Wednesday 9 March 2011

Guest Post: The Importance of Trade

(Edited version of yesterday's comment from Alan)

The UK is a global economy. Without globalism the UK is nothing and the best we can hope for is an agrarian society - think 1400's. Our society imports almost all of our manufactured goods. Even if we manufactured all our goods here, we still need imported minerals.

The UK used most of its minerals in the days of the empire. So where do we get the rare earth minerals to manufacture computers, magnets (wind turbines, tidal, wave, electric engines)? Where are our lithium reserves to make batteries? Where are our copper reserves for all things electrical? Where are our iron reserves to make... well almost everything? Where are our mercury reserves to make CFLs (LEDs require rare earths).

And even if we did somehow magically discover all the minerals we require, where is the energy to mine & refine them? Complete guesstimate - to manufacture all the goods key to our society AND mine and refine all the imaginary minerals would easily double the UK's current energy requirement, possibly triple.

The green answer is simple – just recycle. But that is so naive I don't know where to start. Yes, you can recycle glass easily enough, but we have plenty of silicon (sand). Yes we can recycle paper (to a point – the paper fibres degenerate).

Did they miss the history of 1600's ? The UK ran out of wood: coal saved our butts. Iron smelting almost collapsed with shortages of charcoal, before a smart Brit discovered you can convert coal into coke.

My notebook uses tiny amounts of rare earth minerals - so tiny in fact that the energy required to extract and purify them is astronomical (fighting against entropy). And I have not even touched on modern pharmaceuticals. Have you ever had to take antibiotics? Survived cancer? Sorry - you're dead in Clegg's world - modern chemistry requires all sorts of key catalysts, platinum for example. Had bones pinned together after a bad accident. Sorry, you're a cripple in Clegg's world.

If you plan for a future for your family, either leave the UK - or learn how to farm. Oh, and short the GBP: it is going to fall faster than a lead brick at 50,000 feet.


photo © Nick Drew 2011


Jan said...

The safest option is probably to learn how to farm or at least to grow some veg in the back garden and maybe to keep a goat and a few rabbits and chickens.

Mark Wadsworth said...

a. We've plenty of coal left, and no problems with farm land or water; easily defendable borders; we speak the international lingo etc.

b. The idea that we'd all be better off if we all went back to subsistence farming strikes me as slightly mad.

alan said...

ND - Wow thanks. My first blog post.

MW - Completely agree. Subsistence farming is the end goal of the greens. One of their bibles is "The new complete book of self-sufficiency" by John Seymour.

The "transition movement" is also going down the self-sufficiency path. My local transition group has even been championing "herbal medicine" as a replacement for modern pharma.

One of the authors of TEQ's is very excited about a pet project of his. Creating a society with NO money. That was when I realised that green politicians are not naive, it is communism 2.0 and we are undergoing a silent revolution.

Socialism is no longer the political battleground. The Tories are blissfully unaware of the new world politics. The new political compass is greenism(sic) - subsistence farming Vs modern technology.

Timbo614 said...

It seems to me, reading various articles, that many are subsistence living anyway. They are just doing it on junk food, cigarettes and day-time telly. Surely an outdoor, healthier subsistence would be better for them! Plus the morale boosting effect of NOT being totally dependent on others, achieving something worthwhile etc. It's not going to solve the food price/shortage but it has its own rewards.

alan said...

Timbo - Absolutely. And I have never had a problem with the greens doing their own thing. I've got a lot of respect for farmers, or even someone going self-sufficient (its bloody hard work). Greens have some excellent ideas to improve modern agriculture. Google polyface farm (green capitalism at its best), or read "The one-straw revolution" by Masanobu Fukuoka. (interestingly neither are hippies)

Greens have historically been a counterbalance to modern industry (CFC's, sulphur emissions, fish stocks, river pollution etc). The problem is major (hippie) green policies have taken over mainstream politics, and the long term consequence is forcing the rest of us to adopt their way of life.

Old BE said...

Have any of you read "The Great Before"? Excellent read.

Timbo614 said...

Polyface farm looks like a variant of permaculture - where you balance and mix things up that complement each other and return nutrients to the land. I approve. Polyface farm promote "Localism" but obviously have a big capitalist streak :- Unfortunate shot in the foot:

"I drive to Polyface 150 miles one way in order to get clean meat for my family."

Hmm. That might stop at $7.00 A gallon gas.

[Hippie Policies] "and the long term consequence is forcing the rest of us to adopt their way of life."

No one is going to force you to "subsistence level". Peak Oil = Peak mono-crop industrialised Food production. Small scale localised permaculture does not need oil. It is hugely more productive per ace than mono-cropping, self-sustaining and will give the population something to do.

In the future, I believe it will be a hi-tech lifestyle just different. ipods, ipads, computers will still be there, they will just be insignificant to our lives they will hold no consumerist fascination. As an example my friends laugh at our "Eco Balls" that go in the washing machine instead of powders and stuff. We have now had them over 2 years and there are plenty of refills left. They are non-polluting and effective and very cheap in the long term. They are also (if you go read about them) VERY hi-tech, they just don't look it! :)

Do you give a light bulb or land-line phone or even a car a second thought?

Consumerism & materialism will run their course eventually and people will return to the intrinsically valuable things in life.

Would be capitalist and Trainee Hippie :)

Steven_L said...

Scarey thoughts Alan, but short sterling against what???

alan said...

BE – Nope, but its been ordered!

Timbo – Modern agriculture has to change in a post peak oil world, no question about it. Localism of food is a good idea in principal (low transportation costs), but having global food trade protects against crop failures. The Irish potato famine in 1845 is a good example. The main food crop failed and the English refused to export surplus grain to Ireland.

Did you know that the acre was originally defined as the amount of land tillable by one man behind an ox in one day? Farming without modern machinery is incredibly, back breaking, hard work. If you want to get an insight into how hard subsistence life is watch “Snowdonia 1890: The Full Story” its still available on iPlayer. Or “The Edwardian farm” when its next repeated on the BBC. Although in both cases they still had coal.

Think about WW2 and the rations, population was 40m (30m less than today) and we still had some food imports.

Pure permaculture (as far as i've seen) only works on the small scale, and works if you are feeding your family and selling surplus to the local village. Feeding a city is a different matter.

Someone has been telling you porkies, its impossible to get higher yields than modern agriculture. Some permaculture style systems, under very specific conditions, get close to similar yields, but never higher. In the book by Masanobu, he manages to get similar yields for rice and winter wheat.

One of the tenets of permaculture is the abandonment of high technology, not just for agriculture, but as a way of life. I have a big problem with that concept. Permaculture does have lots of great ideas for agriculture in a post peak oil world, but it is not without its flaws. Have you have been on a permaculture design course? I really enjoyed it. I had to hold my tongue though.

Cuba is an interesting case. They were forced into a peak oil type situation with the US embargo and implemented a permaculture type agricultural system, but Cubas population density is less than 1/2 that of the UK, and they have better weather.

In Cleggs world globalism will collapse. The only computers we will have will be repaired and there are limits on how long your can repair a computer as you cant repair chips, hard disks, lcd screens etc. Following the logic of Cleggs vision within a couple of generations the internet and computers will not exist.

UK food production is an obvious flaw (omission) in Cleggs policies.

Nick Drew said...

Steven - short sterling against what???

... you know the answer to this question !!

Timbo614 said...


Thanks for the long reply. Here at C@W is probably not the place for the discussion. But eventually this problem will affect not just the populace but the capitalist as well.

There are many more problems with modern industrialised agriculture than mono-cropping. Over use of fertilisers and their accumulating collateral damage, is one that is creeping up on us the farmers and fishermen. It's being caused by the pressure to produce enough to make a profit at the prices offered by a few supermarket chains not the pressure to produce enough to feed the people. As an aside we should ALL be very interested in the financial health of these few companies, if just one of the big ones collapsed... and yet it is the stated and applauded ultimate capitalist goal that they should drive each other out of business so they can be even bigger (and less resilient)!

Everything: crops, production method, delivery point, size, colour, feel is tailored to requirements of less than half a dozen supermarkets. How resilient is this model? Half (colloquial statement) of the vegetables bought this way cannot be used to grow a new crop - they are sterile! The earth they are grown in is now almost sterile - it is not "earth" it is "Stuff" that with the correct fertilisers can be used by the plant too to hold itself upright :(

I admire you Alan, for taking a permaculture course in the pursuit of knowledge. I have only read about it. The trouble I have, is that 95% of the people I meet and talk to have no concept that there might even be a problem brewing with food, oil, banking, whole countries, they walk around with eyes firmly closed.

We are set on a path that should be re-considered especially where food is concerned. Capitalism and capitalists will have to change/mitigate some methods and aims. The model must become more localised or sustainable if you like, instead of being a mechanism for routing money away from the communities, including countries, spending it - banking being one of the worst offenders. The money must "go around" more often than it does now before it "Goes Global".


alan said...

Timbo - We are on the same page on agriculture & food.

I'm trying to restrain myself from having a major rant about monsanto & biodiversity and the rights of farmers to keep seed for the following year.....

Fun story (I thought it was funny). I was once working for a large pharma company, a division worked on GM crops. Then one day the staff canteen proudly announced that all food in the canteen was going GM free - right hand please meet mr left hand.

The other problems with fertilisers, pesticides etc is it requires a modern petrochemical industry. Nitrogen fertilisers are made from..... natural gas. So even if peak oil, peak minerals etc could be solved agriculture HAS to change.

Food production / security is the one subject that truly scares me. If we couldnt import PC's for a year no real issues. With food, there will be riots within a week and death from starvation within 4-6 weeks.

When thinking if these issues I keep in mind basic wilderness survival knowledge. a) food, water, shelter, fire are required for basic survival. b) you will die from lack of air in 4 minutes, dehydration in 4 days, and starvation in 4 weeks (rough rule of thumb).

Some of the PDC courses are not expensive. And some are run over weekends so you dont need to take time off work. There are courses all over the UK so you shouldn't have to travel too far either.

Timbo614 said...

monsanto - a perfect example of it not being about food production and farming, only about how much cash can be extracted from the process.

"agriculture HAS to change." enough said.