I’m not a vegan or even a vegetarian. I guess you could call me a reasonably discerning but practical omnivore but I’m becoming rather desperate to find something I can eat without feeling guilty about the harm I am doing to someone, something or to the environment.
The other night I had salmon for dinner but my pleasure in eating it was destroyed by knowing that it is farmed in Tasmania where salmon farming is so intensive it is badly polluting the local environment and that salmon raised in crowded conditions suffer stress as do all animals forced to live in such an unnatural manner. I felt turned off by the current media about how the salmon we buy is artificially coloured pink as the fish do not eat the normal diet they would have in the wild to give them their colour but instead are expected to form their flesh from dried up wastage from the chicken industry! How can I enjoy salmon again unless I know it was caught in the wild rather than corralled and extracted from a paddock in the sea. Where do I find wild salmon? Is there enough to go around and do I need to set aside a day’s pay for one serve?
Free range eggs
The next day for lunch I opted for an omelette made from free range eggs. But my conscience was not clear. I know the eggs labelled as such are not necessarily genuine free range. Even if they are “ free range”, I know is not free in the sense that the birds have an enjoyable life scratching around and eating a varied diet straight from the earth as do the happy hens on a friend’s tiny farmlet in a town an hour or so from Melbourne. Instead, hens producing “free range” eggs for the masses have a couple of hours per day outside and otherwise they are crowded into barns. So I could not feel 100% happy about my omelette.
What about vegetables? Well apart from the fact that the growing of vegetables for humans displaces nature on the land required I suppose I can consume with reasonable impunity. I could grow them myself but on the tiny amount of land I own and the small amount of sunshine available after the house next door and its tall hedge have stolen most of it except in summer, my supply would be extremely erratic. No, I cannot rely on that except the occasional garnish of parsley..
Biscuits, bread and pastry
Aside from vegetables a vegetarian diet may include biscuits, bread and pastry all of which can transform a vegetable selection into a satisfying meal. But hold on a moment! I see from the packet that the biscuits I am about to eat contain palm oil the production of which has driven land clearing in the places it grows best. This land clearing has destroyed the habitat of one of our close relatives, the orangutan and as species , they are in peril! I can’t eat those biscuits. I’ll opt for those not containing palm oil. But all biscuits are made from grains. The production of grains for an ever growing population of humans drives land clearing and habitat loss! This is undeniable! All land taken over for agriculture must be taken from other species, be they orangutans, elephants , kangaroos, all kinds of birds reptiles, insects (including bees).
I can avoid palm oil but can I avoid grains if I am a vegetarian?
The other large category (before I get onto meat!) that is morally problematic is “dairy”. Milk, yoghurt, cheese, cream, butter all of which I love. But they are produced by animals (usually cows) that are forced to calve annually, to be separated from their babies before those babies even have the brief pleasure of suckling from their mothers. The babies (“poddy” calves) are hand fed up to the day they go market . Forlorn and abandoned they await their fate to become another delicacy that I decided long ago not indulge in – veal. I cannot eat any dairy products without thinking of the poor exploited animals who provide it to me.
What about meat from land based animals? Firstly let’s take chicken. I love it! I also love chickens. They are delightful creatures. The chickens bred for meat now look nothing like the chickens we may have known personally as children. I knew them from my grandparents' place where they happily scratched round all day after producing an egg each in the nests in their coop. My grandmother would select one to eat maybe 3 times per year so they had a dual role! Meat chickens now are lethargic and inelegant sedentary creatures displaying little curiosity. Such a creature can garner a lot of flesh on its bones quite quickly unlike the active, exploring, scratching sort of chicken we think of when we think of a chicken. I find that off-putting. For me it is a step too far into genetically engineered dinner.
The first favorite food in my life was bacon. I loved it, especially the way my mother cooked it – crisp, hot and a few ribbons of fat bordering the very tasty lean meat. I still love bacon but I have hardly eaten it at all for 20 years because of what I know about the conditions that pigs live in before they are harvested for us. It makes me very sad to see a sow’s body pressed up against a metal frame supposedly for her own good and pigs living in concrete enclosures. I would feel happy eating bacon if I knew the pig had run around and wallowed in mud during its life.
Beef- well maybe the cattle involved get the best deal. I know people who produce beef and I know they care about their animals. Perhaps their lives are acceptable til it is time to meet their maker. I would be happy to eat a porterhouse steak if I knew that the animal’s life had allowed him to express his nature, that he had felt the sun on his back and enjoyed the shade of a gum tree whilst looking at the sunset and later met a swift, unconscious end, knowing nothing about it. But when I see the way our beef cattle from the north are treated overseas, it puts me off beef full stop. I stop trusting anything about its production.
Where does this leave me ? Sushi has lost its shine, Orange Roughy is a no- no ; its life cycle is too long for a regular harvest to be sustainable. What about tuna? Well it might be Ok except that it is caught with large nets that take in other marine animals. There are also some doubts about the sustainability of this "resource", anyway.
Where do I go from here? There are problems with everything as I try to compose my menu.
Hunting and gathering
The problem is that everything needs to be produced on such a large scale to fulfil the needs to humans who have spread all over the globe and increased their population from 1 billion around 1800, to now over 7 billion and rising! About 2 billion people globally are hungry or undernourished. Many in first world countries are malnourished on a diet of addictive junk foods such as fries and hamburgers and these same people may well be obese from the excessive but empty calories of their diet. As for me, I just suffer from “moral starvation”. This is not an inability to access food, but an inability to find anything I can eat with a clear conscience that is not part of a harmful industry. I suppose I could hunt for and gather my own food but there is little game or produce in the suburbs.
However, there is another view of the world. That is of one of abundance and bounty. The fruit tree bears far more than is needed to reproduce itself. There is almost nothing we cannot eat: many plants, the flesh of animals (also abundant in natural environments), their milk, their eggs, the sap of trees like maples, the honey of bees, the fish, crustaceans, frogs and seaweeds of the rivers and oceans, the mushrooms and fungi of the forest. It seems there is no reason for anyone to go hungry. Even less so with a little tender cultivation. In fact, it seems that mostly what is needed to prevent hunger is access to land, knowledge of plants and animals, some basic hunter gatherer skills, and protection of the natural environment.
However, we believe to improve on nature with our elaborate artificial constructions. But we what we bring to the world is mostly decay. Everything we (people) make decays, but in nature there is no decay, just transformation. The seed of grain we plant is, for all intents and purposes, eternal. Seeds reproduce themselves, not only infinitely in abundance, but infinitely through time. True, there may be slight changes by breeding and other forces, but again this is more transformation than destruction. Carrots may be larger and sweeter than they once were, but they are still carrots. Species may become extinct through external forces, but the idea that they – out of themselves – would decay and cease to reproduce is preposterous. Yet, what do we develop? Nothing less than something abhorred by nature: sterile seeds, that cannot and do not reproduce (although apparently not yet in commercial food crops).
What about human relations? Let us imagine what these could be like, in their best ideal form. What about close communities where people care for each other, share with each other and help each other out, whether incapable of providing for oneself or just plain lazy (primitive societies often provided even for these people, without question). What need then of having many children out of fear of not being cared for in your old age? Certainly people will still do selfish and stupid things, but with compassion, tolerance and understanding such problems should be easily corrected.
But what do we have instead? A system whereby people do not look after each other directly, others are paid professionally to do this (and often they are the lowest paid, a reflection of society’s values?). Instead we are freed of concern for our fellow man, beyond our own immediate families, as our fellow man is free from us. We are all encouraged to pursue our own self interest, to take gains and advantages wherever we can get them, and to consider such gains exclusively your own. Is it no wonder that nature has thus been divided up, owned in effect by a few through their agents – their corporations (the most impersonal construct imaginable) - and this fiercely defended against the claims of those who have less or nothing? What sort of a ‘society’ has this resulted in anyway? A world where one half has too much food and the other half starves. Can it really be called ‘human’? Or would ‘inhuman’ be more apt?
Do our sporting endeavours reflect our social attitudes? Now I am not entirely against team sports, but perhaps there are some elements of this that need consideration. A friendly game seems to do no harm, particularly where the teams are somewhat arbitrarily composed, and the game is played mostly for the pleasure of playing. But where one side goes out with a determination not so much to enjoy the challenges of the game, but focused on the defeat of another team – even more so when their career and salary depend on success - then this is perhaps a reflection of deeper and darker social constructs. Particularly when you have vast numbers of followers, who are not players, but gather largely based around a kind of tribalism, perhaps again as a form of protection in a hostile world, through some sense of a shared group identity? But perhaps also deriving some pleasure from the power and prowess demonstrated by players over others? Or perhaps to share in their glory? Team sports on the scale we have today seem to be a recent phenomenon in Western culture, coinciding with industrialism and its ideals.
Yet, there are two sides to sport. On one side is team sports, where one team vanquishes another. The other side to sport – a side that featured prominently in ancient Greece - is individual sports, such as discus, which were perhaps more about individuals seeking perfection. In such a situation individualism is appropriate as such perfection need not come at the expense of another, but rather mastery of oneself (self discipline) and one’s body. Such individualism restricts nobody in how perfect they can become, and all who wish to participate can achieve a high level of perfection.
In fact, this may give a hint as to where society has really gone wrong. Rather than focussing people on the perfection of themselves – as caring individuals, who do not act selfishly and who share and care for others - our society has gone the other way. People are encouraged to give in to their most selfish and gluttonish tendencies, to be the greatest, to not put others before themselves, but themselves before others. This is a far easier path to walk, as it requires no self-discipline. But as only few can succeed at this game of ‘who is greatest’, the vast majority of the people will be disappointed, and possibly depressed. Others, who suspect deep down that the game is not worth playing, may end up not only entirely confused by the behaviours around them, but also misunderstood.
It seems Hobbes also understood this inclination as he declared:
But is it really the nature of man to be so? Or can we be - or at least aspire to be - better than this?
Abstract (Part of the original paper; useful, so I'll leave it here.)
This paper attempts to map out a definitive route to human “happiness” based on the notion of a human reconnection with nature through an appropriate heart-brain balance. The consequences of this for human society, especially agriculture, are explored. The content focuses specifically on Japan, but is thought to be adaptable to any society in the world.
Fully referenced PDF file of this article (Depending on your computer, you may also be able to see the Japanese 'kanji' used in the section on Shinto.)
Current Japanese society cannot be said to be very “happy,” nor does it appear that “happiness” will be achieved in this society, or in other advanced industrial nations, simply by continuing along the lines of the present economic and social policies. The GDH (Greater Domestic Happiness) and Food Problem Research Group was set up by the Mottainai Society chairman, Professor Yoshinori Ishii to look into the future of Japanese society in the context of ‘Peak Oil’ and to address the possibilities for the achievement of “happiness” in Japan. The research group held its first meeting in Tokyo on 17 November 2009. Prior to the meeting, the secretary of the group, Mr Yasuo Tamura, circulated the following memo.
1 Nov. 2009
Reason for the Establishment of the “GDH and Food Problem Research Group”
The oil peak has already come and gone and the natural gas and coal peaks are expected within the next 15 years. Nuclear power cannot do everything. It is high time to begin putting together a plan for a transition from an oil-dependent “high-energy society” to a “low-energy society.”
The basics of civilization – transportation, fuel, chemical raw materials, etc. – are about to undergo a fundamental change. Globalization will also recede. It will be necessary to plan for regional decentralization, local production for local consumption, environmental coexistence, and localization.
That means not making GDP the target for the state and society. That is because growthism and the society based on the competitive principle have not made people happy.
We wish to outline a concept for a society that values the concepts of mottainai (‘waste not, want not’) and sufficiency, that values the bonds between people, and that cares for life and the diversity of nature. For this, we think in terms not of GDP, but GDH – Gross Domestic Happiness – and will also undertake a transformation of the way in which we think about the food issue. That is the “GDH and Food Problem Research Group.” We hope that you (the prospective members of the research group) will approve of these ideas.
The necessity to replace GDP/GNP, symbolizing growthism and a society based on the principle of competition, with a more human society oriented towards caring for life and nature was at the time, and still is, becoming clearer by the day. This group took as its starting point “Gross Domestic Happiness” (GDH or Gross National Happiness, GNH) as proposed by the King of Bhutan and implemented in that country.
At this stage, the central emphasis of the work of the group was less on defining what “happiness” might be than on examining Japan’s food issues. The feeling was that most of this work on the social realization of “happiness” had already been carried out by the King of Bhutan and his advisers in devising the Bhutan GDH and that once society took on the GDH approach and the food issue was resolved, then Japan’s society would realize happiness as a matter of course. However, while work and discussions on the issues of food, energy, employment, social change and Japan’s future progressed, it proved more and more difficult to get a firm grasp on the concept of “happiness.” As this was happening, I was beginning to read around the subject of human happiness a little more and increasingly came to feel that “happiness” relied on an appropriate human relationship with nature as much as it did on appropriate human social and economic relationships. If that were so, then however much we ‘adjusted’ human relationships in the attempt to bring about human happiness in society, unless the human-nature relationship was also ‘adjusted’ so that all people lived in harmony (more or less) with nature, then “happiness” would be an illusion, and therefore unattainable. The development of these ideas in the context of Japan’s food and energy issues is the content of the remainder of this paper.
Part 1: Japan’s Food and Energy Problem
Japan’s food issue is inseparable from the world food and energy situation. Japan imports roughly 60% of its food calories. The population of Japan, roughly 127,700,000 and falling very slowly, lives on a land area of 377,944 km2, of which around 65% is forested mountain land, and has roughly 4.5 million ha (45,000 km2) of farmland. That calculates to 0.035 hectares per person (ha/cap) or about 28.4 cap/ha. Good Japanese farming will support about 11 cap/ha, thus showing why it is that Japan can feed only about 40% of its people. This need to import food is likely to become critical as fossil energy resources become more expensive and less easily available in the second and third decades of the 21st century. The reason for this is that a great proportion of agriculture around the world today, especially that in industrialized countries and the countries that are exporting large amounts of food to Japan (the USA, Canada, Australia, Argentina, and to a certain extent Thailand) relies heavily on fossil resources to produce food. The international transportation of food is also heavily reliant on fossil energy resources.
The main uses of fossil resources in agriculture are in chemical fertilizers and other agrichemicals, fuel for machines and transportation (and the energy required to manufacture machines), and the generation of electricity for pumps, dryers and so on. Higher prices or reduced availability for fossil fuels means a reduced ability to fertilize cropland, protect crops from weeds or pests, to use machinery to cultivate the land or process crops, and to move materials from one place to another. The ability of current food exporting countries to export will also be diminished, it will become difficult to transport large amounts of food over long distances, and at the same time it will also become more difficult for Japan to maintain its current level of food production. A simple simulation devised by the author shows that with all current conditions except for energy use remaining the same as they were in 2009, but with fossil energy use in Japanese agriculture declining suddenly to zero, the current food self-sufficiency of Japan, 39-40%, would decline to 15-16%. Thus, in a generalized world fossil energy shortage Japan is likely to face simultaneous drastic reductions in both food imports and its ability to produce food. It was generally recognized in the research group that this situation is likely to occur before 2030, and could happen at anytime from around the middle of the second decade of the 21st century.
If a situation of a sudden cessation of all food and energy imports into Japan were to occur, this would bring about a human catastrophe on a massive scale. However, the food and energy import problems are unlikely to happen both simultaneously and suddenly, and since there is perhaps at least five years (as time of writing, October 2011) before any serious crisis occurs, there are a number of measures that the Japanese people and government can start to enforce now to avoid, as far as possible, this deep human catastrophe from becoming a reality. In brief, the following measures can be taken:
1. Reduce reliance on chemical fertilizers and other chemicals and move slowly towards sustainable farming systems based on organic materials (organic farming, permaculture, natural farming, mixed farming, LISA [low input sustainable farming], and so on).
2. Increase farmland area up to 5.3 million ha and improve the cropping ratio up to 140%, while at the same time providing greater (financial, government support) incentives to farmers to produce food by making it possible for them to make a decent living from farming, obtain expert help in the transition to organic forms of agriculture, and increased security in the form of, for example, crop insurance.
3. Increase the number of people working in farming (especially young people) from the approximately 2.5 million now up to 10 million, again by making it worth people’s time to farm in financial terms.
4. Begin to provide farm draft animals to replace machinery for the time when fuel becomes unavailable. Introduce a target of breeding two to three million farm animals (horses, oxen, etc.) by 2040.
5. Ensure the sustainable management of all forests for the sustainable harvesting of wood for construction and energy, and the harvesting of other forest products, such as leaf humus for fertilization of farmland.
6. Produce biofuels (without competing with the production of food for humans) for running farm and transport machinery over the next 20 to 30 years.
7. Reduce the need for the transportation of food and enforce, as far as possible, local production for local consumption.
8. Reduce food processing and packaging to the minimum necessary.
9. Rethink food retailing and preparation (including restaurants) in order to use less energy.
These are all worthwhile policies that can be introduced locally and gradually. However, as of time of writing (October 2011), not only are no such policies being implemented, they are not even being considered. Since it takes at least several years for farming practices to change, agricultural policy needs to be thought out ahead of time, not when the crisis is beginning to happen.
Further, the events following the earthquake and tsunami disaster of 11 March 2011 have made the situation considerably worse. Substantial areas of Fukushima Prefecture have become uncultivable due to radiation pollution of the land. The fear of radiation pollution of food will also drive some consumers away from domestic food produce to imported foods. These two factors will tend to exert a downward pressure on Japan’s food self-sufficiency.
Japan is now also preparing to join the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade economic partnership that will likely include many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, such as the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and others. The abolition of import tariffs on agricultural products will mean an influx of cheap food from exporting countries and a loss of domestic markets for Japan’s farmers. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has estimated that Japan’s food self-sufficiency will fall to 13% if Japan joins the TPP. This is tantamount to a destruction of Japan’s agriculture and rural economy at precisely the time when Japan should be devising policies to protect and bolster these against future worldwide food and energy shortages.
If the worst does come to the worst and Japan’s food (and energy) imports cease, how far can Japan go in providing food for its population? A useful study by Toshiki Mashimo estimates that if producers do their very best to expand production and consumers do their very best to adjust consumption to lower levels and to traditional foods, Japan might be able to raise its food self-sufficiency to 80% under current agricultural methods, or to 75% if organic farming was the main method of production. This will not be easily achieved, but if it is, and food and energy imports can be maintained at a certain level, this kind of effort would be a great relief to the Japanese people. At the same time, it suggests that the Japanese population needs to decline to 80% or 75% of its current level, or about 95 to 100 million people rather than the current 127.7 million. At the current slow decline of the Japanese population, this situation is not likely to be achieved until 2050 or later.
A food shortage, perhaps triggered by a fossil energy crisis, is not going to contribute to the “happiness” of Japanese people. I will explain below that “happiness” is not something that is going to be easily or quickly achieved in Japan (or in any industrial country). I hope it will become clear how this “happiness” is related to agriculture as the argument is developed.
Part 2: What is “Happiness” and how can it be achieved?
2.1 Introduction to “Happiness”
Since I believe that nearly all previous attempts at defining “happiness” have been wide of the mark, I do not intend to review past literature on the subject. The reader may enter the phrase “definition of happiness” into the search box in Google to find sufficient examples of this definition and other related information. I currently use the following definition:
A long-lasting sense of inner contentment and security.
I think this covers the main aspects of what is generally thought of as “happiness.” One problem with this definition is that it gives us no clue as to how “happiness” is to be achieved.
So how can this “happiness” be achieved? Let us try to list up a number of factors that might help lead to the achievement of “happiness” in a society.
1. At least sufficient material conditions for a “decent” level of daily existence (food, water, clothing, shelter, and so on).
2. An even distribution of the materials in 1., or at least a sufficiently “fair” distribution that does not cause a part of the population to feel that it is being treated unfairly.
3. 2. infers that human relations within the society will be “good,” i.e. that people are “fair” with each other and that no one is being mistreated. This would also imply the absence of wars and other forms of violence.
Human security is sometimes said to be composed of the two human freedoms of “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear”. Human security might thus nicely sum up the factors 1. to 3.
However, for our “happy” society, we might also want to include fair access to “decent work,” good quality health and education, as well as a number of freedoms (freedom of movement, freedom of choice of occupation, freedom of expression, freedom of association, etc.) that are now supposed to be guaranteed under UN covenants. A similar list of factors can be seen in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which also includes love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
Thus the factors that might aid in the creation of a “happy” society are well-known. The assumption then is that the “happy” society may be approached by implementing social policies that lead to the realization of these factors in society; a social engineering approach to “happiness.” Unfortunately, although the material conditions of the 20th century might have enabled this to happen, it is most definitely what did not happen in almost all societies. In fact, as we are noting recently, the more materially affluent societies become the more difficult it appears to be for those societies to be “happy” - to be inhabited by people who consider themselves to be “happy.”
So what is the problem? Firstly, I think that if we wish to discover what human “happiness” might be, although material (and psychological) conditions are necessary they are not sufficient, and that instead of looking for factors external to the human being we have to look at internal factors. That is, we have to look at what human beings are, what we have evolved to be, in order to find where our “real happiness” lies. Secondly, as I have already mentioned in the Introduction, I have become convinced that “happiness” depends on having an appropriate relationship with nature. Despite the over-simplicity of the idea, the more tenuous the human relationship with nature becomes, the less likely we are to achieve “happiness.” (I suppose it’s necessary to define “nature” here, but basically I mean non-urbanized areas where people can come into contact with wild or domesticated animals and plants, including most agricultural settings, coastal areas, wilderness areas, forests, and some desert areas.) I hope it will become clear later why these two factors (what we are and our relationship with ‘nature’) are, in fact, so deeply connected as to be virtually one and the same thing.
2.2 Carlos Castaneda - his contribution and his failure
A surprising number of people have never heard of Carlos Castaneda (abbreviated hereafter to “CC”), but if you were an English-speaking young adult in the 1970s it may have been hard not to have heard of him. CC’s first book, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, was first published in 1968, when CC was a student of anthropology at UCLA. The book describes how CC met and became an apprentice to a Yaqui indian shaman, don Juan Matus. ‘Teachings’ reads as a diary of the apprenticeship CC underwent with don Juan and was considered at the time to be a masterpiece of anthropological research. (CCs third book, Journey to Ixtlan, is almost identical to the Ph.D. dissertation that CC submitted to UCLA in 1973.)
Through don Juan, CC comes to see that there is “a separate reality” (the title of CC’s second book), a separate awareness or a separate consciousness from the one that we usually experience in our daily lives. This offers the possibility of, if not the realization of “happiness,” a totally different way of life based on the cognitive structure of the shamanistic world of don Juan. To the American youth of the early 70s, who were in the midst of experiencing or who had recent memories of the assassination of President Kennedy, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the hippie movement, Watergate, and the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, the notion of a way out into a different way of life and a different world was appealing indeed, and CC’s books sold extremely well.
So if this is not a path to “happiness” (a different way of life, but not necessarily to “happiness,” as can be seen from the books themselves), then why are we mentioning this here? The interesting thing about don Juan’s different perceptual mode is that the skill that must be mastered in order to gain the new perceptual ability is stopping the internal dialog. It is necessary to stop the internal chatter in your brain, the endless conversation that we have with ourselves nearly all our waking hours. Everything in don Juan’s shamanistic perceptual mode begins with emptying the brain of this internal conversation.
This should come as no surprise to South and East Asian Buddhists, who are all familiar with Zen Buddhism. The main practice of Zen is Zen meditation (zazen, sitting meditation), the purpose of which is to quieten the mind and stop the inner dialog. In the Flower Sermon, the Buddha is said to have uttered the following words to explain what he was doing while looking at a flower:
I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvellous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle Dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures.
I think this is exactly what don Juan was trying to teach CC. The separate reality that was reachable if one was successful in stopping the internal dialog was termed by don Juan the “nagual.” By contrast, our ordinary, everyday perceptual mode was termed the “tonal.” (The term “nagual” is originally from the Nahuatl word meaning a shaman, but in CC’s books is used in the sense of a tonal/nagual dichotomy.)
Don Juan explains that “A warrior is aware that the world will change as soon as he stops talking to himself,” but just exactly what is involved in this change? CC’s fourth book, Tales of Power, consists almost entirely of an explanation of the tonal/nagual contrast and the notion that, if one can attain the nagual, this will make it possible for a person to see things differently, as opposed to the ordinary ‘seeing’ of objects that we do in our normal mode of perception, the tonal. On pages 125-126 of Tales of Power, in a chapter entitled “The Island of the Tonal,” don Juan explains to CC, while out eating a meal, that the tonal is like the tops of the tables in the restaurant. Everything that we can talk and think about in our normal mode of perception is on the tables (representing the minds of different people). Even ‘God’ is on the table, as it is something we have a word for and can refer to. Don Juan likens God to the tablecloth that can wrap up everything else on the table inside itself. The nagual, then, is the space between the tables; the area where we do not use words to comprehend or communicate what we see there. (So if we have a word for ‘nagual,’ isn’t it part of the tonal? No, don Juan says, because the tonal/nagual are a true pair.)
The above describes for us a door into ‘a separate reality,’ but this seems to lead neither to nature nor to happiness. Moreover, in the mid-70s a number of people denounced CC’s work as a hoax and cast doubts as to whether don Juan actually existed as a real person. Primary among the detractors was Richard De Mille (son of the well-known film director Cecil B. De Mille), who showed that it was more likely that CC got his ideas by spending his days in the UCLA library than out in the desert of northern Mexico with a Yaqui shaman named don Juan. (His 1980 book, The don Juan Papers includes a 47-page glossary of quotations from don Juan and their sources, which include Wittenstein, C.S. Lewis and Yogi Ramacharaka, a pseudonym of William Walker Atkinson).
This would suggest that CC himself was never actually able to stop his inner dialog, find the nagual and see. However, he had spent at least ten years reading about and discussing transcendentalism and the occult. He knew enough about these subjects and had sufficient talent as a writer (in English despite the fact that he was a native Spanish speaker) to concoct a ‘story’ that was convincing enough to satisfy even UCLA professors. Today, his books, which are now thought to have sold over 10 million copies, are generally considered to be novels (though they are still marketed as ‘nonfiction’). Even if they are novels and CC himself had no direct experience of the nagual, his sources appear to have been largely valid. His enormous influence has, therefore, opened the eyes of a generation of English-speakers to the idea of reaching ‘a separate reality’ by shutting off the inner dialog. That has been CC’s lasting contribution.
We may now imagine millions of mostly young people attempting to stop their inner dialogs and reach a different mode of perception, with varying degrees of success. Some may have been successful, but the general feeling is that although CCs books were fascinating to read, they were an incomplete ‘manual’ for reaching the nagual. There are clearly still elements missing here, and I think these are the link with nature and one further factor that is the main subject of the remainder of this paper.
2.3 How do humans connect with nature?
How does stopping the internal dialog have a relation to the human being’s ability to form a relationship with “nature”? The answer is: by perceiving “nature” with the human heart.
Most people are aware that the heart is an organ that pumps blood around the body. Far fewer people, however, know that the heart also has other functions and abilities. These include:
1. High sensitivity to electric charges, electromagnetic radiation and magnetic fields,
2. An ability to transmit electromagnetic radiation. The heart also has its own magnetic field,
3. Being a ‘brain’ in its own right, since 15% to 20% of its cells are neural cells.
Many of the electromagnetic signals living organisms receive contain large amounts of information. Living organisms are able to decode the information embedded in those signals and respond, since we are all transmitters as well as receivers and communication always goes both ways. Groups of cells in the heart, as in other organs, beat together at a single frequency. This synchronization of cells in proximity with each other is termed entrainment.
A heart is, in fact, a large self-organized grouping of cells.
This aggregating of cells, as with electrical detection arrays in fish, makes it possible for the organ to sense extremely weak electric fields. Furthermore, the role of magnetic fields in cells and living organisms should also not be overlooked.
Cells and living organisms not only perceive, decode, and respond to extremely weak electric signals, they perceive, decode, and respond to magnetic signals, which contain information, just as electric signals do. The organ of the human body that is very sensitive to magnetic fields is the hippocampus, an organ that works closely with the heart and “works closely with the amygdala … to modify body physiology in response to emotions.” The hippocampus is also involved in “the extraction of meaning from the vast sea of signals in which we live,” just as salmon, bees and birds “orient themselves within directional meaning.” The hippocampus can also form new neurons in response to demands to process nonlinear information from the environment, if you live in a rich and stimulating environment where you are continually receiving such electrical or magnetic signals.
We are made to be in the wild nonlinearity of the world, and this immersion is needed for the hippocampus and our central nervous system to be healthy.
Since all living organisms both receive, decode, and respond to electrical and magnetic signals, this means they are capable of communicating with each other. This is automatic; we have evolved with it, just with all the other bodily functions, and with the five senses. Furthermore,
… the human heart is vastly more than a muscular pump – it is one of the most powerful electromagnetic generators and receivers known. It is, in fact, a highly evolved organ of perception and communication.
Buhner says that “the magnetic field produced by the heart … extends around the body in a torus, a fractal, sort-of-spherical shape that continually flows through space,” and that “Measured with magnetic field meters, the electromagnetic field that the heart produces is some five thousand times more powerful than that created by the brain.” This might explain how, if some people are actually capable of seeing electromagnetic fields, people report seeing the ‘aura’ of the human body shaped like a luminous egg. This is how CC reports that don Juan sees humans, but it is suggested by Richard De Mille that CC obtained this idea from William Walker Atkinson while reading in the UCLA library.
Nevertheless, if we live in an environment that is filled with electrical and magnetic ‘pollution’ and in a culture that de-emphasizes the nonlinear sensitivity of the heart to the benefit of the linear and analytical brain, this ability to perceive and communicate may atrophy. Nature is, in fact, a “web of communications that is so complex and detailed that there is no way to understand it with the linear, analytical mind,” which is a very similar situation to the tonal/nagual contrast of Carlos Castaneda. If we have lost the ability to connect with nature through the heart, perhaps we should think about trying to reconnect ourselves.
2.4 Is it possible to ‘reconnect with nature’?
The quick answer to this question is ‘yes, of course,’ but it depends on your past history (the degree to which the linear/verbal/analytic mode of cognition has colonized your ‘mind’) and your age (the older you are, the more difficulty you will tend to experience when attempting to ‘reconnect’).
Just as heart cells in proximity to one another ‘entrain’ (their oscillations synchronize), so when the electromagnetic fields of two hearts are in proximity with each other they will also entrain. Not only two human hearts, but this will occur when the electromagnetic field of the heart is in contact with that of any other organism. At that point, “there is an extremely rapid and complex interchange of information.” This incoming information perceived by the heart may be experienced as ‘emotion,’ and the meanings embedded in the information can be extracted from the emotional flow just as meanings are extracted from the sounds we hear. However, we are trained to ignore these sensory cues; most people are unable to consciously use the heart as an organ of perception and the information perceived by the heart is processed below conscious levels of cognition.
There is nothing strange about this. It is well-known that humans are affected by olfactory, visual and auditory signals that are not processed consciously and that different people are capable of different levels of olfactory, visual and auditory perception. What may be strange is that our society (the modern, industrialized lifestyle) actually trains people to ignore these sensory cues and, through education, attempts to colonize the mind with linear/verbal/analytic/reductionist styles of cognition. Overcoming this bias is not easy, but because it is the evolutionary birthright of every human to have and use these abilities, it can be done. It is especially easy to train children to use both their brains and their hearts in tandem. (I am not suggesting that people ‘turn off’ their brains and perceive solely with the heart!)
Let me offer two further pieces of ‘evidence’ that hint at the heart being an organ of human perception. The first is what we call “love” or “falling in love.” Human language is full of the connection between the emotions, especially “love,” and the heart. A “sweetheart,” a “broken heart,” “heartstrings,” “heartache,” and so on are simple examples. The almost ubiquitous use and recognition of the ‘heart mark’ are also symbolic of this. “Love” has also been described as a kind of “madness” by Shakespeare and others. However, if we were to see “falling in love” as the entrainment of two hearts that took a liking to one another (as well as the two people involved being aware of other sensory cues), we might not be quite so inclined to see “love” as a kind of madness. To the calculating, analytical brain, “love” surely is madness; it literally drives the brain mad not to be able to make sense of what the heart is doing perfectly “naturally”!
One further clue is from the Greek word aisthesis, which Buhner states is the “heart’s ability to perceive meaning from the world.” Definitions of this word are generally not clear about the function of the heart. A definition easily available on the Internet states that aisthesis is a “sensation, perception, as an opposite of intellection (noesis), understanding and pure thought; more loosely – any awareness.” Hillman, however, says that, “In Aristotelian psychology, the organ of aesthesis is the heart; passages from all the sense organs run to it; there the soul is ‘set on fire.’ Its thought is innately aesthetic and sensately linked with the world.” It seems to be clear that the Greeks had no problem about perceiving with the heart.
So, all we have to do is practice perceiving with the heart. Yes, but if you have never actually been aware of doing it before, just exactly how are you going to go about doing that? In his book, The Secret Teachings of Plants, Buhner gives ten “exercises for refining the heart as an organ of perception,” and I would recommend anyone interested to try doing these exercises. However, I think the basic thing that anyone can do is to find good natural areas, such as woods or forests or mountain areas that they like and spend time there. Not everyone can do this, especially if they are living in a large metropolis, so there is an immediate ‘lifestyle’ barrier to ‘reconnection.’ But assuming you are able to spend time in a natural environment, what then?
Buhner, being interested in plants, asks us, “… if you truly want to communicate with plants, just what is the status of the plant? Just how do you really feel about it?” Plants have been on the planet longer than we have, but do you see them as your equal, or even superior to you, as if they were our elders or teachers? Buhner suggests that if you do not, the plants will not ‘talk’ to you. Knowing the name of a flower or tree will not help you. These anthropocentric words are part of the linear world, not part of the nonlinear world of heart perception. The tonal/nagual dichotomy again, if you like. First you must try to stop the internal dialog, halt the flow of words and be prepared to abandon your accumulated linear mode knowledge – to know nothing. That may be as simple as just breathing a little more deeply than usual and then standing or sitting in a relaxed way, taking in your surroundings by ‘feeling’ them rather than thinking about (appraising, explaining) what you feel in terms of verbal thought.
Preconceptions must be abandoned. There is nothing in the linear/verbal/analytical/reductionist world that has prepared you for this mode of communication. There are no neat formulaic rules for this – you will be outside of human culture and must be prepared to allow anything to happen and be prepared to surrender yourself to it. Otherwise you will probably experience nothing and get nowhere with it. Only those who are not afraid to step outside of our current culture of linear cognition will be able to, gradually, step into the nonlinear perceptual mode of nature.
It is important to see, hear and smell what is there in front of you, in nature, and pay attention to that rather than what your brain is trying to tell you about it. This does not simply mean “shutting off the inner dialog.” Buhner tells us that we cannot stop the linear mind and leave nothing in its place. The answer is to do something else instead; sense what is actually there in your surroundings. If you find yourself being drawn to a plant, go up to it and spend some time with it. Touch it and taste it. Try to be aware of its scents. You may feel embarrassed about doing this. If you try to taste a small part of a leaf, you may hear voices in your mind (your parents, former teachers and so on) telling you not to do so. It may take you some time to get used to overriding these voices. Buhner quotes Henry David Thoreau, who said, “Nature is a prairie for outlaws,” and tells us that “the green is poisonous to civilization.” Civilization’s rules are not enforced in nature, and we should understand that a “reconnection” with nature will change us, and make us more “natural” and “wild.” But humankind really (from the point of view of October 2011) needs to change in this way now if we are to step back from the catastrophes an over-emphasis on linear/verbal/analytical/reductionist cognition has caused us to wreak upon ourselves. This is one way to return to what evolution has intended us to be – to reclaim our birthright.
Once you have a relationship with a certain plant, and while this may happen quite quickly, it may also take weeks or months, as your heart’s electromagnetic field begins to entrain with that of the plant, you may notice a certain ‘emotional tone’ arising within you. In the same way as you suddenly become aware of the picture embedded in an ‘optical illusion’ puzzle, you may then receive a sudden communicative burst from the plant, termed by Goethe “the pregnant point,” that can be routed from the heart to the brain and become accessible to linear/verbal/intellectual/analytical cognition. This is the first real communication with the plant. Buhner describes in great detail how this relationship with this and other plants can be developed in order to receive direct knowledge from plants about their medicinal properties for humans. However, I shall stop here, since the aim of this short paper is not to help you to become a shaman herbalist but simply to show how human “happiness” can be achieved through a ‘reconnection to nature.’
3. Further comments on aspects of “happiness” and ‘reconnecting with nature’
Having read this far, many may perhaps feel that what the arguments I have presented here are somehow not ‘real,’ belong in the realm of ‘religion,’ the ‘supernatural’ or the ‘occult.’ Here, I would like to present further evidence to show that the idea of the human connection with nature (in a wide sense, to include not just individual plants or animals, but also a wider ‘natural consciousness’ from the ‘interacting web of life’ or even the cosmos) through perception using the human heart is a ‘real’ phenomenon close to our daily lives. I will also end the paper with comments on what the consequences and benefits may be for a human society or civilization that aims for an appropriate heart-brain balance, and how this implies the achievement of human “happiness.” Finally, I will make a few comments on the consequences of this on agriculture and the production of food, and how, concretely, the society of the future is likely to be shaped by putting these ideas into practice.
3.1 Do we know anyone who is doing this? Who are they and what kind of people are they?
Everyone, including lifelong city-dwellers are perceiving with the heart. It is part of who we are. Regardless of how conscious we are of doing it, it is said that experience of the world is perceived by the heart first and then flows to the brain for further processing. It is very likely that we all know people who are adept at communicating with plants or animals through the heart, but these people are more likely to be conspicuous in the countryside than in the city, and even then the person involved may not be exactly aware of what they are feeling or doing. Some may even hide their ability, since there are parts of society who do not appreciate the abilities of people to perceive nature directly with their hearts.
There are also well-known people who have been known to have the capacity to receive direct knowledge from ‘nature.’ Buhner mentions Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Luther Burbank, George Washington Carver, Masanobu Fukuoka, Henry David Thoreau, Buckminster Fuller, Barbara McClintock, and although not mentioned by Buhner, I feel sure that Rudolf Steiner must also have had a great ability to perceive the world directly through the heart. Steiner’s works are not based on linear/analytic/intellectual ‘scientific’ logic. For example, in his lectures on agriculture, which now form the basis of the biodynamic farming movement, Steiner states:
Now let us take the manure, in whatever form is available, stuff it into a cow horn and bury it in the ground at a certain depth – I would say between ¾ and 1½ meters, provided the soil beneath is neither too clayey nor too sandy. We should select a good soil that’s not too sandy. You see, by burying the cow horn with the manure in it, we preserve in the horn the etheric and astral forces that the horn was accustomed to reflect when it was on the cow. Because the cow is now outwardly surrounded by the Earth, all the Earth’s etherizing and astralizing rays stream into its inner cavity. The manure inside the horn attracts these forces and is inwardly enlivened by them. If the horn is buried for the entire winter – the season when the Earth is most inwardly alive – all this life will be preserved in the manure, turning the contents of the horn into an extremely concentrated, enlivening and fertilizing force.
These ideas were not reached through scientific experimentation, as we know that “He [Steiner] encouraged his listeners to verify his suggestions empirically, as he had not yet done.” Biodynamic farming practitioners are still doing this, as I have personally witnessed on a biodynamic farm in Kyushu. How Steiner could have ‘known’ all this is a complete mystery until we understand that he could have received the ‘information’ through the heart’s direct perception and communication with nature.
I’m not saying that we will all be geniuses of the stature of Goethe and Steiner or farmers with the unique insights of Luther Burbank or Masanobu Fukuoka if only we will learn to perceive nature with our hearts, but we will never even begin to understand what they did or how they did it unless we try to re-balance the linear/verbal/analytic mode of thinking of the brain with the nonlinear/nonverbal/intuitive mode of perception of the heart.
Indigenous people, naturally, have never lost the automatic ability to perceive directly with the heart. Buhner states, “All ancient and indigenous people said that they learned the uses of plants as medicines from the plants themselves. They insisted that they did not rely on the analytical capacities of the brain for this nor use the technique of trial and error. Instead, they said it was from the heart of the world, from the plants themselves, that this knowledge came.”
Among widely diverse nonindustrial cultures the members whose speciality was plant medicines, vegitalistas, described their experiences remarkably similarly irrespective of culture, continent or time. The vast majority (essentially all instances where I have found first-hand accounts) told interviewers that they did not obtain their knowledge of plant medicines from the exercise of reason or through trial and error. They were uniformly consistent in saying that their personal and cultural knowledge of the medicinal actions of plants came from “nonordinary” experiences, specifically: dreams, visions, direct communications from the plant, or sacred beings.
Communication with plants via the human heart also means that plants know something about the humans they are in contact with. The Pgaz K’Nyau (Karen), an indigenous people of Eastern Burma and Northern Thailand, have this to say:
Pgaz K’Nyau people have a very clear reason for honesty and purity in life and in dealings with other people. If you want to think we’re naïve, that’s up to you, but we believe that nature has a spirit. We rely on her for maintenance of our lives, and we must respect her, stand in awe of her, and obey her and act towards her with honesty and purity. It is this relationship with the natural world that has trained the spirit of the Pgaz K’Nyau people to use natural resources with great care. It also means, for example, that a man or woman who is a liar, or a thief, or is in some other way an immoral person will not be able to produce enough food. He or she cannot be a good farmer because nature will deny him or her the benefit of her miraculous power to keep us alive with food.
The Pgaz K’Nyau also say that if you want to learn from those who know about medicinal plants, you have to be apprenticed to such a person and be trained by them. In general, it is no good just following the person around and then mechanically copying what they do (unless the apprentice is extremely perceptive) because the medicines produced may not work, or may not be as effective as when the ‘knowledgeable person’ gathered and prepared them. Buhner also notes that an experienced herbalist can put out a call to a plant before he or she goes to gather it. The plant will then “begin altering the chemicals they produce in anticipation of your gathering them as medicines.” It is crucial, however, that this call has “emotional reality.” You cannot fake it.
I think you can see that this leads us into some very tricky territory. Buhner says that people who engage in perceiving nature with the heart find that a certain moral development occurs within them. This is a morality that comes out of aisthesis. “True morality begins to emerge of itself.”
Because nature does not lie, the direct perception of Nature means that each of us that does lie, each part of us that lies, even in our deep unconscious, must reorder, must restructure, if we truly want to perceive deeply into Nature.
Thus perceiving nature with the heart is associated with a certain morality. Plants (and animals) can perceive who you are and will not deal with you if they do not “like” you. As a sidelight, I will mention the story of a well-known lie-detector examiner, Cleve Backster, in 1966. A polygraph lie-detector usually consists of a galvanometer coupled with a Wheatstone bridge, and this can measure the human body’s electrical potential as it fluctuates under the stimulus of thought and emotion. One morning, Backster decided to attach the electrodes of a lie detector to a Dracaena massangeana plant in his office and see what would happen if he gave it some water. Instead of indicating a reduction in resistance, as you would expect if the moisture of the leaf increased, the opposite reading was seen as the pen on the graph paper indicated a reaction “very similar to that of a human being experiencing an emotional stimulus of short duration.” Backster figured that since the most effective way to get a quick emotional reaction from a human is to threaten his or her well-being, he would try to burn the leaf, but the instant he conjured up the image of the flame in his mind, and before he could even move, there was a dramatic movement of the pen on the graph paper. The plant had ‘read’ Backster’s mind!
Backster spent the next several years experimenting with plants. An interesting phenomenon that Backster noted was that when threatened with danger plants will go into a trance-like state, rather like a person fainting when faced with overpoweringly life-threatening situation. When a Canadian physiologist visited Backster in his lab one day, Backster was unable to get any reaction from the first five plants he tried. Backster asked the physiologist, “Does any part of your work involve harming plants?” “Yes,” the physiologist replied. “I terminate the plants I work with. I put them in an oven and roast them to obtain their dry weight for my analysis.” A short while after the physiologist left the lab, all of Backster’s plants began to respond as normal. Backster, however, was never able to discover that the key to the connection between humans and plants was the functioning of the human heart, as we have seen here.
If there is a moral dimension to the perception of nature by the heart, what of the linear/verbal/analytic brain?
Unlike the heart, with its connected empathetic connections the brain has no inherent moral nature. The continual training of children in a system of perception that is amoral leads to behaviours in adults that have no moral basis.
Buhner also quotes Masanobu Fukuoka as saying:
Nature is both the creator of man and his greatest teacher. Sensitivity, reason, and understanding true to man all can be manifested only through sympathy with nature. Judgement and criteria for right and wrong, virtue and evil, excellence and mediocrity, beauty and ugliness, love and hate do not hold if man steps off the Great Way pointed out by nature.
In other words, Fukuoka believed that if we are not connected to nature through the heart we have no basis for making value judgements. It does very much look as if the unbalance between the use of the linear/verbal/analytic mode of cognition and the nonlinear/nonverbal/intuitive perception of the heart has brought the modern world to where it is today. Is there really any option for mankind but to reappraise the contents of our civilization, the way society is run, and how we educate our children? I will have more to say about this later.
3.2 Is this ‘religion’? Where is ‘God’?
I am not going to write a treatise on religion, but simply repeat here what a few people have said because it makes sense to me. From the above, we see that the heart is capable of connecting with ‘nature,’ especially individual plants and animals, but there also seems to be some large spiritual ‘entity’ behind the relations with plants and so on. Buhner talks a lot about the use of medicinal plants to help cure people, but he also says:
For it is the meaning, the spirit of the plant, that heals the disease. The plant chemical merely gives it a form in which to travel. And although this form does help our bodies, form to form, we are not (solely) our physical form, and our disease is not (usually) merely a physical form, like a virus… The disease itself is a meaning and cannot be healed merely by supplying a form.
Others say that the plant knowledge is not important and that it is the spiritual energy of the shaman that actuates the healing. This takes a lot of energy, which is stored up like a battery inside the body. Healing can be carried out when the battery is fully charged up, and as the healing is done the battery is used up so that at the end of the healing the shaman feels really exhausted. The ‘battery’ power then has to be recharged before further healing can be done. We have seen above that the heart is an electromagnetic transmitter/receiver and has a strong magnetic field. Energy is required for this to be done and maintained over time. It is also true that some people have more energy in their bodies and hearts than others. We also know that hearts can connect, or ‘entrain,’ with other living entities such as cells, plants, animals, and other hearts. It should come as no great surprise, then, that some people with an abundance of energy in their body and heart could ‘give’ (transmit) some of that energy to a person whose body/heart energy was weak due to illness and so on, and give them an energetic boost that could help them recover their health. However, there is little point in going deeply into this topic, since we only wish here to explore the necessity to achieve a healthy heart-brain balance achievable by the human-nature connection through the perceptive function of the heart.
Nevertheless, individual plants, though they may have their unique spirit, are a part of the interconnected, interacting web of life, the sum of which is a spiritual force that many have experienced as the ‘essence’ of Nature (with a capital ‘N’). The Pgaz K’Nyau perceive two kinds of spirits, k’laz (soul-spirits), which reside in humans and other living creatures such as plants and animals, and k’caj (owner-spirits), which are the spirits that ‘own’ the earth, the land, the water, the sky, and so on, and which are also ‘owners’ of particular areas of forests, for example. They also perceive an overarching natural spirit, a kind of ‘supreme being,’ Taj hti taj dau, who is the owner of nature itself. We could say that Taj hti taj dau is the Pgaz K’Nyau word for ‘God.’
We thus have the notion that Nature, from whom we have all been created, is roughly equivalent to what is called ‘God’ (in monotheistic religions). This large spiritual entity can be perceived directly and experienced, and appears to be the subject of ‘religions.’ Buhner says that the entity “has many names, but only one identity.”
religions are a particular mode of representation
they are not the thing itself
and continues on to say:
This identity is the center from which all things come. And it has always been clear to those who read the text of the world, who are open to the touch of life upon them, that this Mystery is so much greater than Man that it can never be understood by the linear mind.
Since the focus of this paper is Japan, I would like to quote extensively from a friend on Japan’s indigenous spirituality, Shinto.
On Shinto and nature, Shinto was traditionally very deeply rooted in nature, and the folk Shinto groups still are, and engage with nature by taking treks through the mountains, sometimes engaging in great feats of endurance, but that is secondary to being aware of conditions and letting the gods dictate the course and timing. In Shrine Shinto, the officially organized and codified side, the connection has largely been reduced to symbolism, but some of the former connection remains. This is particularly evident in the misogi ritual, which involves cold-water bathing in the ocean, waterfalls, rivers, and so on. Many of the professional priests I talk to, however, have no sense of the spirit world, and consider Shinto to be nothing but a set of traditions. They do see the value in maintaining pre-industrial knowledge and techniques, and choose those in particular for important rituals. A number have told me they wish they could "see" gods the way I and others say we can. I try to point them to times and places where gods are likely to be evident, dawn in particular and any place away from the distractions of modern society. From there, I tell people to be aware of a sense of deep familiarity, like you were coming to a place you loved in your childhood. This sense can be cultivated, but often we shut it out as mere irrationality. If you let it in, though, the insights become more powerful and life becomes more meaningful.
Shinto is also explicit about the perceptive capability of the heart (kokoro). One of the most universally used prayers of purification among Shintoists, Rokkon Shohjoh (Six-Rooted Purity) says, “With your eyes, see all manner of impurity, but in your heart, do not see it.” This is followed by ears, nose, mouth (interestingly, “With your mouth, say all manner of impurity, but in your heart, do not say it”), body (feel) and mind: “In your mind, think all manner of impurities, but in your heart, do not think them.” (Kokoro ni moromoro no fujoh wo omoite, kokoro ni moromoro no fujoh wo omowazu). In Fujikyo and some other sects, the last “kokoro” is pronounced “nakago” to distinguish it. Some sects write it as “inner heart”.
So far within Shinto, the only time it has been suggested to me to try to turn off the internal voice was with people involved in Shugendo, which has strong Buddhist influences. We hiked a rough course up from Kompira to the Ryuo-sha, a Buddhist-Shintoist deity--the Dragon King), and along the way, they told me that if I emptied my mind, I would be able to see the gods and spirits. Every year I continue to hike that trail and practice what they told me. It is a useful technique.
Shinto also recognizes one God, which they see variously as the unification of all that is divine or as the original God from whom all else is derived. Shinto can be considered a loose confederation of nature-based, polytheistic folk religions, held together in an imposed hierarchy, which they have gone along with. For any particular deity, there may be a number of names and descriptions. Amaterasu, the sun goddess, has been erroneously described as Shinto’s principal deity. She is well favored, of course, and worshipped at Shinto’s highest shrine, Ise Jingu, along with Toyouke, the god of agriculture. She is also called Tenshokohdaijin, the on-yomi (Chinese reading of the Chinese characters), with the kun-yomi (Japanese reading) being Amaterasu-Sumeohkami (and I see that in Fujikyo, she is listed as number 14 among the 16 principal deities, just before Jinmu-Jingu and Meiji-Jingu, so therefore principal of Japan’s specific hierarchy as a nation, but past a big list with Myo-o-jin from Buddhism, “Main-Heart God”, “One-Heart God”, Water, Fire and Wind Heart Gods, and so on included).
In Fujikyo, I have heard several names for the Great Divine Spirit: Ohmioya no Kami (Great Illustrious Parent One), and Taisosan-jin (Great Ancestral One, where “Tai” is written as “Ten,” so the meaning of the ‘God-father,’ not as ‘creator’ but as ‘guardian,’ of the heavens is included). Rev. Haruko Shimizu has explained that she considers Fuyoh Miroku-jin (which I will translate loosely as “Embodiment of Mt. Fuji and the Sun,” emphasizing the connection with nature that they seek in such an awe-inspiring locality) to be the Great Spirit, whose name comes up repeatedly in the prayers of that sect, and since he is listed second to Taisosan-jin, they are saying that God Himself has His own ancestors.
I think we can see in Shinto all the elements of the human-nature connection that have been mentioned thus far. The Chinese character for 'heart', when spoken as “kokoro” in Japanese is commonly understood to mean the human “heart” or “mind.” Despite the issue of whether people knew about their physical hearts hundreds of years ago, I do not think there is a great problem in equating kokoro with the human heart. We also see a recognition of an overarching spirit of nature, a “Great Ancestral One” or a “Great Spirit” very similar to the Pgaz K’Nyau Taj hti taj dau.
From the above it is possible to see that ‘God’ as the all-enveloping ‘tablecloth’ of the tonal is merely a shadow representation of ‘God’ in the nagual. It should be clear what religions are supposed to be doing but, in general, are not. The notion of an appropriate heart-brain balance, therefore, is not ‘religion,’ either in the sense of modern, organized religions, or in the sense that it relies fundamentally on subjective belief.
3.3 A sort of conclusion: Where does this path lead?
We have looked at what human happiness might be, and I have concluded that the path to happiness lies through a reconnection to nature through the use of the heart as an organ of perception. What might be the consequences of attempting to put this idea of “happiness” into practice, much as some now insist that the path to “happiness” is to be found through greater wealth and socialized security – through economic growth and social engineering?
Firstly, to go back to where this paper started out, what would this mean in terms of food and energy? Since we would be much more aware of the ‘feelings’ of plants and animals, many of the practices of modern farming would become impossible. We would have to recognize that an intensive use of machinery and chemicals (modern energy-intensive agriculture) in a way that is very ‘impolite’ to plants and other living organisms should be corrected in favour of overtly nonviolent forms of agriculture, such as permaculture and organic farming on small family farms. Greatly reduced use of machinery would mean, 1) more people working on the land, and 2) greater use of farm animals. It is likely that a re-balance of heart-brain cognition on a society-wide basis would trigger the movement of people from big cities to more rural settings. Greater use of animals on farms (the current problem being where to get the animals) would help agriculture as a whole to move back to mixed cropping and livestock-raising farms, rather than the forced separation of cropping and livestock that we have now, and presumably this would also go part of the way to solving the fertilizer problem that will occur when fewer chemicals are used.
So far, there is little news, since I have previously proposed these changes, in the context of diminishing supplies of fossil energy resources, for Japanese agriculture in a presentation in February 2010. In this presentation, I pointed out that since transportation would become problematical then ‘local production for local consumption’ would be a basic principle of this style of agriculture, and thus society as a whole would be likely to shift towards self-sustaining ‘bioregions.’ In this sense, the notion of moving to a society with a better heart-brain balance would appear to be appropriate for a world in which fossil energy use was greatly reduced.
As hinted at above, it should also be pointed out that plants are extremely adept at the use and manufacture of chemical substances, and we would therefore do ourselves a big favour by reducing the chemical pollution of the environment by synthetic chemicals. At the same time, since the heart’s connection with nature depends on electromagnetic radiation and fields, it would also be beneficial to reduce electromagnetic pollution of the environment as much as possible. This is also very much in line with the coming decline in the ability to use fossil energy resources. The future society should be far less polluted than the one we are experiencing now, making a healthy heart-brain balance that much easier to achieve.
Energy production in the bioregions would be local, decentralized forms of energy such as the use of wood, solar or wind power, and the use of animal traction for agriculture. There would be no large-scale industry as we know it now. This would also mean a greatly reduced role for money. This would also be a good match for a society with an improved heart-brain balance. The greater ability of almost all people to use their hearts for perception would make lying, cheating and thievery far less common because people would be much more aware of the intentions of those around them.
The Pgaz K’Nyau have a deep suspicion of any use of money beyond the use of small amounts for petty purchases. Anything more than that creates disparities in wealth between people (which can put the survival of a village in jeopardy) and will ruin lives that are lived simply to amass large amounts of money and property. In the Pgaz K’Nyau view of life and death, the land of the dead (pluz kauj) is a mirror image of the land of the living (le hko). In le hko, rice is delicious and people are important. In pluz kauj, rice is also delicious, but the people there have a love for money and wealth. When the Pgaz K’Nyau travel down from their villages in the mountains to the towns and cities in the valleys, where the people love money and are mostly ‘stuck’ in a linear/verbal/analytic ‘brain’ mode of cognition, they say they are going to pluz kauj, the land of the dead. The inference is that if you do not have a good heart-brain balance and are not capable of perceiving nature with your heart, then you are effectively ‘dead.’
Thus, to sum up briefly, “happiness” is a human condition that can only be reached through a “correct” connection with nature. This connection occurs by using the heart as an organ of perception, as it was meant to be. As a result, we can achieve a more appropriate heart-brain balance. This balance inevitably leads to changes in the moral behaviour of individuals and therefore to changes in society. The combination of these ideas and practices with the kind of, hopefully “happier,” lifestyle we can anticipate when fossil energy resources become scarce helps us to envisage the kind of society that might come into existence in the latter part of the 21st century.
In the midst of the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami disaster, the subsequent nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Station and the financial crisis that currently grips Europe and the United States, I feel strongly that human weakness and stupidity (and a certain amount of deceit) has created huge disasters within societies where for several decades we have heard little else but promises that economic growth was unquestionably leading all mankind toward a secure and comfortable lifestyle. I think it is now time to wake up to what is truly wrong with society and begin to educate everyone, especially children, on how to regain their birthright (the ability to use the heart as an organ of perception) and an appropriate heart-brain balance, and move toward the society of the 22nd century, where true human happiness may be achievable. While it may seem that this is only one possible future, I believe eventually this is the future toward which all human societies will eventually converge, whether in the 22nd or 23rd centuries, or later.
In "Hissing in the Grass," Steve Green writes that
S 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, may be the most dangerous bill in the history of the US. It is to our food what the bailout was to our economy, only we can live without money.
“If accepted [S 510] would preclude the public’s right to grow, own, trade, transport, share, feed and eat each and every food that nature makes. It will become the most offensive authority against the cultivation, trade and consumption of food and agricultural products of one’s choice. It will be unconstitutional and contrary to natural law or, if you like, the will of God.” ~Dr. Shiv Chopra, Canada Health whistleblower
It is similar to what India faced with imposition of the salt tax during British rule, only S 510 extends control over all food in the US, violating the fundamental human right to food.
Monsanto says it has no interest in the bill and would not benefit from it, but Monsanto’s Michael Taylor who gave us rBGH and unregulated genetically modified (GM) organisms, appears to have designed it and is waiting as an appointed Food Czar to the FDA (a position unapproved by Congress) to administer the agency it would create — without judicial review — if it passes. S 510 would give Monsanto unlimited power over all US seed, food supplements, food and farming.
In the 1990s, Bill Clinton introduced HACCP (Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Points) purportedly to deal with contamination in the meat industry. Clinton’s HACCP delighted the offending corporate (World Trade Organization “WTO”) meat packers since it allowed them to inspect themselves, eliminated thousands of local food processors (with no history of contamination), and centralized meat into their control. Monsanto promoted HACCP.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton, urged a powerful centralized food safety agency as part of her campaign for president. Her advisor was Mark Penn, CEO of Burson Marsteller*, a giant PR firm representing Monsanto. Clinton lost, but Clinton friends such as Rosa DeLauro, whose husband’s firm lists Monsanto as a progressive client and globalization as an area of expertise, introduced early versions of S 510.
S 510 fails on moral, social, economic, political, constitutional, and human survival grounds.
1. It puts all US food and all US farms under Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, in the event of contamination or an ill-defined emergency. It resembles the Kissinger Plan.
2. It would end US sovereignty over its own food supply by insisting on compliance with the WTO, thus threatening national security. It would end the Uruguay Round Agreement Act of 1994, which put US sovereignty and US law under perfect protection. Instead, S 510 says:
COMPLIANCE WITH INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS.
Nothing in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) shall be construed in a manner inconsistent with the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization or any other treaty or international agreement to which the United States is a party.
3. It would allow the government, under Maritime Law, to define the introduction of any food into commerce (even direct sales between individuals) as smuggling into “the United States.” Since under that law, the US is a corporate entity and not a location, “entry of food into the US” covers food produced anywhere within the land mass of this country and “entering into” it by virtue of being produced.
4. It imposes Codex Alimentarius on the US, a global system of control over food. It allows the United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO), UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the WTO to take control of every food on earth and remove access to natural food supplements. Its bizarre history and its expected impact in limiting access to adequate nutrition (while mandating GM food, GM animals, pesticides, hormones, irradiation of food, etc.) threatens all safe and organic food and health itself, since the world knows now it needs vitamins to survive, not just to treat illnesses.
5. It would remove the right to clean, store and thus own seed in the US, putting control of seeds in the hands of Monsanto and other multinationals, threatening US security. See Seeds – How to criminalize them, for more details.
6. It includes NAIS, an animal traceability program that threatens all small farmers and ranchers raising animals. The UN is participating through the WHO, FAO, WTO, and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in allowing mass slaughter of even heritage breeds of animals and without proof of disease. Biodiversity in farm animals is being wiped out to substitute genetically engineered animals on which corporations hold patents. Animal diseases can be falsely declared. S 510 includes the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), despite its corrupt involvement in the H1N1 scandal, which is now said to have been concocted by the corporations.
7. It extends a failed and destructive HACCP to all food, thus threatening to do to all local food production and farming what HACCP did to meat production – put it in corporate hands and worsen food safety.
8. It deconstructs what is left of the American economy. It takes agriculture and food, which are the cornerstone of all economies, out of the hands of the citizenry, and puts them under the total control of multinational corporations influencing the UN, WHO, FAO and WTO, with HHS, and CDC, acting as agents, with Homeland Security as the enforcer. The chance to rebuild the economy based on farming, ranching, gardens, food production, natural health, and all the jobs, tools and connected occupations would be eliminated.
9. It would allow the government to mandate antibiotics, hormones, slaughterhouse waste, pesticides and GMOs. This would industrialize every farm in the US, eliminate local organic farming, greatly increase global warming from increased use of oil-based products and long-distance delivery of foods, and make food even more unsafe. The five items listed — the Five Pillars of Food Safety — are precisely the items in the food supply which are the primary source of its danger.
10. It uses food crimes as the entry into police state power and control. The bill postpones defining all the regulations to be imposed; postpones defining crimes to be punished, postpones defining penalties to be applied. It removes fundamental constitutional protections from all citizens in the country, making them subject to a corporate tribunal with unlimited power and penalties, and without judicial review. It is (similar to C-6 in Canada) the end of Rule of Law in the US.
For further information, watch these videos:
Food Laws – Forcing people to globalize
State Imposed Violence … to snatch resources of ordinary people
Oak snake image at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, Florida
Click here to see an excellent film interview with Christopher Cook, who wrote, Diet for a Dead Planet about the industrialised world's grossly inefficient industrialised food processing and distribution system (notably the US branch.) A quite rivetting book that goes into the destruction of small farms and the evolution of today's system, with full documentation.
The film-link below takes you to the same film (The Official Meatrix) as the link in the teaser to this article.
In all the debate over the Gorgon gas deal with China there has been not a whisper of discussion of the issue most vital to Australia's -- and the entire world's -- future.
Nowadays not many people seem aware that nearly everything they eat and most of what they drink is produced using nitrogen fertilisers. And nitrogen fertilisers are almost entirely made using natural gas.
Indeed half the world's people would not be here today were it not for the tripling in global food production achieved largely through the use of this invaluable petrochemical byproduct. Admirers of Brillat-Savarin might plausibly contend the present human race is mostly made of gas.
Today's high-yielding food crops, to a very great degree, depend on high levels of applied nitrogen: without it, yields collapse. Since the Green Revolution the entire world food supply has become more and more critically reliant on this input.
However, worldwide, natural gas reserves are running out just as quickly as oil which, presumably, is why China wishes to secure such a long term contract for gas from Australia and no doubt many other suppliers.
Earlier this month (Aug 09) the International Energy Agency's chief economist Dr Fatih Birol told Britain's The Independent newspaper that world oil production will peak within 10 years. The average rate of decline in the world's 800 major oilfields is now 6.7 per cent a year -- almost double what it was two years ago. "One day we will run out of oil. It will not be today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil and we have to leave oil before oil leaves us. We have to prepare ourselves for that day," he said.
A similar story, though far less well advertised, applies to natural gas which, within a few years of oil, will also reach its peak and start to decline. According to the International Fertilizer Industry Association, natural gas currently furnishes feedstock for 97 per cent of the world's ammonia-based fertilisers. As gas output dwindles these will become increasingly scarce and unaffordable to most farmers, Australia's included.
Unless an inexpensive replacement source of ammonia for making fertiliser is found, then quite simply, global food output will progressively revert towards what it was in the 1960s, around a third of what we enjoy today. Those who are tempted to deride this statement can easily test the proposition in the privacy of their own back yard or balcony by growing one lettuce or tomato plant in plain sand with a standard N fertiliser, and one without.
In the 1960s we only had 3 billion mouths to feed (one billion of them actually starving). By the time the gas runs low and global food supplies start their downward plummet, there will be 8 billion humans on the planet. According to UN population forecasts this number will be reached in 2025.
Furthermore about five billion of these people will live in cities. Unlike the 1960s, most will have not the slightest capacity or knowledge of how to produce their own food.
A compounding factor is that more and more of the world's nitrogen fertilisers are already being used to grow biofuels of various kinds -- from grain ethanol through to specialist diesel crops and even algae. Biofuels, however green they may be depicted, often use quite high inputs of dwindling fossil energy -- and compete against food crops for these. In other words the more crop biofuels we burn in vehicles, the quicker we will exhaust the world's nitrogen fertiliser supplies.
There are alternatives to natural gas, of course. Recycling sewage and urban organic waste is one option. Increasing legume rotations, manuring or genetically engineering crops which fix nitrogen from the air are others. But they are either much more expensive, riskier from a health perspective, unproven or else produce far less food than the current gas-based N fertiliser system. Many of them, indeed, are the same systems our great grandparents used to grow food over a hundred years ago when there were fewer than a billion people to feed.
Today's governments are a long, long way from even asking themselves how they are going to replace the missing fertilisers on a scale sufficient to nourish the human race. One suspects the matter has not even entered their heads.
Except perhaps in China. There the spectre of past famine still haunts and the ageing rulers are uneasily mindful of the consequences both for their people -- and for themselves. Sure, they need the natural gas for industry. But they also need it for food -- and there is unlikely to be much argument over which comes first.
A couple of decades from now Australians will wake up to find that, besides selling a heap of gas, we have also sold the primary means of food production, both our own and the world's.
Makes you wonder who China will feed first.
See also: Global Food Crisis pages on Science Alert, Garrett defends Gorgon approval in the SMH of 27 Aug 09, Gorgon gas project 'environmental vandalism' by Naomi Woodley for the ABC's PM of Aug 09, Greens call for judicial inquiry on oil spill on the ABC's PM of 24 Aug 09, Gorgon gas development on Barrow Island approved in Perth Now of 10 Aug 09, Gorgon gas deal could set inflation hare running on the ABC news of 19 Aug 09, Turnbull demands credit for Gorgon gas project in the Australian of 27 Aug 09, Joe Hockey claims Coalition credit for $50bn Gorgon gas deal by Nicola Berkovic in the Australian of 19 Aug 09.
Food garden in White House
In the aftermath of breaking ground on the new, 1100 square foot White House garden, Michelle Obama named chef Sam Kass to head the White House Food Initiative. And Kass isn't a fan of big agriculture and mass fertilisers.
All of this positive PR for organics feels very threatening to Big Ag. So one group, the Mid America CropLife Association, has sent an email defending chemical ag to Mrs. Obama. See the letter reprinted below.
After sending the letter, MACA forwarded it around to others, with the following message:
"Did you hear the news? The White House is planning to have an "organic" garden on the grounds to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the Obama's and their guests. While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made Janet Braun, CropLife Ambassador Coordinator and I shudder. As a result, we sent a letter encouraging them to consider using crop protection products and to recognize the importance of agriculture to the entire U.S. economy. Read below for the entire letter.
If you want to send your own letter, it can be sent to the White House ..."
Except one person on the forward list didn't shudder at the idea of an organic garden - and that's how the letter reached the person who sent it on. Here it is:
Letter from Big Ag
"March 26, 2009
Mrs. Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mrs. Obama,
We are writing regarding the garden recently added to the White House grounds to ensure a fresh supply of fruits and vegetables to your family, guests and staff. Congratulations on recognizing the importance of agriculture in America! The U.S. has the safest and most abundant food supply in the world thanks to the 3 million people who farm or ranch in the United States.
The CropLife Ambassador Network, a program of the Mid America CropLife Association, consists of over 160 ambassadors who work and many of whom grew up in agriculture. Their mission is to provide scientifically based, accurate information to the public regarding the safety and value of American agricultural food production. Many people, especially children, don't realize the extent to which their daily lives depend on America's agricultural industry. For instance, children are unaware the jeans they put on in the morning, the three meals eaten daily, the baseball with which they play and even the biofuels that power the school bus are available because of America's farmers and ranchers.
Agriculture is the largest industry in America generating 20% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Individuals, family partnerships or family corporations operate almost 99% of U.S. farms. Over 22 million people are employed in farm-related jobs, including production agriculture, farm inputs, processing and marketing and sales. Through research and changes in production practices, today's food producers are providing Americans with the widest variety of foods ever.
Starting in the early 1900's, technology advances have allowed farmers to continually produce more food on less land while using less human labor. Over time, Americans were able to leave the time-consuming demands of farming to pursue new interests and develop new abilities. Today, an average farmer produces enough food to feed 144 Americans who are living longer lives than many of their ancestors. Technology in agriculture has allowed for the development of much of what we know and use in our lives today. If Americans were still required to farm to support their family's basic food and fiber needs, would the U.S. have been leaders in the advancement of science, communication, education, medicine, transportation and the arts?
We live in a very different world than that of our grandparents. Americans are juggling jobs with the needs of children and aging parents. The time needed to tend a garden is not there for the majority of our citizens, certainly not a garden of sufficient productivity to supply much of a family's year-round food needs.
Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown. Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical. Local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive. However, a Midwest mother whose child loves strawberries, a good source of Vitamin C, appreciates the ability to offer California strawberries in March a few months before the official Mid-west season.
Farmers and ranchers are the first environmentalists, maintaining and improving the soil and natural resources to pass onto future generations. Technology allows for farmers to meet the increasing demand for food and fiber in a sustainable manner.
Farmers use reduced tillage practices on more than 72 million acres to prevent erosion.
Farmers maintain over 1.3 million acres of grass waterways, allowing water to flow naturally from crops without eroding soil.
Contour farming keeps soil from washing away. About 26 million acres in the U.S. are managed this way.
Agricultural land provides habitat for 75% of the nation's wildlife.
Precision farming boosts crop yields and reduces waste by using satellite maps and computers to match seed, fertilizer and crop protection applications to local soil conditions.
Sophisticated Global Positioning Systems can be specifically designed for spraying pesticides. A weed detector equipped with infrared light identifies specific plants by the different rates of light they reflect and then sends a signal to a pump to spray a preset amount of herbicide onto the weed.
Biogenetics allows a particular trait to be implanted directly into the seed to protect the seed against certain pests.
Farmers are utilizing 4-wheel drive tractors with up to 300 horsepower requiring fewer passes across fields-saving energy and time.
Huge combines are speeding the time it takes to harvest crops.
With modern methods, 1 acre of land in the U.S. can produce 42,000 lbs. of strawberries, 110,000 heads of lettuce, 25,400 lbs. of potatoes, 8,900 lbs. of sweet corn, or 640 lbs of cotton lint.
As you go about planning and planting the White House garden, we respectfully encourage you to recognize the role conventional agriculture plays in the U.S in feeding the ever-increasing population, contributing to the U.S. economy and providing a safe and economical food supply. America's farmers understand crop protection technologies are supported by sound scientific research and innovation.
The CropLife Ambassador Network offers educational programs for elementary school educators at http://ambassador.maca.org covering the science behind crop protection products and their contribution to sustainable agriculture. You may find our programs America's Abundance, Farmers Stewards of the Land and War of the Weeds of particular interest. We thank you for recognizing the importance and value of America's current agricultural technologies in feeding our country and contributing to the U.S economy.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions.
Bonnie McCarvel, Executive Director
Janet Braun, Program Coordinator
Mid America CropLife Association
11327 Gravois Rd., #201
St. Louis, MO 63126"
Real proportion of farmers in the US
Note that Christopher Cook, in Diet for a dead planet gives the number of farmers in the US at around 2 million only now, and he comments that this is fewer than the number of Americans in prison.
As for big ag being environmentally caring ....!
Listen to the interview with him about his research for many more realities of the unsustainable and depraved basis of our industrial economy - currently worst of all in the US but quickly turning Australia into something very similar.
As for the claims made by Big Ag above about the time needed to tend a garden - well, it certainly takes a lot longer to work to buy food and the car to tote it from the supermarket than it takes to produce enough for one person to eat! And it's a lot more enjoyable. What is hard is making a big profit out of agriculture, but that's not what you and I are necessarily seeking when we plant an easy to maintain orchard and a few vegetables. I am so over hearing how hard gardening is. Once everyone did it and had plenty of time to spare.
See also: discussion on the Life After the Oil Crash Forum
An article quoting Dr Brian Keating speaking at the Australian Society of Agronomy Conference under the title "On The Brink Of A New Agricultural Revolution" says:
"In a keynote address to the Australian Society of Agronomy Conference, the Director of CSIRO's Agricultural Sustainability Initiative, Dr Brian Keating, said there is evidence that rates of increase in agricultural productivity are easing both in Australia and overseas."
The full article.
That doesn't sound like a "revolution"... The article then states that...
"With the United Nations predicting the world population to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050 and with dramatic changes in food consumption patterns associated with economic development in Asia, there is an urgent need to face up to the challenge of doubling food production over the next 50 years."
Uh, huh. World population now about 6.72 billion.
UN 2007 World Population Revision says the world population in 2050 is likely to be:
Median variant: 9.191 billion
Low variant: 7.792 billion
Personally, I'll put my money on the low variant.
How cheery do we feel about economic development in Asia to 2050 and the "dramatic changes" it will bring in food consumption patterns?
We then read...
"We are going to need a 'revolution' in agricultural productivity over the coming decades to meet these challenges - particularly in terms of the efficiency with which we use land, water, nutrient and energy resources in agricultural production," Dr Keating said.
Well, we could be adding a little over a billion people and we could have a food consumption revolution in the direction of eating less animal protein. That's just as probable a prognosis for 2050, isn't it? In that case, productivity might have to increase, but production would not necessarily have to. So I agree with the mentioned efficiencies, but the article doesn't say very much about how Dr Keating thinks they will be achieved, except to say that, "he is optimistic that agricultural science and industry innovation is up to these challenges."
That's reassuring. Since in a world where apalling hunger and mass over-consumption of food exist almost side by side one of the most serious problems is how to distribute food more equitably, perhaps we could also come up with some social policies to deal with this issue. If not, even if we double the food supply by 2050, what's going to prevent a doubling of the number of starving while we get a doubling of the obese at the same time?
Dr Keating might benefit from a reading of The Final Energy Crisis (2nd Ed.), published recently, as he will find that he really should introduce a few more variables into his equations in order to get a more realistic approximation of where humanity is headed this century.
Vermont writer David Grundy argues that it is well past time that religious extremists in the United States were disregarded in order to permit desperately needed family planning aid be to be delivered to the Third World in order to stop the current food shortage crisis from getting worse.
In an Associated Press article that appeared April 23 titled "Food program warns of hunger crisis," author David Stringer claims the World Food Program says 20 million of the poorest children around the world are threatened with the "first global food crisis since World War II." "A 'silent tsunami' of hunger is sweeping the world's most desperate nations, said Josette Sheeran, the WFP's executive director," the article reads.
Many examples are given of this condition: "The price of rice has more than doubled in the last five weeks, she said. The World Bank estimates food prices have risen 83 percent in just three years," the article continues.
Various reasons are offered for this rapid rise: rising fuel prices, unpredictable weather, rising demand for food from India and China, the increase in demand for meat and dairy products in these two countries.
Various solutions to the food shortage were suggested. Obviously, grow more food. Plant genetically modified crops that can withstand drought or that produce more nutrients. And yet, in the entire article, there was no mention of attacking the main driver of hunger: too many people. It seems to me policymakers are missing the point if they believe producing more food will solve the problem of hunger when the increase in population outstrips the increase in food production.
About 40 years ago, many were extolling the benefits of the green revolution. Using intensive agricultural practices, the world could end hunger as it was then known. In placing too many hopes on this revolution, two points were missed which are coming home to haunt us in 2008: The increased production of food relied very heavily on the use of fossil fuel and manufactured artificial fertilizers, and pesticides.
Even though more food was produced, it did not keep up with the raging increase in world population.
Voluntarily limiting population size is a very touchy subject. Some of the world's religions won't even listen to arguments in favor of stabilizing our population. Our own administration prohibits financial aid to any organization that promotes family planning through contraception. To me, this is short sighted. 25,000 people around the world die each day of starvation and poverty, according to the World Food Programme of the United Nations. How are we serving humanity by allowing unfettered population growth only to watch a number of people equal to that of central Vermont die each day from starvation?
Too often we think of this as someone else's problem. But it will come home to us as we see less and less variety and quantity of food available to us on the super market shelves. As the price of oil continues to rise, those strawberries from South America in February will be too expensive for even the richest of us to buy. We will find that we will be consuming food that is grown closer to home. A recent study done by a college student has suggested Vermont could grow enough food to feed all of our residents. But you can guess that will not include exotic fruits and vegetables or large quantities of meat and dairy products.
I believe it is past time for our policy makers to stop pandering to conservative religionists and face up to the fact that our world only has enough crop land and fresh water to provide for a population that is very likely less than we now try to support.
David B. Grundy lives in East Montpelier in the state of Vermont in the United States.
See also Why is the UN so complacent in the face of over-population peril? of 2 Jul 08 by Brian McGavin, Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis of 4 Jul 08 by Aditya Chakrabortty.
Twelve months ago, John Corboy, co-convenor of Foodbowl Unlimited (www.foodbowl.com.au), ex-Chairman of SPC and strong proponent of the Victoria’s north-south pipeline, went on record as stating that the future for agriculture in the Goulburn Valley was “not all gloom and doom” as Australian farmers stand to benefit from the impact of two ecological time-bombs: the impending collapse of the largely ground-water irrigated agricultural sector in Northern China, home to around half of the country’s population of 1.3 billion, and the ever-worsening degradation and pollution of river systems in India and China.
In his speech to the Foodbowl Unlimited forum in September 2007, Mr Corboy also welcomed the reduction of global agricultural output as a result of increased biofuel production, saying this will “bring supply and demand into balance”. He indicated that by 2040 there would be 3 billion more mouths to feed on this planet and urged that agribusiness take “full advantage” of such opportunities: a degree of economic rationalism that would be hard to surpass.
Fair Water Use will leave it to others to comment on the moral calibre of such statements, but would like to inform Mr Corboy, and all those who seek to exploit the dwindling resource that is Murray-Darling water, that there is no need for him to travel as far as China or the Indian subcontinent to see rivers whose waters are unfit for human consumption as a result of mismanagement. A trip to the lower Murray will provide him with the opportunity to sample water with salinity levels in the region of 20,000 e.c., around eight times higher than the maximum salt content of potable water, and view large areas of what is described by the CSIRO as “monosulfidic black ooze”, acidic mud with a pH often less than 4.
There are great concerns that, under the terms of the Victorian Water Plan strongly supported by Mr Corboy, the Brumby Government will be able to “borrow” billions of litres of water from the environment and redirect it for industrial and domestic use.
Unless all those currently driving the water-privatisation agenda are called to account, the Murray-Darling Basin risks experiencing socio-ecological collapse similar to that anticipated by Mr Corboy in Northern China and India.
Note from Candobetter Editors:
Since this article is so popular, we feel we should tell readers that there is more, much more by Antony Boys, in Sheila Newman (Ed.) The Final Energy Crisis, Pluto, UK, 2008. Antony has two long articles in it: The first is about how North Korea coped without cheap soviet oil. The second evaluates in detail Japan's carrying capacity in the Edo period, then looks at changes to agriculture and population during Japan's industrialisation, then looks at how Japan may fare with oil depletion.
A short while ago I wrote a "food and energy survey" of the city where I live in Japan to try to get some idea of how the city might do if there was an extended food and energy crisis. A pdf file of the survey is attached to this article. Please feel free to read and comment on it. Until October 2004, what is now Hitachi Omiya City had been Omiya Town, one other town and three other villages, and although I had lived in Omiya Town since 1986, when the town and village amalgamation occurred I had only a vague idea of what the new city consisted of.
Take the word "city" with a degree of skepticism, by the way. This is not London or New York. In Japan, any administrative unit with a population over 30,000 can be a "city". That can mean that you have a small commercial and administrative district with a large rural hinterland, as we have here. Don't go looking around for the "city". There really isn't one.
After writing the survey, I sent it off to several people for comments. One of these was my good friend Martin, who lives near Tokyo. Martin is writing a book about food in Japan, so he has a good feel for the subject, but the problem was that he had very little idea of what the city looked like. Martin came up to visit my family a few days ago, and so we set off on a five-hour drive around the city so that we could both get a much better idea of what is there. You can also see Martin's version of the trip on his blog.
Here's a sketch map of the city. It is very roughly a square, each side being about 12 miles, or 19 km. The brown shaded area near the southeast corner of the city is the main commercial and administrative area. An interesting feature of the city that you can see from the map is that there are two quite substantial rivers that approach each other and come quite close together at the southern end of the city area. The river flowing north to south on the east is the Kuji River and the river flowing roughly southeast in the south of the city is the Naka River.
One further notable geographical fact is that the city is on the northern edge of the Kanto Plain, the large flat area that surrounds Tokyo.
2. What's different about Japanese Agriculture?
Martin and I decided to drive along some of the main roads as far as the border with the next administrative unit, and to stop to take pictures every time we saw something interesting or representative of the city, or of Japanese farming in general. Perhaps three of the most representative features of Japanese farming are:
1) Field areas are small,
2) Farmers are mostly older people,
3) Capital intensity is high.
The first two are fairly clear, but the third feature refers to the fact that the amount and size of machinery is out of proportion to the land it is used to work. This is also one factor in the high energy-intensity of Japanese agriculture, which is expressed either in terms of high levels of chemical (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and so on) inputs to the land, or in terms of very intensive labour inputs. In addition, for some fruit and vegetable crops, large amounts of plastic sheeting for covering the ground or for making hothouses are used, and in the colder seasons kerosene is sometimes used to heat the hothouses from the inside.
I will try to illustrate these three features with photographs taken during our half-day trip.
3. A Local Farmer
Actually, as we came out of the house, I saw that the farmer who is now growing a crop of upland rice (i.e. a rice variety that does not need to be grown in a wet paddy field) right next to my house had turned up on his morning round of his fields. We went over and said hello and I took out my camera and snapped him right there. The evening before, Martin and I had passed by another of his fields which is on my regular dog walk. The field is a bit less than one-tenth of a hectare and is now covered with a dense growth of soybeans. It's very 'clean', but it's interesting how it got that way. Since I walk our dogs along the same route nearly every day between about four and five in the afternoon, I had seen what had happened in the field over the few weeks since the soy had been planted. The farmer had been out there with a tiny hand-pushed machine (like a small manual lawn mower about 20 or 25 centimetres wide) almost every day, slowly and labouriously, and with meticulous care, removing anything green in the rows between the soybean plants. Sometimes he was just walking up and down between the rows, with his eyes on the ground, occasionally bending down to pluck out a weed. Only once in the two weeks or so that I walked by the field every day did we greet each other, because he was concentrating so hard on what he was doing that he probably didn't notice me, and I didn't want to disturb his concentration by calling out to him.
Martin and I agreed as we walked the dogs that this man's work is now being replaced by herbicide-resistant GE soybeans. If you are farming hundreds of hectares of soybeans, perhaps that makes sense to you. But it does not make sense in about 90% of Japanese farming, which is done something like I describe here, on very small plots of land. (There is NO commercial planting of GE soy in Japan.) When I visited Kumamoto Prefecture some years ago, the topography was so hilly/mountainous, that field sizes were even smaller than where I live. The people there told me that in the 1950s and early 60s they had switched to chemical/mechanical farming along with everyone else, but had given up a few years later because it just did not make economic sense on their small fields. That's why now Kumamoto Prefecture has more organic farming than any other area in Japan. I didn't hear anyone complain about it, though.
This farmer, growing his upland rice and soybeans on small fields here and there in the area (and is also well-known for his good vegetable seedlings) is about in his mid-seventies. I don't know anything about his children, but I have never seen any younger people in his fields. The 'funny' thing was that when Martin and I arrived back at my house about two in the afternoon, at the end of our drive around the city, there was a bicycle standing at the edge of the field with the upland rice growing in it; the farmer's wife had turned up to do a little weeding!
4. Small fields, disproportionally large amounts of machinery
First of all, we drove out along the main road that roughly follows the course of Naka River, which cuts across the southern end of the city. We reached the border with the next prefecture (Tochigi Prefecture), took a few pictures and turned back again. Here's a picture of what the river looks like at this point.
As we drove back towards the town again, we saw a brilliant example of feature number three (and one) taking place right up ahead; a farmer preparing a miniscule patch of land with a tractor. You can imagine his concern as, early on what should be an uneventful Monday morning, a car screeches to a halt and two foreigners jump out and start to take pictures! He smiled as we explained who we were and what we are doing (Martin's Japanese is pretty good too) and then went on to his next job for the morning.
This example is clearly extreme. I'm sure small plots of land as small as this are farmed all over the world, but do the farmers come round to prepare the ground with a tractor? These photos will make some of you, used to farming 100s of hectares at a time, laugh your heads off, but it is pretty typical of the way Japanese farming works, as you will see below.
5. Japanese agriculture: Elderly individuals with little family or local solidarity
A little further on, we saw a sign for "ostriches" and decided to take a look, expecting to see some kind of ostrich farm, but there were only the two giggly specimens that you can see in the chain-link pen here.
As we were having a laugh about the size of the 'ostrich farm', Martin caught sight of something interesting in a paddy field close by; a farmer with a basket on his back weeding the field.
We decided to go over and investigate. The farmer noticed us immediately as we stood at the edge of the field taking pictures and decided to come out and talk to us. He turned out to be extremely friendly and open, as most Japanese farmers are. He told us that his main work was growing vegetables for sale and that the rice he would harvest from the paddy field was just for family consumption. Looking around, we could see that there were plastic sheet hothouses nearby for preparing vegetable seedlings, and also vegetable fields.
I asked the man if the vegetables were his main source of income. I half expected him to say that he had other family members who bring in more income, but he did not, simply replying 'yes' to my question. I imagined that he lived nearby with his wife. I asked if he had been farming long and he said he had been farming in the same place for 55 years - he told us he was now 65.
He mentioned that he was doing his vegetable farming business as a group. I was interested in this because working as a group is one way of reducing the capital-intensity of the farming; the group could buy machines and chemicals as a collective, thereby holding down the average cost to each individual farmer. Martin and I had talked about this the previous day, and I was hoping we had perhaps run into a positive example of feature number three. I asked the farmer how many people were in the group. He said that they had started as seven, but were now down to two. That was disappointing, but he agreed with us that there were advantages to working as a group and I encouraged him to see if he could find more local farmers he could work with.
I was interested to know if the administrative areas had changed before and he told us that the area had been a small village before the previous round of town and village amalgamations in the 1950s. Then the area had become Gozenyama Village, which was then amalgamated into Hitachi Omiya City in October 2004.
I told him that I had recently completed a survey of the city to get some idea of how the city would fare if there were a sudden 'food and energy' crisis in Japan, given all the 'news' we were getting from the media about global food and energy problems, as well as the prices of gasoline at the pump and food in the supermarkets.
He seemed to be quite interested in this, but then, quite unprompted, began to talk about his son. I suddenly realized that we had stumbled upon a typical example of feature number two.
The farmer told us that his son, who lived with him in the house close by, was 38, but had only just recently begun to help out with the farmwork by sometimes cutting the grass (at the edges of fields and so on) with a kusaharaiki, the ubiquitous little two-stoke engine grass-cutter that every farming family here seems to have. The son apparently had no idea how to grow rice or vegetables.
This is absolutely typical of the situation here; children of farming families, with farmland that they will eventually have to take over, but with not a clue about how to grow their own food. I told the farmer that he had better hurry up and pass on his skills to his son, because if there is a problem in the future the son will not want to find himself hungry, and yet with fields that he doesn't know how to farm.
Martin told him that he could tell his son that two "European specialists" had just visited him and told him to do just that. I thought that was quite amusing. I don't know if the ostriches found it funny as well. Anyway, we exchanged names and I promised to visit him again sometime. In a month or so I will probably drive out and see how he's doing.
6. Prototypical Japanese agricultural scenery
Martin and I then continued on down the road back towards the city 'centre', but turned left onto a small road heading north towards the areas where the golf courses are. I had never driven up this road before, and it turned out to be a very pleasant typical Japanese country road in a low mountain area. We decided to stop and look when we saw a small area of paddy fields nestling in a tiny valley.
In hilly areas in Japan (all over Asia, actually) you will come across tiny valleys like this where the original stream bed has been built up and leveled so that the farmer can take advantage of the natural water flow of the stream to construct paddy fields. Large areas of paddy fields tend to be areas close to larger rivers and so work on the same basic principle. These small valley paddy fields are generally surrounded by densely wooded hills, as here, and so are fed with the runoff from the woods, usually full of minerals and other nutrients. This is sometimes called the "original Japanese scenery" - a kind of prototypical essence of the Japanese agricultural lifestyle. (You may get some idea of why the Doha Round and so on does not make a lot of sense out here.)
The rice flowers were just 'blooming' in the field so I tried to photograph some of them. If you haven't seen rice flowers before, this is what they look like.
Over the last 30 or 40 years, some of these tiny paddy fields have been abandoned as the owners become older and unable to farm all the land, or as the rice consumption per capita has declined and the government has ordered farmers to take some land out of use - 'set-aside'. Sure enough, the old paddy field at the head of the little valley had been abandoned. The paddy fields are nearly always abandoned from the head of the valley down - pretty obvious really, I suppose - but the main reason is that the top paddy field will always be the least productive because the water temperature is always lowest in that field.
Unfortunately, in this particular case, the little valley backed onto one of the local golf courses, which means that the runoff probably contained high concentrations of chemicals. That would certainly be one good reason for abandoning the top field, though I should think the rice in the other paddies would not be much better. Since there was no one around, we could not ask, but I have a feeling that the farmer is possibly eating the rice he grows in other paddies elsewhere and selling the produce from this little valley into the industrial food chain.
Sometimes one or two of the paddies have been turned into ordinary 'upland' fields, like the one you can see here, so tiny that you can even see the farmer's footprints.
Further up the road, we saw a field with an unusual dark red colour. We stopped to take a few photos. This was a small field of 'akajiso' plants. ("Aka" is red in Japanese. There are red and green varieties of this plant, the green one being called "aojiso". The word "ao" covers a wide range of colours all the way from what we call blue to green.) This is an edible leaf - quite tasty once you get used to it - which is used as a decorative leaf on certain kinds of food, especially sashimi, raw fish slices. If you buy a small plastic tray of sashimi in a supermarket here, the sashimi slices are placed on shredded Japanese radish (daikon) and then decorated with two or three of these leaves. The colour contrasts make the fish look really appetising. This small field of akajiso is maybe one-tenth of a hectare, perhaps a little less. When I got home, I showed the photo to my (Japanese) wife, who immediately exclaimed, "What a big field of akajiso!" (The ostriches probably would have had a good laugh at that.)
7. What Japanese call a "large" area
Martin and I drove up the main road to the border with Tochigi Prefecture close to the northwest corner of the city, enjoying the forests as we went. The trees are mostly Cryptomeria japonica, a kind of conifer in the cypress family. The tree is called "sugi" in Japanese and is sometimes called the 'Japanese cedar' in English, though it is unrelated to the cedars. Being a conifer, it is good for construction wood, but not much good for leaf mold. I am told it is also not a good fuel wood, perhaps because it burns too quickly and fiercely.
We then drove eastwards along a small and very pretty road through the low mountains until we came to the main north-south road, where we turned right to head home again. On the way there is a good lookout spot which overlooks an area of rice paddies close to the Kuji River. In the photo, you can see low wooded hills in the distance, which are on the far side of the river. In the middle distance, if you look carefully, you can see the river embankment. In this area, this is what we would call a 'large' area of rice paddies. Even so, you can see that the individual fields are one-tenth to one-fifth of a hectare each, each one of them owned by different families, with one family having one, two or three fields dotted about here and there. You can also see that some of the fields have been abandoned. It's either 'set-aside' or the owners have become too old to farm the land, or died, and the younger members of the family either cannot be bothered to farm it, or don't know how to, or have moved away to Tokyo (or other conurbation) in search of higher incomes.
8. Final comment
These three features of Japanese agriculture, small fields, age of farmers, and capital intensity, are generally not known to people in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Argentinia, or Brazil and so on, although Asian agriculture is quite similar and people in India and China would be able to relate fairly easily with this description.
Large-scale 'industrial' farming no doubt 'feeds the world'. Without the green revolution, humanity may well have run up against land-population limits in the 1980s or 90s, and Japan relies on industrial agriculture to feed 60% of its population, since only 40% of the food calories needed to keep the Japanese population alive are actually produced here. So what will happen if imports of cheap food and oil cease? That's why I wrote the survey; to try to see whether this small city can survive without 'imports' of food and energy from outside. If you read the survey you will see that there are many problems to be overcome even for a city like this to reach sustainable self-sufficiency (not the least of which is what to do about the hordes of hungry people from Tokyo who will want to relocate here - but that is another story). At least, after reading this and seeing the photos you have a better idea of what the city looks like, and perhaps what life might be like here after "peak oil" becomes really serious.
Please also feel free to comment below on either this 'photo essay' or the survey. If you care to ask questions, please also feel free do do so as a 'comment' and I will try to get around to answering your question(s) within a reasonably short period of time.
The chapters I submitted to The Final Energy Crisis 2 are the ones on the connections between fossil energy resources and food production in Japan and North Korea (DPRK). If you have any questions or comments about the content of these chapters, I will be very happy to hear from you, and also to reply to you on this blog. If it is necessary to give more than a short answer, I may start a new blog topic based on your question or comment.
To leave a question or a comment, please just type in a comment below. I will check regularly and answer your question or comment as soon as possible. Thank you.
#TheProblem" id="TheProblem">The problem
Are GM (genetically modified, some prefer "GE", genetically engineered) crops and food safe? Reading the mainstream press is probably going to confuse you more than anything else. The reason for this is it's extremely hard to tell who's telling "the truth". However, use of the Internet (and a few books that you can purchase through the Internet) can help you to see through the half-truths and distortions frequently used by proponents of GM crops and food. People who oppose the introduction of GM crops and food can, of course, resort to the same kind of tactics, so it's really up to the individual to look at the evidence and come to his or her own conclusion. The information is freely available on the Internet, all I do is give a few guidelines below to help you find it.
As I write (late June 2008), Australia is slowly trying to make up its collective mind about whether to allow the introduction of GM crops. Victoria and New South Wales, for example, have ended their moratorium on the planting of GM crops, and WA is maintaining its moratorium, though a debate on whether to extend it or not is now raging in that state. A friend of mine sent me an article from the Farm Weekly and I would like to use this article as an example of pro-GM writing. I would like to show how the writer uses half-truths and distortions to make his points, and how more detailed knowledge about much of the material in the article, allowing the reader to see 'where the writer is coming from,' is quite easily available on the Internet. Since information is democracy's oxygen, it would be a good idea perhaps if Australians take a deep breath before they finally decide on whether they really want GM crops and food or not.
The writer, Peter Lee, uses quotations from Shakespeare to back up some of the arguments he makes in the article. That's fine. I know almost nothing about Shakespeare, but I think this shows that Peter is a well-educated person of the English-speaking world. He especially gives the Shakespearean quotejust before he launches into his main argument about Let's have a look at Peter's argument.
#ScientificProof" id="ScientificProof">Why the lack of scientific proof?
Just after the Shakespeare quote, Peter says,
Yes, there is no scientific proof concerning whether GM foods are safe or not because the entire biotechnology industry has quite adamantly refused to do any conclusive testing on GM foods. Several preliminary and rigorous experiments by independent researchers on the feeding of GM foods to rats (e.g. by Arpad Pusztai and Irina Ermakova) have shown that there may be severe health impacts from the consumption of GM foods, but the biotechnology industry, whilst rebutting these experimental results has not followed up on them. The researchers who have carried out these experiments have complained of being forced to desist, through a cutting off of their funding, sudden firing, or retirement (in the case of Arpad Pusztai). The relevant books, see below, which are easily available from Internet bookstores, documentaries, such as the YouTube broadcasts here and here and The Genetic Conspiracy, and websites, e.g. ISIS (www.i-sis.org.uk), whose director is Dr Mae Wan Ho, note several such examples. What is frightening people is what appears to be a refusal to carry out rigorous testing on the human health effects of GM foods.
A small sample of useful books:
- Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods
- Jeffrey M. Smith, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating
- Mae-Wan Ho, Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare?: The Brave New World of Science and Business
#OrganicVsConventional" id="OrganicVsConventional">The organic vs. conventional and the non-GM vs. GM analogy
Peter goes on to set up an analogy on possible similarities in the contrasts between organic and conventionally-grown food on the one hand and between non-GM food (essentially the same thing as conventionally-grown food) and GM food on the other. However, we need to look at what Peter says in a little detail to see whether his analogy is actually valid or not.
Anyone as apparently ill-informed on agriculture as this really should not be writing a column as an "agripolitical analyst" in a farm-related newspaper. I can only suggest that Peter go to Wikipedia and enter the keywords "(Sir) Albert Howard". He will find information on Sir Albert Howard's 1940 book, An Agricultural Testament, and Lady Eve Balfour's The Living Soil. These contain information on comparative studies on the effects of eating organic food and conventionally-grown (using chemical fertilizers and pesticides) food on people. This is over half a century ago, when food, water, soil and air were nowhere near as polluted with chemicals as they are now. These books are available at no cost as electronic editions on the Internet#main-fn1">1. I recommend anyone who is interested in food issues read them.
Closer to home, I recently visited Caralyn Lagrange, who does wonderful organic gardening near Perth, WA. Caralyn came to organic farming through breast cancer as a viable way to get good chemical-free nutrition. Her book "Gardening and Eating for Living" is a little treasure, and you can find out more about it on her website. You see, most people seem to be able to eat conventionally grown food with no apparent problems, but some people are more sensitive to the chemicals used to produce the food. I've heard of people in Japan whose lips become numb as soon as they put chemically-grown vegetables in their mouths and thus cannot survive without very conscientiously grown organic food.
#JapaneseConsumers" id="JapaneseConsumers">With respect to the non-GM/GM canola problem, I was told by a friend who was a member of the Japanese consumer group representatives mission to WA, mentioned #VisitOfJapanese">below, that GM canola will not help Japanese children's atopy (skin allergy) problems. Only when food is cooked with non-GM canola is the atopy relieved. Because the scientific tests have not been carried out, we have no way of knowing why this is, but we may conjecture, for example, that it is the different, possibly novel, protein content in the GM canola that is the culprit. Perhaps we'll know if anyone is ever allowed to do the tests. Of course, organic canola would be even better than the conventionally-grown non-GM canola, but it is not available in the amounts necessary. If WA canola farmers want to try their hand at producing organic canola for the Japanese market, I'm sure they will be welcomed with open arms.
Yes, that's because organic farming and conventional farming has managed to coexist, for example by taking precautions (overwhelmingly on the side of the organic farmer) against the chemicals polluting organic farming lands. The seeds used in both types of farming might be the same, and there is usually no big problem with pollution from wind-blown or insect-carried pollen.
Now let's take a look at the GM/non-GM issue. The point is that the novel genes from the GM plant will pollute the non-GM varieties. When the farmer next door plants a GM crop (canola, soybeans, maize, and so on) next to your field where you have planted a non-GM variety of the same crop, your produce will almost certainly be polluted with the GM variety genes. There are two major problems with this. Firstly, depending on who you are planning to sell the produce to, the level of GM pollution in your produce may become unacceptable to the buyer. If you are trying to export non-GM canola to a Japanese consumer group, NO level of GM contamination is acceptable. 0%. At this point you have lost your market. If you are an organic farmer, there is no way, once the GM contamination is discovered, that you can sell your produce as organic. In other words, the coexistence of GM and non-GM varieties is extremely problematical. With respect to canola, this fact has already been amply demonstrated in Canada, which has been extensively contaminated with GM canola genes such that it is effectively impossible to grow non-GM canola in Canada now.
Secondly, that's just how the GM variety seed producing companies want it. In the USA and Canada, non-GM farmers have been ruined by court cases, or the threat of them, from GM seed companies simply because of the contaminated plants that have 'fortuitously' grown on their land. A well-known case is that of Percy Schmeiser, information on whom you can find with a simple web search. The actions of the companies threaten to have the effect of driving out all non-GM growers. Coexistence just doesn't seem to be possible.
In WA, the recommended buffer zone between GM and non-GM canola crops is five meters, which is supposed to be on the non-GM farmer's side of the fence, by the way. You can find references to this on the website of the the Network of Concerned Farmers. Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) recommends 600 m. Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, where concern over the commercial planting of GM crops is higher, the recommended distance is 1200 m, but it is not certain whether this distance will completely prevent contamination (cross-pollination by wind-borne pollen and so on) or not. If you type in the search words "five-metre buffer zone canola" in Google, you will see that one entry says"GM canola pollen has been found up to 26 kilometres from its source." Try putting that buffer zone on the inside of your fence. Five meters is laughable. It also comes with a caveat that the non-GM farmer "is to accept" a 0.9% contamination of his/her crop. You can find this in the pdf file of the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation report "Delivering Market Choice with GM Canola". Just type the title into Google to find the file. That's not coexistence, that's downright surrender. Surrender to what? What are the GM seed companies trying to achieve? It looks to me like they are trying to achieve nothing less than the total control of all the world's food crop seeds. They appear to be acting in a manner that would give them control of the world's food supply and an everlasting source of income from the sale of the seeds, which must be bought anew each year. This comes courtesy of the legalistic sleight of hand that allows patents on life. If that doesn't send a chill up your spine, nothing ever will.
#PayingMore" id="PayingMore">Paying more for your food
Peter goes on to say,
Yes, people pay more for organic food because under the present economic arrangements organic food is more expensive to produce. Generally speaking, food produced on farms which run a chemical and mechanical system of farming are more efficient in terms of labour. Very few people are producing a lot of food, so relatively the labour costs are low. In organic farming, although cash inputs (chemicals, fuel and so on) are fewer, it is labour-intensive. Given the amounts of money required to live a decent life these days, i.e. wage levels, organic farmers have to charge relatively more for their produce in order to make a living. This accounts for a large proportion of the price differential between organic and conventionally produced food. There are more factors, as you can see here. (This website takes a little while to load, but you will also see here that prices of organic food include not only the cost of the food production itself, but also a range of other factors that are not captured in the price of conventionally-grown food).
However, consumers of organic food are willing to pay more because they feel that cheap food might actually turn out to be more expensive in terms of health effects. Paying a little more for food that is more likely to keep you in good health may eventually be saving you steep hospital bills.
Now, what will happen if the price of oil continues to rise? Chemicals are mostly produced from oil, natural gas, or coal (fossil energy resources), so the economic advantage of the cheap part of the chemical-mechanical farm that makes it so efficient (relatively cheap fuels, fertilizers and other chemicals) will be eroded. This may eventually result in people paying the same or less for organic produce.
All very well and good and protects consumers' right to choose what they eat.
Peter then says,
Not as planned, it won't, as we have already seen above.
#ProofOrLiability" id="ProofOrLiability">Proof or liability
Peter then says,
Peter is implying that consumers of organic food are paying higher prices for their food because of the inspection and accreditation systems necessary to prove that the food is really organic. However, as seen above, that's neither the main reason why organic food is more expensive, nor is it necessarily true that organic food will always be more expensive than conventionally produced food, or GM food for that matter. OK, so perhaps there should be some mechanism for proving that non-GM food is just what it says it is. Who should pay for the testing is something that can be argued over, since there is no system in place now. And maybe the non-GM farmer will end up having to pay for this and will pass the cost on to the consumer, who will have to pay a little more for the food.
Let's look a little closer at the difference between this and the contrast between organic and conventionally grown food. Suppose an organic farmer is growing a crop next door to a conventional farmer. The organic farmer will surely take precautions to see that his/her produce is not affected by the neighbouring farmer, but it might happen. The organic farmer might be extremely annoyed about this, depending on the seriousness of the pollution, and may lose income, but it is extremely rare that any irreversible permanent damage would be done. The organic farmer might try to sue the chemical farmer for damage, but I cannot find on the Internet any examples of this ever having occurred. Can you? Anyway, now we're not talking so much about proving that organic produce is organic as whose liability it is if pollution occurs and the farmer loses income because of that.
Peter seems to be confident that GM and non-GM crops can coexist, just as organic and conventional farming manage to coexist today. The Canadian experience shows that in the case of canola this is very doubtful. So, rather than this being a problem of who pays for testing to prove that a harvested crop is what it is said to be, since pollution is almost certain to occur (according to the GRDC, the non-GM farmer is supposed to accept 0.5% pollution of seed and 0.9% pollution of a non-GM crop anyway), who takes responsibility for the loss of income that results? Thus far, as in the example of Percy Schmeiser and many others in Canada and the USA, far from the company that manufactured the GM seed taking any responsibility for GM pollution, these companies are likely to threaten to sue the non-GM farmer for infringement of patent rights. Slowly, this is now beginning to turn around (Percy Schmeiser did eventually win a court case against Monsanto), but let's look at the nature of GM pollution when compared with the chemical pollution of an organic crop. (All farmers are, of course, concerned about cross-fertilization of crop varieties, but have learned to control it. See, for example, the Seed Savers' Network).
Once the transgenes (the new genes the biotechnology company has inserted into the DNA of the plant to give it the novel trait) enter the genome (the totality of DNA in the cell nucleus of the plant) of the non-GM plant, how can you get them out again? You cannot, and that means your seed is contaminated with the transgenes; permanent irreversible damage. So if you are a non-GM farmer who has been saving your own seeds for replanting, like Percy Schmeiser was, you might lose decades of work. You cannot plant those polluted seeds because you would be infringing a patent right if you did. The GM seed manufacturing companies do not seem to be seriously interested in preventing this problem, as we have seen with the five-metre canola buffer zone above. There's little doubt that after a number of years under a system like this only GM crops will be planted. That appears to be what the seed companies want.
Peter goes on to say,
Quite wrong; they will pay. They are already paying because the price of oil is rising. And anyway, why should they have to pay just because the biotechnology industry wants to sell its seeds? After what you have read above, is it any surprise that some people feel they need legislation to protect their farming, their food, and their way of life?
#VisitOfJapanese" id="VisitOfJapanese">Visit of the Japanese consumer group reps
Here, the argument shifts a little to mention the visit by a group of Japanese consumer group representatives. Peter says,
The Conservation Council of Western Australia did not 'sponsor' the visit of the group. They 'hosted' it. Perhaps Peter missed the substantial articles mentioning the group's visit and participation in the forum at Williams (June 13) on pages 4, 5, and 6 in the June 19 edition of Farm Weekly. The consumers' group representatives came of their own accord#main-fn2">2 to ask the government and farmers of WA to extend the moratorium so that they could continue to buy non-GM canola from WA, perhaps soon to be the only place where they can obtain it in sufficient quantities.
Why does Peter say NO! GMO Campaign (closely associated with the Consumers' Union of Japan), the Green Co-op, the Kirari Cooperative Union Association, The Association to Preserve the Earth (Daichi wo Mamoru Kai), and the well-known Seikatsu Club. Unfortunately, most of the websites are in Japanese, but you will be able to see that these organizations, as well as working to provide safe and nutritious food to their members, are also social movements which work for grassroots democracy, assistance for handicapped and other socially disadvantaged people, and carry out other socially beneficial activities. Certainly not fanatics, and certainly not fanatical organizations posing as consumer groups.I cannot imagine what is meant by this. They are consumer group representatives whose organizations represent 2.9 million members. These co-ops and organic food suppliers do what they do to help consumers obtain the safe and nutritious food they want to eat instead of having to put up with being force-fed the chemically-produced and GM food that they do not want to eat. The organizations represented were: The
Then Peter says,
Sounds like a contradiction doesn't it? Public opinion polls show that around 60% to 75% of Japanese people do not want to eat GM foods. But the reason that they are buying and using canola oil produced from Canadian GM canola is that they don't have a choice. The Japanese food labelling system is very similar to the Australian one. There's nothing on labels to show that a food product is produced from GM crops. If you want to buy non-GM, then you have to look for the labels that say "non-GM", "GM free" and so on. So a very large number of people are eating GM foods without knowing or being aware that they are doing so. The feeling is that the governments of Australia and Japan have introduced these labelling systems because they know what would happen to purchasing behaviour if foods were labelled accurately. Looks like someone doesn't want you to enjoy your right of consumer choice. GM seed companies and governments are effectively cooperating to force-feed you GM food without your knowledge. By the time we find out what the human health problems are with these foods, it will be far, far too late to anything about it. Who will benefit from that?
#MuchAdoAbout Nothing" id="MuchAdoAbout Nothing">A fanatical much ado about nothing?
Peter goes on to say,
Apart from the implication that the above-mentioned consumer group representatives are "fanatics", given the potential for information democracy provided by the Internet, the really astounding thing is that pro-GM analysts like this can get articles printed in the newspaper and actually expect that some poor fools will believe them!
Finally, Peter says,
It is quite clearly not- it's a lot of fuss about controlling the world's food supply (and all that that implies). Perhaps more appropriately we should say, "There's no smoke without fire." If people are protesting about something, then it is just as well that we take pains to see if they have reasonable grounds for doing so. If Peter wants to refute their arguments, under our current social system, where freedom of speech is respected, he is at liberty to do so. However, if he uses terms like 'fanatics' and implicates that these people only hold their views through some form of irrational 'belief', or because their 'thinking made it so,' I would like to suggest that his readers take a long hard look at the evidence for and against before they swallow his arguments whole.
#main-fn1" id="main-fn1">1. #main-fn1-txt">↑ I couldn't locate an online version of The Living Soil although Wikipedia implies that one is to be found on www.soilandhealth.org. To order printed version, visit the Soil Association.
#main-fn2" id="main-fn2">2. #main-fn2-txt">↑ See, also, comments posted by two of the visitors #comment-986">The media's responsibility and duty to report the truth about GM and #comment-991">Only 4000 tonnes canola per year, but ZERO contamination and a comment by another Japanese consumer #comment-994">Monsanto makes coexistence between GM and non-GM impossible.
This article raises the vexing question of how we are to live sustainably off the land in the longer term. If incomes to be earned from sustainable farming practices are low in comparison to those to be earned by working in the city or in mines, then we need to consider whether those economic activities are sustainable.
The government needs to control the activities of any sector where they threaten the viability of other sectors, particularly vital sectors like food production. To risk severe social disruption for short-term profit might make sense to corporations, but it is the duty of governments to mitigate corporate excesses and to direct and balance activities so that the community is buffered and major conflicts are avoided.
Clearly in the case of mining, and in that light, the current activities are not sustainable, as I argued earlier. Is it any wonder that farmers, who are ultimately attempting to turn the comparative trickle of energy obtained from the sun into wealth, cannot offer wages competitive with those on offer from industries which are, in large part, simply plundering energy accumulated over at least tens of millions of years by biological and geological processes? If other city-based economic activities were also placed under the microscope, we would invariably find that they are also ultimately based upon the unsustainable destruction of the our finite capital.
So, agriculture has been placed at an extremely unfair disadvantage compared with other economic activities. To expect it to compete with those other activities under these circumstances would guarantee the destruction of our soil and our future impoverishment. As David R. Montgomery's Dirt - the Erosion of Civilisations (2007) shows, this is far from being just a theoretical question.
If we are to establish an economy which is to be sustainable in the longer term, we are going to have to face the fact that many of us may find unpalatable, that is, whether we live on the land or in cities, we are going to have to learn to live by consuming far fewer material resources than we do now. Even if we eliminate many absurdly wasteful practices of our throw-away society, and even if we remove the enormous inequalities in income distribution, we may still find ourselves without the same access to all the convenient gadgets and comforts to which we are now accustomed. We are going to have to get used the idea that we won't all be able to travel by air to the other side of the world every year or across the continent every two months or so, or be able to buy every gizmo we desire almost at will only to throw them away a mere 12 months later.
Of course one first and necessary step will be to remove the often crippling burden placed upon on farms by the finance sector, which, in turn, drives farmers to ruin their land. As I mentioned earlier, one means towards achieving this would be to re-establish a Peoples' (i.e. Commonwealth) Bank.
On top of that, the rest of us should consider paying more for food in order to allow farmers to be able to both earn a decent income and to properly look after the land. It would also help if were to change the grossly inefficient industrialised food processing and distribution system (the US version of which is described lucidly in the US by Christopher Cook's Diet for A Dead Planet – See YouTube broadcast). Breaking the Coles Woolworths duopoly would help. Similar to the re-establishment of a Peoples' Bank, why not establish a publicly owned supermarket company that only has to meet its operating expenses and not pay inflated returns to its shareholders, company directors and CEO's? Local cooperative producers' markets could complement the aforementioned Peoples' Supermarket to allow as much food as possible to be consumed locally.
Local food distribution and consumption would reduce transport, storage and packaging costs, which can only continue to climb from now on due to the growing scarcity of petroleum, and to make easier the recycling of all nutrients. The alternative of continuing to mine nutrients from the soil and dump most of them in landfill up to hundreds of kilometres away cannot be sustainable. The fertilisers currently used to partially replace lost nutrients are either finite resources or are manufactured unsustainably using finite and limited fossil fuels. Moreover, their use, in conjunction with the use of pesticides, tends make soil sterile and lifeless as Jenny Hume is, no doubt, aware.
Some links which may be of interest include: Working the land - or not of 24 Jun 08 by Jenny Hume on Web Diary, Who owns your sewage? of 3 Jul 08 by Valerie Yule on Online Opinion, Last gasp for single desk marketing of Australian wheat of 17 Jun 08, Peak oil prices cause South Australian Farmers to call for 'fair market forces' of 10 Jun 08, Orwellian Waterworks: big-agribusiness and Victorian Gov of 27 May 08, Insight program's take on Labor Shortage of 17 Jun 08, A 10,000 year misunderstanding of 1 May 08 by Canadian soil microbiologist Peter Salonius, I will govern for all Victorians (caveat: but only if you are powerful and connected) of 26 Jun 08.
The Australian Government is set to pass laws ending the single desk marketing of Australian wheat this week.
As reported by nineMSN, farmers have gathered in Canberra to protest the change. Wheat Growers Action Group chairman Peter Cannon, who helped organise the day of protests, said farmers were being dudded by the changes and wanted the public to know about it.
Wheat Export Market Alliance chairman Graham Blight also told the rally that growers' democratic rights were being ignored.
Without a single desk, "the weakest seller will determine the market", he said.
"The multinationals will come in and have a field day ... our government's given them a blank sheet".
Critics of single desk marketing have used the AWB/Iraq 'scandal' and one particularly heavy loss by Board to justify throwing out the whole single desk system. The opportunistic timing and predatory nature of their push for de-regulation is similar to the Disaster Capitalism modus operandi described by Naomi Klein in her book 'Shock Doctrine'.
The system preferred by many of these critics is - surprise, surprise - a free-market open-slather arrangement where the price of wheat can effectively be bid down to the lowest common denominator by the buyers. The buyers, in this case, would be the same sorts of multinational agri-business conglomerates that are lining up to market Australian wheat once the single desk is gone.
Not surprisingly, both Liberal (in the dubious form of Wilson Tuckey) and Labor (new Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke) fully support the changes. Both operate in the mind-space of free-market economics, where any Government 'meddling' with the purity of the market is considered heretical.
Even when it helps Australian wheat farmers.
If there are problems with the way that AWB's been run, fix the problem. Don't change a structure that's served Australian wheatgrowers well for decades.
Working the land - or not of 23 Jun 08 by Jenny Hume on WebDiary. Describes the intricate dilemmas faced by an Australian farmer in the west of NSW – whether to continue grazing of livestock, which can be done sustainably, but which provides an insufficient income or to turn part or all of the farm over to mechanised monocultural wheat cropping, which, whilst far more lucrative, is at a frightening cost to the longer term viability of the farm. …
A 10,000 year misunderstanding in Science Alert, Thur, 01 May 08 by Peter Salonius
Many keen thinkers have understood that the driver enabling our numbers to shoot so far over long-term carrying capacity has been the one-time gift of fossil fuels, ...
... the other major factor that has enabled our numbers to shoot so far over long-term carrying capacity has been the one-time gift of erodible soils and the vast store of nutrients they contained until we began to irreversibly mine them about 10,000 years ago with cultivation agriculture.
Christopher Cook on US industrialised food production: the author of Diet for a Dead Planet describes the dysfunctional state of the US's industrialised food manufacturing and distribution system on YouTube.
Business-as-Usual Not a Viable Option
Lester R. Brown, 16 Apr 08
A fast-unfolding food shortage is engulfing the entire world, driving food prices to record highs. Over the past half-century grain prices have spiked from time to time because of weather-related events, such as the 1972 Soviet crop failure that led to a doubling of world wheat, rice, and corn prices. The situation today is entirely different, however. The current doubling of grain prices is trend-driven, the cumulative effect of some trends that are accelerating growth in demand and other trends that are slowing the growth in supply.
14 Apr 08 from CNN.
(CNN) -- Riots from Haiti to Bangladesh to Egypt over the soaring costs of basic foods have brought the issue to a boiling point and catapulted it to the forefront of the world's attention, the head of an agency focused on global development said Monday. ...
by Justin Norrie, Tokyo , 22 Apr 08 in The Business Age.
Food fears: Being a rich nation is no protection for Japan, which faces the fallout of relying too heavily on foreign food to supply domestic needs. ...
Lynda Hurst, 12 Apr08 in thestar.com.
Riots over rising grain prices are ripping through the developing world and the United Nations warns there's worse to come. Was Malthus right? Are we getting too numerous to feed ourselves? ...
"Agricultural challenge" is passing the buck
Achim Steiner's 21 April article "For future peace, step forward for the great agricultural challenge" succinctly identified many of the issues surrounding the current "food crisis" and the future challenge. However, he incorrectly implies that technological salvation can be bought for the cost of a little more agricultural R&D. There is no evidence that "sustainable and profitable farming that generates food security" for 9 billion people is physically possible even if today's economic and environmental conditions persist, let alone in a low-carbon economy suffering the impacts of climate change.
He is wrong also to predict that the current food shock will fade. The oil shock of the 1970's was political. The current price hikes for both food and fuel are driven by fundamental production limitations. We are living the limits to growth.
Indeed, there is evidence that biofuel production has diverted some food resources. There are also legitimate claims that commodity speculation, governmental mismanagement, corporate monopolies in developing country commercial agriculture, the Asian middle-class demand for red meat, the debt burden of poor farmers and poor nations, and underproduction in Europe and the former USSR all contribute to current food shortages. Addressing each of these issues offers opportunities to avoid hunger, at least locally and temporarily. Agricultural research and innovation will also contribute, there is no doubt. But they are not the underlying cause of the problem, and they will not bring food security.
The issue Mr. Steiner failed to identify was food demand. The growth in the human population is driving the current crisis. The "scapegoats" above have been with us for some time, but we could afford them while fossil energy was cheap and environmental capital essentially free to be converted and degraded. As population grows, our tolerance for wastefulness and inefficiency declines. But there is only so much slack to be taken up.
Mr. Steiner rightly referred to the environmental problems generated by modern agriculture, and the need to move to more sustainable farming systems, adapted to new climate conditions. However, in most cases such changes require a reduction in edible output, even as profitability may be maintained.
Why is population not central to the food debate? Why is the prediction of 9 billion mouths by 2050 regarded as inevitable? Some believe nothing can be done about it. Others refuse to consider it a problem through religious or cultural prejudice. Still others have a vested interest in the economic growth required to service more people. Yet slowing population growth is a far more achievable endeavour than an agricultural revolution that will sustainably produce more and more from less and less each year.
Mr. Steiner is tilting at windmills.
The BBC news service of 5 May reported that Bolivia's left wing indigenous President Evo Morales has moved to renationalise Bolivia's foreign energy and telecommunications companies. These had previously been privatised behind the backs of the Bolivian people in a process of IMF mandated 'reforms' which began in 1985 under the guidance of shock doctor Jeffrey Sachs.
Evo Morales came to power promising to nationalise the country's energy industry and redistribute wealth to Bolivia's poor indigenous majority. Exactly two years on from his decision to place the country's rich natural gas fields back under state control - and it's clear the project has some way to go.
Bolivia is buying controlling stakes in four energy companies - one in an agreement with the Spanish oil company, Repsol, and the others through state decrees.
Mr Morales is also re-nationalising the national telephone company, which was sold to the Italian firm, Telecom Italia, more than a decade ago. The Bolivian leader has accused the Italian firm of failing to honour a deal to invest more than six hundred million dollars in the national telephone system.
Morales and other Latin American leaders take stand against biofuels
The Guardian reports:
The leaders of Bolivia and Peru have attacked the use of biofuels, saying they have made food too expensive for the poor.
Speaking at the United Nations, the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, said the increased use of farmland for fuel crops was causing a "tremendous increase" in food prices.
The Reuters news agency reported that the Peruvian president, Alan Garcia, called on developed countries to grow more food. In the last few months, food prices in Peru have run ahead of the country's general rate of inflation.
Their attack coincided with a report published today by the environmental group Friends of the Earth warning the EU of the perils of expanding biofuel use in Latin America. Last year the EU agreed on a target of 10% biofuel use for transport by 2020.
The report says the certification schemes being set up by some South American countries to ensure sustainable production of sugar cane and soya bean crops are not enough to prevent damage to the environment and "fail to address the biggest problems" caused by the cultivation of land currently covered by forests or smaller farms.
Morales called on developed nations to accept that problems created by biofuels in developing countries were partly their responsibility. After his speech, he told a news conference that "it is not an internal problem, it is an external problem".
Morales criticised "some South American presidents" for pushing biofuels. This was assumed to be an implicit criticism of Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who had claimed that developing countries have enough land to produce both food and biofuels.
"This is very serious," he said. "How important is life and how important are cars? So I say life first and cars second."
In his UN speech, Morales called for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to take action against the biofuel industry "in order to avoid hunger and misery among our people".
Reuters reported Garcia as saying biofuels were "creating very serious problems for countries that have to import these (food) products. We believe there are alternative energies that do not put the world's food in danger."
Peru's government has been forced to hand out food to the poorest in the country's capital, Lima, because of the crisis caused by rising food prices. It has cut tariffs and raised interest rates to try to curb inflation, which rose 4% last year.
Right wing opponents force Morales to hold recall freferendum
Morales, like other popular left wing leaders has to confront rebellions by priveleged groups within Bolivia. Recently in more prosperous regions such as Sant Cruz they have won local referenda in favour of local autonomy.
The Guardian of 10 May 08 reports:
Morales agreed on Thursday 8 May to hold a nationwide recall referendum within three months, in a risky attempt to break the political deadlock over reforms designed to favour Bolivia's impoverished indigenous population.
"If we politicians can't agree, it's best that the population decide our destiny," he said in a nationally televised address.
The measure will also require the vice-president and Bolivia's nine state governors to face the voters, a crucial test for the government and the opposition in a polarised country.
The recall referendum requires the political leaders to win more votes as well as a greater percentage of support than they did in the 2005 general election. Failure to do so will oblige them to run again in a new election.
Morales, the country's first indigenous president, first came to power with 53.7% of the vote, which by Bolivian standards is a huge landslide.
He used the victory to champion the country's long-excluded indigenous majority, based in the western highlands. The former llama herder promoted socialist policies and forged links with Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez.
Opinion polls put Morales's popularity at around 50%, suggesting he has a good chance of winning a referendum and regaining the political initiative. He may also be able to pick off some opposition governors.
The president proposed a referendum last December and won the approval of parliament's lower house. The proposal stalled in the opposition-controlled senate until Thursday, when it was unexpectedly revived and then approved. The opposition appeared to calculate that two years of deadlock had weakened its once-mighty foe.
Morales embraced the challenge and said he would sign the measure the moment it reached his desk. The state governors did not immediately respond, but most had previously said they would also accept the challenge.
A recall referendum in Venezuela in 2004 threatened to unseat Chávez, but the socialist leader went on to win handsomely and emerge more powerful than before.
See also Morales sets Bolivia recall date from BBC News of 12 May 08, Morales: The Problem is Capitalism, from La Prensa of 17 May 08 Bolivia's Red Ponchos call to arms Youtube broadcast about Bolivia's indigenous pro-Morales militias - 04 May 08
Mike Stasse Says:
#comment-85242" title="">November 6th, 2006 at 8:17 am
John Quiggin states:
“we can’t protect the environment unless we are willing to accept a radical reduction in our standard of living”.
Sorry, but I cannot accept this statement. If you define a high standard of living as ‘owning stuff’, then you are simply wrong. If our standard of living is so great, why is it we have to spend so much money repairing people? Why is there so much depression?
Our modern lifestyle is crap! I know, because on the whole I have divorced it. I have never been happier than since I quit working (for a wage of course, at the age of 46!) June next year, I will ditch my car, and I can’t wait! Finally organised so I no longer need it.
I grow much of my own food (spent $50 shopping in the last 2 weeks), am totally water and energy self sufficient (apart from the 60L of petrol I still use a fortnight), and I’m debt free. Free of the economy. I need so little money to live on, it’s AMAZING! I’m also so healthy now, I haven’t even so much as had a cold in over two years (I’m 54 now). Once I’ll have ditched the car, my footprint will be sustainable. Totally. And my living standard is the BEST it’s ever been. I do what I want, when I want, well almost. Just give me six more months.
JQ then goes on to say:
“On the one hand, claims that we are bound to run out of resources, made most vigorously by the Club of Rome in the 1970s, have repeatedly been refuted by experience. Most natural resources have actually become cheaper, but even in cases where prices have risen, such as that of oil, the economic impact has been marginal, relative to the long-run trend of increasing income. The recent increase in the price of oil, for example, might, if sustained, reduce income by about 1 per cent, or around 4 months of economic growth.”
Really JQ? We’re not running out of resources? So they fall out of the sky to replenish do they? I don’t know where you’ve heard commodity prices have been falling. They’re all UP! Copper wire has doubled in price just this year (I know, I’m still building my house). Gold, silver, zinc, lead, nickel, all up, all past their peak of production most likely. Supply can no longer meet demand, just as the Club of Rome predicted! Why is it they are ALWAYS mis-quoted? They tried about six different models of growing resource use, and every model predicted a collapse of civilisation within 100 years of their report, 1970. We are now 35% of the way into this period, and they are BANG ON!
But of course, you’re an economist JQ, and you measure everything with dollars! I’m an energy man, and I measure everything in MegaJoules (MJ). So when you say the increase in the price of oil will reduce income by about 1%, I say so what? What if you can’t drive to work because of shortages, how much will your income be reduced then?
By ABARE’s very own figures, unless a shitload of oil is found very very soon, Australia could be totally out of the stuff within SIX YEARS. It will then be all imported, just as everybody else in the world wants a piece of the action.
Worse, as we ‘run out’ and slide down the backside of Hubbert’s Peak, the quality of the oil worsens (thicker, sourer) and the depths at which it needs to be extracted from get deeper and deeper, such that more and more energy has to be wasted to distil it to the standard we have all become accustomed to. The same applies to ALL resources. The easiest and best resources get used first, known as the low hanging fruit syndrome.
Furthermore, food volumes produced on this planet have been in decline for five years straight. Of course, the number of people keeps going up at about 4 Australias per annum. So less food is available, and the price goes up. But she’ll be right JQ, market forces will ensure that we with the most money will always be able to get our lot…. Hang everyone else.
Your precious economy is on the brink of collapse. Right now. Yes, the end is nigh. Inflation and interest rates rises will see lots of people going bankrupt as they can no longer fuel their 4WD’s, and nobody wants to take them off their hands.
Your statements on air quality are also fanciful. All we’ve really done is export the pollution to where all our ’stuff’ is now made, namely China.
Do yourself a favour JQ, buy a copy of “Limits to Growth”, and read it again (you have read it, right?).
"Japan's acute butter shortage, which has confounded bakeries, restaurants and now families across the country, is the latest unforeseen result of the global agricultural commodities crisis. A sharp increase in the cost of imported cattle feed and a decline in milk imports, both of which are typically provided in large part by Australia, have prevented dairy farmers from keeping pace with demand. While soaring food prices have triggered rioting among the starving millions of the Third World, in wealthy Japan they have forced a pampered population to contemplate the shocking possibility of a long-term—perhaps permanent—reduction in the quality and quantity of its food."[Japan's hunger becomes a dire warning for other nations, By Justin Norrie, The Age, Melbourne, Australia, April 21, 2008]If Japan's food shortages prove to be a preview for the United States, turning America's productive farmlands into housing developments for an ever-increasing population may seem like another bad policy choice. America is no longer a food-exporting nation, as it was for so long when our productive farmers grew grain to feed a hungry planet. Indeed, the first signs of food scarcity are already showing up:
"Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. There are also anecdotal reports that some consumers are hoarding grain stocks." [Food Rationing Confronts Breadbasket of the World By Josh Gerstein, New York Sun, April 21, 2008].Since we are in a "global marketplace" (as talking heads keep reminding us), Washington will do nothing to keep America's home-grown food from being sold to foreign markets, even in the case of food shortages here. Washington's policy on protecting Americans' food supply might be a good question for Presidential candidates, in fact. Even so, it makes no sense to use prime agricultural land for housing and other development. In this respect, the "smart growth" advocates are correct. It makes even less sense to continue open borders to the world as if there is no cost to be paid. California has one of the most managed environments in the US. The engineered water system has allowed California to pack in nearly 40 million residents, far more than the environment can support without damaging its natural resources. Every rainy season is faced with hope and dread, now that only one low year of rainfall puts the state at risk for mandatory household water restriction because of increased demand. Part of water management is wildlife control. That means no semblance of normal life cycles for creatures like salmon. Once the iconic fish of the northwest swam from the ocean to return to the place in mountain streams where it had hatched to breed before dying. Now those rivers have been dammed, diverted or dried up because of human intervention to control water. This year, the California salmon fishery crashed. Not only was the failure a surprise to experts, but the cause is not understood for sure—largely because there are so many possibilities of what could have gone wrong. Whatever the reason, it may well be the end of a way of life for hundreds of the state's fishermen, not to mention the loss of a valuable and delicious food source: End of coast's 150-year-old fishery looms [San Francisco Chronicle, April 12, 2008].
"Now, for the first time since commercial fishing began on the West Coast more than 150 years ago during the Gold Rush era, no boats will be permitted to put to sea to fish for chinook, the fabled king salmon that is the mainstay of the commercial fishery. “The ban is only for one year, but it could be a death blow to an industry that has been in decline for years. As recently as 15 years ago, 4,000 small boats fished off the California coast for salmon; now the salmon fleet numbers only 400."The financial loss in commercial and recreational salmon fishing to California is estimated to be over $20 million for one season. But the failing health of the supporting environment has other indicators as well, in particular the precipitous decline of the delta smelt last year. It's an ordinary little fish, but its plunging numbers show how rapidly the Sacramento River Delta has become more of a sewer than an ecosystem. In California, the health of fisheries has always taken a back seat to agricultural interests—and, of course, to the omnipresent needs of population growth. When Los Angeles demands more water, politicians salute and obey, if they want to keep their jobs. Not long ago, fish was an inexpensive source of protein and a tasty addition to meals. Now waste and poor resource management have put some species' survival at risk, not to mention removed them as a food source. With so many additional mouths to feed, it's tremendously short-sighted to treat our natural resources so unwisely. Overpopulation, both domestic and global, creates more difficult choices. One example is the use of food plants like corn to create ethanol, in order to achieve energy independence from the Saudi oil barons, a worthwhile effort that is decades late. However, food prices have shot up as a result, leading to rioting in countries like Haiti and Egypt that are already on the edge. Natural resources can only stretch so far. Technology cannot be a savior from human foibles. On Earth Day, we adults should be talking about reasonable limits—on immigration into the U.S. for example. In fact, although the environmentalist establishment ducks the immigration issue, responsible environmentalists who are honest about the overpopulation crisis are among the toughest critics of open borders. The word "zero" rolls from their lips far more often than among other groups. Conservationists who look at the numbers grasp that a hundred thousand newcomers today rapidly expand to a million because of children and America's family-based immigration policies are a Ponzi scheme from Hell. Skyrocketing food prices and looming shortages are a symptom that America is full up. For Earth Day, citizens should insist that politicians must "provide against preventable evils"—even if they don’t mention the controversial Enoch Powell as the source of that wisdom.
It was a different world in the 1940s. Nearly half of Canadians and 40% of Americans lived outside urban areas. People grew much of their own food. During the war many had "victory" gardens and my parents had a farm in the Fraser Valley. As a boy my memories were that some things just were not available "out of season". No one expected that the full range of fruits and vegetables now exported from California and beyond should be provided as a matter of right. One other memory, when you ate a tomato or orange, you almost had to eat it over the sink. They were rich and obviously dense with nutrients.
That was a Canada of 10 million people (18 by 1960). Could a Canada of three times that number be fed that way? What happens to agriculture when it must serve an artificially high population base? When 18% of Class 1 farmland is covered with subdivisions to house more people, two-thirds of whom are imported? When to increase the productivity of that farmed land the soils are stripped of nutrients and filled with chemicals? What happens to our food? Thomas Pawlik answers that question in his book The End of Food.
Pawlik notes that since 1950 supermarket potatoes in Canada haven’t contained Vitamin A and their iron content has been reduced by 57%, along with their Vitamin C. Tomatoes have lost 61.5% of their calcium, 35.5% of their iron and 50% of their Vitamin A while gaining 200% more sodium. Of course, what’s got into livestock is an entirely new chapter. Bottom line: I have to eat five times as much of what I did in the 50s to get the equivalent amount of vitamins and minerals. We’re over-weight and yet under-fed.
We must ask some serious questions about agriculture in the face of runaway population growth and the collapse of the oil economy. We expect to feed a country like Canada which has only 5-7% of its land base as legitimately arable, with comparatively poor quality soil in relation to America, Britain and France and a population of 33 million that is currently growing faster than any G8 country. When the oil runs out, Canada and the United States might expect between one half to one third of its population to starve. (cf. Eating Fossil Fuels, Dale Pfeiffer).
According to an analysis by J.R. Wakefield of Komoka, Ontario, a typical Canadian city like London, population 400,000, in the heart of farm country, could not feed itself, despite conscripting all of its labour to replace petroleum dependent farm machinery. 200,000 draught animals would be needed, but even then, productivity per acre would drop dramatically, and of course, food could not be frozen for storage. "Relocalization" for the population we have is, as Wakefield has shown, a joke and a pipedream.
If that scenario is not to your liking, try climate change. James Lovelock says that the United Kingdom, to survive global warming, will have to confine human habitation to one-third the island’s land surface, devote one-third entirely to wilderness, and the last third to intensive agriculture. Here’s the trade-off. One can deliver low-nutrient food to a high volume of people, or high-nutrient food to a low volume of people. It is unlikely that 61 million British people, or more if current immigration rates persist, are going to fed by mechanized, oil-based, soil-depleting methods, so strike off the first option.
Whenever one warns of global warming, of course, Mary Poppins chimes in that this is good news for northern countries who could use a longer growing season. Yeah, but could we use the tropical pests and droughts? Australia is an object lesson on the dangers of letting land developers and politicians determine your population level without bothering to notice how climate change and water shortages will affect agricultural productivity.
In Canada post-carbon agriculture should give us a better product, but not for the market that has been built up the last 50 years. Agribusiness and its criminal mistreatment of the land is but the inevitable creature of the population explosion, not simply an extension of wicked capitalism. Its welcome demise with the death of oil and the re-emergence of small farming and backyard gardens will, like renewable energy sources, not even begin to save the day for the masses. Instead more labour-intensive farming that relies on manure and crop-rotation will provide nutrient-dense food for far fewer people.
We have been living on borrowed time. And some of us will survive to eat the way we were meant to----eating local produce, and eating it in season. Others, like myself, will likely succumb to disease, malnutrition or illness untreatable by a medical system that has collapsed under the weight of too many foreign passengers that developers, cheap labour employers and human rights activists have lobbied to bring to our shores.