Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Failure of Governance, Environmental Collapse and Vegetarian Diets

Between the last post on 13th March and now my plan was to post four times before the end of March. So here we are at the 4th of April, rather late, with the first of those posts.

To begin with, I got involved with the Living Economies Expo, at Lyttelton over the weekend, 31 March, 1st and 2nd of April. There was a week of preparation before hand. It's been a busy time, but I've had lots of energy, and working hard is good for you. In addition I learned a lot. Previously I've done quite a lot of work in this area, in my Open Future New Zealand site. There are ten content areas in the site, and here is the opening page to four of them: Right Prices in the Market
Having an Appropriate Dream
Justice and Poverty
Building Resilient communities.

Although that site was last seriously worked on five years ago, most of what it says is still relevant. I'm pleased to report that across the world the sort of thinking I was doing back then is now bearing fruit. Your feedback is always appreciated.

Failure of Governance and Political Corruption

When governance fails, when politics is used for personal enrichment, where economic opportunity is destroyed by lack of investment in education, infrastructure and fair rules of trade, most people live in enforced poverty.

We can see that pattern in Eastern Europe in particular, where poor governance and lack of economic opportunity has caused both a severe decline in the birth rate, and a strong desire among the young to emigrate to a country that offers better education, employment and lifestyle choices. Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal also have this problem.

Population Decline is Already Happening

In Syria, drought was followed by a failure to support bankrupt farmers, those farmers migrated to the city, leading to discontent, protests, and finally to civil war. Syria has suffered the greatest population decline of all nation states in 2013-2016. Expect more of that, in many other countries.

Poor governance has also caused the populations of South Africa and Puerto Rico to decline. Another way to see where there are problems in the world, is to look at the statistics for orphans in various counties. In Asia, for instance in India, China and Bangladesh. In Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have extreme problems with children who have no parents.

Ecological Collapse

Humanity has problems, caused by excessive population, excessive production of waste, and excessive consumption of many of the earth's natural resources. Humanity demands more not less. We are already consuming the earth at a faster rate than natural replenishment can occur. The logical result of that is ecological collapse, as seen today in Syria, Dafur, Somalia, Honduras, Haiti and many other places. Often just reported as a drought, or a flood, as civil protest or as war; but over several years, repeated "events" mean the land is no longer a place for sustainable agricultural production, or for a stable community, at least for the existing population. That flows on to create economic and social hardship, leading to political protests and community disruption.

Fifteen years ago in Canterbury, NZ, there was a movement to hold an annual celebration of the quality of Canterbury water, the ground-water and our rivers. Today those rivers are rated amongst the worst in the country, sometimes they dry-up altogether. The groundwater is over allocated and declining, often polluted by nitrogen (or even micro-organisms) filtering down from the over-stocked and soil depleted farmland above. Degraded rivers and estuaries reduce spawning opportunities for many fish types, and birds are deprived of habitat.

Seven years ago scientists identified Nine Planetary Boundaries. Here is Johan Rockstrom's Ted talk on that topic.

In the last seven years we've seen the situation get noticeably worse.

World-wide the oceans are becoming more acidic, threatening coral reefs everywhere, removing a key spawning ground for fish species. Add to that the continuing irresponsibility in the way we choose to fish the oceans. Major fishing grounds have already disappeared, the North Sea, the Grand Banks and the East China Sea, as examples. Over fishing upsets the ecological balance of the ocean, hence the loss of most large ocean fish, the explosion of jelly-fish populations because of the loss of predators, and as fish stocks decline the loss of both food supply and employment in the fishing industry.

The world is facing environmental degradation on many fronts. The economy is dependent on climate, on water supply, on energy supply and on political stability. Failure triggered by the stressed environment will happen, we are far too far, down the cause and effect chain, to prevent environmental catastrophes. We are causing climate change with a 40+ year lag in effect. Quite likely the world is already committed to 4 degrees of warming. That will prohibit agriculture as we know it, in the lifetime of people who are alive today. Ocean acidification, and the loss of biodiversity on the planet, signals ecological destruction, and our own demise. The failure of humanity to be good stewards of the planet, will lead to catastrophic population decline at some stage. We have seen the beginning of this trend. The dominoes will continue to fall, at a gathering pace.

Can Vegetarian or Vegan dietary change be a solution?

The Living Economies Expo was attended by good people trying to do their best for the environment, for the community and for their own health. They are well educated and informed. They are concerned about the overuse of natural resources, the collapse of local economies, and the viability of local food production. They seek to develop the social connectedness of communities, using local currencies and local decision making processes.

Regarding food and nutrition, there were a large number of vegetarians, and some vegan's in attendance. I've very little to offer people who think that way. As individuals, they have the very best of intentions for the planet, for society, and for their own health. I used to believe that their standards were a "gold standard" we should all try to achieve. Only 5-6 years ago my own meat consumption was down to chicken and fish, each about once a week. I thought that was healthy eating, but I was getting fat, and my diet was the problem.

Today my message isn't one of comfort to vegetarians. The planet doesn't care, it will get on just fine, in fact even better, if all humans are gone.

Some might argue that if everyone was vegan, we could take the cattle off the land, and things would improve. In nature, mixed farming with both grazing and foraging animals and with forestry and cropping is desirable to restore the soils. Think organic farming, rather than rotational cropping. Better still, think of permaculture forests as the ideal way to improve both soils and food sources for human health. But with a much smaller world population. What's best for both the land and for human health, is unlikely to support the profit objectives of multi-national food production companies. The financial imperative driving the world towards ecological collapse remains.

Grain production is stable or rising slowly, but at about half the rate of population increase. There is potential to improve the productivity rates, but on the ground that's proving hard to put into practice. Besides populations that are heavily reliant on grains for nutrition don't enjoy the best health.

If everyone in the world was vegetarian, the outcome for the world would be the same. We will be unable to feed everyone. Ecological collapse will still happen. Being vegetarian is a personal sacrifice you make, for no long run benefit for the planet or for society as a whole.

Finally, being vegetarian is bad for your own health. It's possible for people to be both healthy and vegetarian. But it's difficult to do. Many people fully committed to this lifestyle for 20 our more years, even people who spent years teaching people how to be successful vegetarians, finally get sick themselves. After a long battle to get well again, they finally begin to eat meat again. When they do, good health returns. Both Zoe Harcombe and Nina Teicholz had that experience, and it's a commonly reported situation.

In talking to people face to face, I've met many obese vegetarians. I know precisely why they are obese. They need much more fat in their diet. Olive oil and coconut oil will do the job, but honestly, animal fats and animal organs are a much easier way to get the fats and the minerals and vitamins you need.

John Stephen Veitch                     Printable Version Printer of this Essay
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