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Everybody Angry? - Or the Chronicle of a Fury Foretold.

Updated: May 18


 


Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.

Benjamin Franklin




Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.

James Thurber




Protesting farmers in Madrid, Spain Photo: Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters






The audio version of this blog post.





It will not have escaped anyone's notice that European farmers are angry.

From Spain to Poland, from Italy to the Netherlands, they took to the streets with their tractors, blocked roads, set fire to cars and sprayed government buildings with manure.


Some professional sectors simply have very large equipment at their disposal when they are angry. When the truckers are angry, we notice it as well. When they block highways with their twenty-ton trucks, it doesn't take long for the government to make some concessions. You have to send in tanks if you really want to argue with truckers or farmers.


The average climate or animal rights activist does not have such rolling stock available, and has to make do with other means. Chaining himself or herself to something large and immovable, for example. Or lying down with one's own flimsy body in the way of something or someone (or climbing on something, like Julia Butterfly Hill, which I talked about in this and this musing).

So be it. I'm not going to be fainthearted and jealous. Nor am I going to buy a tractor or truck to bolster my own arguments.

But it doesn't hurt to point out the different treatment accorded climate activists and protesting farmers. Climate activists in Europe have recently faced more and more violence and highly repressive measures, including excessive prison sentences, while farmers who block roads and spray government buildings full of manure usually get away with it without much legal repercussions.






Let me first of all make it clear that I absolutely understand that farmers are angry. They have been sandwiched for decades between ever-tightening regulations and the merciless competition among distributors and supermarket chains, and the constant need to scale up, resulting in an unlivable workload for an increasingly meager income. New rules regarding reduction of fertilizers and pesticides or control of nitrogen emissions are often clumsily implemented without much regard for the difficult situation in which European farmers have found themselves for years. The entire agricultural sector is one of the areas where neoliberal capitalism makes wrong just about everything that can go wrong. Everything is exploited: the people, the animals, the land. There is no way within the space of a blog post to give even just a summary of how wrong our present system of agriculture is, and how we live within a great illusion of ‘food-security’ and within the illusion that things can go on like this.


But rejecting much-needed change is delaying execution.

The changes that will be needed in agriculture will have to go much, much further than what is currently on the table. The model of industrial agriculture is not only a very vulnerable giant but also a system that is inevitably ‘self-terminating’. You can compare our current form of large-scale industrial agriculture that relies so heavily on pesticides and fertilizers to a drug addict: it takes an ever-increasing ‘shot’ to get the same ‘high’, and the hangover afterwards is ever-increasing.


It also ends badly anyway both for the addict and for our agriculture, because the drugs (in the case of our agriculture fertilizers and pesticides) destroy the addict's body. It is a war we are waging against nature and against ourselves, and it is causing the land to be completely depleted (we are losing about the area of Greece in fertile topsoil every year), it is causing the microbiome in that topsoil to die, the water table to drop further and further, life in and around our fields to disappear at a rapid pace. Our current system of agriculture is also the biggest source of greenhouse gases, the biggest driver of biodiversity loss, one of the biggest causes of dead zones in the oceans, and so on and so forth. Not to mention industrial livestock ranching, which is itself one of the biggest 'culprits' in terms of land use (or rather abuse), deforestation and loss of biodiversity, and remains a morally unjustifiable torture for hundreds of millions of animals. No, I am not going to go into detail about all the ways in which our current form of agriculture is absolutely unsustainable. You can read more in my essays ‘Our War on Ourselves’ and ‘Let Us Not Talk About the Climate Crisis Any Longer (Part One)’ on the website.


But the good news is that there are solutions up for grabs, and none of the problems we face are insurmountable. More than that, many of the solutions that will make our agriculture sustainable will help solve many of the other problems. For example, regenerative agriculture can capture much of our greenhouse gas emissions, help regenerate the soil AND help restore biodiversity. Agriculture will be one of the key factors in our response to the climate and biodiversity crisis.


But I won't go into all the ways in which we can change agriculture, because that too would go too far within the scope of a blog post. But in short: we will have to switch (among other things) to regenerative agriculture on a massive scale, and that will require no less than a revolution in the way we deal with agriculture on an unprecedented scale. And it is only one of the upheavals we face, for just as our system of industrial agriculture is unsustainable, so too are our current use of resources and energy, our technology for transaction of value that we commonly call ‘money’, and especially the concept of ‘interest’ that necessitates exponential economic growth, incompatible with a livable planet. We face upheavals in industrial production, employment, trade, education, and so on, which will (must) change our world almost beyond recognition. If we don't make those changes, the planet will do it for us, and that process will be much more painful than if we do it ourselves. If the planet has to do it for us, chances are also that we won't be around to witness the result. So serious is the need for comprehensive change.







But if we will have to go much further in our reform of our agriculture than we do now, and if we face similar revolutions in so many fields, it follows that in the near future just about everyone will have reason to be angry. At least, if the necessary reforms are approached in the way they are today: seemingly arbitrary, inconsistent, without much regard for the human consequences of the new rules, without the necessary communication, without large-scale support to get through these transitions, without a vision of a society beyond continuing to facilitate a system that favors a few at the expense of the majority of the population. The revolution will be socially just, or it will not be.

But socially just can no longer mean that all of us will always have more. It does mean that those who have a lot will contribute more, and that the richest and the big corporations will have to contribute a lot more than they do now. And that the entire global financial system, which creates a few winners who acquire absurd levels of wealth but traps hundreds of millions of people in artificial scarcity and poverty, and which needs exponential growth in order to continue to exist, can no longer exist in its current form.


Social justice does mean that farmers, like other populations who will be among the first to face the particularly profound upheavals we will have to go through, will be respected in that difficult transition and given all the support that will be needed, and that will be a lot. We will need nothing less than a kind of Marshall plan for agriculture, with a phased and well-planned implementation of all these reforms on a European scale in a way that gives people breathing space and security. Agriculture will also become much more labor-intensive. According to some estimates, a massive switch to regenerative agriculture could have higher yields per hectare than current industrial monocultures, but be much more labor intensive. Possibly about 20 percent of the population will work in agriculture again in the future, where it is now a few percent in Europe. Still, food prices can be kept under control by the clever use of subsidies, subsidies that are also massive in the case of agriculture today, but which now go to the wrong and unsustainable practices.


But what will also and perhaps above all be needed is much more information for the general public about the necessary reforms. We actually need a penetrating and relentless information campaign that makes it clear to the people of the EU (and other industrialized nations that face the same challenges) why measures such as those in agriculture are not only necessary but will have to go much further. Why we will have to deal differently not only with agriculture, but also with energy, with raw materials and resources, and with countless aspects of what we call ‘economics’...

Information will be essential to prevent this anger from turning into a movement in the opposite direction than the one needed: a return to denial of the problems and stubborn adherence to the status quo, as reactionary and far-right movements in Europe and beyond are trying to bring about. George Monbiot describes in this article the chilling precedents of how the far-right is trying to reclaim peasant anger.

Monbiot: "It all looks horribly familiar. As the historian Robert Paxton points out, "It was in the countryside that both Mussolini and Hitler won their first mass following, and it was angry farmers who provided their first mass constituency. Not all agrarian populism was right wing. In Russia, the US, France, Spain and Italy, there were socialist and anarchist strands. But while some progressive forms remain, the dominant varieties gravitate once more to the far right. And other agrarian strains, promoting conspiracy fictions, are beginning to sound like it."


And the far-right will have much to take advantage of: rising cost of living , rising inequality, the impossibility of providing people with a decent livelihood in the current economic system, migration that will systematically increase and reach unprecedented proportions as the climate crisis grows in severity and turns millions of people into ‘climate refugees’, and so on and so forth. One of the greatest threats to our future is not so much the crises we face themselves. I believe -with many others- that all those crises can be overcome and that that process can even lead to a much better world. No, the greater threat is the possibility that our societies will deny the challenges we face and succumb to the temptation of (for example) the far right, an experiment we have already been through, and we know how that ends. And that, instead of moving forward to the next stage of our development, we will barricade ourselves in anger, in denial, in a last convulsive attempt to preserve what we (think we) have, in a regression to authoritarian forms of government, nationalism, anti-European sentiment, and ultimately in violence.


To prevent that in the near future everyone will be angry, and our society will slide into a state of permanent (civil) warfare against all kinds of enemies (Europe, migrants, anyone on the other side of the political spectrum, and before you know it also writers, journalists, activists, artists, the entire LGBTQ community, intellectuals, or anyone who disagrees with the marching orders - we know how it ends, been there, done that, haven’t we), it will be desirable or even necessary for each and every one of us to do our part in the transformations we will be going through. This can be done in endless ways, and each can find a challenge that suits her/his beliefs, talents and walk of life. You can help tremendously by helping to spread information, because lack of accurate information is one of the reasons why people choose anger and even violence. But I believe that no one will be allowed to remain aloof - it will be all hands on deck. No one will be able to say: I have nothing to do with it. No man is an island.


As John Donne (1572 - 1631) put it in his famous poem ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’:


"No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend's were.

Each man's death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee."


Thank you for reading or listening,


Until the next installment,

Filip



Farmers wave the Polish flag during a rally in front of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk's offices to protest the European Green Deal and imports of Ukrainian agricultural products. Photo: Alexandra Szigmiel/Reuters



 




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