Important indicators point to quite a few economic and ecological bumps ahead of us. Contrary to popular belief, technology won’t be able to make this reality go away. However, good governance may make it easier to manage the possible hardships.
Many people are lured by a belief that somehow technology will sort out the global problems we now face because of the advancing climate change, resource depletion, inescapable surge in energy cost, population pressure and water distress. Or, that some technology will magically enable farmers to even further increase their yields on less, more exhausted, toxified and weather-torn land – and that also with less assistance from other species – like the complex system of microbiota that are so essential for soil fertility, pollinators, or insect predators.
Overwhelming part of that progress is based on the ephemeral burst of cheap fossil carbon energy, which now is becoming more expensive to find and extract as the easiest, cheapest sources have been exploited. It is also requiring technologies of exploration and production that are growing more complex and risky. Ignoring the central role of cheap fossil fuels has blinded us to profound risks that rising extraction cost of finite resources pose for our livelihood.
There will be price swings as countries and companies artificially manipulate the supply. But the long-term trend is inexorable. That means that the technologies that have been used to boost carrying capacity, particularly by increasing food production, will become more expensive, perhaps prohibitively. The economy is likely to contract, a process, which may occur suddenly, remain long and be socially complicated. Moreover, this is likely to come at the same time when the environmental costs become more painfully apparent. The possibly severe implications will be felt in all countries, albeit in different manner and at different time, although globalization may diffuse the impacts over entire regions quite suddenly. At the same time.
Meanwhile, even though we still nurture trust in the state, we have generally adopted governance models that favor the interests of markets and the economy over the interests of the individual citizens. We have allowed government’s role to shift from custodians of the commons to stimulating development and economic growth. The complexity and the global scale of our systems further erodes notions of local governance and dilutes responsibility. This has an inescapable result: our shared commons – share such biodiversity, water, soil and air – become increasingly fenced, exhausted and fouled, precisely at the time when these commons will be imperative to our survival.
As increasing costs of key resources like fossil fuel begin to strain our abilities to pay, first those with fewer resources and ultimately everyone will face increasingly constrained economic growth.
Contraction, or reverse industrialization, is an economic reality, even though our systems are construed to negate it.
At the same time, we may be crossing key environmental tipping points.
As these events unfold, we will be operating in increasingly chaotic social and political environment.
If we are wise, there will be sober recognition that the state must return to its vital role of protecting local interests and mitigating extremism.
If we don’t embrace this, we won’t continue to thrive.
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.