Sep 11, 2016

Our best shot at cooling the planet might be right under our feet

By Jason Hickel.
The Guardian

It’s getting hot out there. Every one of the past 14 months has broken the global temperature record. Ice cover in the Arctic sea just hit a new low, at 525,000 square miles less than normal. And apparently we’re not doing much to stop it: according to Professor Kevin Anderson, one of Britain’s leading climate scientists, we’ve already blown our chances of keeping global warming below the “safe” threshold of 1.5 degrees.

If we want to stay below the upper ceiling of 2 degrees, though, we still have a shot. But it’s going to take a monumental effort. Anderson and his colleagues estimate that in order to keep within this threshold, we need to start reducing emissions by a sobering 8%–10% per year, from now until we reach “net zero” in 2050. If that doesn’t sound difficult enough, here’s the clincher: efficiency improvements and clean energy technologies will only win us reductions of about 4% per year at most.

How to make up the difference is one of the biggest questions of the 21st century. 

Sep 5, 2016

Agricultural expropriation: Making money from farmers

By Alan Broughton 
September 2016 
Warrnambool potato harvest 1881


There is money to be made in farming, but not by the farmers. This paper examines the reasons why farmers around the world are poor and there are a billion hungry people. The terms of trade for farmers continually declines and farmers are forced off the land. Governments and international bodies advocate further deregulation and trade liberalisation and greater use of technology, yet these policies have undoubtedly failed in their stated aims of increasing food security and rural prosperity. The beneficiaries have only been the agribusiness corporations which have been instrumental in the design of the new order of agricultural production. 

The paper looks at the effect of trade liberalisation and other neo-liberal policies on farm income and food security. Corporate control of agriculture has greatly increased as commodity trading, land ownership, seed and other input provision, processing and marketing has become more concentrated in fewer hands. Farming land loses productivity and resilience as it becomes more degraded through the use of agro-chemicals. Food producing land is diverted to more profitable activity such as biofuels and livestock feed. Smallholders are thrown off the land by corporate land acquisitions, yet evidence shows that family farms are many times more productive and better cared for than large holdings. Agricultural research is concentrated in technological solutions to problems that technology has largely produced, yet agroecology has sound answers to food production issues. Trade negotiators from the US and Europe insist on other countries eliminating protection for their farmers but refuse to eliminate theirs. Corporations have the ear of governments, small farmers do not; indeed their demise is regarded as inevitable and desirable.

Free trade and deregulation are not the primary cause of rural decline. The loss of people from farms in Australia commenced early in the twentieth century, due largely to declining soil fertility and an over-optimistic appreciation of productivity in the drought-prone environments (Davison 2005). Back in 1967 Australian small farmers were suffering from falling farm gate prices and rising input costs, well before deregulation, but neoliberalism has accentuated the process (Lawrence 2005, Davison 2005). The official solution in the 1960s was for the bottom third to drop out (ABC 1969) and small farmers have been dropping out ever since with no end in sight. The problem of low income continues as the terms of trade further deteriorate. A similar process is happening around the world. 

But farmers around the world are resisting. Over 200 million are affiliated with the largest network of organisations opposed to corporate control, La Vía Campesina. Several governments have instituted right to food legislation. Land has been successfully redistributed by direct action in South America. Many attempts to alienate land from local communities have been successfully fought. Seed saving networks have sprung up around the world to protect the work of centuries of variety selection from predatory multinational seed companies and the laws that they have induced governments to implement. Farmers are organising into cooperatives to bypass extortionist traders and relocated processing works. The ideas and experiences of the various branches of biological agriculture – permaculture, agroecology, organic, regenerative, conservation – are gaining greater support. There are multitudes of alternative agriculture promoting organisations in all parts of the world. Consumers are demanding local production. However individual and local solutions are not sufficient; a world wide political campaign is also necessary to address the fundamental causes.