Mary Harrington has written a must-read piece for UnHerd about the current Millenarian mood. She takes several swipes at the World Economic Forum and includes this juicy little nugget I wasn’t aware of: “Last year, the Sri Lankan government was awarded an “Oscar for best policy” by the WEF, for a decision to ban nitrogen fertiliser.” Yes, that’s right, the WEF thought the forced switch to organic farming overnight was a good idea. The resulting food shortages, economic crisis and loss of life led to the President being overthrown in a chaotic coup last week. But unlike my friend James Delingpole, I don’t think the WEF anticipated that consequence of the policy it was rewarding. Hanlon’s Razor applies: never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Here’s the best bit in Mary’s piece:
Can industrial agriculture survive decarbonisation? What will we grow? And who will own the land? Who will work it? Idealists dream of a small-farm revolution, in which hyper-productive smallholders replace pesticide-powered monocroppers. Pessimists, meanwhile, point out that even if millions of us somehow magically acquire the skills and the willingness to embrace agrarian life, land ownership is heading in the opposite direction: Great Reset boogeyman Bill Gates is now the largest owner of farmland in America, and caused outcry last month when he acquired another 2,200 acres in South Dakota. I struggle to imagine him volunteering to hand out his own property portfolio to allotmenteers.
Absent some kind of redistributive revolution, it seems more plausible that agriculture goes high-tech. Robotisation is already in use in some farms, while gene-edited crops are on their way to being waved through by the current Tory administration. And we’re forever being told that insect protein is the food of the future. But this, in turn, means even greater consolidation: fewer workers, bigger fields, larger parcels of land. In other words, more small farmers being forced out of business. And more tech implies an increasing dependency on Big Finance and biotech. If this is the future we get, those now fretting that we’re going to end up as a microchipped useless class, spending our meaningless, UBI-funded, AI-governed lives staring out of a pod home at hundreds of thousands of acres of robot-tended agroindustry while awaiting our drone delivery of insect protein, may be exaggerating only a little.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: A reader got in touch to point out that the “best policy” award was not from the WEF, but from the World Future Council (WFC), a sustainability-focused and UN-linked organisation based in Germany; and the award was not about removing nitrogen fertiliser, but about pesticide reduction and suicide reduction. He adds:
The WEF has launched a Food Action Alliance and is developing a New Vision for Agriculture. While these initiatives are linked to WEF climate policy initiatives, their main focus is on a stronger corporate role and “defragmentation” in agriculture in rich and poor countries (e.g. GMO agriculture in Africa etc.).
The nitrogen fertiliser issue in the Netherlands, Canada and elsewhere doesn’t seem to be driven by the WEF, but by climate policy goals. The issue is that excess nitrogen fertiliser is converted by soil bacteria into nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas 300 times stronger than CO2.
The actual role/importance of greenhouse gases in modern global warming is yet another controversial question, of course. The current European heat wave is obviously not directly caused by gradual global warming, but by an Atlantic low pressure system that drives North African heat currents towards Europe. The Atlantic low pressure system in turn has been caused by Jet Stream oscillations. Whether these oscillations are caused by gradual global warming, man-made or not, or by something else, these are the real questions that few even ask.
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