Solutions & sustainability - Dec 10
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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage
50 Million? 100 Million? 200 Bazillion? How Many Farmers Do We Need to Change the World?
Sharon Astyk, Casaubon's Books
I hope you will forgive me for going on about a technicality for a moment, but I've been getting a lot of queries on this subject lately. Rather than write the same explanations over and over again, I'm going to publish this here and anyone who asks me in email will get a link to save repetitions.
At the end of the summer, I wrote a paper to present at the Community Solutions Conference in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Among other things, I called for a massive return to small scale agriculture in America as a way of ameliorating the affects of both peak oil and climate change. I argued that doing so would end the disaster of industrial agriculture, and also act to renew our democracy, by reducing our dependence on corporate interests and leading us back towards the Jeffersonian ideal that the US should be "a nation of farmers." In my paper I noted that in most of the 3rd world today, and through most of history, approximately 1/3 of the total populace has been involved in Agriculture, and for several reasons, knowing that the US population was about to reach 300 million (which it has since done), I chose to call for "100 Million New Farmers."
I picked 100 million, rather than 50 million (a figure I considered) because while 50 million represents somewhere between 25 and 30% of the fully employed adults in the work world in America, agriculture is something that doesn't actually work in the same ways as traditional employment. That is, when one member of a family farms, everyone farms. My concern about the 50 million figure was that it would imply that farming was a single breadwinner activity, and that the only farmers who "count" would be those who do it full time, on large acreage.
(7 Dec 2006)
Read Richard Heinberg's 50 Million Farmers article, which draws on Sharon's presentation at the Community Solutions conference..
Bill McKibben On Reforming Our Supersized Society (PDF)
Alexis Adams, The Sun
...The mistake that history will hold the current Bush administration most responsible for is not the war in Iraq, which is terrible. No, the biggest mistake is that the White House made no effort to affect China’s and India’s energy policies during those countries’ industrial expansion over the last six or seven years. It would have taken a real commitment of money and resources and time to nudge them in a different direction, but if we had, it would have brought huge benefits fifty years from now. Instead we’ve just served as their enablers, and they as ours.
The real struggle is to get past the notion of growth as our reason for being, which has dominated our culture since World War II. It’s the organizing principle for government policy and most other institutions in our society, including higher education. This is not a tenable model anymore. When you consider global warming, peak oil, and the diverging fortunes of rich and poor nations, it gets harder and harder to maintain this fervent, Alan Greenspan belief that if we continue to increase the size of the system, all will be well. We know now that in terms of human rights, environmental damage, and almost any measure you can name, the endless-growth model has turned out to be a lousy idea. It’s remarkably unclear what will replace it. I think the most appealing model - and the one that people are increasingly beginning to converge on, whether they know it or not - is more-durable, smaller-scale, localized economies.
...Do you think it’s possible for Americans to break this habit of putting ourselves at the center?
McKibben: I don’t think it’ll be easy, but I do think it’s possible. The Achilles’ heel of consumer society is that it hasn’t made us as happy as it promised it would. Although Americans have tripled their prosperity since the mid-950s, the percentage who say they’re “very satisfied” with their lives has declined. In fact, only about a quarter of Americans now say that they’re “very satisfied.” When you think about it, this is pretty sad, considering the unbelievable amount of resources and energy that we have consumed - and waste we have produced - in the last fifty years. We’ve pursued the American Dream to no real apparent end.
There are signs that we are beginning to wake up to this, however. The number of farmers markets in this country has doubled and then doubled again in the last decade. It’s now the fastest-growing part of our food system. Some people shop at them because they understand that you can use ten times less energy by buying local food, but many people shop there because they want food that actually tastes like something, or because they want a connection with the world around them. Sociologists last year studied both supermarkets and farmers markets and found that people had ten times as many conversations at farmers markets. These are not subtle differences: ten times less energy and ten times more community - and better food to boot.
The original online article is an excerpt. See the printed copy of The Sun for the entire interview.
Sharon Astyk, Groovy Green
In conversations about social justice, energy, and our environment clothing doesn't get a lot of attention. This is in part because individually, clothing items don't carry that big an embodied energy cost. Another reason is that shirts aren't as spectacular as cars, or houses or even dinner. It is also kind of a girl thing - although male clothing is just as expensive, men, on average, shop less often and buy less when they do. Women tend to buy the household's clothing as well as their own, and to engage in recreational clothing shopping. Clothing the household has been women's work from time immemorial. And because the clothes we wear are tied intimately into how we feel about ourselves, and how others view us, clothing as a subject is somewhat fraught.
And yet, I think there are a number of really good reasons to find and learn ways to make clothing, to prioritize homemade, or locally made clothing (including learning to find it beautiful), and perhaps to create a "Slow Clothing" movement rather like the "Slow Food" movement currently picking up speed. Maybe it’s as simple as creating a campaign in which each of us would have at least one daily wearable outfit that we've made ourselves.
Because while most adults may never urgently need to make clothing (there is enough clothing in the average American adult's closet to last them their entire lives), except perhaps small items that wear out easily, like underwear, socks and gloves, breaking our dependency on the clothing industry may be at least as important - and powerful - as breaking our dependency on industrial food.
(4 Dec 2006)