Harnessing Nature To Save The World: A Theory Of Soil – OpEd


What’s the biggest threat humans pose to Nature? War? Mining? Cars/ trucks? Much as they are horrible and threaten Earth with imminent destruction, you’re wrong. It’s agriculture!! That’s George Monbiot’s latest revelation in Regenesis: feeding the world without destroying the planet (2022), his Long March to a Better World. In our misguided industrial agriculture, we are constantly attacking the thin, delicate membrane that holds the precious substance that allows all living things to … LIVE.

Monbiot starts with hints of our past awe of, love affair with Nature, trying to find and use its secrets, before we turned it into a slave to function as we want, ignoring its mystery. In midwinter, Britons would go awassailing in their orchards. A pre-science ‘scientific method’ of wandering (staggering) through your orchard singing and drinking cider. 

For more or lesse fruits they will bring, as you do give them Wassailing.

Make friends with Nature but also be in awe of its mysteries. How many names end in ‘ley’. Horsley, Wellesley, Barclay. A ley is a strip of wildflowers you plant between your crops to attract pollinators and regenerate the land. ‘Our’ land. Britons loved and cherished it because they were born and would die there. Not sell it, abandon it, leaving a jilted lover bereft, ruined.

Soils 101 

We know that sugars move from healthy trees’ roots to weak ones. Cool. Altruism? Sheldrake: Fungi are farming their hosts, shifting food to ensure all those they depend on remain alive. Mycelium are intelligent. They have directional memory, navigate labyrinths with electric pulses like animal sensory nerve cells. Networks like a computer or brain synapses. 

First Law of Nature: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Even when we mean well, we are probably wrong, as Nature has many mysteries that we will never fully understand. Corollary: Do no harm. Ie, don’t add more of our poison or try to sterilize the little blighter.

Plants release up to 40% of their hard-earned sugars into soil to feed fungi surrounding its roots, the rhizosphere, their external gut. Hmm. We have long classified what’s above the soil: the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere. A plant is like a little planet with its own spheres. Soil is the land equivalent of a corral reef: places of intense biological activity especially the rhizosphere (but also other spheres – drilosphere (earthworms), myrmecosphere (ants)). Every living thing has its own planetary logic. Yet we are still treating soil as ‘dirt’, a dumping ground, and plants as willing slaves needing our gruel with a bit of flavoring. And if the slave produces little, then whip him and forcefeed him till he smartens up (or you inadvertently kill him).

Our relationship to the land is: kill, poison, destroy, ignore, trash. Whereas this complex life is the basis of our lives. We recognize only one sphere, our egospheres. And we barely register anyone else’s, let alone other living things, which are never spheres in isolation, but all linked, and linked to so-called inert matter, which its own needs. We know-it-alls are blissfully ignorant of 90% of what goes on around us. 

Complex chemicals create and manage a series of marvelously intricate relationships with the creatures on which all life stands: microbes. Soil is crammed with bacteria. The earthy scent is the smell of the chemicals they produce. No two soils smell the same, just like no two people. Just ask a dog about the information packed into smell. 

Microbes live in suspended animation till they get messages that wake them up. A plant’s roots trigger an explosion of activity. The bacteria gather and unlock the nutrients for the plants. Bacteria and fungi are meshed with the roots. Other microbes capture iron, phosphorus and other elements for the plants, break up complex organic compounds so the roots can absorb them, turn inert nitrogen into minerals (nitrate and ammonium) to make proteins. Like our stomachs the rhizosphere’s microbes break down organic material, letting us produce energy. 

Human breast milk contains sugars which babies can’t digest but which bacteria in our gut eat. Similarly, plants support beneficial bacteria species so they can crowd out pathogenic microbes and fungi. They use chemical warfare! Antibiotics are all found first in soil bacteria.i Microbes stimulate the plant’s immune system! When soil is harmed by fertilizer, pesticides, fungicides, excessive plowing or crushing, their cry for help is heard not just by their friends in the rhyzosphere, but by parasites and pests, causing dysbiosis, i.e., collapse of plant’s gut communities (ditto for humans). Doctors take stool samples from healthy people and transplant them into the guts of unhealthy patients, so maybe we should do the same—add some good soil to sick, weak soil to suppress pathogenic bacteria and fungi, rather than smothering the weak with chemicals or trying to sterilize it. 

Short March to oblivion 

“Regenesis: feeding the world without destroying the planet,” by George Monbiot

One of Monbiot’s university lecturers told him, ‘I study insects because I love them but the only funding I can get is to kill them.’ There are no soil ecology institutes anywhere on Earth. Lots of Big Chem institutes urging nitrogen fertilizers, where blowback means that microbes burn through the carbon in the soil as if on crack, which disintegrates the soil structure. When it collapses, oxygen and water can no longer permeate, leading to (fractal) breakdown of the soil meta-structure. It becomes sodden, compacted, airless. Over-fertilizing actually reduces the plant’s access to nutrients. ‘Breaking the soil’ to grow crops is a good (i.e. bad) metaphor. What a perfect example of ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. 

Complex systems possess emergent properties, behave in complex ways when their components come together.ii The worst/ best example of emergen-cy is the underlying theme of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath: Every man hates what a bank does but the bank does itThe bank is something more than men. It’s the monster. Men made it but they can’t control it. When a system collapses, flips, experiences hysteresis, it requires much more energy to recreate the magic of the whole than was needed to destroy it. We happily break the soil, but woe if we break the bank. For both, it’s very hard, expensive, (impossible?) to try to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Second Law of Nature: A system is resilient if the mesh of nodes and links (e.g. fishing net) are flexible, their links to each other weak (who eats whom, bank links to commerce and industry). Corollary: There should be a backup system working within or alongside the main network that operates on different principles, plenty of redundancy as a shock absorber. Our efforts to improve performance in our own small corner of a system often weaken the system as a whole. Every time we try to enhance the efficiency of a business or process, we reduce its redundancy. Any attempt to save ‘too big to fail’ leads to unimaginable (bad) effects on the system as a whole. The specter of 2008 still haunts us.

Convergence toward a ‘global standard diet’ pushes us out onto the gangplank, blindfold. Before, the world had radically different diets, some good, some bad, but distinct. From the 1960s, spreading rapidly around the world, one diet has body-slammed the peculiarities of place and culture out of its path. We eat food that’s dense in energy, more ready calories, more vegetable oil, fat, protein, fewer roots and tubers. Just four plants—wheat, rice, corn and soybean—account for 60% of calories. The US is one of the largest producers of all four, along with Brazil, France, Canada, Russia and Australia. 

40% of the world rely on other nations for much of its food. We are super-importers and super-exporters. Many now lack enough land and water to feed their suddenly larger populations. This is cheap for rich countries where agriculture prices are low. Is it rational? The system is less and less resilient with each new ‘free’ trade treaty, each new Evergreen super-container ship. Super-exporters have stronger links to super-importers. Rising trade undermines resilience of national food production systems, making them increasingly vulnerable to external shocks.

Since 1900 world’s crops have lost 75% of genetic diversity. So, 

  • Soil degradation means diseases spread worldwide (covid disruptions are now endemic, normal, requiring more (violent) intervention by states/ big pharma),
  • Diets converge, 
  • Farming methods converge, 
  • Corporations supplying inputs (seeds, machinery, chemicals) grow into monopolies, consolidated vertically as well as horizontally, 
  • Corporations producing output hold super-importers ransom (four companies control 90% of global grain trade), consolidating with suppliers vertically to strengthen the stranglehold on both farmers and consumers,
  • Franchising the world with a few standard meals (hamburger, French fries, pizza, chicken nuggets) is not only unhealthy, bland, but tightens the links in the food chain, reducing resilience,
  • Market power translates into political power, intellectual property rights, lobbying for subsidies, ‘free’ trade deals. 

Recall Obama’s mega Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement to unite Asia and the US, excluding China. Sometimes, Trump does the right thing (if for the wrong reasons). Our default is ‘trade is good, so more is better’ (unless politics dictates otherwise), resulting in the World Trade Organization and ‘free’ trade, which is just dumbing down the entire world of growing food and eating into a monoculture monopoly brought to you by The Rich. Capitalism asserting total control over us, perfected in its anti-humanity of profit-making. But the superpower is in reality super stupid, super evil.

Poor Malawai! The IMF ‘encouraged’ (i.e., blackmailed) the government to reduce its stocks (back-up), so when the harvest failed in 2001, food prices skyrocketed, increasing trade debt, etc. I love it: the IMF destroys the poor country’s economy then offers loans to prevent mass starvation. Even when there is no crisis, making storage private means companies try to keep food prices high to make profit. Only an idiot (or a bribed official, or a capitalist) would let this happen. 

Until 2014 it looked like malnutrition was vanquished, with UN target sufficient food for everyone by 2030. Since then, it has reversed. Did production fall? No. It is still increasing faster than population. But half is lost to feed farm animals, biofuels, waste. As diets improve, people want more meat, so Alice must run faster just to keep in the same place, which she can’t do. 

Also, new GMO strains, higher temperatures and more CO2 means more rapid growth but lower mineral content (iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium), protein, B vitamins. E.g., algae blooms are exploding, caused by higher temperatures, lower flows, more phosphate. The Wye river’s upstream conifer plantations (sic) cause acid flushes. Plus the permission granted for massive barn-factories (6m chickens a day). Hmm.

Third law of Nature. Don’t fight Nature, ‘it may be somebody’s mother.’ Our relation with Nature is not: ‘fight (bad) pests’. Rather we must ask why a pest appeared. It means the soil is degraded and your crop is vulnerable, its immune system weak. Treat it like your child, or your spouse. And don’t even think about abandoning or divorcing (though there is one emergency escape hatch. See below ‘farmfree’.)

Our only hopes 

Monbiot looks at three different approaches to a nonlethal agriculture. All three were not profitable, relying on either an aristocrat or a capitalist with a heart, but making profit is the reason we are in the current mess.

1. No fertilizers but still plowing. Aim for farm self-sufficiency, i.e., no need for external inputs, not use of excess manure, which needs plowing. Tolly: You get this build-up of phosphate and potassium to ridiculous levels, and that causes big problems. I call it soil obesity. Overfeeding the soil reduces the activity of fungi and bacteria. You can’t keep building up carbon for ever. You have to use it. Otherwise you end up with a peat bog, which doesn’t grow food. And adds industrial toxins. Tolly: If you’ve got it right, your plants will defend themselves

And alternate crops. Leek moths caused Tolly some damage the first year, but by the fourth year were gone. Maybe a native parasitic wasp adapted to eat them. Slugs are not a problem because there are lots of ground beetles. The only issues we have is with pigeons and badgers. I’ve yet to find an insect that controls them. Wildflower beds between crops control pests. 

Second Law of Nature Corollary two. The greater the diversity and abundance of predators, the wider the range of pests they attack. ie., the nodes of the system are flexible, loose. Plowing kills weeds, leaving an exposed mini-desert, but insects still have the wildflower ley nearby, and can return to colonize the crops as soon as they begin to grow. 

More corollaries: 

a. Keep the soil covered as much as possible, so winter crop then summer crop. Naked soil is dangerous, open to infection, loss of soil nutrients. 

b. Native plants support a wide range of predators and few crop pests. Nonnatives the opposite. 

c. Like all complex systems [except human ones, especially capitalism], soil seeks equilibrium. It tends to stabilize around a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of 12:1 unless we interfere to prevent it.

Tolly lets straw remain and trees shed bark, twigs, uses waste wood chips from other farmers to increase carbon content to stimulate fungi and bacteria, but not so much that it causes them to lock up the nitrogen in the soil. The woodchip isn’t fertilizer, it’s an inoculant that stimulates microbes. We aren’t feeding the crop. We’re feeding the soil. We need a balanced carbon level that meets the particular soil and climate. Cremate dead bodies if you like, but don’t remove dead trees! 

Theory of soil: the way in which bacteria turn carbon into the structures that stabilize it and make air and water and nutrients accessible to the roots of plants. We need an advanced science of the soil, a new agronomy, to produce more food with less farming, drawing on emerging knowledge about the rhizosphere to devise specific organic treatments, precisely tuned to the world’s many soil ecologies. 

The vast herds of herbivores in North America and Africa before Europeans (buffalo) are likely due to the slaughter of great predators (tigers, wolves) by people already there. Before humans began competing with them and killing them all, large carnivores existed in large concentrations everywhere. They roamed about, keeping the smaller mammal populations in check. In other words, there was not so much shit in the soil before humans came along, killed off all the magnificent beasts, taming a few boring subservient mammals, breeding them in vast numbers in closed systems. Adding (literally) tons of shit to farm intensely (getting pandemics and mass starvation every once in a while) which is not only unhealthy but unnatural, upsetting the natural life of the soil. Yet foreign aid is all based on conventional farming projects, with no funds for development of an agroecology. 

Natural systems lose some nutrients, but far fewer than farmland does. Their nitrogen is replenished by bacteria and lightning strikes; other minerals and roughage by the weathering of rocks and decomposition of trees. Tolly strikes the right balance between nitrogen and carbon in the soil, letting microbes deliver minerals when they are required, letting the plants thrive in their own little universe, rather than invading and force-feeding them first one thing, then another, constantly keeping the plant in a state of change/ stress that it has no control over, not allowing it to ‘do its own thing.’ 

Tolly won’t sell to restaurants: you have to be a masochist to deal direct with them. Temperamental chefs, high staff turnover. They want everything yesterday. And they throw a lot of their food out: its far more wasteful than home cooking. I don’t grow veg to be dumped in the bin

2. Tim does not plow his land, one of the small number of cultivators in Europe using ‘no-till’ farming to grow grain, trying to overcome the problem that Tolly identified: the harm of continually breaking the soil by plowing. Plowing turns the soil through 90 degrees, pushing the surface straw underground, making an anoxic layer. Then the straw rots, creating acidity. Plant roots hate it. It’s like licking a battery. Leave the straw on top, like a bandage! After years without plowing, the worms and roots have split up the hard, acidic pan, and the (plowed) facture zone disappears. It takes a long time. It’s easy to break the soil, harder to mend it. Humpty Dumpty. The healed soil holds together, holds moisture, full of bacteria, worms, arthropods, glomalin molecules extruded by fungi, the aggregates that harbor life. 

Aphids love stressed plants. If you have aphids it means your crop is malnourished and struggling. They want protein, not carbohydrate, which is why aphids excrete honeydew from stressed plants which ants harvest (instead of you harvesting the plant’s fruit). Giving up plowing allowed Tim to eliminate pesticides and reduce use of fertilizer by 15% as fewer nutrients are lost through erosion. Downside: Planting involves (expensive) seed-drilling. Not for everyone.

Upside: Standard farming requires 50% of the cost upfront so if the harvest fails, it’s a disaster. For Tim it costs little, only the seed, time and diesel for drilling. If the autumn is too rainy, you can replant in the spring. He leaves the cut straw on top and the microbes will digest it and worms pull it into their burrows. In the meantime, it protects the soil against the rain and sun. Fourth law of Nature: You should never let the sun see the soil. 

(Fatal?) downside: By not plowing Tim relies on herbicide (Roundup glysophate which kills bees, also interferes with rhyzosphere bacteria). So a serious trade-off with plowing on damage to the whole ecology. You can’t ‘hold all other variables constant.’ But lots of earthworms. You can use a crimper roller to smash and frays stems of weeds in winter without damaging the soil, exposing them to frost and (good) infection. This works in Canada but the UK is no longer cold enough. Now (expensive) robot weeders are selecting and zapping. Nothing is easy. There are always ‘other variables’.

For grain farming, there is the additional problem of milling and producing bread, which is now industrial. Tim: We want diversity. They want conformity. We get no points for wildlife, no points for soil quality, no points for a complex rotation. It just has to be cheap. This is the world we work in. And: In the Neolithic they couldn’t plow, as they didn’t have draft animals. So they must have drilled their seed directly into the ground. It’s taken 5,500 years to realize we made a mistake and to relearn what they knew. It means creating food networks that aren’t dominated by seed and chemical companies, grain barons, or supermarkets, but are independent and self-organized. Food sovereignty. Farmers using their own knowledge of the land and market to find a balance. 

3. Agroecology. Ian made a small fortune selling seeds and decided to use the profits to start a project FarmED as a controlled experiement comparing different agroecological methods. A community project, education center, food economy in microcosm. Originally his experimental land grew barley but it was not profitable. The land was depleted, requiring lots of fertilizer. Organic matter 3%. Should be 10%. So first a bandage. Four years herbal ley with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Hedges. Ian uses heritage wheat, more expensive but hardier against storms. His project is heuristic, with a big conference hall, community meetings, exchange of information, baking, trying to navigate the price constraints imposed by cheap bread. Zero budget natural farming. Replacing chemicals and GMO seed with natural processes and seed they save. He follows experiments in Karnataka, Malawi. 

Law of Man and Nature: Farmers need clear and secure land rights or they will have no incentive to protect their soil, plant trees, and farm as if tomorrow will actually come. Rights of big companies are guaranteed by international treaties, local people have no protection and governments and businesses sometimes collude to throw them off their land.

Kernza wheatgrass is a perennial, averting the need to clear and sow the ground for every harvest. This is a return to Neolithics. Large areas dominated by annual plants are rare in Nature. They tend to colonize ground in the wake of catastrophe (fire, flood landslide, volcanic eruption), and survive only until perennial plants return and mend the broken land. Plants that colonize bare ground have evolved to grow fast and invest much of their energy in seeds to spread as far as possible before the new land closes up. Their seeds tend to be large and to germinate freely. But we must keep the land in the catastrophic state the grasses prefer. Some grasses, however, are naturally perennial, and we can use gene splicing, CRISPR to speed up evolution of higher yields. The hope is to match wheat in 30 years.

Ecosystems dominated by perennials (forests, natural grasslands) support richer and more abundant soil life than fields growing annual crops. Their long roots draw nutrients from deep in the ground, become their own green manures, their own herbal leys, so land doesn’t need to be taken out of production. The longer they stay in the ground the stronger their relationships with bacteria that fix nitrogen, and with microbes and fungi that seek out other nutrients, so you need less fertilizer. They hold five times as much of the water that falls as annual crops! Win, win, win, win. 

The Land Institute in Kansas also developed a strain of rice with Yunnan University in China. They crossed an annual variety with a wild African plant in the same genus to produce a perennial crop with yields matching and even exceeding modern annual rice breeds. It is already in use in China as a commercial crop, producing 12 crops without resowing. 

The fields would have strips of perennial beans and wildflowers between the strips of cereal grain or rice to provide natural fertilizer. The endangered status of virtually all the 20,000 species of bees is more than enough evidence of the way Nature feels when we poison her to satisfy our whims. Big Farmer has been conned by Big Pharma. And watch out for Big Biodeiseltruck, using places unsuitable for other crops, leading to greater habitat destruction instead of less. There’s a limit to how much we can eat, but none to how much we can burn

It is extraordinary that the shift is being led not by governments or multilaterial agencies, but by a small NGO in a farmhouse in Salina, Kansas. But then governments are in the pocket of industrial farming, which is only concerned with short term profit, and averse to any major upheaval that would inevitably bankrupt them. The Greener Revolution has begun and big government and big everything just has to step aside. Power to the small farmer and the soil!

4Farmfree. All the above pales when we look at using the survival strategies of microbes in the soil to harvest energy. The species Finnish scientist Pasi Vainikka uses at Solar Foods, uses neither photosynthesis nor products created by other organisms, but hydrogen itself. It is a hydrogen-oxygenating bacterium, which produces beta carotenoids (think carrot) and all nine essential amino acids, and can be turned into flour that is 60% protein, eliminating the need for eggs in cooking, and needing to be diluted with wheat flour (unless you want an omelet). In contrast, chickpea flour has protein content of 20% which still needs some egg in cooking. The idea was developed by NASA in the 1960s. If fully used, it would use 1,700 times less land than, say, soybeans. 

It needs electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis, so lots of solar panels, but even then, it needs 30-60 times less land. And crops take months to grow vs a harvest every three hours for bacteria. As grazing occupies 2/3 of agricultural land and grains for humans and animals the rest, this could permit defarming on a massive scale, freeing land to return to its natural state, allowing ecosystems to rebound. This transition could be our best hope of stopping the sixth Great Extinction. 

And the whole process is self-sustaining, recyclable, a good ‘closed system’ of production. None of the minerals the bacteria need are lost, the water and effluents included. We would need 11% more electricity, but part of this would be offset by reductions in energy needed to make ammonia and urea. As hydrogen production becomes more efficient, bacterial protein becomes ever cheaper. While agroecology takes us back to Neothilic times, this process takes us back to prehuman times. For the first time in history, we would be able to live without farming, the great scourge of the soil, of Nature. We could pay our debts (which are monstrous), if we do it soon.

This is just the beginning of a new science of Man, starting with bacteria, fantastically malleable, which can radically change their genetic composition through gene transfer. Insulin has been produced this way since 1978. Rennet for cheese used to be extracted from the lining of the fourth stomach of an unweaned calf (the missing ingredient from the brew in Macbeth?). Some is still produced this way, often to meet organic standards (!). 

Stop to imagine for a moment:

  • We can stop overharvesting of fish for long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. 
  • We can tweak bacteria to encapsulate fats to construct full-cultured meat (that juicy sensation missing from vegan burgers). 
  • Generic white protein (chicken) can be produced from fungal mycelium, eliminating the need to kill 202 million chickens every day.
  • Replace palm oil and coconut oil, saving whatever tropical forest is still there. 

Our agricultural, rational ‘logic’ has had a tendency to turn everything good into something bad. Thank you bacteria! 

Monbiot points to the major techno-ethical shifts such as ‘the pill’, the campaign against smoking, homophobia, #MeToo, where a critical threshold is reached (25%), allowing social conventions to flip. Sadly, entrenched lobbies by milk and meat industries ban using ‘their’ names (milk, cream, butter, yogurt, burgers, steaks), offering suggestions like disks, pucks, tubes, even trying to ban the use of standard butter blocks or milk cartons, to ‘avoid confusion’. So the battle will be for ‘hearts and minds’.

The Counter-Agricultural Revolution will be disruptive. Farmers, workers in slaughterhouses will need reeducation and job opportunities. But why mourn a sector with a long and disgraceful record of industrial injuries, starvation wages, and the exploitation of migrant workers? RethinkX (a think tank founded in 2016 that focuses on disruptive innovations that impact society) proposes a universal Law in this new science of Man: protect people, not companies or legacy industries. 

Much like for disarmament—if we ever finally agree on that—confronting the second most destructive human activity to have blighted the Earth after agriculture. Imagine the return of megafauna, the default state of all ecosystems. Elephants, rhinos, lions once lived throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas alongside many other great beasts which have since become extinct. Whales, great sharks, giant tuna. These magnificent creatures once dominated the planet, helping to anchor and sustain its living systems. Rewild the Serengetis on every continent! Unlike the actual Serengeti, these ecosystems should continue to be richly habited by the people who live there today, in a new, Nature-based economy. Stopping climate breakdown is impossible without a mass restoration of the living world.

Time future contained in time past, as the saying goes, not just 5,000 years past to the Neolithic, but a million years past to the prehuman era, completing the circle of life to the very beginning of time, to find the solutions to our crises. ReGenesis. 

God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. This was the Golden Age for the Earth. 

The Golden Age for humans (90% of our time here so far) was clearly pre-agriculture hunter-gatherer groups, before we bit the Apple, i.e., the descent into slavery and the industrial revolution. 

We couldn’t destroy Earth before we existed, but during our Golden Age, we first wiped out the megafauna, then got busy destroying the rest, till we got really busy with the invention of agriculture. In the 20th c we finally regained the height of our Golden Age ancestors, when they worked a few hours a day using many skills, doing ‘work’ that scarcely qualifies as toil. They did a lot more traveling, talking, singing, dancing, worshipping, strengthening their social networks. War too, though before gunpowder, not so many genocides. But that lifestyle means 20+ square kilometers per capita. Today, that’s only the dream of a nefarious conspiratorial elite who want to wipe out 90% of us for their Nirvana.

I haven’t touched on the distribution of food, where the revolution will mean not more roads, but less. And lots more charity. 

Earth Rover Program. First, rather than mapping enemy infrastructure for destruction in war, or the Moon and other planets to exploit, we need the precise mapping of Earth’s soils and an advanced knowledge of their biology, leading to a new understanding of fertility and how to enhance it. Not public consultants to sell pesticides and fertilizers but the opposite: to help release farmers from dependency on corporate seeds and chemicals, reduce their costs and receive more of the value of the food they produce. Fair-trade movement. 

Rewildng in the Netherlands employs six times as many workers as dairy farms, creating small businesses to serve people coming to watch the abundant wildlife there. Rewilding Britain found a 50% increase in full-time employment. A message for Lula and the Amazon, but we had to go through the destructive phase of technology and capitalism to ‘live and learn’. Rewilding needs science, monitoring, fence and asphalt removal, unstraightening rivers, restoring wetlands, planting, removing excessive nutrients in the soil (cutting and removing the hay for a few years). 

For farming,

  • use biological control to manage pests, 
  • make farming hospitable to wildlife, creating stepping stones and corridors between protected places. 
  • end biofuel, 
  • stop restricting development of microbial proteins, plant-based and cultured foods, 
  • prevent monopolizing by a few corporations or billionaires. 
  • use only ‘good’ technology, 
  • prevent agricultural sprawl (i.e., using lots of land for little food). 

Laws of science of Manmore food with less farming, pubic vs private balance, food that is healthy, cheap and accessible. Goals: stop farming animals, diversify the global food system, break global corporations’ stranglehold on the food chain, minimize water/ chemical use, limit the land we use to feed the world and rewild it. 

Monbiot sees public mobilization round Covid as a sign that we can be mobilized if we realize there is a real crisis. Feed the world without devouring the planet.

Postscript. I realize now that it was foolhardy of Marx and Lenin et al to advocate a communist ‘materialist’ revolution, which was really just another ideal construct of the mind. We need a lot more science, a science of soil and of Man. Even then, orchestrating complex change from the top down is not what Nature does. When you turn over Hegel’s bath tub, the baby inevitably falls out too. Revolution we desperately need, but based on reality and without violence. In meantime, the revolutionary road can learn from the mistakes (and the achievements) of the Soviet Union, the great top-down attempt to outsmart Mr Moneybags. 


i. I.e., we enter into plant’s universe and steal bits for our own universe.

ii I.e., you can’t ‘let other variables remain constant’ when you try to analyze.

Eric Walberg

Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s. He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *