Posts Tagged ‘Sustainability’
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance, Sustainability
While some anti-GMO legislation like Prop 37 was shot down via a deceptive “No” campaign that received massive corporate funding, San Juan County in Washington State thumbed their nose at Monsanto et al by passing Initiative Measure No. 2012-4. The initiative effectively bans the growing of all genetically modified organisms within the county.
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability
How to Grow More Vegetables (and fruits, nuts, berries, grains, and other crops) than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine
By John Jeavons
Ten Speed Press
Book Review – Part I
(Part I summarizes the theory of biotensive farming and Part II practical techniques.)
Originally published in 1974, How to Grow More Vegetables remains a vital resource for farmers, agricultural researchers and planners, sustainability activists and home gardeners, as the world confronts the challenge of feeding a global population of 7-9 billion without access to the cheap fossil fuels that have run “industrialized” agriculture for the last century. The book is unique in that it combines theory and research (and includes a fifty-three page bibliography of references) with a cookbook style manual for households preparing for a future in which they grow most or all of their own food.
Although most people associate “technology” with machines, I use the word in its literal sense: “science or study of the practical uses of scientific discoveries (Collins Modern English Dictionary).” The Chinese method of “miniaturized” biointensive agriculture is 4,000 years old (see F.H. King’s 1911 book about this method, Farmers of Forty Centuries). However the “GROW BIOINTENSIVE” methods described in How to Grow More Vegetables are also informed by thirty plus years of research into soil, plant and ecological science. Thus they represent an innovative technology in the truest sense of the word.
Growing Soil, Not Crops
The GROW BIOINTENSIVE approach, developed by John Jeavons and Ecology Action of the Midpenninsula (Palo Alto), is centered around preserving the microbial life (mainly bacteria and fungi) that are abundant in healthy soil and which are essential to plant health and growth. Up to 6 billion microbial life-forms live in one 5-gram sample of cured compost (about the size of a quarter). This microbial life, so essential to plant development, is destroyed by specific aspects of industrial farming. This is the main reason for the relatively poor yields of factory farms (in contrast to traditional biointensive methods). It’s also responsible for the extensive destruction of our topsoil. Repeated plowing and chemical fertilizers disrupt the delicate ecology of topsoil organisms, and pesticides and herbicides are as deadly to soil bacteria and fungi as they are to insects and weeds.
In his introduction, Jeavons reveals that industrial farming destroys approximately six pounds of topsoil for each pound of food it produces. China’s soils for example remained productive for more than 4,000 years, until the adoption of mechanized chemical agricultural techniques led to the destruction of 15-33% of their agricultural soil. Another example is North Africa, which was the granary for Rome until overfarming converted it into a desert. According to Jeavons, the world only has enough topsoil left to last 42-84 years.
Quadrupling Crop Yields
Based on thirty-plus years of horticultural research, Ecology Action members have ascertained that the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method, in the hands of a skilled practitioner, can produce enough food to feed one person (on a vegan diet) with 4,000 square feet of land. This contrasts with the 7,000 square feet required to feed a vegan using fossil fuels, farm machinery and conventional chemical or organic techniques. Without fossil fuels and machines, the amount of land required (using conventional chemical or organic techniques) would be 21,000-28,000 square feet.
At present it takes 31,000-63,000 square feet per person to produce an average US diet (including eggs, milk, cheese, and meat), using fossil fuels and mechanization and conventional chemical or organic techniques.
In addition to producing a 200-400% increase in caloric production per unit of area, the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method also significantly reduces water consumption (by 67-88%) and increases soil fertility (by 100%).
To be continued with an overview of specific GROW BIOINTENSIVE techniques.
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability
Local Dollars, Local Sense
by Michael Shuman
(Post Carbon Institute, 2012)
Book Review – Part I
There is growing consensus among economists and anti-corporate and sustainability activists about the importance of relocalization as the centerpiece part of genuine economic and political reform. It reflects a widely held belief that any realistic solution to the economic, energy and environmental crises mankind faces will repudiate corporate globalization in favor of bioregional networks that enable people to source the majority of their food, energy and other basic needs within a 100 mile radius of their home. Thousands of cities and towns across the planet are working together in Transition Towns, Via Compesina and similar sustainability networks to op out of corporate agriculture and energy production in favor of local food and energy production schemes. The biggest obstacle they face is finding sustainable funding to support their work.
Michael Shuman’s latest book, Local Dollars, Local Sense is valuable for three different groups of readers: sustainability activists seeking to seeking financial support for small locally owned businesses; local business owners seeking start-up and expansion capital; and investors – both “accredited” and “unaccredited” (see below) – seeking to move their IRA accounts and other Wall Street holdings to safer, more profitable and more socially responsible and environmentally friendly investments.
A Dearth of Funding Options for Local Business
At present options for small businesses seeking start-up funding for organic farms, solar installation companies and similar “green” enterprises are extremely limited. A business owner has two basic choices in financing a new business. They can take out a time-limited loan at interest or they can sell shares, in essence allowing other people to become part owners and share in the profits (or losses). Even prior to the 2008 economic crisis, it was virtually impossible for small business people to find conventional bank loans. Nearly all the neighborhood banks we grew up with have been bought out by global investment banks, which have no incentive to make loans to small local businesses. The recent move by millions of Americans to move their accounts out of global banks to local banks and credit unions – which do lend to local businesses – has been a move in the right direction. Yet as Michael Shuman points out in Local Dollars, Local Sense, this is merely a drop in the bucket compared to the $30 trillion Americans have invested – most through IRAs and pension plans – in Wall Street Fortune 500 companies. Shuman makes a compelling case for moving half – $15 trillion – of that money out of Wall Street and investing it in local businesses. He also outlines a number of intriguing strategies for accomplishing this.
Shuman, member of the Post Carbon Institute, partner at Cutting Edge Capital (a firm specializing in raising capital from non-traditional funding sources) and long time relocalization advocate, presents strong evidence that local businesses provide a higher and more reliable return than the Wall Street casino, as well as providing a host of benefits for society and the environment. At the same time, unlike multinational corporations, they are accountable to the local residents who patronize them, which results in a strong incentive to be environmentally responsible, to treat workers fairly and to contribute positively to the community.
Small Business Makes Up Half of the US Economy
Although small local business makes up 50% of the American GDP, as well as providing 50% of US jobs, less than 1% of Americans’ combined savings and investments help to finance locally owned business. Most Americans still keep their short term savings (if they have any) in large multinational banks. In most cases, their only long term savings are tied up in IRA plans and pension funds. With the exception of municipal bonds, nearly all of this is invested in Fortune 500 multinational corporations – which, as most activists are aware, have no loyalty whatsoever to any community, state or country.
Legal Obstacles to Selling Shares in Local Business
As Shuman outlines in his first chapter, the main reason Americans don’t invest in local business relates to major legal obstacles to doing so. Outdated securities laws passed during the Great Depression make it extremely difficult for “unaccredited” investors – approximately 98% of Americans – to invest even small amounts in small businesses. “Accredited investor” is a term defined by the securities laws of various countries, which delineate which investors are permitted to invest in certain high risk investments, including, but not limited to seed money, limited partnerships, hedge funds, private placements, and “angel” investments. In the US, an accredited investor must have an income of $200,000 (for three years) and a net wealth of at least $1 million (excluding their residence).
A new business seeking funding from “unaccredited” investors is required to register with the SEC and state regulators. This, in turn, requires the creation of a disclosure and other legal documents at a cost of $25,000-150,000 in attorney fees. The U-7 or SCOR (Small Company Offering Registration) form alone is 39 pages, and each form must be accompanied by 14 disclosure documents (see http://www.nasaa.org/industry-resources/corporation-finance/scor-overview/)
While stressing the need to reform these archaic laws, as well as resurrecting regional stock exchanges that helped finance local business prior to the Great Depression, Shuman reports on a number of exciting investment models being tried across the US that conform to existing securities law.
To be continued, with examples of unconventional local funding models.
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability
My decision to focus my activism in the sustainability movement has nothing to do with the horror stories climate change and Peak Oil aficionados tell about the horrible future my children and grandchildren face. I have never found terrifying or guilt-tripping people an effective way to engage them politically. It always seems far more likely to generate demoralization and apathy. I choose to focus my time and energy on sustainability-related issues based on the conviction that people who wish to survive coming economic and ecological crisis will need be extremely well organized. After thirty years of organizing, I find that sustainability engages people at the neighborhood and community level in a way no other issue can.
My friends and neighbors get it. They are all affected by the skyrocketing cost of fossil fuels, mainly because high energy and transportation costs make everything more expensive. They are all acutely aware that something in society has to change drastically. This realization makes them open, to varying degrees, to trying new, less energy intensive ways of doing business and meeting their families’ basic needs.
The only stumbling block I face in organizing around sustainability is efforts by the corporate media to demonize us as liberals or “greenies.” I can see why they do this. Corporate media coverage of climate change and sustainability-related topics is heavily dominated by the fossil fuel industry, which has a vested interest in discouraging people from reducing their use of oil, natural gas and coal.
How Terms like “Conservative” and “Liberal” Lost Their Meaning
Labels such as “conservative” and “liberal” are totally meaningless when it comes to implementing less energy-intensive lifestyles. This relates in part to the bastardization of the word “conservative” by neoliberals, which started with the so-called Reagan revolution in the 1980s. Neoliberalism can be broadly defined as the elimination of all government functions, other than law enforcement, security and defense, in the service of corporate-controlled governance. It’s a radically reactionary political viewpoint that’s consistent with Mussolini’s definition of fasicsm: “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” It bears no relation whatsoever to the conservatism my grandparents, parents and I (prior to age 21) subscribed to. Like our role model Barry Goldwater, we were staunch fiscal conservatives who believed in allowing other people total freedom to make their own lifestyle choices, provided they didn’t interfere with someone else’s freedom.
Ironically some of the strongest adherents of neoliberalism as so-called liberals like Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This can be seen in their aggressive promotion of pro-corporate globalization treaties, privately run charter schools and other initiatives to privatize public education and the scaling back and privatization of welfare and now social security.
The confusion generated by political labels is especially problematic for sustainability activists like myself who believe that economic and monetary reform are the centerpiece of building a truly sustainable society. Especially as the specific economic and monetary reforms we seek are fiscally conservative in nature. Below are some examples:
1. An end to the drive for perpetual growth.
Sustainability activists believe human beings must commit – quickly – to living within their means, a prime example of fiscal conservatism. They take the position that industrialized society is exceeding the planet’s carrying capacity, and has caused serious depletion in many essential resources. The price of oil and gas are skyrocketing because we have nearly used up the cheap stuff. What remains is difficult and expensive to extract and refine. Likewise we have nearly exhausted the ocean’s fish stocks, much of the earth’s topsoil and, in many parts of the world, fresh water.
2. The replacement of debt-based money creation by private banks with a reserve-based monetary system run by a publicly accountable governmental body.
Elimination of debt is part and parcel of living within one’s means.
3. Improved efficiency of production and distribution through economic relocalization, i.e. reducing energy and transportation costs by producing and sourcing food, energy, clothing, and building materials at a local and regional level.
In the case of electricity, there is a 30-40% enegy loss in the process of generation and transition. We can recoup this lost power by creating local distributed generation systems. “Waste not, want not” is also a basic principle of fiscal conservatism.
4. Community-supported initiatives to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
I also heard many variations on this principle growing up. Only purchase what you really need. Darn, mend, sharpen and repair to extend the lifespan of clothes, tools and appliances. Pass on what you no longer need to someone else who can use it.
The Day Goldwater Called Himself a Liberal
A few years before he died, Goldwater himself acknowledged that the terms “conservative” and “liberal” had ceased to have any meaning. In 1996, he joked with Senator Bob Dole, who also resisted the takeover of the Republican Party by neoliberalism and the religious right: ”We’re the new liberals of the Republican Party” (see Conservative pioneer became an outcast).
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class, Sustainability
Florida farmer Teena Borek was on Radio New Zealand National last weekend. In the US, Teena seems relatively unknown outside of her own state, where she works tirelessly to support family farmers struggling to compete with factory farms and cheap imports from Latin America. Teena, who took over her husband’s farm when he was killed in 1989, was named Homestead/Florida City Agriculturist of the Year in March. In 2004, she was named Florida Female Agriculturist of the Year.
An Endangered Species
In the US, the family farmer is becoming an endangered species. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, the number of U.S. farms peaked at 6.8 million in 1935 and had plummeted to 2.1 million by 2002. In 2012, family farmers are being squeezed off their land faster than ever. They face ruthless price competition from large scale factory farms – and, with the passage of NAFTA in 1994, from cheap imports from Mexico and Central and South America. They also have serious cost pressures. Increasing urbanization has made investment groups and equity firms extremely keen to exploit farmland for commercial development. This serves to drive up property values and real estate taxes. The American Farmland Trust estimates an acre of U.S. farmland goes into development every two minutes.
This trend has very ominous implications for all Americans. As the American Farmland Trust explains on their website, the advent of Peak Oil and skyrocketing fertilizer and transportation costs means our reliance on large scale factory farms and imported foods is neither economically nor ecologically unsustainable. Our ability to feed ourselves into the future depends on the continuing availability of quality farmland. However once paved over for urban development, it becomes extremely difficult to reclaim for agriculture.
The Great Tomato War of 2012
In her interview, Teena describes successfully surviving these pressures for nearly two decades by specializing in heritage tomatoes and miniature vegetables she sells to local high end restaurants. She has also been a major player in Florida’s highly visible “buy local” campaign, helping to start a local farmers market, as well as creating her own Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme.
This year, owing to circumstances totally beyond her control, she was forced to leave most of her winter tomato crop in the field. Due to a flood of imported tomatoes from Mexico, the cost of labor to harvest her crop would have been greater than what local restaurants and supermarkets were willing to pay for it. It costs small Florida farmers $9-10 to produce a box of tomatoes, while Mexican producers sell the same box to Dade County supermarkets for five dollars. Lower production costs in Mexico relate mainly to lower land, labor and compliance costs. While Florida farmers can face thousands of dollars in food safety compliance costs, tomatoes imported from Mexico, which has very lax food safety regulations, aren’t even subject to inspection.
Teena explains in her interview that NAFTA was passed main to benefit large wheat and corn producers seeking to maximize overseas exports. In contrast, vegetable growers rate so low with federal authorities that the USDA refers to their products as “specialty crops.”
Other Florida agriculturists clearly support Teena’s views. The international online newsletter HortiBiz refers to “The Great Tomato War of 2012”. According to Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead-based DiMare Company, one of Florida’s largest shippers, the USDA is neglecting its statutory obligation to crack down on illegally low-priced Mexican tomatoes and on shipments that are not meant for export but wind up in the U.S. anyway. Foreign competition under NAFTA, according to the University of Florida, has led to a situation where nearly all Florida pepper and tomato production is controlled by a small number of large corporate agribusinesses, which can spread their “risk” over several crops or growing cycles.
The USDA gives lip service to promoting small farmers and local food production through their Know Your Farmer Know your Food Compass campaign. What the family farmers of south Florida really need is for the USDA to enforce the anti-dumping rules the US and Mexico have agreed on, as well as establishing an inspection protocol that subject Mexican imports to the same food safety standards as US crops.
How to Support Family Farmers
As the American Farmland Trust website makes clear, none of these pressures are limited to Florida. The best way to support family farmers is to consume a diet consisting mainly of locally produced foods, purchased from local farmers markets or CSA schemes. As Teena suggests in her interview, people can also demand that local supermarkets stock locally grown, rather than imported, fruits and vegetables. Finally you don’t need to be a farmer to join the American Farmland Trust. I first became a member fifteen years ago when I lived in Seattle. A membership is $35, but they also have a special donor program where people can adopt an acre of farmland in their home state for $10.
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability
Farmers of Forty Century: Organic Farming in China, Korea and Japan
By F.H. King
(1911, reprinted in 2004 by Dover Publications)
I don’t typically review (or read) 100 year old books. Farmers of Forty Centuries is an important exception. It has become a classic of the permaculture/sustainable economics movement for several reasons. First, it dispels the myth that fossil fuel-free agriculture will produce much lower yields than industrial farming. Without access to oil and natural-gas based pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, agriculture will be much more labor-intensive. However with global population at more than seven billion (as of last October), the world seems to have no shortage of human labor. Second, Farmers of Forty Centuries paints a detailed picture of tried and true regional models of food, fuel, and construction materials production, as well as regional water and human waste management. Third, it provides detailed descriptions, almost in cookbook fashion, of a broad range of permaculture and terraquaculture* techniques. As a backyard organic gardener and member of the lawn liberation movement, I have found it really easy to incorporate a number of the techniques King describes into my routine. I was also intrigued to see Charles Eisenstein cite King’s book in Sacred Economics (2011 Evolver Editions), supporting his argument that more intensive production techniques could easily produce the same or better yields as current factory farms.
Briefly, Farmers of Forty Centuries describes the voyage agronomist and former US Department of Agriculture official Franklin Hiram King made to to China, Korea and Japan in the early 1900s. The purpose of his trip was to study how the extremely dense populations of the Far East could produce massive amounts of food century after century without depleting their soils. What he discovered was a highly sophisticated system of water management, crop rotation, interplanting and rational utilization of ecological relationships among farm plants, animals and people.
The 248 high resolution photos of Chinese, Korean and Japanese farmers and their fields are even more remarkable (especially for 1911) than the text. Unfortunately King died while the book was in production, and it was published posthumously by his wife.
Seasonal and Rainfall Differences
King notes at the beginning of the book that much of China has a longer growing season than the US. Moreover in China, Korea and Japan, most rain falls during summer months when it’s most conducive to crop growth. He notes that China enhances their summer rainfall with an extensive system of canals and that both China and Japan have elaborate schemes to capture run-off from uncultivable mountain areas. However he also presents strong evidence that water management alone fails to explain these countries’ amazing crop yields.
Human Excrement and Green Manure
He’s equally impressed by the extensive time and effort put into collecting all human waste (even from cities), processing it by drying or fermentation and distributing it to farmers, who would apply it more or less continuously to their fields. Noting the high price human sewage fetched for the men who collected and processed it, King bemoans the incredible waste in the US system of sewage disposal, which flushes so many rich nutrients into inland waterways and out to sea.
He also describes in detail the extensive use of soybeans, peanuts, clover, pulses and other nitrogen fixing plants in crop rotation schemes, as well as “green manure,” fibrous plants (either grown in the fields or collected) that farmers continuously plowed into their soil to increase organic matter.
Succession Sowing and Interplanting
Finally he stresses the systematic effort by Chinese, Korean and Japanese farmers to maximize their limited cultivable land. In one example, he describes how land flooded as a rice paddy in summer would be planted with leaks and other vegetables as winter crops. He frequently describes the presence of three crops (for example radishes, cabbage and wheat) in the same field simultaneously at different stages of maturity. According to King, farmers in southern China would typically cultivate one plot of land continuously throughout the year. In addition to two rice crops during the winter and early spring, they would also grow rape, peas, beans, leaks and ginger as a third or fourth crop during summer and fall.
The Economic Hardship of Japanese Farmers
King’s description of farming in Japan is striking in its heavier use of chemical fertilizer (as was increasingly typical of US agriculture in the early 20th century). He notes that Japanese farmers had to be encouraged (via a contest for the best compost heap) to compost kitchen waste and green manure to provide organic matter for their farms. He also describes the fines the Japanese government levied against farmers who applied excessive lime to their fields. Japanese soils are volcanic and quite acid (like the soil here in New Zealand).
King is also extremely sympathetic to the heavy tax burden carried by Japanese farmers (to pay for the Russo-Japanese war, which ended in 1905), as well as their struggle to pay extremely high rents. It was his view that their economic hardship seemed to sap their initiative. He offers this as a possible explanation for their eagerness to use chemicals and take labor saving short cuts instead of embracing traditional organic methods.
*Terraquaculture is the practice of farming living water flowing through the landscape. It is the traditional farming system of the Asia-Pacific region where it has been practiced for thousands of years and is arguably the only truly sustainable farming system. See http://www.terraquaculture.net/
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability
(This is the final of four blogs about the Club of Rome, which along with Bilderberg, the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations, is an important think tank in the Round Table network of world elites. Bill Clinton’s mentor Carroll Quigley describes their history and function in his 1966 book Tragedy and Hope.)
Over the past few years, skyrocketing energy and food costs, melting ice caps and unrelenting economic turmoil have clearly borne out the dire predictions Limits to Growth made in 1972. Ironically Lyndon Larouche and other New World Order critics have also been vindicated (to some extent), owing to the regional and global economic consolidation that has occurred with the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the European Union (EU), the single currency Eurozone and the western hemisphere trading bloc known as the Free Trade of the Americas Area (FTAA). Most New World Order websites cite the 1973 Club of Rome report entitled “Regionalized Adaptive Model of the Global World System: and their 1976 book Mankind at the Turning Point. Both propose dividing the world into ten regional entities (North America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the rest of the developed word, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, South and Southeast Asia and China) – under a single global government.
There’s no question that the WTO, the EU, the Eurozone, FTAA, the International Monetary Fund and similar multinational bodies substantially strengthen the hand of corporations seeking to subvert democratically enacted social policy and environmental, labor and civil rights protections. Over the last twelve months the EU and International Monetary Fund IMF have enabled international bankers to totally strip the poorer European nations (especially Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain) of their national sovereignty.
Where Elite and Grassroots Interests Coincide
Although the citizen-led sustainability movement and the Club of Rome (COR) share some common concerns around overpopulation, resource scarcity, climate change and economic growth, we must never forget that the COR is a Round Table group of government leaders and corporate elites. There may be times when the goals of corporate elites (at least some of them – the insurance industry is taking a major hit from extreme weather events) correspond with the interests of grassroots environmental and peace a justice groups. I discuss this in my blog about the World Economic Forum Risk Assessment 2012 (see The World Economic Forum Weights In).
However none of this detracts from the reality that business executives who run corporations are required to make profits and shareholders their highest priority under a capitalist economic system. A few more enlightened corporate leaders, especially those involved in FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate industries) industries, may foresee a future time when extreme income inequality, climate change and resource scarcity will affect profitability. However they aren’t going to lose their natural inclination to keep profits high by suppressing wages, benefits and taxes. More importantly, they will never abandon their innate sense of privilege. While they may advocate for moderate reforms, they will always believe they have an innate right to greater material wealth than the rest of us. More importantly, they will fight to their last breath to preserve it.
Why is David Korten in the Club of Rome?
This is why I was startled (and disappointed) to learn that David Korten, co-founder of the Positive Futures Network and Yes! Magazine is a current member of the Club of Rome. I honestly believed Korten was on our side. A former project specialist in Southeast Asia for the Ford Foundation and the US Agency for International Development (which both receive major CIA funding for their “development” work), Korten supposedly saw the error of his ways and left the dark side in 1992. The author of When Corporations Rule the World, he is a popular speaker at anti-corporate and Occupy events. However it now appears he has a foot in both camps.
I ask my self whether a true anti-corporatist would join a Round Table organization of corporate elites. Others may feel differently, but I think not. I can see no beneficial role whatsoever for corporate think tanks in a truly democratic society. No society run by its own citizens is going to allow upper 1% and the so-called intellectuals who work for them to decide how they rest of us should live.The only truly democratic way to enact policy and legislation is from the ground up, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community.
Nevertheless, it’s nice to know someone at the Club of Rome to recommend me for membership if I decide to switch sides. According to the website, prospective Club of Rome members must have expertise in “areas related to the Club” (demographics, economic growth and environmental sustainability) and be proposed by a current member. I don’t know David personally, but I met his wife in 2000, while running a campaign to put a single payer initiative on the Washington State ballot.
by stuartbramhall in Global south, Inspiring Moments in Resistance
I encounter many long time activists in a quandary how to relate to #OccupyWallStreet. A vibrant, growing mass movement involving thousands of activists is always far more interesting and exciting than the ongoing drudgery (fundraising, event organizing, education and outreach, etc) of keeping existing grassroots organizations going. There is a strong temptation to abandon current organizing commitments to join the groundswell created by the OWS movement. While this might be the right move for some activists, it’s vitally important that others use their existing roles in union, peace and justice and environmental networks to bolster and support the anti-greed movement.
All Our Single Issues Have the Same Root Cause
There are strong strategic arguments for all unions and single issue peace and justice and environmental groups to get on board, in some way, with #OccupyWallStreet. All the corporate and government abuses our single issue groups are fighting have the same root cause – namely the corporate takeover of government. Yet many of us find it difficult to address the corporate tie-in from our single issue silos. Moreover there is already evidence that the current civil unrest in all major American cities is beginning to impact disastrous US policies in the Middle East.
How Do We Best Support OWS?
On the other hand, I question the value of long time union, antiwar, pro-democracy, peace and justice, homeless, sustainability and immigrants rights activists abandoning our existing commitments to camp out in the park. It makes more strategic sense to use our influence in the grassroots networks we have built up over decades to support and collaborate with #OccupyWallStreet. In this way we can provide inroads for younger, more militant OWS activists to sectors of society they might otherwise find difficult to access.
In my view, where existing union and community groups can best support the OWS movement is by providing logistical, material and tactical support as it expands into the productive sector. OWS can only exert real pressure on government, banks and other multinational corporations by disrupting business as usual – with corporate-targeted sit-ins, consumer boycotts, wild cat strikes or a combination of all three. In Egypt, it was the unions’ threat to shut down the Suez Canal that ultimately forced Mubarak to step down.
Many older activists, especially in the Open Source, sustainability and local democracy movements have already made significant gains in undermining corporate rule. The sustainability movement, for example, is responsible for an explosion of community-based alternatives to corporate controlled food, energy, transportation, education, health care and money. Equally impressive are the hundreds of communities in the local democracy movement which have passed ordinances restricting the right of corporations to build new hog farms, spread sewage sludge and deplete aquifers with bottled water operations.
Appealing to a Broad Base of Supporters
For their part, #OccupyWallStreet has already been remarkably effective in networking with existing groups. Good examples include the participation of OWS members in a march supporting Communication of American workers in their dispute with Verizon, an anti-eviction action OWS helped homeless advocates organize in Brooklyn, and the strong backing #OccupyWallStreet has received from organized labor. I attribute OWS coalition building success to their insistence on a broad inclusive vision (i.e. refusing to make specific demands). This enables them appeal to the widest possible base of potential supporters. I can’t count the number of large coalitions I have joined in the last thirty years that were scattered to the winds the moment we decided to formulate concrete demands. The last one was the 9-11 Coalition Seattle activists formed in September 2001 to protest the impending US war in Afghanistan. Over the five weeks we spent arguing over specific demands, our numbers shrank from one hundred plus to fifteen.
The November 2 general strike called by Occupy Oakland was the first test of OWS’s fragile coalition with labor. In a period of high unemployment, persuading unionists who still have work to put their own jobs on the line is no mean feat. While Occupy Oakland was unsuccessful in shutting the city itself down, a wild cat strike by Oakland longshoremen succeeded in closing down the Port of Oakland (http://tvnz.co.nz/world-news/occupy-oakland-succeeds-in-shutting-down-port-4499879).
To be continued, with a discussion of the effect of OWS on foreign policy.
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism, Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
Book Reviewers Needed – Free Download
I have just finished my third book Revolutionary Change: an Expatriate Perspective. It’s my first non-fiction work, a collection of essays on change making. Right now it’s only available as an ebook. However it should be out in soft cover by the end of the year.
Until Sept 30, I’m offering a free download to people who agree to review it on Amazon (you don’t need to buy books from Amazon to review them on their site www.stuartbramhall.com). Smashwords offers a 100 page free sample at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/83632
If you decide to read the whole thing and want a free download, let me know (either by messaging me or through the contact form on my website). I will send you a coupon for a free download – provided you agree to do a review on Amazon.
I started the book intending to offer a unique perspective on the US political system after nine years living overseas. It seems to have turned into a book on social class and political change. People tell me this point of view is quite rare in the US progressive movement, which tends to be dominated by upper middle class academics and professionals.
The book focuses attempts to examine why progressives have such difficulty recruiting low income white and minority workers. I have always believed this relates to the failure of many liberals to recognize and acknowledge the distinct cultural differences in blue collar and minority communities. Progressives also have an unfortunate tendency to leap on the lifestyle bandwagon – for example, anti-smoking, anti-obesity, and gun control. This immediately puts them at odds with the low income Americans they seek to recruit.
About half the book focuses on general approaches to organizing that appear to be effective in engaging the working class (comprising 80% of the US population). One example is the sustainability movement has already been quite successful in enlisting activists at all income levels. The reason for this, I believe, is that it offers concrete activities neighborhoods and communities can immediately plug into – as survival planning for economic hard times, natural disasters, or even the collapse of global capitalism.
Civic Engagement and Reclaiming the Commons
Throughout the book, I strongly emphasize civic engagement and reclaiming the commons – which I feel are the two most important areas of focus for working class activists. Engaging with neighbors and other community members comes more naturally to low income and disenfranchised groups (remember, we grew up playing in the street while our middle class peers were at piano, violin, and dancing lessons). At the same time we have a strong instinctive understanding of class privilege, the flip side of reclaiming the commons. From childhood, we are very much aware that people with lots more money than us control everything.
This is the main reason the young looters in London went for the wide screen TVs, rather than for food. From a class perspective, this is called “leveling,” not greed.
by stuartbramhall in China Watch, End of Capitalism, The Global Economic Crisis
As a strong sustainability activist, I feel quite embarrassed admitting that I derive nearly all my dietary protein from animal sources (eggs and fish). Explaining why I do so is even more embarrassing – an autoimmune disease that makes it virtually impossible for me to digest plant protein, in the forms of nuts and legumes (peas, dried beans, lentils, etc.). I have spent the last year researching traditional cultures that ferment and/or sprout their nuts and legumes to make them more digestible. I have been experimenting with some of these methods, as well as adding Kombu (a form of seawood), which makes legumes more digestible by removing the phytic acid. None of this works thus far. Whenever I eat nuts and legumes, it’s like taking a double dose of Ex-Lax.
Will Global Population Drop Without Fossil Fuels?
In my last blog I talked about Richard Heinberg’s prediction that without fossil fuels, the Earth could feed at most two billion people. Organic farmers in the Biointensive (an amalgamation of the eighty year old Biodynamic and the French Intensive movements) dispute this figure, pointing to studies showing that Biointensive methods actually increase crop yields by 150-200% (see http://www.theecologist.org/trial_investigations/268287/10_reasons_why_organic_can_feed_the_world.html). Given WHO and World Hunger studies revealing that our current system of industrial agriculture feeds only 84% of the world (the other 16% are continuously on the verge of starvation – see http://www.prb.org/Journalists/PressReleases/2005/MoreThanHalftheWorldLivesonLessThan2aDayAugust2005.aspx), we could estimate that a switch from industrial to Biointensive agriculture could potentially feed a global population of 7.8 billion.
Now here’s the catch: nearly all the research in Biointensive agriculture concerns yields of grains and vegetable crops. Preliminary research applying biointensive methods to the grazing of livestock reveals that an agricultural system providing every global resident a meat-based is only possible for a global population of 2-3 billion.
The average energy input required to produce meat protein is eleven times greater that that required for grain protein production. A meat based diet also requires ten times more land than a plant based diet http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_vegetarianism) and 100 times more water (http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/660S.long). In the US alone, the amount of energy, land and water used to raise livestock grains to would be sufficient to feed an additional 840 million people eating a plant-based diet. (http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/660S.long).
The Privilege of Eating Meat
At the moment approximately 1/3 of the planet (those in the privileged industrialized world) consume meat (http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/660S.long). Owing to shortages of cropland, fresh water, and energy resources the other 2/3 (4.7 billion people) of the planet are compelled to survive on a plant-based diet. With rapid industrial development in India and China, these ratios are changing rapidly. A growing middle class in both countries is developing an insatiable demand for meat, dairy and other animal-based products. In New Zealand this is a daily news item, as China and India purchase the bulk of Australia and New Zealand’s meat and dairy exports.
Hard Choices for Activists
What this means, in essence, is that sustainability and social justice activists are faced with some hard choices. It we are genuine in our commitment to replace capitalism with a more egalitarian society, we need to face the hard reality that no society is truly egalitarian if only rich people eat meat. Thus according to my calculations, a truly equal distribution of land and water resources will either require a strong commitment to reduce global population to 2-3 billion – or a commitment by 1/3 of the planet to give up their meat-based diet.
If we fail to make this choice – and do nothing – we will be left with a scenario in which Malthusian forces (war, famine and disease) drastically reduce global population for us.