October 24, 2017

Puerto Rico Amid Climate Chaos and Disaster Capitalism


A great physical and geopolitical storm.

Puerto Rico is a typical victim of colonization. It exhibits all the usual symptoms, from political swaddling to cultural derogation to massive debt predation to total food insecurity and dependency.
Globalization is the fully consummated form of colonialism. It starts with the historically colonized “third world” but works systematically to reduce all people everywhere to total economic helplessness and servitude. Globalization acts to destroy all local production and distribution. It destroys this outright or seizes control of it in order to force it into the global commodity framework. It seizes control of indigenous land and resources. It dumps subsidized Western goods. It destroys any functional politics and democracy. It imposes the control of multinational corporations over every part of life it can. It does this purely in the power interests of Western elites. Any benefits it lets trickle down to locals are purely calculated payouts to accomplices. Much of the global South has been crushed under the corporate boot this way. Puerto Rico already has already been subject to the West’s debt indenture shock treatment (“structural adjustment”).
Hurricane Maria was the most recent major colonial assault on Puerto Rico. Maria is only the latest of the accelerating procession of extreme storms being driven by climate change, and the latest opportunity for corporate disaster capitalism to further ravage an already devastated target. The climate crisis is the direct result of extreme energy consumption and the industrial campaign to destroy all carbon and nitrogen sinks. Modern technocratic politics has attained consensus on the systematic ravaging of ecosystems, culminating in the rising climate chaos driven by the patterns of energy consumption, waste, and ecological destruction practiced and imposed by Western-style productionism and consumerism. The climate crisis is caused by these actions. Since the elites and their supporters have long known this and in spite of lots of lip service have refused to do anything to avert the worst of it, it’s long been true that climate change is an intentional campaign of aggression against the Earth and all vulnerable peoples such as the people of Puerto Rico. Thus climate change takes its place as the most extreme and far-reaching of the corporate campaigns designed to cause disaster, destruction, and chaos. The corporations then proceed to use the crises they intentionally generate as further opportunities for aggression and profit. All corporate sectors practice this. Corporate agriculture is the most aggressive and destructive practitioner of all.
Corporate control of agriculture and food has always been at the core of the globalization onslaught. The US government systematically uses its “food weapon” to wage economic, political, chemical, biological, and often literal shooting warfare. Throughout this history of war and sublimated war, globalized food and agriculture has been a constant weapon and battleground.
Puerto Rico needs to produce its own food on an agroecological basis. Only food self-sufficiency can help build political and cultural independence, while dependency upon commodity globalization can only reinforce every kind of dependency. Food sovereignty is the core and foundation, but the implications go much further.
If you’re colonized, don’t have your own currency, and want to buy all the worthless expensive junk the colonial power is peddling, you’re going to be enslaved by debt. (Same as the position of the average middle class American.) Until the neoliberal austerity system collapses, it will never wipe out any odious debt, only further “structurally adjust” it as the Obama administration just recently did. The one and only way for a people to free itself is to self-jubilate the debt*.
Of course, even if a people roused itself to do this and could make it stick against the escalated US aggression that would follow, it would be in vain if they went right back to the globalized Babylon. (You’re also then voluntarily contributing to the climate chaos and other environmental crises which will keep hitting you ever harder.) Consider how Argentina renounced its debt in 2001, but then turned right around and wiped out its previously self-sustaining food system in order to turn the country into one big industrial soy plantation, all in order to rejoin the globalized debt system. They just couldn’t help themselves. They still craved all the worthless expensive imported junk, exactly like an individual who could grow food to feed himself but just HAS to have a widescreen TV…
The self-enslavement scales well, from individual to the people of a country to the “New World Order” of corporate globalization fantasy: One can wish to live like a human being, which makes it possible to live within one’s means while enjoying freedom, self-sufficiency, economic sovereignty and security, well-being, and peace; or one can surrender to the productionist/consumerist derangement, renounce all human measure and hopes, set one’s desires at infinity and set out on the death march of rat-racing and debt, never attaining anything but increasing clutter, waste dumps, dependency, insecurity, ill-health, unhappiness, and fear.
The people of Puerto Rico, just like the people of all historically colonized lands, and just like the people of America and the West itself, will have to make the choice truly to free themselves if freedom and security is truly what they wish. All versions of the “we can have it all” fraud comprise the same lie, a symptom of the general pathology of Babylon. On the contrary, those who try to have it all, gamble for the infinite, guarantee themselves one terminal end. The corporate productionist system has one fated end for everyone on Earth from the colonized South to the gradually fading Western middle class: Debt slavery and the total destruction of food security, amid total ecological devastation.
To recap the truth about the climate crisis: There is one and only one way to avert the worst consequences of climate change: Greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, stop destroying carbon and nitrogen sinks, rebuild sinks on a massive scale.
All else is a lie. The same goes for all other ecological crises. And the same goes for the great spiritual and economic crisis of the terminal Oil Age. You cannot solve the crisis of mortality by suicide or murder. You can solve it only by changing your life, choosing what lets us live, renouncing what is killing us.
*There’s been lots of rhetoric about how the Jones Act, a typical example of how the strongest powers like the US still enshrine “protectionist” trade barriers even as they ruthlessly try to wipe out all protective measures on the part of weaker powers, has allegedly been standing in the way of food relief to Puerto Rico. (So-called “free trade”, just like “law”, “property”, “science”, and every other alleged value of modern corporate societies, really is no value at all but only a propaganda notion to be used and abused according to the contexts of corporate advantage.) The form of this rhetoric has often gone “repeal the Jones Act and wipe out the debt.”
But this is a self-contradiction, just as it’s a self-contradiction to say “we need to become self-sufficient in food, and the Jones Act must be repealed.” In fact the two items don’t have the slightest logical or practical affinity. Anti-imperialists want to wipe out the debt but recognize the scapegoating of the Jones Act as standard misdirection. (And of course the US government could waive the Act anytime it chose, as it did a week later. In fact the existence of the Jones Act had zero to do with preventing food deliveries, but rather was only a pretext for extortion.) Meanwhile pro-globalizers, especially among congressional Republicans, want to use the crisis as an opportunity to get rid of the Jones Act, destroy the maritime union, further fling open the frontier of corporate rapacity, and drive the people of Puerto Rico and everywhere else deeper into debt slavery. Any force to repeal the Jones Act certainly will not wipe out any Puerto Rican debt, but will only strive to compound it.
Therefore there’s zero reason for anyone who actually wants the good of the island’s people to fixate on the Jones Act. (Indeed, from this perspective anything like the Jones Act which possibly could hinder the full fury of globalization is a good thing. It would be similar to how the US embargo has been a great help to Cuban self-sufficiency in food.) But the globalizers are getting their usual help from confused “progressives”, many of the same who couldn’t understand why the Haitian food sovereignty movement destroyed a predatory Monsanto seed shipment in 2010. Monsanto was seeking to take advantage of another “natural disaster”, the 2010 earthquake and UN-caused cholera epidemic. They sought to render the man-made disaster far worse than any “natural” component. So it is with the infantile fixation on “food aid”. Yes, in a crisis immediate food aid often is necessary. But the US-controlled food aid infrastructure has no altruistic component. On the contrary it’s designed to serve as a disaster capitalist campaign of its own, using the opportunity of the crisis to crush any local food production and distribution that still exists and forestall any aspirations to build such food sovereignty systems.
There’s great immediate need in Puerto Rico. But there’s a much greater long run need for the people to break their many colonial dependencies and reclaim their ecological sovereignty, most of all their food sovereignty. Hurricane Maria is just the latest and most extreme demonstration that Puerto Rico’s colonial dependency, including its globalization dependency, is not sustainable. Any aid ideology or measure which would hinder realization of this truth and the work toward this necessary goal is counterproductive and ultimately harmful.
And to say again, this truth is truth for us all, everywhere.

September 5, 2011

Labor and Agroecology Day


Democratic agroecology, organic food democracy, is the basis for a society which shall feed us all post-oil. It shall do so while, for the first time in recorded history, providing full access to fulfilling work and full scope for our human imperatives toward political and economic democracy. It shall consummate history’s democratic movement and render our economies just and rational.
Since today is Labor Day, I want to make two points about agroecology.
1. The current system tends to value activity (and rentier inactivity) in inverse proportion to how productive it is, how much work is actually done. Agroecology is real work which accomplishes marvelous things.
One typical study (summary and full report), done by a team led by Catherine Badgley, found that agroecology/organic production can maintain and improve upon current conventional levels of bulk and caloric production for all significant food groups, and do so while replacing synthetic fertilizers with natural nutrient cycling.

The research team compared yields of organic and conventional agriculture (including low-intensive food production) in 293 examples, and estimated the average yield ratio (organic versus non-organic) of different food categories for the developed and the developing world. With the average yield ratios, they modelled the global food supply that could be grown organically in the current agricultural land base. The results indicate that organic methods could produce enough food to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.

They also estimated the amount of nitrogen potentially available from nitrogen fixation by legumes as cover crops. Data from temperate and tropical agroecosystmes suggest that they could fix enough nitrogen to replace all of the synthetic fertilizer currently in use.

The report concluded: “These results indicate that organic agriculture has the potential to contribute quite substantially to the global food supply, while reducing the detrimental environmental impacts of conventional agriculture.”

This is true globally and especially in the non-industrialized world. (That means “the world” post-fossil fuels, although the study didn’t discuss Peak Oil.) 

According to Model 2, the estimated organic food supply
exceeds the current food supply in all food categories, with
most estimates over 50% greater than the amount of food
currently produced. (p. 91)


Model 1 yielded 2641 kcal
person-1 day-1, which is above the recommended value,
even if slightly less than the current availability of calories.
Model 2 yielded 4381 kcal person-1 day-1, which is 57%
greater than current availability. This estimate suggests
that organic production has the potential to support a substantially
larger human population than currently exists.
Significantly, both models have high yields of grains, which
constitute the major caloric component of the human diet.
Under Model 1, the grain yield is 93% that of current
production. Under Model 2, the grain yield is 145% that of
current production. (p. 92)

It shall achieve this level of production at the same time that it replaces all current synthetic fertilizer use with organic soil nutrient techniques (p.92-3).
All of this can be done using the existing agricultural acreage.
For another example, when Chris Martenson interviewed Joel Salatin (podcast here, transcript here), Salatin described the prodigies achieved by his farming based on grassy perennials and mobile pasturage.

There is no question, absolutely no question, that these systems are far more productive. Just to give you an example. On our farm, in our county, one of the measures for pasture production is in cow days per acre. In other words a ‘cow day’ is what one cow will eat in a single day – that’s one cow day. And so in our county, the average cow days per acre is currently 80 cow days per acre. That’s what an acre of pasture does. On our farm, and I already told you at the top of the program what our farm looked like 50 years ago without a single chemical fertilizer and without planting a seed, we own no plow and no disc, and in 50 years, we have moved this farm to average 400 cow days per acre – that’s five times the county average. And so, the fact is, if Monsanto figured out a way to get 1% increase in yields in something it would make the front page of the New York Times. I’m telling you ways to double and triple production without chemical fertilizer, without even planting anything and it doesn’t make the obitituary page.

Now that’s what I call productive work. This Badgley study doesn’t delve into the socioeconomic implications, but other studies have been more specific about how agroecology requires the breaking up of corporate megafarms into smaller farms in order to be most productive, and implies a general relocalization of food distribution. The principles of Food Sovereignty in turn enshrine this requirement for access to the land, which completely joins the fates of our food imperatives with our democratic imperatives, and renders both synonymous with the continued existence of humanity itself.
So this study is another proof that it’s within our hands to flourish as never before, if we take our real work directly into our hands instead of continuing to allow it to be stolen from us and then rented back to us.
Agroecology is real work, and the basis for a real economy worthy of the name.  
2. Agroecology is highly skilled work. It requires intimate knowledge of the ways of the soil, weather, climate, plants (crops, other beneficial plants, harmful weeds), animals (beneficial and pests). The techniques of high-productivity agriculture without monocropping or synthetic fertilizers and poisons include natural nutrient-cycling and soil building, such as the skillful use of cover crops, manure, crop rotation, intercropping, alley cropping with leguminous trees, infusion of free-living nitrogen-fixing bacteria into the soil, biological pest control, agroforestry, better water management, rotation of livestock with annual crops, the whole art of integrating grass-fed livestock pasturage with vegetable production. It also requires the most effective use of energy and other resource inputs. All these factors will require even more precise knowledge as the fossil fuel crutch is removed once and for all.
Salatin describes just a few of the areas of intensive knowledge this farming requires.

What stimulates the nutrient cycling is the onsite biomass regeneration cycle. Not the least of which of course is the earthworm community. You know it’s amazing that earthworms can eat a pound of stuff in their front end and send it through their alimentary canal, bring it out their back end, the same pound of stuff, and its like three times the calcium, seven times the nitrogen, eleven times the potassium, fourteen times the phosphorous, plus an elevating of all the whole trace elements, boron, cobalt, copper, molybdenum – all those things are increased. And what’s amazing is that nobody knows how that’s done. It’s actually not concentrated, it’s actually acted on by some sort of activity in the earthworm. Some bacteria for example, are free living, they are not rhizomes like legume roots like alfalfa and clover, they are free-living bacteria that will bring up to 100 lbs. of nitrogen per acre per year out of the atmosphere and put it in the soil but they only really become active at 4% organic matter and most of our soils are not anywhere close to 4% organic matter anymore. They used to be, back when the buffalo were here and perennial grasses, but they are not now. I think it’s fascinating that we actually produced more nutrient density in what is now the U.S. 600 years ago, than we actually do today, even with all of our petroleum and everything, So the whole secret of the nutrient cycling is to tap into the green material to capture more solar energy, put it into green material that can de-compose and go into the soil, and the best way to do that is with an herbivore – lamb, goat, cow – some sort of herbivore, that is what I call the bio- mass accumulation re-start button to prune that forage off and re-start the fast biomass accumulation cycle. If you don’t have that, what you just have is the bio-mass just goes into senescence and in senescence simply vaporizes the CO2 off into the atmosphere and it doesn’t do anything any good. So it’s the animal that recycles, that starts that whole fast metabolism cycle to metabolize the solar energy into biomass through photosynthetic activity…

So yes, these systems work. And the way they work is to go back to historically – well the way nature built soils in the first place; which was with primarily herbivores. So if you really want to eat on a low energy system, quit eating chicken and quit eating so much pork and eat grass-finished beef because grass-finished herbivore is the most nutrient dense substance that doesn’t require any tillage. It fertilizes itself, and doesn’t require any tillage. As soon as you take that herbivore and put it in a feedlot, on an irrigated grain-based system, then it all breaks down from an energy standpoint and, of course, that’s where a lot of the studies that impugn livestock come from. But throughout the world, the great prairies and the great soil building regions of the world, from the Serengetti in Africa to the plains of America with buffalo to the Australian continent 200 years ago that had 10 marsupial species to do the disturbance, all of those were built with herbivores, disturbances, and rest and perennials. Those are the four cornerstones of a system that works. The reason all civilizations throughout history have been built around the herbivore, lamb, goat or cow is because the herbivore is the only domestic animal that can harvest non-tilled, non-planted material. Omnivores like chickens and pigs require some sort of a grain component which then requires tillage. And until cheap energy and cheap machinery, tillage was extremely expensive…The main thing was lamb, goat and cow which was the herbivore. That was the main thing – or deer or bison or whatever – but the point is, that those herbivorous creatures can do or are made to do very well without any tillage whatsoever. And tillage has only actually been doable on a large, grand scale just in the last century.

Contrast this with the brainless, rote processes of corporate agriculture.

These insect-proof and herbicide-resistant crops make farming so much easier that many growers rely heavily on the technology, violating a basic tenet of pest management, which warns that using one method year after year gives more opportunity for pests to adapt.

Monsanto is already at the center of this issue because of its success since the 1990s marketing seeds that grow into crops that can survive exposure to its Roundup herbicide, a glyphosate-based chemical known for its ability to kill almost anything green.

These seeds made it so convenient for farmers to spray Roundup that many farmers stopped using other weedkillers. As a result, say many scientists, superweeds immune to Roundup have spread to millions of acres in more than 20 states in the South and Midwest.

Are these even farmers anymore, as opposed to just a kind of watchman? It’s certainly not skilled labor, just robotic processing.
Agroecology requires creative thinking and artful intermingling with the landbase. In fact, organic growing and farming is an art as well as a skilled craft, and the artistry and craftsmanship required, if performed on a democratic basis, offer the next great creative frontier, this time not just for a handful of specially educated elites but for all workers. While Trotsky was wrong (and probably intentionally exaggerating) when he said that with communism all of us would write like Shakespeare, it is true that as many of us as desire it can become skilled and creative artists of the land, if we choose to invest the land with our humanity and nourish our humanity through communion with the land. This shall be the only nourishment possible anyway. It’s true physically, as the Oil Age ends. And it’s true politically, as the only other attractor available is to descend to a permanent dark age of refeudalization and re-enslavement.
(I’m not personally an expert on these matters, but I gather that the system described by Salatin isn’t identical to much of the agroecology described in the report. But I see no reason that different versions can’t be intermingled or concurrent. They’re all based on the same principles.)
The wondrous experience of Cuba’s post-oil agroecology can be an inspiration and practical example to us all. One of the elements going into their success has been a concerted campaign to educate the people about how their intensive organic agriculture is skilled knowledge work, and they’ve been highly successful at that. So that’s a task for us in our own countries.
I’d like to reinvigorate Labor Day by reinforcing it with a new, specific impetus. (Labor Day is American, but the same idea can apply for labor-celebrating holidays elsewhere.) We could make it Food Sovereignty Day, or Agroecology Day (too jargonistic? any good synonym?). A name and celebration which would seek to bring a sense of immediacy to the day and shine a spotlight on action we can and must be taking right now. I was also thinking of Time Banking Day, but that can be for another post.