largely as a source of intrusion, dispossession and pollution.” 
Speaking further on the economic policies which must be implemented to address the specific nature of the challenges facing Asia, and the Asian incentive to develop “their own distinctive forms of the state,” the author explores the way that the countries of Asia, despite their exposure to global ideas and economics, have not seen their political forms converge with those of the West. Outlining three tenets: “that resources are constrained, that use must be shared equitably between current and future generations and that re-pricing them would be the key to producing change, leading to sustainable societies and economies,” Nair constructs a framework to these tenets. “Fiscal measures: This calls for stiff tax on greenhouse gas emissions and all uses of natural resources. “ However, it is “crucial that these taxes be applied across the board—from agriculture and mining to manufacturing, and, where appropriate, service industries.” Citing some of Al Gore's tax ideas, the author emphasizes that “all payroll taxes be eliminated and replaced with pollution taxes aimed at collecting the same amount of revenue.” If there is a technofix, a myopic idea which annoys Nair, the economist believes it will arrive in the form, of ’Dematerializing’ production –making things with far less or even no material,” such as digital products-books or music, as well as advances such as “‘coldzymes’ in detergents, allowing clothes to be washed in cold instead of hot water.” He praises China’s ‘Circular Economy Law’ as “part of the measures aimed at lowering its resource usage per unit of economic output.” In terms of Land Management Practices, “With total demand for food and animal feed expected to double in the region by 2050…at the top of the agenda are investments to protect soil, water resources and biodiversity, and their continued protection through establishment of land-use practices that have the least ecological impact.” More simply, “the industrialization of agriculture needs to be reversed.” Consistent with the pragmatic ideas of writers such as Vandana Shiva, Nair expands on the idea that “agriculture must move towards a regime of low chemical fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide use, replaced where possible with value-adding, labour-intensive techniques,” advising that Asian governments raise the tax on agro-business, reform land-ownership rights, and provide better jobs to prevent the migration of rural people to the cities. Chandra Nair also advises access loans for farmers and the availability of insurance to transform rural economies. As climate change affects weather and food prices inevitably rise, GE crops must necessarily be subject to strict controls, “to ensure that reserves of traditional crops are maintained and countries do not become beholden to agri-business.” While overfishing, illegal trawling and blast-fishing with explosives has severely depleted fisheries, Nair recommends moratoriums, strict monitoring, and “quotas, regional agreements on no-fish zones,” especially “in the productive waters of south-east Asia.” Social resource practices, where “government must rework the rules” requires “sustainable urban and rural environments where people can flourish.” Social management systems with “a particular emphasis on transport, energy and education,” are advised, while “in transport, it is vital to escape the grip of the automotive industry and its interest in having privately owned cars as people’s principal means of mobility.” Elegantly put, but in the context of the rest of the book, sublimely understated. 
It is Nair's view that Asian countries must stop waiting for the West to lead, or to allow the West to define them, “as ‘emerging markets’ or ‘investment destinations,’ as ‘export-oriented’ or as ‘pent-up’ source of enormous consumer demand. Now they must identify and pursue their own long-term sustainable development strategies.” Nair suggests that all countries will be hurt by climate change, and that international negotiations may have little prospect of progress. “It is incumbent, therefor, for countries to act unilaterally and to do so sooner rather than later, in order to strengthen themselves.” Here Nair echoes the optimism of writers such as George Soros, who remind us that nations are unilaterally pursuing inspiring change regardless of climate change conferences. Nair finds calls for the West to take responsibility for greenhouse emissions, such as that at the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009, by Brazil’s president, indicate a “disturbing” tendency to constantly look to the West for answers, “something the West is all too happy to go along with.” In the aftermath of Copenhagen conference, China was widely held responsible for failing to meet a binding agreement. Nair sees some irony in this, as “resistance to change is more deeply rooted in the West than in Asia.”

In his final chapter, titled, How Might Societies Looks? Nair states, “efficiency will be defined by how little material and how few resources are used in the manufacture of a product or the delivery of a service, not how quickly it is made or its cost reduced. Productivity will be measured by resource conservation instead of output volume.” Further detailing the necessary coming shift in terms of conservation in “soil, water and forests” and 'dematerialization' of manufacturing, his closing chapter is the synthesis of a keen economic thinker with a frank social visionary and policy-designer. In his final remarks Nair concludes, “Asians can engage the world on these issues. They have the means. They have the tools. And increasingly, they have the ideas. They have an opportunity to harness development in ways that can meet their needs and desires and produce a global environment that is worth living in.” Tackling what other economists have acknowledged but with an unparalleled scope, this important work represents a direct line-of-sight on the future of an unfolding Asia.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Soil Not Oil

Environmental Book Review 
Soil Not Oil 
Vandana Shiva
South End Press, 2008

Truly essential reading, Soil Not Oil is a slender, inviting book that generates several lasting impressions. First of all, within a few paragraphs, it becomes evident that environmental activist author Vandana Shiva is in the fields, talking to the people who work the land, talking to the people who dwell by motorways and suffer exposure to pollutants, talking in person to a collection of everyday heroes presented throughout the book. On July, 8, 2008, the government of India looked at the dire situation Shiva describes throughout the book, (still an on-going environmental catastrophe) and found it to be of such concern to India that a policy was established “which prioritizes food crops over biofuel crops” and resulting in a public declaration that industrial biofuels lead to ecological and economic impoverishment. Shiva, an able essayist, shares in this book a love of India and her deep empathy for her life-threatened subjects, followed up by hard-ass fact and well-researched references. Articulate and clear, it represents a highly-readable crash course in a number of topics, but in particular, readers can expect to emerge with a thorough understanding of several noteworthy environmental discussions. You may have heard that since 1995, more than 270,000 farmers have committed suicide in India, an absolutely chilling figure which begs an individual like Vandana Shiva to speak up. In her elegant voice, rising above the efforts by PR spin doctors from Monsanto and other corporations (corporations the rest of the world holds responsible for the tragedy), Shiva begins the discussion in a refreshingly open style- “at the beginning” with the story of the automobile in India. A charming description of the traditional modes of travel there, the story of “modernizing” a way of life built upon foot and animal paths soon reveals untold damage to remote places where a culturally-rich infrastructure has for thousands of years delivered commendable, healthy and sustainable communities. The removal of quotas from the automobile sector, political corruption, and the banning of the rickshaw, “fossil-free, climate-friendly transportation” in Kolkata and Delhi, quickly resulted in disaster. Compared to other writers explaining the impact of globalization and agriculture, (such as the essays in Hungry for Profit by John Bellamy Foster, or Marie-Monique Robin's The World according to Monsanto, positively reviewed by Shiva) Shiva sets the standard in her genre. This is not only through the warmth conveyed in her writing style, but for her scientific reliability when using facts to support solutions. Casting light upon India’s shining modernization process, “the superhighway and automobile are the ultimate cultural symbols of non-sustainability and ecological exclusion,” Shiva even unearths an eerie historic parallel in Hitler’s highway propaganda of an earlier era. Here the volume is also praiseworthy in detailing the extent to which deliberate misinterpretation of carbon trading and the Kyoto Accord’s now infamous Clean Air Mechanism have (as mirrored in other parts of the world) served a destructive purpose in India.

Soil Not Oil then turns its attention to the fiasco of the biofuel sector globally, and in particular, the Biofuel and Jatropha industry in India. Now we are moving into the territory of Shiva’s favorite discussion, sustainable agriculture, but not before a detailed and enlightening exploration of the Biofuel sector as creating an agricultural crisis. Biofuels, for anyone who may not be up on such things, have for some time now been understood as destructively negative net, (it takes more petrol to produce ethanol than ethanol produced). Shiva expertly articulates Biofuel’s role as “non-sustainable monocultures that serve to increase greenhouse gas emissions” and “a major cause of hunger and landlessness” as an assault on “the livelihood security of the poor.” It is important to understand the reality of negative net, because while governments all over the world have been promoting the Biofuel industry, Biofuel has also become a basis for legitimizing the spread of genetically modified (GM) Soy, which has decimated the rainforests of the Amazon for soy, (22.2 million hectares) at the time of writing (2008). Shiva notes that since January 2003, nearly 70,000 kilometres of Amazon rainforest have been cleared for Biofuel production.

While not exploring the details behind the governmental decision-making that is responding to these horrors such as the 2008 policy placing India's food production ahead of other agriculture, in this book Shiva takes a stance that criticizes the Indian government for failing to protect their wheat surplus in 2006. A failure to fight for a fair price for their surplus resulted in India actually importing inferior, pesticide-laden wheat back in to their nation, causing Indian food security to suffer.

Emphasizing India’s ability to heal, Shiva explores a brief but fascinating history of India’s (and largely Indian women’s) impressive protest movement regarding GE. In particular, she praises resistance against recent attempts to replace traditional mustard seed oil with GM soy oil. India’s proud history of Satygraha, or non-cooperation with destructive policy, is a current of hope running throughout the book. “In biology, the term development refers to self-directed, self-regulated, self-organized evolution from within.”

A no-bullshit, elegant piece of writing, it's a book rich with solutions contrasting present-day crisis.

Expanding our understanding of the life-destroying effects of agribusiness and monoculture, the last third opens with a comparison pitting ancient knowledge against the spin doctors of cash and land grab. Ancient knowledge wins hands down. Describing soil fertility, (her favorite realm) as something that has never been generated by chemical fertilizers, “the Green Revolution has resulted in soil toxicity by introducing excess quantities of trace elements into the ecosystem,” she helpfully reminds us that “micronutrient deficiency leads to metabolic disorders” emphasizing that to destroy the soil is to destroy human health.

Shiva explains that “fluorine toxicity from irrigation has developed in various regions of India. 26 million hectares of India’s land are affected by aluminum toxicity” also commenting upon boron, iron, molybdenum, selenium toxicity, all wrought through Green Revolution practices. Examining the impact of long-distance globalized food systems and their disastrous toll in greenhouse gas emissions, the book actually specifies just how much food miles have increased due to globalization. While we all know that 1 k of food can generate 10 k of CO2 emissions, Shiva also reminds us of a famous 2003 study in Toronto which demonstrated that our food travels an average of 3,333 miles, while a Swedish study recently determined that a typical breakfast has traveled the circumference of the earth in food miles.

Here Shiva’s solutions-driven writing again takes charge. Emphasize sustainable agriculture, based upon the sustainable use of natural resources, land, water and agricultural biodiversity directs the author. Great news for India, Shiva’s preoccupation with creating a comparable agricultural model have resulted in some interesting business statistics as, “conservation of native seeds and biodiverse ecological farming have yielded incomes two to three times higher than monoculture farming.” “Seeds of hope instead of seeds of hopelessness and despair” are how Shiva terms her solution for India’s future. She comments, “humanity has eaten over 80,000 edible plants over the course of its evolution. More than 3,000 have been used consistently. However, we now rely on just eight crops to provided 75 per cent of the world’s food.” She recalls for us that Cargill and ADM, Monsanto, and others are the same companies that destroy the Amazon while attempting to make protesting Indians switch over to their GM soy. Quoting Michael Pollan, the book asks, “how do they match the stories told about them?”

Not a naiive writer accepting any gesture towards organic agriculture, Shiva rejects the idea of pseudo-organic agriculture that substitutes chemical input with organic input, “this is not agroecology” and explains that pseudo-organic agriculture have created “large export-oriented industrial farms in which farmers are viewed as labourers and serfs, instead of sovereign producers,” a system “built on the destruction of the self-organizing capacity of human communities and agro-ecosystems.”

To close, Vandana Shiva perceives opportunity in what she terms the “emergent option.” This option does not destroy the planet but diverts away from entropic laws through the evolution of a living system that are bio-diverse, ecological, and places value on local food systems. By bringing people back to the reality behind agriculture, the energy of compassion takes the place of destruction and greed. Ecology and sharing, counter to the present system of scarcity producing market demand, inevitably win over what she describes as a “scarcity of work, scarcity of happiness, a scarcity of security, scarcity of freedom” and (finally) “a scarcity of the future.”

Rallying us all to cease “sleepwalking to extinction” the book accomplishes an inspiring call for humanity to “unleash our creative energy” and “make systemic change and reclaim our future as a species, as part of the earth family.” 
A writer with a flair for relevant and even entertaining political and historical facts, Shiva neatly combines with an ecological viewpoint reinforced as only a scientist can, making Soil not Oil an essential choice for any progressive-minded reader wishing to engage even a basic discussion of India's current environmental state of affairs.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Food Sovereignty in Canada

Environmental Book Review 

Food Sovereignty in Canada

Creating Just and Sustainable Food Systems edited by Hannah Wittman, Annette Aurelie Desmarais and Nettie Wiebe

Fernwood Publishing, 2011

 An ideal, accessibly academic and historically-rich choice for the curious. A wealth of insights regarding the evolution of the Food Sovereignty movement in Canada, this book explores every reasonable question someone new to the topic might ask. Although a variety of authors are profiled within, each piece is written an open tone that conveys idea-sharing and urgency at the same time, supported with studies and solid, well-noted research.

Prefaced with a three page list of acronyms, the compilation introduces the toil behind a surprising number of organizations invested in what lands on your plate. Concerningly, some of the most noble among them, such as the misunderstood Canadian Wheat Board, (which operates a one-desk “monopoly” that has staunchly protected farmers from gouging by corporate agricultural interests) are threatened like never before. The book explains that the self-image Canada maintains, as “breadbasket to the world” was created in the Forties, when Canada supplied ship-loads of high-quality wheat to “war-needy Britain or hungry nations else where.” From the early Forties to the late Eighties, Chapter one author Nettie Weibe explains, Canadian governmental policy functioned under one of two paradigms that have controlled our farms. Our “breadbasket” days were supported by the core premise that “because agriculture is a unique sector due to its importance for national food security and economic development, it is therefore entitled to special attention from governments.” Special regulations protected Canadian farmers from brute market forces and created mechanism that increased their market power. However, at present, “the neo-liberal paradigm (late 1980's to the present) holds that agriculture is an economic sector no different from any other,” an outlook that has resulted in the removal of subsidies and protection while changing essential controls (such as in the area of food safety) to “regulation for competition.” While failing to solve issues that existed for Canadian farmers before the “breadbasket” era, the result of the Eighties-era neo-liberal paradigm shift is visible everywhere, in the form of environmental degradation on a mass scale as large corporations take advantage of this vulnerable market, as well as a heart-breaking depopulation of rural areas, and all-time low farm incomes for the producers remaining. Remarks researcher Darrin Qualmann, “Canadian net farm income from the markets has been negative for the past two-and-a-half decades.” Weibe and co-author Wipf suggest that paradigm shifts occur in the event of a crisis, when assumptions about the social value of public policies become incorrect. Because of this, the arrival of a third paradigm, that of Food Sovereignty, has taken a natural and prominent place in challenging the destructive course of corporate power over Canada's agricultural heritage. Contributor Darrin Qualmann explains in Chapter 2, “as farm families have watched their net incomes deteriorate, and as taxpayers have been tapped to cover farm losses, the dominant agribusiness corporations have consistently racked up record and near-record profits. Many of the worst years for farmers have been the best years for agribusiness companies. This is no coincidence.”

Still, perhaps because Canadian populations are overwhelmingly urban, as many of us roll down the supermarket aisles of misleading labelling experiencing a disconnect from the practices and processes that produce our food, we may have missed the fact that Canada, “breadbasket of the world” is under seige, and that the infrastructure and the literal roots of Canada's agriculture are being pulled asunder by corporate interests. Comments Weibe, “this relentless pressure to adopt new technologies and increase production in order to protect Canada's 'global leader' reputation is coupled with an equally virulent drive to protect and increase the Canadian agricultural trade advantage.” The impact is that food quality, and the sustainability of Canadian agriculture, crushed under the control of consumer and profit-oriented markets, is faltering. And Canada is paying dearly, not only culturally, but, financially, as we offer our devalued product to other nations more savvy in establishing national policies to control the influx of GM food. “The experience of having GM-contaminated Canadian flax rejected by European buyers has been costly for Canadian farmers.” However, farmer resistance to the damaging use of pesticides and “terminator seeds” for profit, and the greater issue of global food security, is under ruthless attack by large corporations, a nightmare that nation after nation is confronting. Sadly, in some cases, such as starving African nations resisting GM-contaminated corn in 2002, the corporations have exploited political circumstances to overpower them.

Writes Weibe and Wipf, “a clear, public way of institutionalizing the food sovereignty paradigm in Canada would be to entrench food rights in the Canadian constitution and laws, as has been done in several other jurisdictions.” In fact, quite a number of other nations, including India, (as detailed in Soil Not Oil by Vandana Shiva) have new laws emphasizing the right to food. “The Food Sovereignty paradigm views agriculture as part of an entire food system...a new national food policy also requires a significant departure from the current policy process in order to be both meaningful and successful.” Fortunately for Canada, the groundwork for input exists in the form of a formidable and long-standing network of relevant organizations available to provide expertise to policy-making process, vital to integrating both consumers and farmers with government policy-making.

The book remarks, “achieving food sovereignty in Canada hinges on making some fundamental changes in our domestic and trade policies, our diets, our 'food cultures' our view of our place in the wider world, and many of our relationships to each other and our environments,” calling for “sweeping changes to current agricultural policy. The first challenge is to develop a comprehensive national food policy, incorporating the presently seemingly disparate policy areas such as agriculture, health care, social welfare, the environment and justice,” thereby “institutionalizing a food sovereignty paradigm in Canada.” Duly noted by export data from Statistics Canada and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, Neo-liberal trade policy has resulted in mass dumping of low-cost Canadian surplus onto other markets, creating destabilization globally, and offering further evidence that a coherent food sovereignty approach would benefit other nations as well. Remarks Qualmann, “Monsanto realized record sales for a fifth consecutive year in fiscal 2008, delivering compound annual earnings growth of 20 percent plus during that time...” (Monsanto annual report 2008.)” However, “the policies and strategies advanced by Ottawa, the provinces and the large agricultural corporations, such as Monsanto, are money-losers for Canadian farm families.”

In the chapter “Indigenous Food Sovereignty,” Dawn Morrison notes that “the highest level of agricultural production in the mainstream economy take place on areas that were once important traditional harvesting sites.” Morrison sensibly calls for “adaptive management,” as a “flexible, process-oriented approach, “ providing the necessary “methodological framework for working across cultures to redesign the global food system” and “restore traditional harvesting and management strategies.”

Fortunately, the necessity for a fresh paradigm waits for no one. Food Sovereignty as a national concept has grown in the hearts and minds of many, and is taking flight exclusive of public policy changes. Writes Rachel Engler-Stringer, “In the latter part of the 1990's the term 'community food security' began to be used in North American public health discussions,” and “the emergence of a community food security network developed independently from the discussions about food sovereignty, which were being developed at about the same time.” Nutritional researchers soon realized that locally grown produce was far healthier for community nutrition and strengthening to local food systems while promoting good working conditions for farmers. Social justice soon blended with nutritional concepts, and new incentives around sustainable food choices cultivating an awareness of food sovereignty ideas. Soon collective kitchens, farmer's markets, food hubs, and urban agriculture emphasized locally produced food.

“Urban food charters, food coalitions and food policy councils are all positive signs of this trend,” writes Yolanda Hansen in her piece, Growing Community. Describing a rich history of community urban gardening in Canada that dates back centuries, Hansen comments that “the participants in community gardens were often marginalized people, primary the working poor and immigrants, who used these gardens as empowering spaces. These principles continue to influence contemporary community gardens and demonstrate the applicability of food sovereignty to this urban practice.” On the larger front, in the chapter “Getting to Food Sovereignty: Grassroots perspectives from the national Farmers Union The NFU, which is “the largest voluntary direct-membership national farm organization in Canada,” talks about the extraction of wealth from farmers. Terry Boehm, President of the National Farmers Union, explains “from a tactical perspective, working with agricultural critics and others in political parties has been important in delaying or amending legislation. For local food movements and consumer-based food movements, small regulatory changes and legislative pieces make huge differences, so that political piece is terribly important. We've often been told that governments have to act a certain way because of international obligation or that trade agreement. But really its national political decision for governments to participate in those agreements and then behave how they want to behave using those agreements as justification. So I can't emphasize enough, whether it is on seed sovereignty, genetic sovereignty or control issues, autonomy, the ability to organize cooperatives, to engage in class action lawsuits, whatever it might be, it's all political engagement in that respect.”

Interestingly, in Transforming Agriculture: Women Farmers Define A Food Sovereignty Policy for Canada, the need for such political action is reiterated with a very special perspective. The writers explain, “farm women are significantly involved in decision making on matters concerning the ongoing operation and management of the farm...Women farmers have a distinct analysis of agricultural policy and specific ideas about what an inclusive agricultural policy would look like. Yet farm women were conspicuously absent in the department of agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) consultation process leading up to the Agricultural Policy Framework (APF) and it appears no specific efforts have been made to include them in subsequent national agricultural policy development. We have to ask what kinds of issues would women have raised if they had participated in the consultations.” In fact, farm women provided a detailed response, including four major policy strategies to be included in a domestic food policy: “Shift government focus from free trade to fair trade; shift government focus from cheap food to quality food; emphasize production for local and domestic consumption; and reduce importation of foods that can be grown domestically.”

A comprehensive and admirable work, I would encourage any Canadian with an interest in partaking in any discussion of Canada's food to read this book. In the spirit of the Food Sovereignty movement, I'd like to close with a quote from Hilary Moore, president of NFU Local 310. “What I'd like to see groups do, instead of trying to work within the system, is to radically challenge the status quo...There needs to be a cultural shift. You almost wish for a sense of wanting to be self-reliant and the national pride that goes with that.”