Governance systems appear to be incapable of solving or even seriously addressing looming financial, resource or environmental issues. There is probably nothing that can be done to avert the course of events. The availability of fossil carbon energy is inevitably leading to mounting complexity, debt expansion, population increase and the environmental depletion – along with their inevitable interactions.
Our assessment does not indicate that collapse of the world economy, environment and population is a certainty. There are events that could dramatically affect the current trajectory. Major wars or pandemics could break out. Conversely, a new source of dense, transportable, abundant and cheap energy could be soon found; or genuine global leadership could arise – albeit the probability of both is rather low. Pondering on scenarios is not the equivalent of making fatalistic predictions. It just provides for planning tools.
focused and steady
A clear understanding of the factors driving the current situation and their inevitable interactions allows for more rational response. It makes it possible to stay steady and mitigate unnecessary anger and blame, and avoid squandering time and energy on token initiatives. It allows planning how to most humanely go though the impending bottleneck.
A thoughtful due diligence is not an insurmountable task. Neither would be the subsequent development of appropriate plans, norms and local systems for the identified threats.
No one institution in any country can provide all the answers, of course. But more than most countries, Switzerland has the ability to initiate a consensual, collaborative effort that brings together the available expertise and wisdom needed to gradually fill gaps within a coherent matrix. Genuine leadership can emerge.
Crucially, this project needs to navigate around the usual traps of tunnel vision, layers of bureaucratic language, hubris and denial.
The implementation of some measures may require lead-time. For example, to ensure a secure low-input food and fiber supply from local sources it may be necessary to rebuild the depleted soils, which takes multiple years of active effort and significant funding. Robust research and practical implementation of new, highly advanced, intelligent agricultural practices will be necessary within a realistically short time scale.
The intellectual and psychological preparation of young adults for possibly dramatically altered future, may be another identified necessity requiring lead-time. There may be fewer jobs available when they enter the workforce, and the professional achievements attained by their parents may not be repeatable. The value systems may have to be adapted and new skills taught in advance.
In another realm, the political mechanisms to mitigate the social polarization, anger, apathy or extremism and the raise of radical political forces may need to be identified and set in place.
The social security systems may need revision to buffer for economic disruptions to protect those most vulnerable.
Information and transportation systems may need to be reassessed; wise immigration policies set in place; ways of securing and allocating energy supplies considered; systems shielding the population and the country from growing toxification developed and funding allocated to address the public health damage that already occurred.
The list is not exhaustive.
The time to consider wise planning process is now. None of the solutions are easy or immediate. Given the degree to which a contraction violates all assumptions of today’s economic policies, it will be politically as challenging as it is necessary for institutions, which are the principal engineers of culture.
We may not be capable of fixing all the confluent planetary challenges, but we can be thus adequately prepared to better withstand some of their effects.
The job is to sell as much as possible.
If you think there’s a CEO sitting at a desk in a pesticide company somewhere, who is more interested in your long-term well being than making a profit for his shareholders, you’re mistaken. It’s not that he’s a bad person. He’s just another father trying to keep his job. The product is legal, after all.
Any company, especially one whose shares are traded on the stock markets, has to grow as fast as possible. Short-term shareholder value and analyst satisfaction is the only thing that matters.
Resilient farms? Soil fertility? Ecosystem balance? Public health? Your kids? Bees? National interest is not what a pesticide company executive is supposed to worry about.
Making pesticides, or any other product, or service, corporations exist to make profits. They act transnationally today. They operate on such a huge scale across borders that any responsibility toward a community is just a fairy tale. They are hugely distant from the people buying their products and therefore unable to look them in the eye and care. Their own lawyers will stand in the way.
Manufacturers are mandated by shareholders and allowed by the governments to fight for the most advantageous operating and regulatory environments they can get. With all methods they can get away with.
Don’t look for compassion from companies. They are not people, even if the law in the United States treats them that way. They are just structures to make money and generate as few jobs as possible in the name of efficiency. Don’t blame them. Our own society has created these institutions. You are probably a shareholder of a range of corporations. If it is not you, then it is your pension fund. You or your family or friends and neighbors are buying their product.
Don’t appeal to them. Turn to your government to inform you, or to come down on the companies when they cheat. Your government should not be intimidated by the companies, even if it is happy that they bring jobs and tax money…But then aren’t you happy and proud if your cousin or son gets a safe job with a big multinational corporation so that he can be fed for the rest of his life?
Bottom line: Watch them and your government carefully.
To put companies on the right track regarding their commercial adventures, the society has to agree to bring change, and then it must act through its democratic institutions – where they are still vaguely real.
If there is something wrong, the governments must legislate, because companies most of the time obey laws, even if they take questionable shortcuts.
Each nation can decide and each nation has its own government. (Now that you have finished reading this, we invite you to start looking at the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between EU and the US right now).
The government is cornered.
The government is made up of people just like you and me. And like many of us, these people grew up in the paradigm of “modern”, or “conventional” agriculture (based on the canon of chemical inputs and monoculture) being the only we can feed ourselves.
Most people in the government are simply clueless regarding the magnitude of the problem this paradigm entails. Those who know, however, try to avoid outside challenges. In the name of stability and compromise, they rely on experts. In an overwhelming number of cases, those experts come from the industry. The aura of alleged expertise provides a way for the industry to provide its services to government while maintaining an image of indifference and objectivity. Yet the areas of inquiry that have to do with problems of immediate human or ecosystem health concern are not particularly profound or inaccessible to the ordinary person lacking any special training who takes the trouble to learn something about them.
Industry activists armed with attractive documents hold the regulators captive. And they are well received: many bureaucrats themselves once worked for the very chemical industry they are mandated to regulate, so even if they don’t have an overt conflict of interest, there is a high probability that they remain intellectually biased. And regulators often wind up moving to industry after they leave their government jobs. The pay is usually better and their experience gives them insights into how to keep the next generation of regulators captive.
As we speak, there really aren’t many forces in the regulatory agencies, and in our society, that can counterbalance the industry’s agenda.
So, our government neither acts decisively, nor fully informs the public about the critical issues related to pesticides causing to human and ecosystem health. The record of fabrication, deceit and omission is quite remarkable: “The solution to pollution is dilution.” Too much public awareness might lead to a demand that standards of integrity are met, which would certainly save a lot of lives, land and water systems from destruction.
As there is no substantial money to be made from efforts to protect the public, there are virtually no professional organizations outside the government equipped with comfortable advertising budgets at their disposal that are capable of effectively raise public awareness and give the government the political comfort of confronting the problematic industry.
Yet all an individual person has to protect him or her from predatory advances of others – both within our country or from outside – is the government. Thus, individual people like you and me need to remind the government that it was created to look out for our interests and protect us from harm – injury inflicted on us either directly (as in an attack by a criminal) or indirectly (as in chronic exposure to biocidal chemicals).
Absent greater pressure from citizens, governments succumb to the wishes of institutions, like companies, with other agendas. In our highly competitive, fragmented society of today, overloaded with information, it’s very difficult for people to where their true interests lie – in supporting businesses posturing as agents of economic growth or in protecting themselves from the effects of corporate agendas. Hence, companies and governments have a tendency to treat us as little more than replaceable parts of an economic engine.
Stop. Slowing down is not enough.
In 1998, a historic Wingspead conference took place. Scientists, philosophers, lawyers and environmental professionals reached agreement on the necessity of the Precautionary Principle in public decision-making.
The key element of this principle is that it urges us to take preemptive action even in the absence of scientific certainty. When someone’s reckless activity (lucrative as it may be) raises the threat of harm, precautionary measures should be taken, even if some cause and effect relationships are not yet fully established scientifically.
The proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. In this case, the manufacturer of pesticides must prove that his chemical is totally safe, instead of waiting until many people get sick and these people having to prove that the pesticide made them sick (which right now is the case). The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed, and democratic. It must involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action. Possibly, no pesticide.
Even though our laws in Europe and in Switzerland already employ the precautionary principle nominally, as a cardinal rule, it is very weak in its practical application. So far, it has mainly served as a polite way of legitimizing the continued use of pesticides. These toxic chemicals, however, especially require a strict application of the precautionary principle.