Home » Posts tagged 'garden earth'

Tag Archives: garden earth

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

A life on our planet – review

A life on our planet – review

I watched David Attenborough’s film A life on our planet the other evening. The first, and largest, part of the movie was very well made. Perhaps not much new, but very well presented and with excellent footage and narrative. Some images are very strong, even brutal, such as a lonely orangutan sitting on a tree trunk in a devastated landscape. I think most viewers got the message: this has to change! And let me underline that this is a film worth watching.

Because the film is so compelling and Attenborough such a sympathetic person, viewers may accept all of its statements and arguments. This would, however, be a mistake in my opinion.

I totally agree with Attenborough that human population needs to stabilize. And it is true that, as far as we know today, birth rates falls when countries get richer (or vice versa). The problem is that lower population growth in one country is associated with increasing total resource use rather than the opposite. At least in the short term and with current consumption patterns, there is no relief for nature from lower population growth.What I missed in the first part was a lack of analysis of the underlying drivers causing the threatening sixth mass extinction. This is also reflected in shortcomings of the much shorter and optimistic second part of the film. The processes and technologies he claims will save the wilderness and human civilization are renewable energy, intensive farming methods, diet transformation, rewilding and reduced population growth.

His claim that renewable energy will make energy everywhere more affordable (than now) is wishful thinking with no evidence in reality.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Is the Green Deal a card shuffle trick?

Is the Green Deal a card shuffle trick?

(NOTE; this is not an analysis of the US New Green Deal, it is about the “green growth” narrative with the European Green Deal as the point of departure.)

The European Green Deal is a ”growth strategy that aims to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use.”

There are reasons to discuss if the vision of the European Green Deal is desirable: why should it be a goal to be “competitive” or ”modern”? But let’s buy into the narrative and ask: is the vision possible? Is ”green growth” as expressed in the Green Deal or the Sustainable Development Goals even possible?

In a recent paper in New Political Economy, Jason Hickel and Giorgios Kallis do a good job in illuminating many of the discussions and concepts involved in the Green Growth debate. Their overall conclusion is that ”green growth theory – in terms of resource use – lacks empirical support”.  They note three caveats of their own conclusions. First, it is possible that ”it is reasonable to expect that green growth could be accomplished at very low GDP growth rates, i.e. less than 1 per cent per year”. Second, conclusions are based on the existing relationship between GDP and material throughput, but one might argue that it is theoretically possible to break the existing relationship between GDP and material throughput altogether. Third, the aggregate material footprint indicator obscures the possibility of shifting from high-impact resources to low-impact resources. Meanwhile, Hickel and Kallis also point out that material footprints needs to be scaled down significantly from present levels; to be truly green, green growth requires not just any degree of absolute decoupling, but rapid absolute decoupling.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What a milk carton can tell us

What a milk carton can tell us

On the package of organic milk from Coop (Sweden) I can read the plastic cap is made out of oil. For some reason they can’t use biodegradeable plastic made from renewable sources. Instead they “support the production of the same quantity of renewable plastic somewhere else”. In addition they claim that they through this can reduce the use of fossil raw materials. This is supposed to make me feel good.  

In this way, the package of milk illuminates two common phenomena in how modern businesses handle, or not, environmental challenges. The first is the notion of “compensation”, i.e. that we can compensate an ill by doing something good somewhere else. The prime example is of course climate compensation or carbon offset, which it often is called. But there are other examples such as habitat banking whereby you pay someone to provide ecosystems or species which you have destroyed. And now plastic compensation. There are many things to say about the notion that you can compensate for destruction. It leads to financialization and privatization of nature (read this excellent article by Sian Sullivan) and it often means that poor peoples’ environment will be used to compensate rich peoples lifestyle (e.g.. when you compensate your flight with tree planting in developing countries).

Instead, let me instead probe the other message of the milk package: That you can “save” or “reduce use” of fossil fuels using renewable plastics. In the case of my organic milk this is greenwashing in its purest shape. Before Coop introduced the plastic cap, the package had no cap, but the carton could easily be opened and closed. By introducing a cap of made out of oil Coop clearly increases the use of fossil fuels.  But they look at the situation differently.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Do we need farmfree food?

Do we need farmfree food?

Because of how badly we humans have treated soils and animals and how we destroyed bio-diversity, it is understandable that people are looking for other ways of producing food.  The food tech sector hosts legions of entrepreneurs (mostly with background in the IT sector) seeking venture capital and researchers looking for grants to “disrupt” a sector which they claim is archaic. Most of them are based on the view that farming in general, and livestock farming in particular, is inefficient and wasteful. The environmental journalist George Monbiot writes in an article in the Guardian titled Lab-grown food will soon destroy farming – and save the planet.

“Eating is now a moral minefield, as almost everything we put in our mouths – from beef to avocados, cheese to chocolate, almonds to tortilla chips, salmon to peanut butter – has an insupportable environmental cost. But just as hope appeared to be evaporating, the new technologies I call farmfree food create astonishing possibilities to save both people and planet. Farmfree food will allow us to hand back vast areas of land and sea to nature, permitting rewilding and carbon drawdown on a massive scale.

“One of the promising initiatives mentioned in the article is the Finnish company, Solar foods. It claims that it has found a way to commercially produce hydrogen oxidized bacterial protein from electricity. The technology is actually known since the 1960s and has not taken off because of the prohibitive costs. In a research article, co-written by the founders of Solar Foods as late as 2019, it is concluded, that only the cost of energy required to produce microbial protein is higher than the price of soybeans, even if capital and other operational costs are not taken into account.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

There is no such thing as a business as usual scenario

There is no such thing as a business as usual scenario

The discussions about how much it will cost to mitigate climate change is a smokescreen. What constitutes a cost is not an objective fact, but laden with assumptions and subjective values.  

How much does it cost to stop climate change, to keep within the target of the Paris agreement? 

The answer depends on who asks and what is meant by costs. In the normal case we would say that something costs when we have to pay for something that we buy or possibly that we make ourselves, counting our work as a cost. In the mainstream discussion of climate change mitigation, cost can also mean loss of income or a lower GDP compared to a business as usual scenario. There are very small costs for the Brazilian government in protecting the Amazon. But the contribution of a protected Amazon forest to the Brazilian economy is small compared to the timber that could be sold, the hydroelectricity and minerals that could be extracted, the soy or beef that could be produced. 

There are many pits to fall into when discussing the cost of climate change mitigation. 

First, to compare mitigation measures with business as usual scenarios that omit the increasing cost of climate change is simply misleading. The costs of inaction are certainly bigger than the costs of action. 

Second, the business as usual scenario is based on that existing goods and services are desirable and that not doing certain things incur a loss of sorts. But there is no such relationship. If the US cuts spending on its military in half it would be just fine. If I skip a trip to Bangkok nobody will suffer.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Small farms don’t produce most the of the worlds food – but they could produce all

Small farms don’t produce most the of the worlds food – but they could produce all

Recently, I wrote an article about how difficult it is to survive as a commercial smallholder and floated some ideas of why that is and what can be done about it. I want to follow up with two articles. This one is about the production capacity of small farms and the next one will be on labor productivity and its implications for the space of consumption for small holder farmers and its capacity to generate surplus labor for other societal purposes. 
I often see the claim that peasants/small farms/small holders/family farms produce seventy percent of all the food in the world. The 70 figure originates from a report by the ETC Groups in 2009, Who Will Feed Us? Questions for the Food and Climate Crises. The original has been revised and the current version from 2017 states that the ”ETC Group estimates about 70% of the population – 4.5–5.5 billion of the world’s 7.5 billion people – depend on the Peasant Food Web for most or all of their food”. 

While I am a small farmer myself and very sympathetic to the future of small farms in a similar way as the ETC group, I think it is important to have the facts straight. To begin with, the poorest 70% consume a lot less than 70% of the food in the world, as people in the richer countries, who mainly depend on the industrial food chain consume a lot more food per capita.  Notably, the ETC report says that 70% of the population depend on the peasant food web for most or all of their food. This is not at all the same as  that peasants produce 70% of the food as ”to depend on” doesn’t mean that all their foods come from this food web.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Towards a landscape diet and communal landscape management

Towards a landscape diet and communal landscape management

Lately I have read two articles which both claim that small scale farming is (self)exploitive and that even with direct marketing such as farmers markets, there is no profit, hardly even survival.  

What nobody told me about small farming: I can’t make a living, by Jaclyn Moyer published in Salon (it is from 2015, but someone shared it on social media and it came my way) makes the case that it is not possible to make a living from production on a small farm under any norm al circumstances. Jaclyn writes that she at first wouldn’t admit having a struggling business as no one wants to climb aboard a sinking ship. She believed “if a business was failing it was because the entrepreneur was not skilled enough, not savvy enough, not hardworking enough. If my farm didn’t turn enough profit, it was my own fault.” But after years of hard work she finally started to admit to herself and to the public how things are: 

“When a student asked if my farm was sustainable, I told her that I was certified organic, I managed my soil fertility through crop rotations and compost applications, I didn’t use synthetic pesticides, I conserved water. But no, I’d said, I didn’t think my farm was sustainable. Like all the other farms I knew, my farm relied on uncompensated labor and self-exploitation. My farm was not sustainable because I knew the years my partner and I could continue to work without a viable income were numbered.” By and large Chris Newman agrees with Jaclyn Moyer in his articel Small Family Farms Aren’t the Answer published in Medium. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Beware of the N-bomb

Beware of the N-bomb

There are good, and frightening, reasons to closely follow the changes in the nitrogen cycle. We should not be surprised if the effects and costs of disturbing it turn out to be as dramatic as those for the carbon cycle. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from nitrogen fertilizers are around 3% of global emissions, but they are not visible in greenhouse gas inventories. The abolition or drastic reduction in the use of chemical fertilizers is a pre-condition for a sustainable food system.


In farming, the availability of nutrients, particularly of nitrogen, potash and phos­phorus – mostly referred to by their chemical symbols N, P and K – is a major limiting factor. All traditional farming systems have had some strategy for replacing nutrients in the soil. One is to rest the soil and allow a natural re-charge and release of nutrients from the soil and through atmospheric decomposition. Crop rotations with leguminous crops can fix nitrogen from the air and the nutritional demands of the various crops can complement each other. Phosphorous, from deeper layers or bound in the soil, can be ‘mined’ by some crops making it available to others. Nutrients can also come from irrigation water (especially sediments in flood waters), animal manure, human waste, plants, grass and other residues, a plethora of natural organic fertil­izers. Farmers have used oil-cakes, feathers, leathers, bone, sea weed and fish as fertilizers. There are even reports that human remains from battlefields and ossuaries have been used as fertilizers. Yet all these methods have some limitations, and in most cases they require a lot of work or other efforts.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Five dollars is not enough for five a day

Five dollars is not enough for five a day

In discussions about food, environment and health, a resource perspective is often lacking. For more than half of the global population what ends up on their plate is mostly a function of their economic and energetic circumstances. If one want to change what people eat it is necessary to understand the realities of the global food system. Without that, all well-intended advice for a diet better for health or for the environment are falling on barren rock instead of in fertile ground. 

The WHO says that 3.9 million deaths could be avoided if people ate more fruit and vegetables. The recent report of the EAT Lancet Commission recommends that people should eat at least 500 gram fruit and vegetables per day. Many countries have similar recommendations of a certain quantity in weight or in number of servings or portions. But in almost no country are people doing what they are told.  In Sweden only 1 percent of the men in rural Arjeplog eat their half a kilo per day while 19 percent of the women in wealthy, urban Täby does it. Are people stupid or what? 

In order to understand fruit and vegetables consumption it is essential to realize some pertinent facts. Fruits and vegetables are mostly luxury plants in comparison with grains, pulses, root crops. Very few traditional farming systems have had a high share of fruits and vegetables unless you include starchy crops like plantains, potatoes, cassava or yams in your definition. The reason for it is that they are fairly demanding to grow and their content of the most essential food components, energy and protein, is low. Even today, fruits and vegetables are expensive to buy. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Planet of the Cows

The Planet of the Cows

Five years ago my wife, Ann-Helen, and I bought this small farm, Sunnansjö, in Sweden, some 30 km east of Uppsala. I have all my life been keen on growing vegetables and lately my interest has been more into trees and perennial plants. So the main idea was to use most of the land for such crops. 

But a place has its own conditions, its own genius, as expressed by Wes Jacksson. Most our lands are wet and heavy, prone to floods. For me, having farmed for more than thirty years on light sandy soils, where water was almost always short in supply, it was a shock to realize that I knew almost nothing that was relevant for our new farm. Mud and water were all over the place, all over me. 

Slowly, we began adjusting our plans to reality, to the local conditions, opportunities and limitations, I had to rethink my role from grower to ecosystem manager. The real treat of our land is that is so varied. We own a long stretch of the shore of a lake, there are rich wetlands, peat bogs, meadows, old growth forests and many fields with what we call ”field islands” in Swedish, i.e. bigger rocky patches with scattered trees in the  fields. Overall, we have a lot of ecotone zones (edges, borders) between the various biomes, and such border zones are often very rich in diversity and productive in their own way. Our mission now on the farm is to manage and enhance all those transition zones. 

For sure, some fields which are a bit higher and sloping, we ditched and drained for intensive horticulture, including a green house. Other fields we have planted with tree crops, mostly apples and hazel nuts and we grow crops in between the trees while they are small.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why did local go global?

Why did local go global? 

When discussing the food system, I find that few seem to understand why the system is like it is. Some discuss the system in a way where it sounds like Big, Bad and Ugly corporations made the system into what it is today, and all we have to do is to decide that we want a local food system instead. But that view is underestimating the drivers of the economy. My own experiences in food processing and farming has made me understand that the workings of competition (“the market”) is the main factor influencing how and where production takes place. 

Some thirtyfive years ago, the farm where I lived, Torfolk, wanted to pursue the value addition of local resources and we started making jam out of local berries. First we picked lingonberries – a North European berry similar to cranberries – ourselves in the forest. But quite soon we reverted to buying from pickers. But the buckets were full of bad berries, leaves, twigs and droppings from roe deer so we had to spend a lot of time cleaning them. We converted an old grain cleaning machine, but when the berries were really ripe and soft, they were mashed inside the machine, and it was impossible to get them clean. In addition, one of us got an involuntary exotic haircut, when leaning too close to the fan of the cleaner. Next solution was to buy from a local berry trader who had a purposely built lingonberry cleaner. But also with this one we had quality problems and ended up having to pick many leaves by ourselves. In addition, as most berry pickers know, the berries don’t grow equally well every year, there is frost in the florescence, it is too dry, too rainy or there is a pest, so we could not rely on the local berries alone. And neither could the local berry cleaning operation, so it closed down. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A regenerative food system is both a means and an end

A regenerative food system is both a means and an end

The land-sparing argument is mostly flawed when it promises to save land for wildlife or for carbon sequestration. Continued intensification of the food system will lead to increased pressure on nature as well as the continued erosion of food culture. A regenerative food system and landscapes with multiple  uses are both means and ends by themselves.

Since 1960 the global population has more than doubled, but the total production of crop farming increased three and a half times, measured in calories. Meanwhile, agriculture area increased with less than ten percent and grasslands even less (grasslands are now shrinking quite rapidly according to FAOSTAT). The increase of production has been driven by irrigation, multiple cropping and the green revolution technology packet of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and new varieties. By far, the most spectacular development in farming is not yield per area unit however, but the increased productivity of farm labor. Instead of catering for the need of the family and a smaller surplus extracted by lords of various sorts, a farmer or farm worker today often produce food for hundreds of people. If we look at staple foods in the most mechanized farm regions, one worker may actually “feed” thousand person.

Through this extraordinary increase in land and labor productivity, cost of grains, oilseeds and soybeans have plummeted while production has quadrupled. The net effect is a great increase in food energy available to humans. In addition, the rapidly increasing use of crops as animal feed and biofuel feed stock have swallowed an even larger share. Meanwhile, the continued intensification of farming is the root cause of the huge environmental impact from the food system, the destruction of habitats, the broken cycles of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus and the huge effect on the climate.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Singularity is already here – it is the market

The Singularity is already here – it is the market

The market economy exhibits most of the traits of the much hyped – and feared – singularity, where an artificial intelligence takes over the show and humans are enslaved.

We have all heard the stories of the powerful algorithms. They control our choices and they learn by analyzing an ever increasing amount of data. In the book Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari says that we have replaced the idea of God with an algorithm. In this emerging ideology, which he names Dataism, the ultimate goal is to increase the amount of information flow through the algorithm.

“Hitherto, data was seen as only the first step in a long chain of intellectual activity. Humans were supposed to distil data into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom. However, Dataists believe that humans can no longer cope with the immense flows of data, hence they cannot distil data into information, let alone into knowledge or wisdom. The work of processing data should therefore be entrusted to electronic algorithms, whose capacity far exceeds that of the human brain.”

Harari makes a link to the markets in his analysis, for example he says that:

“We often imagine that democracy and the free market won because they were “good”. In truth, they won because they improved the global data-processing system.”

These are good observations, but in my view he doesn’t draw the full conclusions of his own observation.

That the market is the super AI and the Singularity.

According to the singularity hypothesis, an intelligent agent (such as a computer running software-based artificial general intelligence) would enter a “runaway reaction” of self-improvement cycles, with each new and more intelligent generation appearing more and more rapidly, causing an intelligence explosion and resulting in a powerful superintelligence that would far surpass all human intelligence. (Wikipedia)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Food self-sufficiency – does it make sense?

Food self-sufficiency – does it make sense?

Global food production increased with over 50% between 1986 and 2009. Meanwhile the trade in food for direct human consumption has increased from 15% of total production in 1986 to 23% in 2009, thus about one fourth of food production is traded. Half of the net exports 2010 were originating from just five countries.[i] After the food price hike in 2007-2008 and in a world that many feel is less secure, there is a renewed interest in food self-sufficiency.

Food self-sufficiency is, however, widely critiqued by economists as a misguided approach to food security that places political priorities ahead of economic efficiency. In the paper Food self-sufficiency: Making sense of it, and when it makes sense, in the journal Food Policy, Jennifer Clapp makes the case that policy choice on this issue is more than a choice between the extremes of relying solely on homegrown food and a fully open trade policy for foodstuffs. All countries rely on imports for at least some of their food consumption, including large food exporters that produce far more food than they consume. Even, North Korea, the country with policies that most approach autarky, still imports food and accepts international food assistance. Clapp recommends that we should instead realize that there is a continuum between the extremes and that there is not one correct policy response for all countries at all times.

Before even discussing food self-sufficiency or not, one have to agree on what it means. There are several definitions and measurements. Some define self-sufficiency such that a country should produce a quantity (or calories) that equals or exceeds the consumption, but food is both imported and exported. Sweden is such a country. In the public debate we are told that half of the food consumed in Sweden is imported, which might be correct if measured in monetary value. Meanwhile, Sweden produces more or less the calories it needs, but it exports a big share of its grain harvest while it imports, soy, wine, vegetables and fruits (just to mention a few important streams). The value of food imports is considerably higher than the value of food exports, so from an economic perspective, Sweden is not at all food self-sufficient.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Can we cure the global eating disorder?

Can we cure the global eating disorder?

We stayed overnight in Dodson, Montana in a charming Bed and Breakfast owned and managed by Sandra Calk. At breakfast we got a peep view into her fridge. There were fruit and vegetables, cheeses, juices, marmalade, honey pickles, condiments and everlasting tortillas. There were eggs and rhubarb from a neighbor but nothing else was from close by, the regular milk came from Texas, and the vanilla scented one from Idaho. Even most of the meat products did not come from Montana, despite the state having millions of cattle grazing its green rolling hills; Montana has more cows than people. Montana cattle are finished in huge feed lot operations in Colorado, Nebraska or Texas where they are fed on maize[1] from the fertile Corn Belt of the United States.

This snapshot of Sandra’s fridge is a mirror of the global food and agriculture system. The example is in no way extreme. In most parts of the industrial and urbanized world, people hardly eat anything that comes from close by. Consumption has no direct link to local agricul­ture which is organized in the same way as modern assembly lines, with parts being delivered from all over the globe to be assembled as a Gorby’s pizza, a McDonald’s hamburger or a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Indonesian consumers munched a stunning 14 billion packages of instant wheat noodles in 2012.[i] What is strange about that? Indonesia produces no wheat at all – what has become a national dish is based on a raw material that is completely imported.[ii]

When anthropologists describe some preliterate society, the condi­tions of food production and its role in society usually forms a central part of the narrative. Taboos, gender roles, power, ownership are all linked to food.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase