Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Economy of failure

The French government has decided to drop plans for a domestic carbon tax. In a telling statement, the Prime Minister, Francois Fillon told parliament: “We have to amplify measures that help reinforce the competitiveness of our economy.

“In that spirit, I would like to indicate that the decisions we are going to take regarding sustainable development have to be better coordinated with all European countries, so as not to widen our gap in competitiveness with our neighbour Germany." (source )

This illustrates one of the huge failures in our market-driven paradigm. As nation states and corporations are in economic competition with one another, it is unlikely that they will act in a manner that might jeopardise their ability to compete in the international economy in the short term, even if that action is vital and will be beneficial in the mid-to-long term.

It is true that France has a lower per capita emission score (6.2 tonnes per year as opposed to the UK's 9.4 tonnes according to the World Bank 2005 data) (a useful list of countries emission scores here, but nevertheless it illustrates the point.

As long as we place economic competitiveness first, we will fail to act radically enough to avert the oncoming crisis.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Spring thoughts

It is that time of year again. The time of year when we look ahead and sow the seeds for our future harvest.

I have spoken before on this blog about the importance of regaining control of our food supply from the multinationals and about the surprising fragility of our food supply in the UK.

In terms of environmental impact growing some, at least, of our own food is probably one of the most significant actions we ordinary bods can take to reduce our environmental footprint.

While working towards doing just that, I have been inspired recently by two books. One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein details how to organically grow a significant portion of your food, starting with just a 1 metre square plot. As a childhood survivor of the Dutch "Hunger Winter" of 1944-45, the author appreciates the necessity, as few of us now living in the West do, of food security. The book contains a great deal of useful information on companion plants and seed saving, and features a variety of seasonal plot designs.

Living where I do, contending with lowered soil fertility, a shorter growing season and salt laden winds, container growing is very much an essential tool. In The Edible Container Garden, Michael Guerra applies the principles of permaculture to tiny spaces, specifically focusing on containers and raised beds. The book is very accessible, giving minimum container depths and companion plants for different crops. A focus on design and situation, such as roof gardens, focus the book for the urban dweller with limited growing space.

I have found these two books particularly useful for their focus on growing in a limited space. As most of us live in an urban situation, this is a significant factor. For the inexperienced or the short of time, it becomes possible to visualise yourself managing a 1 metre square plot or a few window boxes and containers rather than a bigger garden, making food growing an altogether less daunting prospect.

Intimately connected to our food security is the idea of seed saving. It is well worth saving seeds from what we grow, and perhaps starting a community seed exchange ( or a community seed bank (

I believe that, in the face of peak oil and increasing food prices, having the skills to grow our own food, and knowing how to save seed from our harvest for planting the following year, will only become more essential.