Agriculture, Trade, Industrialism, And The Future:
Contesting The Neo-Liberal Agenda
- Dennis Small
This article was originally written for the August 2015 Watchdog but had to be held back due to the printer’s size limit. Dennis has updated it (see the Postscript at the end of the article). Ed.
“Today's population levels depend on fossil fuels and industrial agriculture”, says anthropologist Joseph Tainter (“Adapt or Collapse” - Utah State Today - Utah State University News: www.usu.edu/ust/index.cfm?article=34892 ).
“Economic analysis. The ability of the United States to compete economically in world markets in peacetime is as vital an element of our national security as having a strong military… There is a growing need to discern threatening intentions, subterfuge, and ill will among our competitor nations. We should, then, expand our efforts to collect international economic data, by espionage where necessary” (“Secrecy & Democracy: The CIA In Transition”, Admiral Stansfield Turner [CIA Director, 1977-81], Sidgwick & Jackson, 1985/6, pp272/3). Hence a key reason for the commercial and intelligence cyber-warfare of our times by the National [Nuclear] Security State (NSS) as an integral part of the free market. The US, of course, has long demonstrated plenty of “threatening intentions, subterfuge, and ill will” of its own!
“The Anglo-American tradition… has long been addicted to the presentation of egoism in the guise of altruism” (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.)
“Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress” (Mahatma Gandhi).
The challenge for agriculture and food production to feed a growing human population is immense. It represents one of humankind's greatest problems in the very near future. A great worldwide discussion and debate is under way about how best to tackle this problem, even reaching out at a relatively popular level. For example, National Geographic (NG) has recently run an important series of articles (see also ongoing information & views: www.natgeofood.com). While NG is a conservative American publication oriented to US foreign policy, it also obviously has a genuine, humane concern for the future despite its contradictions. Meantime, the sense of a global food crisis and the failure of the hegemonic free trade model has grown (e.g., see my articles “Global Food Crisis And Free Trade Disaster” in Watchdog 118, August 2008, www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/18/06.htm; and “Food, Crisis, & The Global Economy: Countering NZ's Corporate Bonding”, in Watchdog 127, August 2011, www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/27/08.htm; plus Chris Hedges: “The System Of Global Capitalism Is Breaking Down”, Globe And Mail, 22/5/15, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/munk-debates/chris-hedges-the-system-of-global-capitalism-is-breaking-down/article24566539/). The increasing grip of climate change and its effects are heightening concerns about the choices we need to make, with less fertile farmland and water available, etc. (e.g., TV3, Noon 3 News, 1/7/15, item on the latest UK report). In the worldwide discussion and debate on the food challenge, getting a handle on the “fundamentals”, as it were, is vital. Viewpoints are articulated on the basis of various assumptions. One particular viewpoint is integral to the hegemonic neo-liberal ideology that has dominated Western capitalism for more than three decades now. This is the belief that entrepreneurship and technology can solve all our problems and that all we need to do is to let the free market rip and the corporates rule.
As an example of this belief and its technocratic application, take the viewpoint of those who promote genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Genetic engineering is the province of transnational corporations (TNCs) like Monsanto and their pundits. Its neo-liberal expression advocates the unregulated release of GMOs into the open environment and open slather for private enterprise. This would supposedly comprise the essence of human progress and salvation. Monsanto, an American TNC, has just announced plans for a mega-merger with chemical giant Syngenta, a European TNC. If this Anglo-American mega-merger proceeds it would make Monsanto the biggest pesticide and seed company in the world. This would represent a new stage of unprecedented corporate power over global agricultural production. Farmers and consumers would lose out greatly. The corporate watchdog group, the SumOfUS, and other non-government organisations (NGOs), are strongly opposing the proposed mega-merger (Monsanto and Syngenta - SumOfUs: www.sumofus.org/). Corporate control of agriculture from the planting of seeds (the very grass-roots!) and further on up the whole food chain has long been of great concern and the focus of NGO action (e.g., www.grain.org; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GRAIN; “Secret Dangers Of GATT 'Good Deal’”; “Big Corporations Drive Agenda”, Dennis Small, New Zealand Farmer, 14/12/94, p9; Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration: www.etcgroup.org/). TNCs like Monsanto and DuPont have been pushing GM and hybrid seeds throughout poor countries with the help of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) & co., privatising control, and undermining farmer and peasant cooperatives.
The Various Guises Of Global Market Control
Both the so-called “free market” and innovations like genetic engineering and bio-fuels with their intimate trade linkages have come in for heavy and ongoing criticism in recent decades (e.g., “Full Tanks – Empty Stomachs: Agro-Fuels Devastate 3rd World Countries For 1st World's Cars”, Pacific Ecologist [PE] 17, Summer 2009, http://www.pacificecologist.org/archive/17/; “Genetic Engineering: Attack On The Tree Of Life”, PE6, Spring 2003, http://www.pacificecologist.org/archive/editorial6.html;: www.pacificecologist.org). Instead, positive, alternative strategies are promoted by many NGOs and others. These strategies include organic farming, and small-scale, mixed farming better attuned to long-term ecological realities. Cooperative production and distribution networks, among a wide range of socially egalitarian and environmentally benign approaches, are envisaged as suited to local and regional conditions (Food First, www.foodfirst.org/; Via Campesina: International Peasant Movement, www.viacampesina.org/; see also “The Food Crisis”, PE 21, Autumn-Winter 2012, http://www.pacificecologist.org/archive/21/ & “Food & Agricultural Security For The Long EMERGENCY”, PE 14, 2007, http://www.pacificecologist.org/archive/14/, ibid.). If some GM plant research may well be vitally necessary, given global warming and a changing planetary environment, it should be firmly under democratic control and publicly accountable, along with the most rigorous monitoring systems for any pilot studies. Such research should focus on plant production and not animals. But the dominant technocratic and profit-driven industrial model reigns. Besides new technologies pushed by governments and TNCs, there is also an intensification of existing technologies and related applications in process.
Indeed, this latest wave of the industrialisation of agriculture and the practice of animal factory farming threatens to reach a new mega-stage of development and intensity (“Farmageddon: The True Cost Of Cheap Meat”, Philip Lymberg & Isabel Oakeshott, Bloomsbury, 2014). The costs in animal suffering and environmental impact are already immense from such operations (ibid.). As usual, America has set the model here with further harsh and systematic exploitation of the environment and animal life. Since the longer-term ecological effects, as well as important aspects of “food security” - let alone animal welfare - are routinely discounted on an international basis, animal feedlot and factory farms enterprises can still contrive artificially low costs of operation. We have to strenuously contest this industrial and TNC-mandated intensification of agriculture in helping chart a more sustainable and humane future. To more fully understand our own agricultural and general economic position in Aotearoa/NZ in the second decade of the 21st Century, it helps to place this position in the context of the global economy, along with the background and history of globalisation to date. We can then make more informed and better choices for the future.
Neo-Liberal Preening And Posturing
In NZ/Aotearoa, the approach of Rightwing politics towards the environment takes the form of so-called “blue-green” policies and practices. This is regularly exemplified in the posturing of Environment Minister Dr. Nick Smith, a man with a geo-engineering doctorate in landslides! With specific reference to agriculture, the NZ model, heavily grounded in the second decade of the 21st Century on both dairy and meat, and strongly committed to free trade and related “hi-tech” applications, represents almost the exact opposite of what most of the world needs. “As we look to 2050, when we'll need to feed two billion more people, the question of which diet is best has taken on a new urgency. The foods we choose to eat in the coming decades will have dramatic ramifications for the planet. Simply put, a diet that revolves around meat and dairy, a way of eating that's on the rise throughout the developing world, will take a greater toll on the world's resources than one that revolves around unrefined grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables” (“The Evolution Of Diet”, Ann Gibson, NG, September 2014, p40). Later, below, we shall look at a particularly pernicious case of the NZ model at work and it dire implications for food security. It comprises a triangular arrangement between Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and NZ. We have been tracking and debating the most important issue of free trade and food security since the late 1980s, full in the face of opposition from the NZ political Establishment (including both the National and Labour Parties) and the corporate-controlled mainstream media (“Food And Free Trade Theory: Peddling Snake Poison”, Watchdog 121, August 2009, Dennis Small, www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/21/10.htm). But the pro-food security (or rather food sovereignty) and anti-free trade case is now firmly registered on the international consciousness in the very teeth of neo-liberalism (check out Google search, using key words “free trade”& “food”; and “free trade” & “food security”).
Listening in June 2015 to the National and Labour Parties in Parliament celebrating the new free trade agreement (FTA) between NZ and South Korea, one can only marvel at their simple-minded, short-term, and narrowly self-interested focus. Speakers, including Labour MPs, waxed lyrical about the future prospects for Western-style economic growth and greater material prosperity from such FTAs. Mainstream politicians are wedded to the pursuit of suicidal stupidity. They chase their goals whatever climate change throws up; and despite all the outcomes and implications of increasing class/ethnic divisions and conflicts; growing inter-state competition and confrontation; resource wars; extensive and intensive pollution; declining biodiversity; ecosystem collapse; accumulating failed states; population growth; mass refugee migration (from within an unprecedented world total of 52 million refugees); etc., etc. They embody capitalist contradictions to the full and are now so deliberately blind to the realities staring them in the face that they hit back at anti-free trade campaigners in the most blinkered, patronising way, intent on rationalising and trying to justify their subjugation to corporate power. What planet do they think that they are living on?! Their wilful ignorance is indeed breathtaking. As illustration, a current case in point is debt-burdened Greece, formerly a relatively privileged European country, now squeezed by austerity measures and enslaved by foreign capital, as well as hit by both heat-waves and waves of desperate refugees.
The evolutionary theory of overshoot explains how such proponents of global capitalism are dedicated to the juggernaut of growth and conventional ideas of progress, come hell or high water (“Overshoot: The Ecological Basis Of Revolutionary Change”, William R. Catton Jr., University of Illinois Press, 1980; “Global Overshoot: Contemplating The World's Converging Problems”, Doug Cocks, Springer, 2013; “Too Many People, Too Much Consumption”, Paul & Anne Ehrlich: www.e360.yale.edu/feature/too_many_people_too_much_consumption/2041/; “Peace, Global Warming, Ecological Overshoot, And Resource Wars”, www.johncairns.net/Commentaries/cairnspeace.pdf). In the rest of Nature, animal or plant species can exceed the carrying capacity of their populations by changing their environment. Their very means of success eventually prove their undoing. Human cultural innovations and resultant political hubris are replicating this process on a planetary scale.
Globalising Commodity Markets: Agriculture And The Case Of Cotton
In the past few decades, the neo-liberal capitalist position as expounded by the major players has been clear enough in its implications. This was especially evident and contentious in the field of agriculture. Ever since the US Administration started pushing free trade agriculture in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which resulted in the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995, it has aggressively tried to undermine the efforts of poorer countries to achieve greater food self-sufficiency. According to “one of the fundamental principles of capitalist economics – comparative advantage (my emphasis)”: the discipline's theory dictates that countries trading with each other “specialise in the production of commodities that they can produce relatively efficiently. They export those goods and import the ones that they produce relatively inefficiently (“Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction”, Robert Allen, Oxford University Press [OUP], 2011, p56). However, the theory of comparative advantage has unravelled badly for its proponents in the modern era, particularly in the period following the advent of the WTO, although most economists probably still posit various forms of the theory, including versions updated to fit current conditions as they see them.
Free trade has been used over centuries by the rich and powerful as a conveniently self-serving economic weapon against the vulnerable (“Bad Samaritans: The Guilty Secrets Of Rich Nations & The Threat to Global Prosperity”, Ha-Joon Chang, Random House, 2007; “Economist Ha-Joon Chang On ‘The Myth of Free Trade And The Secret History Of Capitalism’”, www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJXx4hODeOk). It is the West's dirty secret, especially one cultivated by the Anglo-American axis. The global commodity trade, agricultural and mineral, has most clearly exemplified this syndrome. While critics of free trade have long been focused on this theme, the issues involved constantly require further analysis and elaboration in order to both strengthen the critique and advocate for positive alternatives. The natural resources and systems that we both depend and draw on are fundamental to our very existence and its future. Free trade is undermining the very basis of life. As the campaign slogan says: “Free trade costs the Earth”.
Before the American Civil War (1861-65), cotton had been a staple export built in the South on the backs of cheap African slave labour. “King cotton” was a form of “white gold” for the whites who benefitted from its exploitation. American cotton exports forged the Atlantic economy, the basis for the Anglo-American axis which continues today. “The main component of US exports from the War of 1812 (against the British) to the (American) Civil War was cotton” (“The Consumer Society: A History Of American Capitalism”, Peter d'A. Jones, Penguin, 1965, p48). A highly productive process of economic interaction emerged between the mother country and its former colonial foe. “Almost half of America's total exports before the Civil War went to help sustain the economy of Britain during its first and greatest period of revolutionary change”(ibid.), supplying the textile mills and factories of northern England. Worldwide, Britain fostered its own version of free trade enforced by the imperial fist. The Atlantic cotton trade provided the springboard for Britain's industrial take-off, the spearhead for its socio-economic transformation. As well, in the first half of the 19th Century, the US laid the foundation for its own later industrial take-off by the accumulation of agricultural wealth through “cotton (and the older southern staples [like tobacco, indigo and sugar]), grain, cattle, and hogs”, cultivated from “the riches of the soil” (ibid., p69). Historically, the US itself later industrialised its own agricultural system on the seaboard of the New England states (especially Massachusetts) behind a wall of tariffs (ibid. p87). “US cotton manufacturing grew rapidly behind the tariff wall” (“Global Economic History”, op. cit., p81). In the second half of the 19th Century, cotton textile manufacturing thrived in America, partly due to the fact that high wages encouraged inventive and innovative “breakthroughs that produced a particularly labour-saving technology” (ibid. p82). The Anglo-American production and consumption of cotton provided lots of incentives for technological innovation. “America was taking the lead in industrial technology” (ibid.).
Mounting Environmental Impact
At the same time, the long-term impact on the American environment of this agriculturally-fed industrialisation was steadily growing. “Despite the considerable variety of southern farm wealth, its commercial agriculture involved dangerous soil-mining and monoculture of the staples in one-crop regions” (“The Consumer Society”, op. cit., p86). Later, the cotton belt of the 1930s was devastated by the phenomenon of “Dust Bowl” soil degradation and consequent social immiseration. In John Steinbeck's great novel “The Grapes of Wrath” (1939), the Joad family flees the misery of Oklahoma to the seeming refuge of bountiful California where they encounter the socio-economic challenges of callous capitalism and market forces. Millions of people still go hungry in the US, the world's richest country, and in the midst of a national obesity epidemic (“Hunger In America: 2015 United States Hunger And Poverty Facts”, www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/us_hunger_facts.htm). Today, global warming is apparently taking its toll on California with already several consecutive years of debilitating drought - the worst in over a century (or even much longer) - afflicting the state that provides nearly half of the US's total production of vegetables and fruit. The ironies of climate change mean that “California could become a 'Dust Bowl' like 1930s’ Oklahoma” (10/4/15, www.time.com/3817050/california-dust-bowl/). Not only may California repeat the experience of Oklahoma but Oklahoma itself has again been facing similar stress in recent years (“Oklahoma Drought Kindles Spectre Of 1930s 'Dust Bowl'”, 2/7/14, www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-27986425). In mid-2014, drought conditions were “the worst in decades in western Oklahoma” (ibid.). But in 2015 the weather has dramatically swung to the other extreme.
Under the accumulating influence of climate change the volatility of weather “weirding” means startling oscillations between the extremes of drought and flood. By May 2015: “Record rainfall was wreaking havoc across a swath of the US Mid-West…causing flash floods”, raging storms, and “spawning tornadoes” (Press, 26/5/15). Ironically then, this torrential rainfall, floods, and killer storms have dramatically ended “the drought that has gripped the southern Plains States for years” (ibid.), continuing well into June (at the time of writing). The states of Oklahoma and Texas have been particularly hard hit with unprecedented flooding and disaster conditions. Furthermore, the longer-term damage from landslides and the destruction of previously eroded soils will be immense. All this has proved an especially ironic phenomenon in the oil state of Texas where climate change scepticism is rife and hard-Right political attitudes are common. As one of the ten most conservative American states, Oklahoma is also facing fresh environmental challenges to its traditional worldview. At the same time, on the other side of the globe, India has suffered a record countrywide heat wave (especially severe in the south), even melting asphalt on roads and sadly taking hundreds of lives. There has been a severe lack of potable water in some regions. Later in June, Pakistan too underwent a killer heat wave, and later again, Europe.
It is chilling to consider that India with so many of the world's poor people is going to suffer a lot more of this sort of oppressive weather in the future. And this is all the more worrying given the fact that India has now enthusiastically embraced Western-type modernisation and so the road to ultimate self-destruction - one way or another. Coal use, for example, is rampant in India. Climate change will increasingly affect the timing and character of such vitally important natural weather patterns as the welcome relief of the monsoon. In April 2015, “unseasonal rain” was actually causing landslides and floods in the mountainous north in Kashmir (divided between India and Pakistan) and there were fierce storms elsewhere in India (Press, 2/4/15). Previously, “devastating floods” had hit Kashmir as recently as September 2014 (ibid.). While there will certainly be welcome relief later in 2015 in India from the searing heat, the rains will impact heavily on further eroded soils as has been happening in the US and elsewhere, leading to more rapid land erosion. Humankind needs to incorporate food security for all within an international system geared to coping with the volatile challenges of climate change.
Slip, Sliding, Or Just Blowing Away …
Aotearoa/NZ has also been experiencing some unusual weather events in recent times, such as a drought on the West Coast of the South Island, and persistent localised droughts (e.g., the current one in the Cheviot/Hurunui area, North Canterbury); killer tornadoes and storms; and sudden record-breaking rainfall deluges and consequent flooding, e.g., in Dunedin in early June 2015, Hokitika and Whanganui later the same month, and the lower North Island in general as well with lots of landslips and landslides; and elsewhere similar previous incidents of sudden intense precipitation, including Christchurch. Some very up-to-date research has confirmed the perception that: “Extreme heat waves and heavy rainstorms are already happening with increasing regularity worldwide because of man-made climate change” (“Extreme Weather Already On The Increase Due To Climate Change”, Study Finds”, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-change; http://www.warwickdailynews.com.au/news/why-our-urban-areas-will-face-more-extreme-storms/2666092/; http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/276351/retreat-from-coast-may-be-'inevitable'; www.orataiao.org.nz/; TV1, One News at 6pm, 14/6/15). Global warming has the potential to hugely aggravate and accelerate the processes of land degradation and soil erosion under way around planet Earth. NZ presents a most worrying example. “NZ loses between 200 and 300 million tonnes of soil to the oceans each year. This rate is about ten times faster than the rest of the world and accounts for between 1.1 and 1.7% of the world's total soil loss to the oceans, despite a land area of only 0.1% of the world's total” (“Soil Erosion In NZ – Envirohistory NZ”: www.envirohistorynz.com/). Ever since European settlement, the human impact on the land's environment has been harsh and relentless. From the viewpoint of human ecology, our record has been disastrous. Agriculture has been the prime culprit of this devastation, mining a vital subsidy from nature that is eroding before our eyes. So much again for the so-called “free trade” that we broadcast so widely on the international scene! I remember on more than one occasion sadly seeing big dust storms sweeping off the Canterbury Plains and blowing out to sea. Our civilisation, our whole way of life depends on a mere few inches of vital topsoil.
Soil erosion is a worldwide problem. “Unsustainable agricultural practices are the single greatest contributor to the global increase in erosion rates… erosion constitutes one of the most significant global environmental problems we face today” (“Erosion”, www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erosion). “Approximately 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded” from a combination of causes (ibid.). In Aotearoa/NZ, geography is a major determinant of erosion. Mountainous terrain and maritime climate make for a marked proclivity to the processes of land degradation and landslides. Then Europeans have introduced the farming practices of “forest clearance, particularly on hill country, grazing on steep slopes, and over-stocking of unsuitable country, [which] have all contributed to accelerated erosion” - “down to the sea in slips” (ibid.). In 2013, the Government proclaimed its crazy, corporate-contrived goal of doubling our agricultural exports, at least in value from $32 billion to $64 billion (“'Ambitious' Target To Boost Agricultural Exports”, 13/6/13, http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/fieldays/8792039/Ambitious-target-to-boost-agricultural-exports). Despite the current painful slump in the fortunes of the dairy industry, the John Key-led National government is still committed to the intensification of our agriculture at any cost to our environment and long-term sustainability.
Deputy PM & Finance Minister Bill English has actually blamed “green-type” policies over the last 20 years for the current housing shortage (Parliament TV, 17/6/15). His fellow Cabinet Minister Dr. “Landslides” Nick Smith is making a debacle of this particular portfolio, in similar fashion to his performance as Minister of the Environment. More broadly, the National government is unconcerned about urban sprawl taking up more good agricultural land, demonstrating just one of its many contradictions. Meanwhile, the global reach of corporate power and foreign control, courtesy of the National government, continues to tighten its hold over our agricultural sector and political domain, with land, farms, businesses, politicians, legislation and regulations all coming within the purview of the TNCs, reflecting the process in various other economic sectors. A recent poignant irony is the fact that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which has been a keen propagandist for neo-liberalism, has just warned us in its latest report on NZ about the danger of dairy farming causing more pollution in our waterways. In June 2015, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr. Jan Wright, also gave her latest public warning about the increasing pollution of our rivers, lakes and streams from agricultural runoff, above all the nitrogen contained in cow urine (e.g., TV3, Noon 3 News, 19/6/15). Conversions of farmland to dairying have been proceeding faster than anticipated, with this trend most marked in the Waikato, Canterbury and Southland. The regional government policy of so-called “unders and overs”, which allows some waterways to get even lower in water quality if others get better, came in for strong criticism from the Commissioner (“Dairy Continues To Damage Water Quality”, 19/6/15, NZ Farmer, http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/agribusiness/69542361/dairy-continues-to-damage-water-quality). This absurd policy is currently coordinated by central Government in another of its multiple derelictions on environmental policy and sustainability. Dr. Wright has rightly called for dairying to be capped in certain regions and for the development of a more diversified economy.
Free Trade Follies
Like our growing water problems, the recent slide in international dairy prices has been another wake-up call for our own dairy industry and agricultural sector here in Aotearoa/NZ. The dairy price fall has sucked over $7 billion out of the NZ economy since the slide started during 2014. Many farmers are now feeling cost pressures squeezing their incomes, principally those already carrying a heavy debt burden (“High Dairy Debt And Low Payout” & “Debt Likely For Dairy Farmers”, Press, 14 & 29/5/15). But, due to the presiding supermarket duopoly in NZ, milk prices have actually gone up, making this liquid food too pricey for a lot of people (Press, 30/6/15, cover story headline: “White Gold: Milk Becoming A Luxury Product For Kiwi Families”). This is something that we predicted long ago. Fonterra itself is under strain with its cooperative structure and functioning compromised by TNC-style operations, as well as its incorporation of a measure of external shareholder investment. It is already shedding staff (“Fonterra Job Cuts Loom As Minister Warns Of Grim Years Ahead”, Press, 11/6/15). Fonterra's toll, as well, continues on the environment. It is even relying more than ever on coal as a prime energy source (“Fonterra's Coal Use Under The Spotlight At Mystery Creek”, 14/6/15, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU1506/S00520/fonterras-coal-use-under-the-spotlight-at-mystery-creek.htm). This particular environmental outrage goes hand in hand with increasing water pollution and poor land management practices in various areas, including waste disposal.
The NZ “cargo cult” of “white gold” is losing some of its shine. Problems loom on a whole range of fronts. The perils of monoculture agriculture; stupid over-specialisation; free trade; over-dependence on Chinese demand; increasing foreign control; crony capitalism; and environmental costs all loom very large for us these days. China is now our number one trade destination. The biggest contradiction evident in our FTA with China and the hype over our prospects in the (once?!) rapidly growing market there lies in the mounting military confrontation under way in that part of the world. Tensions are ratcheting up sharply in the South China Sea and adjoining areas. Our “big brother” ally the US is posing as the “guardian” of countries in the region from the Philippines to Japan (“US 'Guardian' Role Pits It Against China”, proclaims a Murdoch Sunday Times article reprinted in the Press, 1/6/15). The warmongering impulses of the Western media continually reach out in predatory support of continued Western economic dominance, grossly raising the stakes in cynically contrived, inflammatory, and dangerous propaganda blitzes – from the Ukraine to the South China Sea (for more on the latter see, e.g., “Big Guns Seen On Contested Islands”, & “The Tiny Islands That Could Lead To War”, Press, 31/5/15 & 3/6/15). Those trends of global capitalism, which so obviously make for terminal holocaust, are willingly embraced by its crazy agents and propagandists, quite prepared to take any gamble to try and preserve their profiteering and status in the interim. The desperately urgent challenge for the sane among humankind is how to prevent this meltdown.
Fair Trading And Sustainable Development
Free trade is inherently and grossly destabilising (“False Dawn: The Delusions Of Global Capitalism”, John Gray, Granta Books, 1998/2002, revised edition, 2009; “The Race For What's Left: The Global Scramble For The World's Last Resources”, Michael Klare, Metropolitan Books, 2012; www.michaelklare.com/books/the-race-for-whats-left/). Fair trading should instead have a crucial role on the world scene. In the 21st Century, this alternative trade has made some international inroads, although unfortunately only very minor in scale. But in so many ways the globalist challenges are greater than ever given the worldwide scramble for resources and increasing ecological constraints, especially under the cloud of climate change and global warming. The prime priority for poorer countries should be on their domestic economies and the localisation of production and consumption rather than export-orientation of any sort. In particular, food security should be an absolute priority (“Food And Free Trade Theory”, op. cit.; “Free Trade Versus Food Democracy”, www.iatp.org>issues>Documents>IATP articles/op-eds; “Free Trade: Threat To Food Safety, Security”, www.maryknollogc.org/article/free-trade-threat-food-safety-security). In a number of cases, even at this stage, countries should be tearing out export crops like coffee, cotton and cocoa, and planting food crops instead - at least wherever the land and conditions are appropriate, and where they have no fair trade guaranteed contracts or reliable markets. Food first for local people should be the imperative in development planning. Food security or rather food sovereignty must be the operative watchwords. Regional and international trade and investment should be as supportive as possible for the facilitation of local and national food self-sufficiency, i.e. within the terms of ecological integrity and practicality.
Our own Minister of Trade Tim Groser, a dedicated free trader, is on record as saying that the words “food security” stick in his throat. The arrogant and egotistical Groser can certainly talk with a pretentiously self-interested plum in his mouth. He clearly gags on the principles of social justice and fairness. If he finds the idea of “food security” upsetting, he must be mortified to the point of choking on the idea of “food sovereignty” (see Food First, www.foodfirst.org/; La Via Campesina - International Peasant Movement: www.viacampesina.org/; and my article “The Growing Food Crisis & The Struggle For Sovereignty”, in Kapatiran 32, October 2009, www.converge.org.nz/psna/Kapatiran/KapNo32/Kapart32/art149.htm). I deal further with this issue below, in relation to the Saudi Arabian/Ethiopian/NZ agricultural trade deal - one actually touted by the NZ government as having the aim of “food security”.
Tim Groser was recently a candidate for the post of Director-General of the WTO. The US-controlled Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), which operates in NZ under the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence/covert action agreement, was exposed by Edward Snowden for spying on rival candidates for this very important international position. The NZ government was obviously not just acting in its own interests here but in its usual role as a client state within the de facto American empire and in close conjunction with US intelligence. Former US Central Intelligence Agency Director, Stansfield Turner, indicated in 1985 how significant the functions of such spying and cyber-warfare would be for the economic interests of the US (“Secrecy And Democracy”, op. cit.). Appropriately enough, Tim Groser is now set instead to replace the notorious “Mad” Mike Moore of “starve the poor” infamy (Moore is a former WTO Director-General) as NZ's next Ambassador to Washington. Close to home, again as previously noted, the lessons from such overseas experiences for Aotearoa/NZ should be glaringly evident. These days, we are contesting corporate forces that seek more predatory control: over our land, over our primary production processes and resources; the stewardship of our environment; and over our lives in general. As we have repeatedly stressed, so often the nexus of agriculture, industry and trade operates to benefit a relatively few at the expense of deepening inequalities, and further damage to the environment.
Conundrums And Challenges Aplenty
Capitalism is dedicated to continuous economic growth at any expense to the natural world - to the effective death of the very planetary biosphere which sustains our own life form (“Globalisation & The Environment”, Peter Christoff & Robyn Eckersley, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013). In the long run, we may well be all dead as Lord Keynes so famously said. It is, however, the height of stupidity or pathological behaviour to seek such an end. From global warming to mutual nuclear suicide, the captains of industry, the men in suits, etc. assiduously pursue their destiny. Capitalism is committed to endlessly growing production and consumption. Eventually, for sure, on a small, vulnerable planet this must be a nonsense. These limits apply even if you are one of those modern consumerist urbanites (and their rural confreres) with no emotional connection at all to the natural world (ibid. p62). The unreality of capitalist ideology is often quite surreal. For instance, in welcoming new Green Party Co-Leader James “Shaw's chance to refocus the Greens”, the Press Editor Joanna Norris and her editorial team remarked that: he has a background “in business, including working for the likes of PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) advising such pillars of capitalism as BP and Coca-Cola on how to conduct their businesses more sustainably… Shaw's own business experience gives the lie to the notion that environmental issues and sound business are necessarily opposed. As National's business supporters and National itself are acutely aware, good business and the environment nowadays are more often in lockstep” (1/6/15). Frankly speaking, as already emphasised, this is simply “greenwash” rubbish starkly evident from National's own record and policies to date: from increasing our commitment to fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions to undermining the environmental protection provided by the Resource Management Act (RMA), and from destroying wetlands by mining ancient swamp kauri to failing to properly safeguard the Maui's dolphin and other endangered animal species, let alone the logic of capitalist growth.
Capitalism, indeed, is truly the doctrine of the cancer cell but its purveyors, especially via the mainstream PR media, have to try and hide or obscure the truth at every opportunity. The Press editorial even blatantly fails on its terms with the two TNC examples cited. BP was responsible for the disastrous blowout and pollution of the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. This is aside, of course, from BP's role as a fossil fuel company contributing substantially to climate change, among other environmental fallout right up to the present. As for Coca-Cola, its record on both human rights and environmental damage is notorious to those who bother to take a hard, close look (e.g., “Belching Out The Devil: Global Adventures With Coca-Cola”, Mark Thomas, Ebury Press, 2008).
The Limits To Growth: The Case Of Nitrogen And Nitrate Pollution
Expert environmental assessment has identified nine planetary boundaries or limits to growth (Planetary Boundaries, www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_boundaries; The Nine Planetary Boundaries: www.stockholmresilience.org/, 22/1/15). Short-term goals prevail at whatever the longer-term cost. “Our planet's ability to provide an accommodating environment is being challenged by our own activities. The global environment - our life-support system of the biosphere - is changing rapidly from the stable Holocene state of the last 12,000 years, during which we developed agriculture, villages, cities, and contemporary civilisations to an unknown future state of significantly different conditions” (Steffen, Rockstrom & Costanza , cited in “Planetary Boundaries”, ibid.). This new human-dominated era is called the “Anthropocene”. It has been established that three of the nine planetary boundaries have already been crossed: climate change; biodiversity loss (including species extinction) or change in biosphere integrity; and the biogeochemical flow (phosphorus & nitrogen cycles) boundary (ibid. see also “The Nine Planetary Boundaries”, op. cit.).
Now another human boundary violation, a fourth, has just been added in 2015 in light of the findings of the latest research – land-system change, e.g. deforestation (“Earth Has Crossed Several 'Planetary Boundaries': Thresholds Of Human-Induced Environmental Changes”, https://scripps.ucsd.edu/news/earth-has-crossed-several-planetary-boundaries-thresholds-human-induced-environmental-changes). So humankind has crossed four of the nine planetary boundaries. International research involving the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, along with a number of other such reputable bodies, and published in a recent issue of the journal Science (16/1/15), has determined there is an increasing “risk of large-scale disruption of nature” (ibid.). The other five planetary boundaries are: stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; freshwater use; atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate & living organisms); and the introduction of novel entities (e.g., organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nano-materials, and micro-plastics).
We can see here immediately - i.e. if we are fairly familiar with the relevant evidence - that the other planetary boundaries are also under significant stress. As well, while the principle of planetary boundaries is vitally important in enabling us to understand the limits to growth, the biosphere is a vast ecologically interactive system and a focus on how individual boundaries stack up can be somewhat misleading. This needs to be kept very much in mind as we monitor the state of our own island environment in the context of planetary boundaries. For instance, in Aotearoa/NZ, excessive flows of nitrogen and phosphorus are obviously affecting freshwater use, the deleterious outcome primarily being water pollution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_pollution_in_New_Zealand). Back in the past, I once researched the community response to the sewerage works’ contamination of Christchurch's Avon-Heathcote Estuary. The parlous condition of the Estuary was later remedied. But, sadly, the 2010/11Christchurch earthquakes have now severely damaged this local ecosystem. Over the years, Aotearoa/NZ as a whole has lamentably undergone a process of ever worsening water contamination despite expressed governmental concerns. Bad environmental management driven by neo-liberalism is clearly to blame for so much of this state of affairs. Today, Dr. “Landslides” Nick Smith is committed to the implementation of his “blue-green” policies, including the creation of lots more blue-green cyanobacteria blooms in our freshwaters as eutrophication spreads across the country. Eutrophication is the process whereby nutrient enrichment of freshwater by the runoff of nitrate and phosphate fertilisers, among other sources of pollution, causes algae and associated plant growth, robbing aquatic systems of sufficient oxygen and light for some species, and at worst turning waters toxic for fish and other forms of life.
The Technical Fix Syndrome
Fundamental to the pursuit of economic growth is the application of scientific knowledge driving the development of commercially relevant expertise, products and services for sale in the domestic and/or global markets. In recent times, computers and associated electronic instruments and systems, and their multiple capacities for communication and manipulation have figured hugely in research and development (R&D), investment, application, consumer appeal, and corresponding world sales. This modern obsession with technology, above all these days with information technology (IT), reflects a deep, underlying malaise of Western civilisation (“The Pentagon Of Power”, vol. II of “The Myth Of The Machine”, Lewis Mumford, Secker & Warburg, 1964/70; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Mumford; www.e360.yale.edu/feature/too_many_people_too_much_consumption/2041/ , op. cit.). .
While there is certainly much potential that can be harnessed from IT in aid of increased sustainability, the Western idea of progress has long been fixated on the ad hoc “technical fix” approach, rather than on ecologically attuned and integrated development. It is an expression of the cultural “Myth Of The Machine” as elaborated by leading environmentalist and social critic Lewis Mumford (ibid.). With the rise of the dairy industry in Aotearoa/NZ, agricultural development has exemplified elements of this technical fix outlook and its corresponding management of resources and environmental impact. A graphic example of this mentality at work was Fonterra's use of the chemical dicyandiamide (DCD) to try and dampen down nitrogen run-off into our waterways. Instead of adopting sound environmental practice, the dairy industry tried to rely on the technical fix of DCD, which has been used in NZ to increase grass growth and reduce nitrate leaching from the soil into rivers and streams (“Safety Of Dairy Products”, Fonterra, https://www.fonterra.com/). DCD's use in NZ was suspended in September 2012 after traces of it had been detected as a potential risk to some dairy products. The Government advises that there are no food safety issues since the DCD residues were only “at extremely low levels” (ibid.). Taken together, however, with other publicly notified concerns like the melamine poisoning tragedy in China and the scare over suspect whey protein, the DCD case dealt Fonterra another international blow to its PR image.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the environmental scene in Aotearoa/NZ is the cooptation or even intimidation of much of scientific academia over the years under the pressures of neo-liberalism. This has been particularly marked under the systematic dirty politics practised by the John Key-led government working hand-in-glove with a majority of the mainstream media (see “Dirty Politics: How Attack Politics Is Poisoning NZ's Political Environment”, Nicky Hager, Craig Potton, 2014, reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdog 137, December 2014, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/37/13.html; and my articles “Media Manipulation”, in Watchdog 136, September 2014, www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/36/07.html; and “Subverting Democracy”, in Watchdog 137, December 2014, www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/37/04.html). In an excellent article giving an overview of NZ's environmental management, Richard McLachlan surveys the political “Climate Of Fear” that has emerged (Werewolf 55, 28/5/15: http://werewolf.co.nz/2015/03/climate-of-fear/). In particular, Massey University freshwater ecologist, Dr. Mike Joy, has had to endure a constant bombardment of personal criticism from Government, corporate and dairy industry agents in his admirable one-man crusade to try and improve the water quality of our streams, rivers and lakes. There has been an 800% increase in the use of nitrogen fertiliser during the last 25 years here in Aotearoa/NZ (ibid.). The application of nitrogen fertiliser is seen as routine and necessary for conventional farming, although there are now some efforts to promote what is defined as “accurate, balanced fertiliser use” (Press, 15/5/15). Dr. Joy rightly rues the loss of the ANZECC (Australian & NZ Environment and Conservation Council) guideline for nitrate levels in the Government's 2014 National Policy Statement for freshwater (Press, 13/4/15). He points to the polluted Mississippi and Yangtze Rivers as heralding our own future (see also Special Feature: “Water Wars: Who Will Win The Battle For Control Of Our Most Vital Asset?”, Dave Hansford, NZ Geographic 125, January/February 2014).
The problems continue to grow as signalled by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. There are ongoing issues throughout the country. For example: “The proposed Hunter Downs Irrigation Scheme Trust (HDIST) will put water quality at risk in all nearby streams and tributaries”, according to the Lower Waitaki River Management Society (“Irrigation Proposal 'Threat To Waterways'”, Press, 23/6/15). This Society says that the South Canterbury HDIST scheme's consent application to discharge nutrients will exceed the nitrate-nitrogen threshold which was intended to be sustainable and had been set by a local zone committee, which had done “a huge amount of consultation work” to try and achieve this specific goal (ibid.).
Synthetics Versus Organics
Nitrogen fertilisers are made in an energy-intensive manufacturing process from natural gas which supplies hydrogen while the actual nitrogen component is extracted from air. These chemical fertilisers substitute for the natural nutrient cycles of the soils. Far-sighted biologist, plant scientist, and environmentalist Professor Barry Commoner has succinctly explained the function of artificial fertiliser in crop farming practice: “Because of the shift from manure, legumes, and other organic fertilisers, the crop's nutrition is no longer provided by a biological cycle, driven by renewable, freely available solar energy; instead, by using inorganic fertiliser, it has become dependent on non-renewable, increasingly expensive fossil fuels” (“The Poverty Of Power: Energy And The Economic Crisis”, Jonathan Cape, 1976, p165). Commoner calculated that the energy efficiency of using natural biological means like vetches and clovers is far greater than the use of artificial or synthetic fertilisers (ibid. see p167 highlighting this particular point). This is even more the case when the full process of production and environmental end costs are properly taken into account. In “The World's Greatest Fix: A History Of Nitrogen & Agriculture” (OUP, 2004) Professor GJ Leigh celebrated the role of nitrogen fertiliser in helping feed humankind's growing population. But most ironically, in the very decade that Leigh's book was published, scientists were “warning that we must move quickly to revolutionise agricultural systems and greatly reduce the amount of nitrogen we put into the planet's ecosystems” (The Nitrogen Fix: Breaking A Costly Addiction, Fred Pearce, 5/11/09: www.e360.yale.edu/feature/the_nitrogen_fix_breaking_a_costly_addiction/2207/). Otherwise, we will disrupt natural cycles and systems at our peril.
As Professor Barry Commoner also indicated long ago, so much of the threat of nitrogen pollution is driven by the profit motive and capitalist greed. He warned then that “a high rate of profit is associated with practices that are particularly stressful toward the environment”, and “when these practices are restricted, profits decline” (“The Closing Circle: Confronting The Environmental Crisis”, Jonathan Cape, 1971, p263). He advocated strongly for the only feasible, humane solution to the planetary crisis engendered by the activities of humankind – “eco-socialism”, which of course is the very bête noire of global capitalism (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Commoner).
Geopolitical Land Grab And The Erosion Of Food Security
As we have repeatedly seen, the geopolitical flipside of free trade is so often militarist coercion, or the hidden fist behind the “invisible hand” of the free market. We have referred above to a triangular trade and agricultural “food security” project between Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and NZ. To date, discussion and debate in Aotearoa/NZ have focused on the relationship between NZ and Saudi Arabia. The Ethiopian dimension of this particular project seems undeveloped as yet. So far this dimension has got virtually no media or critical attention. The triangular project, from what can be gleaned, relates to an effort to get round NZ's ban on live sheep trade with Saudi Arabia by setting up a sheep farm in Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest countries, and exporting stock for slaughter to the Arab Kingdom. Its ultimate aim is to try and grease an FTA between NZ and Saudi Arabia. The National government has spent $11.2 million in a crony capitalist deal with the Saudi Al Khalaf group in establishing a so-called trade and “agribusiness hub” centred on a Dammam “model” or “demonstration” farm in the Saudi desert as an obvious bribe to facilitate the keenly desired FTA with the Kingdom (e.g. Press, 28/5/15 and 3 & 5/6/15). The businessman, Hamood Al Ali Khalaf, who heads the Al Khalaf group, has apparently been very upset for years at NZ's continuing ban on the live sheep trade to his country, and has personally been a major obstacle to the proposed FTA because of this ban.
Outrageously enough, the NZ corporate farming firm involved in the project, Hastings-based Brownrigg Agriculture, which contributed to the construction of the model Saudi farm, is part-owned (25%) by the Al Khalaf group. This Saudi outfit has other properties in Aotearoa/NZ (per Awassi NZ Land Holdings). It supplied nearly 200 out of the 900 pregnant sheep air freighted to the Saudi model farm as breeding stock (“Saudi-Bound Sheep Bought From Man Govt Gave Them To”, NZ Farmer.co.nz , 4/6/15, http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/69110144/Saudi-bound-sheep-bought-from-man-Govt-gave-them-to). There have been serious and worrying animal welfare issues relating to the Dammam model farm which, in the words of John Key, is supposedly intended to “showcase NZ agriculture”. About 100 ewes have died while 75% of the lambs born have also suffered the same fate. NZ Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) has been deeply involved in helping set up the Saudi model farm and trade/agribusiness hub as part of its ongoing role in the triangular so-called “food security” project.
NZ Deal Benefits Saudi Arabia Only, Not Ethiopia
Of great concern to anyone genuinely concerned about the purported aim of the project embracing the three participant countries is that the touted “food security” is intended for Saudi Arabia. It is certainly not meant to help reduce the widespread poverty and malnutrition in Ethiopia on a sustainable basis. A large number of people within Ethiopia's population of 90 million are currently subject to the rule of the militarist market as enforced by their own repressive government and this regime's foreign collaborators. Now NZ has most perniciously shown its hand as one of these foreign oppressors. The National government has joined the Africa land grab and the worldwide scramble for farmland at the calculated expense of the poor, hungry and vulnerable, adding to our already lamentable record on free trade and food (“NZ And Ethiopia Sign Food Security Agreement”, 28/1/14, http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/nz-and-ethiopia-sign-food-security-agreement; www.nzmebc.org.nz/home/nzmebc-march-2014-newsletter/, 15/3/14, NZTE). New Zealand opened a diplomatic post in Addis Ababa in 2013. It is seeking to “assist in the development of commercial agriculture in Ethiopia and to build food security partnerships in the region”, i.e. according to the official line. The global rich and powerful elite is grabbing as much of the world's prime land as possible to ensure its food supply (“The Race For What's Left”, op. cit.; The Global Movement To Rollback Africa Land Grab”, www.stopafricalandgrab.com/; www.farmlandgrab.org/; see also Pacific Ecologist issues cited earlier).
The export of food from lands where people starve has long been capitalist policy and practice. With regard to meat exporting from poor countries, the NZTE was a sponsor of a new meat abattoir in Niger in 2010 (see my article “Corporatising Agriculture” in Watchdog 125, December 2010, www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/25/03.htm). In the 21st Century, for various reasons, Ethiopia has become a prime capitalist target on the African continent for foreign control land grabs and exploitation in cahoots with a crony capitalist government. It is clear that the majority of Ethiopia's people will suffer greatly from this new imperialism affecting the most basic human need of all, food for survival (“Understanding Land Investment Deals In Africa: Country Report Ethiopia”, www.oaklandinstitute.org/). Ethiopia's fragile environment is being pillaged. Ethiopia is even trying to develop a textile industry based on domestic cotton production, which is irrigation-fed on fertile land suitable for growing food crops. Evidently, this country is particularly vulnerable to the deleterious effects of climate change (ibid.). We need to stop the NZ government's participation in such deplorable agribusiness schemes.
Apparently, NZ has been working in lockstep with the US in the North Africa/Middle East region to some considerable degree. USAID has long been scoping and encouraging the prospects for meat exports from countries like Mali, Niger and Ethiopia. The so-called “Saudi agribusiness hub” near Dammam cultivated by NZ is obviously modelled on the operations of USAID in the region. “Hub” is very much American jargon as exemplified in USAID documents, the sort of lingo that NZ business and governments love to ape in their usual subservient and brainwashed fashion. Back home, the Al Khalaf group has even been part of the operation to ship a very large contingent of live breeding sheep and some cattle to drought-hit Mexico, again raising serious animal welfare concerns (“Saudi Multimillionaire Owns Feedlot Where Mexico-Bound Sheep Fed”, NZFarmer.co.nz, 13/6/15: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/agribusiness/69344981/saudi-multimillionaire-owns-feedlot-where-mexicobound-sheep-fed; www.safe.org.nz/articles/100615/massive-live-sheep-export-nz). The Key government is obviously working to try and restore the iniquitous mass, long-distance live animal trade as much as possible. It seems to be hand-in-glove with the Al Khalaf group and other vested interests, whatever the denials – yet another very disturbing aspect of the crony capitalism running loose today in our agricultural sector.
Choosing Alternative Development Paths
The technical fix of nitrogen fertilisers works so well with the downside of ruinous water pollution exactly because of its narrowly focused aim, and consequent failure to integrate positively with the rest of the ecosystem. “Modern, highly concentrated, nitrogen fertilisers result in the drainage of nitrate pollutants into streams and lakes just because they succeed in the aim of raising the nutrient level of the soil” (“The Closing Circle”, op.cit. p185). Barry Commoner stressed the contradiction expressed by this particular technical fix: “The new technology is an economic success – but only because it is an ecological disaster” (ibid. p151). Professor Commoner was, of course, an American citizen. Today, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are even afflicted by a very large “dead zone” due to all the pollution, especially fertiliser runoff, spilling out of the Mississippi – again, just the sort of fallout that Commoner so presciently predicted. Dead zones are spreading around the world's oceans and large lakes. They are hypoxic (low oxygen) areas caused by excessive nutrient pollution and other factors that stifle most life forms). The excessive, extravagant, and wasteful energy use in modern industrial systems of production that he also warned about, among so many other deleterious outcomes he predicted, has been taking its toll in the form of global warming and climate change, along with the acidification of the planet's oceans, etc. Toxic algal blooms evidently caused by global warming are now impacting heavily on marine life, e.g. a large West Coast toxic algae bloom “closing fisheries from California to Washington [states]” (Sunday Star Times, 21/6/15), with both these states ravaged of late by drought, searing temperatures and wildfires.
In November 2013 the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment had declared that we were facing “a classic economy versus environment dilemma” with the intensification of agriculture, especially dairying (“Climate Of Fear”, op. cit.). And, as noted, in 2015 she has repeated her call for change. The simplistic pursuit of the “white gold” of dairy production is badly misconceived. The Government is keenly pushing a big boost in irrigation schemes for this industry via its Crown Irrigation Fund and related initiatives. Archaeological and historical records show that the intensification of agriculture and irrigation systems was often a critical factor in the collapse of past civilisations, often in conditions of warmer weather and drought (see, e.g. “Farming & Energy: Lessons From Collapsed Civilisations”, 1/3/12, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/mar/01/lessons-history-collapsed-civilisations). Examples of such collapsed civilisations include the very “cradle of civilisation” in the ancient kingdom of Mesopotamia, i.e. the former kingdom in those present-day countries of Syria, Iraq and Iran, which are now so tragically torn by fierce conflict, socio-economic disruption, and massive human suffering due primarily to Western manipulation and intervention stemming from their predation of fossil fuel resources. Other historical examples relate to the fate of the Mayan civilisation of Central America and probably that of the Indus Valley (Harappan) civilisation.
The eventual failures of irrigation systems, particularly owing to intensification and over-exploitation on marginal lands and during unfavourable climatic shifts, contributed substantially to societal collapse. Salinisation and water-logging could be critically debilitating causes. A lesson too, perhaps, even comes from the “Christian dairy-farming Norse” in Greenland during the mediaeval era (ibid.). The Norse failed to adapt to their declining grasses and cattle by taking up alternative economic and survival options available, e.g. fishing as practised by the indigenous Inuit whom they despised (ibid.). The general lesson for us from all these past experiences is to adapt creatively to a changing environment, or develop better economic practices to sustain your livelihood, or adopt a combination of these strategies. For such adaptation to work effectively in the long run, it is imperative for the people concerned to marshal the best environmental knowledge available. In the 21st Century, by developing “renewable energy technologies and agro-ecological farming” we can avoid the mistakes of the past (ibid.). In our case, we actually have the opportunity to counter climate change to a very considerable extent by taking genuine, pre-emptive action, something to which our Government, lamentably enough, is quite opposed. Pope Francis has blazed an example for world leaders with his call for urgent action on the climate change issue, condemning the rich for their exploitation of the poor and the Earth. He has appealed for the rich to change their lifestyle, an essential step in saving the biosphere and so humankind, and other living species (see also Chris Hedges, “The System Of Global Capitalism Is Breaking Down”, 22/5/15, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/munk-debates/chris-hedges-the-system-of-global-capitalism-is-breaking-down/article24566539/; for a summary background on the global crisis we face refer to: Summary Of Global Problems & Crises”, www.radford.edu/~gmartin/global%20crises.htm ).
In light of how the militarist market functions in service of the objectives of free trade, we need to press home the campaigns against the TPPA and similar projects and initiatives aimed at giving TNCs increased power over our lives. As usual, this means working as hard as we can with overseas activists and NGOs in international cooperation for a better world and a worthwhile future. It also means helping other peoples as in Ethiopia and elsewhere in their struggles against elite exploitation and foreign control. Forging international solidarity together for people and environment on our globalised planet is more urgent and vital than ever, in both striving effectively for sustainable development and countering all the negative factors in our way.
Postscript (November 2015)
This postscript briefly reviews and updates some relevant events and issues since the above article was finished in June 2015. NZ's prime dairy industry has been hit hard by lower demand from China, in conjunction with other economic and geopolitical shifts in the configurations of the global market (e.g. “NZ Trade Deficit Expands”, Press, 27/8/15). Sadly, a number of our farmers are severely stressed. Yet another global recession might soon be upon us, hot on the heels of the 2008/09 global financial crisis. The trough of the world economy is inexorably hollowing out as global capitalism digs a deeper hole for everybody. Wealth is concentrating with hugely ominous implications (“Richest 1% Own Half Of World's Wealth”, Press, 17/10/15; “Twenty-First-Century Fascism”, 21/10/15: www.counterpunch.org). American Sociology Professor Peter Phillips, who is also President of Media Freedom/Project Censored, aptly indicates how the tiny “transnational capitalist class” uses free trade agreements (FTAs) and other means to consolidate their control (“21st Century Fascism”, ibid.). How about some creative alternative thinking for a new model of development?! But capitalist blindness is insatiable. After all, milk prices seem to be picking up again and the standard expectation of interminable commodity cycles still prevails. An NZ Institute of Economic Research economist, Christina Leung, says that “even with the uncertainties about Chinese economic growth”, demand will continue to grow for our “high-value goods and services”(“Economy In Shadow”, Press, 27/8/15 – in the same edition referenced above). Leung opined: “We are well placed” (ibid.).
NZ Trade Minister, Tim Groser, as a most enthusiastic agent of evolutionary overshoot, has correspondingly criticised anti-TPPA movement people as “completely extreme”. Groser is the crazy one. But then this sort of madness is very much conventional mainstream thinking, the very hallmark of global capitalism and its creed of neo-liberalism. Most ironically again, the TPPA (now provisionally agreed) is openly aimed by the US at trying to counter Chinese economic influence as part of American militarist market strategy (“Trade Deal A Challenge To China”, Press, 7/10/15; “Militarist Market Strategy And Tactics: Global Capitalist Ideology And Growing Crisis”, Dennis Small, Peace Researcher 50, November 2015). Meantime, the Government and the Labour Party have been heartily celebrating the new NZ/South Korean FTA and so embracing what is, at times, the most precariously dangerous nuclear frontline on the planet! In similar fashion, increasing climate change-induced and aggravated problems, declining world ecosystems, etc. are merely collateral damage for capitalist ideologues. The fallout from this syndrome in 2015 has been starkly highlighted by the record devastating drought and wildfires in California, followed by raging floods, and landslides. Wildfires and floods have also torn through other American states. “Militarist Market Strategy And Tactics: Global Capitalist Ideology And Growing Crisis”, Dennis Small, Peace Researcher 50, November 2015, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr/50/pr50-007.html)
Worldwide, major flash floods and mud/landslides have hit countries from the Philippines to Guatemala and from Greece to Mexico (struck by Hurricane Patricia – the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere!). Aotearoa/NZ has continued to undergo similar events in 2015. The El Nino phenomenon is predicted to impact severely on NZ agriculture in the coming summer as part of a cyclic yet increasingly disturbed regional weather pattern. And even the Government's own official “Environment Aotearoa Report 2015” recognises that intensive dairy farming is causing serious and increasing nitrogen pollution of our waterways (up 12% in rivers since 1990 and due to grow) with mushrooming algal blooms and heavily compacted soils (e.g. One News at 6pm, TV1, 21/10/15; “Dairy Industry Must 'Lift Its Game'”, Press, 22/10/15). The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr. Jan Wright, has well warned that the Government's report shows the country is generally going in the wrong direction (One News, ibid.). This all amounts to a complete vindication of Dr. Mike Joy's campaign to save our freshwater but the Government is still intent on further intensification of dairy farming.
Resistance Forges On
Greater capitalist concentration and foreign control are proceeding apace with takeovers of indebted farms and businesses, on the way to making us tenants in our own land. The takeover of the former Silver Fern Farms cooperative by Shanghai Maling, “a listed subsidiary of Bright Food (Group) Co., China's largest food company”, signals the rapidly mounting loss of democratic control of our agricultural sector (Press, 17-18/10/15). By 2011, about 10% of NZ farmland was already “overseas owned or controlled” (www.canterbury.cyberplace.org.nz/community/CAFCA/key-facts.html). Privatisation of much Crown-owned high country land from pastoral lease into freehold under the tenure review process has been one of the key trends leading to increased irrigation (“Canterbury's Alien Landscapes”, Press, 28/10/15). As a result, excessive nitrogen and phosphorus run-off into alpine waterways is proving most deleterious (“Polluted Paradise: Water Quality In Our High Country Lakes Is Declining, As Farming Intensifies”, Press, 12-13/9/15). Research by KPMG shows that during the past few years a significant percentage of our rural land - 5% in five years - has come under foreign control (“Foreign Direct Investment In NZ: Trends and Insights – KPMG, August 2015, www.kpmg.com/). True to form, the mainstream media were typically biased in their very neo-liberal treatment of the KPMG findings. For instance, TV1 reports avidly promoted the pro-foreign investment views of Dr. Bryce Wilkinson, a representative of the comprador, TNC-oriented, so-called NZ Initiative (e.g., One News at Midday, 17/8/15). The media are dedicated to this sort of manipulation - from corporate foreign control to foreign wars (www.johnpilger.com/articles/war-by-media-and-the-triumph-of-propaganda; Noam Chomsky – “Top 10 Media Manipulation Strategies”, www.theinternationalcoalition.blogspot.com/). But the resistance movement for constructive change forges on!