The best way to save the planet?

18 06 2018

This amazing piece of information just came across my newsfeed, and it encapsulates everything I believe in and want to practice on the Fanny Farm….  There are great embedded videos in this, and it will take you some time to get through it, but it’s really worth the effort… the Roots of Nature site is fantastic, and I will go through it once the building phase here is over….

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The best way to save the planet? Stop listening to George Monbiot!

We can’t and shouldn’t try to calculate the value of living systems by only using reductionist science that is centuries behind explaining the true wonder of mother nature and her balanced systems.

POSTED BY CAROLINE GRINDROD ON JUN 16, 2018

In his last article and in the other regenerative agriculture and holistic management hate mail currently spewing from George Monbiot – is an unrelenting desire to reduce our food production systems down to simple numbers. Numbers which conveniently support his idea of a vegan utopia.

This sort of mechanistic analysis only makes sense for de-natured food systems where all-natural processes have been ‘knocked out’ and what’s left is a lifeless medium in which a plant can put down roots. In our modern ‘Frankenstein’ agriculture N + P + K = a food plant, which will survive if you exterminate all pests (also known as wildlife) with pesticides, all fungi (one of the most important organisms for carbon sequestration) with fungicides, and all weeds (also known as wildflowers) with herbicides.

George Monbiot Meat
This ‘efficient’ yet highly vulnerable chemical agriculture system is what mostly produces the plant foods that George insists is all we should eat. A lot of the plants are also fed to our Frankenstein livestock fattened in sheds in horrible and unethical conditions. I’m with George 100% that this practice is completely unacceptable and totally inefficient, but the WHOLE of this chain of production is utterly anti-nature, regardless if it’s animals or humans eating the product.

Let’s not overlook that in any food production system – especially those run by large profit-driven corporations like the companies who will be making those yummy fake meat burgers  – there’s a lot of waste crop that doesn’t make the grade for human consumption which makes up a significant part of what is fed to livestock. This isn’t factored into his number crunching.

We can all cherry pick reductionist science to back up our most closely held viewpoints. George accuses free range steak of being ‘more damaging’ than even conventional meat based on the land required to produce a KG of grass-fed steak. These accusations are based on the ridiculous idea that a living animal on a living system should be quantified using this calculation;

Total methane emissions = number of animals x lifetime of animal x methane emissions per head per day.

 

Thinking of a cow as a ‘meat machine’ highlights the extent of the issue of using reductionist science for making decisions about food. But as explained in this great piece and its relevant links  much of the methane emitted by cattle as part of a properly managed grazing system is oxidised and countered by the processes in the healthy living soils that the animals themselves enhance.

George Monbiot seems to think of a cow as a machine that belches unacceptable levels of methane into the atmosphere, yet overlooks the huge increase in methane that would be generated by the introduction of beavers into rewilded landscapes. As we can see in this systematic review of the literature, wetlands, which are promoted by beavers making dams, may sequester some carbon but the methane they release could overall make their GHG contribution more than if the land were to be left as grazing land.

Luckily as holistic managers, we understand that it would be ridiculous to judge the beaver based on science that is taken out of context and will probably soon be out of date anyway. I’m all for regenerating a fully functional habitat and would love to see beavers introduced back into our Wilderculture sites to improve overall ecosystem function; especially the water cycle. But if you applied the same thinking that claims cows cause global warming to beavers, they could be considered a bad idea along with any other wild herbivores that inevitably burp methane.

 

regenerative agriculture

 

George seems to understand nothing of the very serious health concerns associated with eating a vegan diet. Please watch the video below for a better understanding of why animal food are so important for fighting disease.

 

 

I think the reason why George Monbiot very obviously doesn’t ‘get’ regenerative agriculture and seems to have no grasp at all of what is involved in holistic management, is that he sees nature on one side of the fence and agriculture on the other.

By segregating and exploiting agriculture to feed humans so we can ‘give back’ land to nature, we further alienate ourselves from ‘the’ environment. Shouldn’t it be ‘our’ environment? Eventually, nobody will care; we’ll end up eating factory made products and forget any responsibility we have for our food systems and how they impact nature and people.

George Monbiot thinks of rewilded land in terms of ecosystems, yet doesn’t apply any of the same logic to farmed land and the food systems he recommends. He’s missing the point totally – probably because he repeatedly shuns any offer to learn more about it – that holistic management is based on a framework that helps us increase the effectiveness of the ecosystem processes.

In holistic management, we use tools – that sometimes include livestock – to build a healthier ecosystem that supports the greatest range of species possible, including predators. For us Holistic Managers, we consider predators, and diversity as a barometer of how well we managing our land.

 

 

Conservation organisations have highlighted that one of the biggest threats to species and habitats is the fragmentation and isolation of species in reserves; they’re like islands in a sea of degraded farmland. My dream, through our Wilderculture work, is to have farms that are even better than our current nature reserves for wildlife and provision of ecosystem services. These farms will also produce highly nutritious meat and other plants, in greater volume than the current low baseline, as a ‘by-product’ from the use of livestock to improve habitat. I would LOVE to have the problem of trying to protect my livestock from wolves and lynx one day, this would mean our environment is enormously productive and resilient to climate fluctuations.

George assumes that all holistic managers use fences and exclude predators from grazing land, which is simply not true. We learn and fully understand that we can’t have a healthy ecosystem without creating the functions of the predator-prey relationship – it’s a ‘key insight’ of holistic management!

 

 

In many of the dry-land ranches holistic planned grazing (a procedure we sometimes use in holistic management) the livestock are herded and fences aren’t used at all. When we do use fences, it is simply to mimic the function of a bunched and moving herd of wild herbivores where herding is impractical. Cattle in our Wilderculture work and in many of the African holistic management systems encourage the regeneration of a kind of wood pasture/savannah landscape – exactly that most likely to have prevailed before man had such a significant influence on the landscape.

 

 

For those who want to understand more about Holistic Management and see some of the farmers managing over 40 million hectares using this tried and tested framework, this short documentary explains it well. Or you can join me on an hour-long webinar explaining more.

 

 

We assess our land through four windows; the water cycle, the mineral cycle, the energy flow and community dynamics. Increasing function in these can increase productivity dramatically; good for the farmer, good for wildlife.

Those who judge everything based on reductionist empirical evidence will assume this is too simplistic a metric to use. Don’t be fooled. The more I learn about the most updated soil and climate science from globally respected experts such as Jason Rowntree,  Walter JehneChristine JonesElaine InghamDavid JohnsonRichard Teague – who, unlike some more ‘confused’ grazing researchersare on the right side of the now-called ‘soil revolution’ – the more I appreciate the simple elegance of this method of assessment. Reading ecosystem processes at the soil surface encapsulates the incredible and complex natural balancing system at play, in a way that science can’t yet fully accommodate.

But some of the better newer science also suggests we shouldn’t look at food systems through a single ‘window’. This article is a great and full explanation of why carbon sequestration and methane oxidation cannot be separated out from the – sometimes more important – climate change mitigating functions of a food production system.

 

The four ecosystem processes.

 

The water cycle – we assess and improve how well the water passes into and is retained within the soil and utilised by plants avoiding drought and flood. A poor water cycle reduces the ability of our planet to cool itself, drastically reduces productivity in all growing systems and reduces the ability of soil to sequester carbon.

The mineral cycle – can your plants access minerals and recycle through a living soil food web then back to the soil quickly so more plants can grow? If it does then, we can drop all the fertilisers, chemicals and medicines from agriculture – the biggest contributor to the agricultural Carbon footprint AND the biggest cost drain on farmers.

Energy flow – How effectively are you using sunlight energy and passing it through the ecosystem system for the benefit of all organisms including those that will eventually feed humans. By getting more plants photosynthesizing per every Metre squared we are making more food; for microbes in the soil, for livestock, for wildlife and eventually us. If solar energy flow is not effective you will be using fossil fuel energy; that’s expensive and destructive.

Community dynamics – How effectively are you harnessing the highest successional state within the land you manage to balance our and reduce pests, maximise nutrient uptake, seed rainfall and make all land (agricultural or ‘wild) more resilient to climate change and wild fire?

 

 

In George’s articles, he refers to one of the conclusions of this report; ‘It shows that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution that are caused by food production.’

In Richard Young’s (Sustainable food trust) superb response he highlights the many problems with using global averages to back up a highly Westernised viewpoint. The above figures neglect to understand that when farmers pioneer land they will assess the production capabilities of a given area and cultivate the lower, flatter and most accessible for crop (plant food) production and use the higher more inaccessible or less productive areas for grazing animals. it’s just common sense.

 

Of course, you’re going to get fewer calories and protein from these vast areas of uncultivated land, they wouldn’t sustain effective plant food production anyway!

 

Why do you think there are no vegan traditional cultures on the 2/3 rds of the planets habitable land that have long dry seasons? You simply don’t find large numbers of vegans anywhere in the world where there aren’t fancy-pants health food stores! All the traditional peoples of dry-land cultures have to rely on the milk, eggs, meat and blood of animals to survive.

Let’s imagine a modern-day land pioneer deciding what to grow on his land, it will illustrate why simply selecting an ‘efficient’ grain crop may not be the brightest of ideas!

You stumble across a hundred acres of wild and diverse savannah grassland and ‘grab it.’ You’ve got two choices;

1) You decide to grow just soya beans; it’s the most efficient source of food you can grow in terms of protein production and yield. Somehow you find the money to buy the seed.You need to plough the land to minimise competition and establish the crop; this kills most of the creatures that live here. Because you’re fighting nature to grow a monoculture (nature abhors bare ground and monoculture) you must use chemicals to suppress the weeds, disease, and bugs that are making a ‘bee’ line for the easy target you have provided them.

The soil has degraded releasing its valuable Carbon into the atmosphere reducing the capacity to absorb and retain precious water, and the soil micro-organisms so vital for oxidising methane and cycling nutrients have been destroyed.

The soil structure is damaged, and the liquid carbon pathway no longer functions so the plants will need inorganic fertilisers to grow – the most energy-intensive element of agriculture. 60% of those fertilisers will be lost to the rivers and streams causing havoc in water ways and oceans.

You will need to irrigate the land because, bare soil (what you have created) gets hotter and loses water through evaporation very quickly and is prone to drought and flood damage.

You could eat all this soya bean product and possibly survive – for a while at least, but there are serious health concerns about eating copious amounts of soy, or plant foods – especially the modern processed types. (see the note at the foot of the article)

Between 40 – 70 nutrients are known to be needed for health and disease resistance, not only will we get pretty bored of eating soy products, it would inevitably lead to disease and malnutrition.

The land will eventually become so degraded that no amount of chemical helps will allow a successful crop to grow – it’s not a good long-term plan – you’ll end up with a desert.

 

 

2) Alternatively, you could maintain the diverse, living savannah and allow all the wildlife to co-exist.Within your 100 acres, you can run a herd of twenty or more cattle by bunching them and moving them to mimic the natural large herds of grazers that pass through the land. You’re going to team up with your neighbours to make bigger groups, so you can allow areas of land to rest for longer.

You can milk the cows which produce a healthy and nourishing protein source all year round along with an amazing array of health benefits and you can kill a cow or a wild animal occasionally for meat.

You can use the wild herbs and roots for food and grow small areas of crops in mixed rotation to avoid pest burdens and soil degradation, the manure from the animals replenished the fertility of this land.

The entire system provides all the nutrients you need to thrive and requires NO agricultural fertilisers, chemicals or livestock medications.

This system is flood and drought resistant and can go on forever supporting the families who choose to live there.

So, in a fuller context, Georges soy-based scenario isn’t sounding quite so attractive! One of the best examples of scenario two operating at a significant food production scale is regenerative agricultural hero Gabe Brown who, in this great video below, shows an photograph of some soil before and after a woodland was cleared and then cropped with soy for 17 years – it’s scary!

 

 

George Monbiot is using the current unsustainable agricultural model – which I completely agree must change – to justify a move to a plant-based model with some vague notion that we will get better at producing plants organically without the need for livestock.

As Mark Palmer, an experienced organic agricultural advisor explains in his excellent article, producing food from an animal-free cropping system is not as simple as George would like it to sound.

My colleague Georgia and I have written a whole series of articles on how to eat in ways that regenerate land and recover human health whilst still producing enough food to nourish a growing population; we cover them fully in our ‘Wilderove approach’ the eco-omnivore approach to saving the planet.

 

Dumbing down the complexity of the discussion to a statement like ‘eating vegan is less harmful to the planet’ is absurd!

 

As I have highlighted in my article ‘I run a meat business but I’m glad more people are becoming vegan’ I would be happy to leave George alone to enthusiastically convert more people to veganism. I admire anyone who’s willing to make a change for the sake of the planet, even, if in my view, it’s misguided. At least it’s a move away from some of the cruel agricultural practices that are the current norm.

But sadly, George Monbiot seems to have made it his life’s greatest mission to undermine the efforts of regenerative agriculture practitioners like myself who farm alongside wildlife, help mitigate climate change and produce healthy food for all humans (not just middle-class ones with access to a whole foods store!) And, in particular, he seems hell-bent on destroying the reputation of a man; Allan Savory, whom I feel will one day be remembered as one of the greatest positive change-makers of our time.

We holistic managers and regenerative farmers are a small but growing movement of empowered, skilled, experienced and passionate individuals who WILL keep trying to save this beautiful planet regardless of the unrelenting application of limited thinking and significant influence against our cause.

 

 

So, in my humble and un-scientific opinion, one of the most damaging practices in land management today is the widespread promotion of GM.

I mean George Monbiot!

Caroline Grindrod

 

Taken from Weston Price Web site; • High levels of phytic acid in soy reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Phytic acid in soy is not neutralized by ordinary preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and long, slow cooking. High phytate diets have caused growth problems in children. • Trypsin inhibitors in soy interfere with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders. In test animals soy containing trypsin inhibitors caused stunted growth. • Soy phytoestrogens disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women. • Soy phytoestrogens are potent antithyroid agents that cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease. • Vitamin B12 analogs in soy are not absorbed and actually increase the body’s requirement for B12. • Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for vitamin D. Fragile proteins are denatured during high temperature processing to make soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein. Processing of soy protein results in the formation of toxic lysinoalanine and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines. Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods. Soy foods contain high levels of aluminum which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.

 

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George Monbiot’s “Out of the Wreckage”: A friendly critique.

7 05 2018

By my old mate monbiotTed Trainer

Few have made a more commendable contribution to saving the planet than George Monbiot. His recent book, Out of the Wreckage, continues the effort and puts forward many important ideas…but I believe there are problems with his diagnosis and his remedy.

The book is an excellent short, clear account of several of the core faults in consumer-capitalist society, and the alternatives advocated are admirable.  George’s focal concern is the loss of community, and the cause is, as we know, neo-liberalism. He puts this in terms of the “story” that dominates thinking. Today the taken for granted background story about society is that it is made of competitive, self-interest-maximizing individuals, and therefore our basic institutions and processes are geared to a struggle to accumulate private wealth, rather than to encouraging concern for each other and improving the welfare of all. Thatcher went further, instructing us that there is not even any such thing as society, only individuals. George begins by rightly contradicting such vicious nonsense, pointing out that humans are fundamentally nice, altruistic, caring and cooperative, but we have allowed these dispositions to be overridden primarily by an economic system that obliges us to behave differently.

He gives heavy and convincing documentation of- this theme. Chapters 1 and 2 deal with several indicators of the sad state of affairs.  “ … this age of atomization  breeds anxiety, discontent and unhappiness.” (p. 18.) “An epidemic of loneliness is sweeping the world.” (p. 16.) Chapter 3 deals with the way neoliberalism has caused the social damage that has accumulated over the last forty years.

But my first concern with the book is that disastrous as it is, neo-liberalism isn’t the main problem confronting us and likely to destroy us.  The main problem is sustainability.  George does refer to this briefly and rather incidentally (e.g., p. 117) and again it seems to me that what he says is correct… it’s just that he doesn’t deal adequately with the magnitude or centrality of the problem or it’s extremely radical implications.

I need to elaborate here.  Few seem to grasp that the “living standards” enjoyed in rich countries involve per capita use rates for resources and environmental impact are around ten times those that all people expected to be living on earth by 2050 could have.  For fifty years now a massive “limits to growth” literature has been accumulating. For instance the Australian per capita use of productive land is 6 – 8 ha, so if the almost 10 billion people expected to be living on the planet by 2050 were to live as we do now, up to 80 billion ha would be needed.  But there are only about 8 billion ha of productive land available on the planet and at present loss rates more than half will be gone by 2050. Many other areas, such as per capita minerals use, also reveal the largely unrecognized magnitude of the overshoot. (For a summary of the situation see TSW: The Limits to Growth.)

The inescapable implication is that we in rich countries should accept the need to shift to lifestyles and systems which involve enormous reductions in resource use and ecological impact.  A De-growth movement recognizing this has now emerged. Yet the supreme goal in this society remains economic growth, i.e., increasing production, consumption, sales, and GDP without limit. To refuse to face up to the absurdity of this, which is what almost everyone does, is to guarantee the onset of catastrophic global breakdown within decades.

Thus the sustainability problem cannot be solved unless we abandon affluence and growth […the title of Ted’s 1985 book which changed my life and is the reason you are now reading this…]  Just getting rid of neo-liberal doctrine and exploitation is far from sufficient.  Even a perfect socialism ensuring equity for all would bring on just about the same range of global problems as that we face now if the goal was affluence for all.

When all this is understood it is clear that the solution has to be transition to some kind of “Simpler Way”.  That is, there can be no defensible option but to shift to lifestyles and systems that involve extremely low per capita throughput.  This cannot be done unless there is also historically unprecedented transition to new economic, political and value systems. Many green people fail to grasp the magnitude of the change required; reforming a system that remains driven by market forces, or growth or the desire for wealth cannot do it. Just getting rid of capitalism will not be enough; the change in values is more important and difficult than that. Yet we advocates of simplicity have no doubt that our vision could be achieved while providing a very high quality of life to everyone.  (For a detailed account of how thing might be organised see TSW: The Alternative.)

George doesn’t seem to grasp the significance of the limits, the magnitude of the overshoot, or therefore the essential nature of the sustainability problem and its extremely radical implications.  Above all he does not stress the need to happily embrace extremely frugal “lifestyles”. Sustainability cannot be achieved unless the pursuit of affluence as well as the dominance of neo-liberalism ceases, and he therefore does not deal with what is in fact the main task for those wishing to save the planet; i.e., increasing general awareness that a Simpler Way of some kind must be taken. George does not discuss the simplicity theme.

This has been a criticism in terms of goals. I think the book also has a problem regarding means.  The book is primarily about politics.  It is a sound critique of the way the present decision making system works for the rich and of the need for us to take control of it into our hands via localism. But George is saying in effect, ”Let’s get out there and build community and take control and then we can fix things.” Unfortunately I think that advice is based on a questionable analysis of the situation and of how to fix it.

My case requires some discussion of what I see as perhaps the book’s major problem, which is to do with the nature of community, more accurately with the conditions required for it to exist or come into existence. Again George’s documentation of the sorry state of community today is to be applauded.  But I think his strategic recommendations mostly involve little more than a plea for us to just come together and commune, as if we have made the mistake of forgetting the importance of community and all would be well if we just woke up and knocked on our neighbour’s door.

Firstly George’s early pages give us powerful reasons to believe that such “voluntaristic” steps are not going to prevail against the massive and intensifying forces at work driving out community.  Economic reality gives most people no choice but to function as isolated, struggling, stressed, time-poor, insecure individuals competing against all others to get by, having to worry about unemployment, the mortgage and now the robots. Mobility obliges the individual to move through several careers in a lifetime, “development” eliminates stable neighbourhoods and rips up established support networks. Developers and councils prosper most when high rise units are thrown up everywhere, and the resulting land prices weigh against allocating space to a diverse landscape of mini-farms and firms and community gardens and leisure facilities likely to increase human interaction. Smart phones preoccupy with trivia and weaken parental control. Commerce and councils takes over functions families and neighbourhoods once performed for themselves, making us into privatized customers with fewer social responsibilities.  People understandably retreat to TV and IT screens for trivial distraction, and to drugs and alcohol. No surprise that the most common illnesses now are reported to be depression and loneliness.

Just ask yourself what proportion of national productive capacity and investment is explicitly targeted to building cohesive and mutually supportive communities … try finding that line item in the Budget Papers. Now how much goes into trying to increase business turnover and consumption. I rest my case.  George is more aware of all this than most of us but he falls far short of explaining how it can be overcome … or that it can be overcome. In my firm view it cannot be overcome until the capitalist system and several other unacceptable things have been scrapped, and that will take more than knocking on your neighbour’s door.

More important than recognizing the opposing forces, George’s recommendations for action seem to me to be based on a questionable understanding of community, leading to mistaken ideas about how to create it.  As I see it community is most important for a high quality of life, but it is strange, very complicated, and little understood.  It involves many intangible things including familiarity, a history of interactions, close personal relations, habits and customs, a sense of common interests and values, helping and being helped, giving and receiving, sharing, lending, debt, gratitude, reciprocity, trust, reliability, shared tasks, resilience, concern for the community and readiness to act collectively to achieve common goals.  It is analogous to an ecosystem, a network of established dynamic interrelationships in which a myriad of components meshing spontaneously contribute to the “health” of the whole …  without which the components couldn’t do their thing.  But the community ecosystem also involves consciousness, of others and of the whole, and it involves attitudes and bonds built by a history of interactions.  This history has established the values and dispositions that determine the communal behavior of individuals and groups. Community is a “property” that emerges from all this.

Community is therefore not a “thing” that can be set up artificially at a point in time, nor is it a property or ingredient that can be added like curry powder or a coat of paint.  It cannot be brought in or installed by well-intentioned social workers, council officers or government agencies.  It is about deep-seated ideas, memories, feelings, habits and social bonds. It therefore has almost nothing to do with money and economists can tell us almost nothing about it. You could instantly and artificially raise the “living standards” of a locality just by adding dollars, but you can’t just add social bonds. They can only grow over time, and under the right conditions. George explains clearly why neo-liberalism eliminates those conditions – my problem is that he doesn’t explain how to get them back and he proceeds as if it is simply a matter of individual will or choice, of volunteering to go out and connect. As I see it we won’t get far until social conditions make us connect. George’s urging will prompt some few to make the effort, and he refers to many admirable initiatives underway including community gardens, local currencies and cooperatives. I see these “Transition Towns” ventures as extremely important and George is right to encourage people to get involved in them. They are the beach-heads, establishing the example local institutions that must eventually become the norm and that people will be able turn to when the crunch comes, but I do not think they will grow beyond the point where a relatively few find them attractive … until macro conditions change dramatically.

Here is a brief indication of how Simpler Way transition theory sees it.

There is now no possibility of heading off an extremely serious multifactorial global breakdown.  For instance, greenhouse gas emissions would have to be reduced at maybe 8% p.a., and yet they are rising.  Renewable energy would have to replace fossil fuels in a few decades … but presently it contributes only 1.5% of world energy use. There are strong reasons to think that oil will become very scarce within ten years. (See Ahmed, 2017.) Global debt levels are so high now and rising so fast that the coming CFC 2.0 will dwarf the previous GFC1. Did you know that global insect populations have suddenly begun to plunge? Forget about your white rhino, it’s the little fellows at the base of food chains that really matter. Need I go on.

There are many other accelerating problems feeding into what Mason (2003) described as the coming 2030 spike. What we have to pray for is a slow-onset terminal depression, not a sudden one, giving people time to wake up and realize that we must move to The Simpler Way.  The Transition Towns movement is the beginning of this but I do not think it will really take off until the supermarket shelves thin out.  Then people will be forced to come together in their suburbs and towns to work out how they can build cooperative local self-sufficiency. They will realize this must be done collectively, that the market must be prevented from determining what happens, and above all that the competitive quest for wealth is suicidal and that frugal “lifestyles” must be embraced. In other words, if we are lucky and the breakdown in global systems is not too rapid, the coming conditions of intense scarcity will force us to create local economies, committees, cooperatives, working bees, commons etc. … and these conditions will produce community … out of the wreckage.

But community is not the crucial goal. What matters most at this early stage of this revolution is people coming together to take collective control of their town, that is, to go beyond setting up a local swap shop here, a community orchard there a cooperative bakery somewhere else, and to start asking questions like, “What are our most urgent needs in this town … bored teenagers, homeless people, lonely older people, too few leisure activities…well let’s get together to start fixing the problems.” Essential to The Simpler Way vision is citizens in direct participatory control of their own situation, i.e., the classic Anarchist form of government.  The big global problems cannot be solved any other way because only settlements of this kind can get the resource and ecological impacts right down while providing well for all.  For thousands of years people have taken for granted being governed. That is not just political immaturity, it is not viable now. Distant, central agencies like the state cannot run the kinds of settlements that will enable per capita resource rates to be decimated. These can only be run by conscientious, cooperative citizens aware of their local needs and keen to work together to build and maintain their own local water, energy, agricultural, social etc. systems. (There will still be a remnant role for central agencies.)

In TSW: The Transition it is argued that this taking of control at the town level must be seen as the beginning of a process that in time could lead to revolutionary change at the level of the national and international economies, and of the state itself. As townspeople realize they must prevent the global economy from determining their fate and as they find they must build their power to take control of their own situation they will increasingly pressure state policies to be geared primarily to facilitating local economic development…and in time they will replace state power by citizen assemblies.

The activities and projects George advocates could be most important contributors to this process, but I don’t think they will add up to the required revolution unless they are informed by a basically Anarchist vision whereby people come to understand that the main goal is not a town containing nice things like community orchards, nor indeed one with robust community, but a town we run on principles of frugal, cooperative, needs-focused, local self-sufficiency.

Ahmed, N. M., (2017), Failing States, Collapsing Systems, Dordrecht, Springer.

Mason, C., (2003), The 2030 Spike, Earthscan Publications.

Monbiot, G., (2018), Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, London, Verso.

TSW: The Limits to Growth, thesimplerway.info/LIMITS.htm

TSW: The Alternative, thesimplerway.info/THEALTSOCLong.htm

TSW: The Transition.  thesimplerway.info/TRANSITION.htm





System Failure

31 01 2018

SYSTEM FAILURE is, ironically, the title in the banner of this blog. This essay by George is starting to make me think he’s having an epiphany, following on as it were from By George, he finally gets it…  his promised ‘new way forward’, I now look forward to.

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Is complex society on the brink of collapse?

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 24th January 2018

 

It’s a good question, but it seems too narrow. “Is Western civilisation on the brink of collapse?”, the lead article in this week’s New Scientist asks. The answer is probably. But why just Western?

Yes, certain Western governments are engaged in a frenzy of self-destruction. In an age of phenomenal complexity and interlocking crises, the Trump administration has embarked on a mass deskilling and simplification of the state. Donald Trump might have sacked his strategist Steve Bannon, but Bannon’s professed intention, “the deconstruction of the administrative state”, remains the central – perhaps the only – policy.

Defunding departments, disbanding the teams and dismissing the experts they rely on, shutting down research programmes, maligning the civil servants who remain in post, the self-hating state is ripping down the very apparatus of government. At the same time, it is destroying the public protections that defend us from disaster.

A series of studies published in the past few months have started to explore the wider impact of pollutants. One, published in the British Medical Journal, suggests that the exposure of unborn children to air pollution in cities is causing “something approaching a public health catastrophe”. Pollution in the womb is now linked to low birth weight, disruption of the baby’s lung and brain development, and a series of debilitating and fatal diseases in later life.

Another report, published in the Lancet, suggests that three times as many deaths are caused by pollution as by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Pollution, the authors note, now “threatens the continuing survival of human societies.” A collection of articles in the journal PLOS Biology reveals that there is no reliable safety data on most of the 85,000 synthetic chemicals to which we may be exposed. While hundreds of these chemicals “contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested”, and the volume of materials containing them rises every year, we have no idea what the likely impacts may be, either singly or in combination.

As if in response to such findings, the Trump government has systematically destroyed the integrity of the Environmental Protection Agencyripped up the Clean Power Planvitiated environmental standards for motor vehiclesreversed the ban on chlorpyrifos (a pesticide now linked to the impairment of cognitive and behavioural function in children), and rescinded a remarkable list of similar public protections.

In the UK, successive governments have also curtailed their ability to respond to crises. One of David Cameron’s first acts on taking office was to shut down the government’s early warning systems: the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Sustainable Development Commission. He did not want to hear what they were telling him. Sack the impartial advisers and replace them with toadies: this has preceded the fall of empires many times before. Now, as we detach ourselves from the European Union, we degrade our capacity to solve the problems that transcend our borders.

But these pathologies are not confined to “the West”. The rise of demagoguery (the pursuit of simplistic solutions to complex problems, accompanied by the dismantling of the protective state) is everywhere apparent. Environmental breakdown is accelerating worldwide. The annihilation of vertebrate populationsInsectageddonthe erasure of rainforests, mangroves, soil, aquifers, the degradation of entire Earth systems, such as the atmosphere and the oceans, proceed at astonishing rates. These interlocking crises will affect everyone, but the poorer nations are hit first and worst.

The forces that threaten to destroy our well-being are also everywhere the same: primarily the lobbying power of big business and big money, that perceive the administrative state as an impediment to their immediate interests. Amplified by the persuasive power of campaign finance, covertly-funded thinktanks, embedded journalists and tame academics, these forces threaten to overwhelm democracy. If you want to know how they work, read Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money.

Up to a certain point, connectivity increases resilience. For example, if local food supplies fail, regional or global markets allow us to draw on production elsewhere. But beyond a certain level, connectivity and complexity threaten to become unmanageable. The emergent properties of the system, combined with the inability of the human brain to encompass it, could spread crises rather than contain them. We are in danger of pulling each other down. New Scientist should have asked “is complex society on the brink of collapse?”.

Complex societies have collapsed many times before. We live in a sort of civilisational interglacial, a brief respite from social entropy. It has always been a question of when, not if. But “when” is beginning to look like “soon”.

The collapse of states and social complexity has not always been a bad thing. As James C Scott points out in his fascinating book Against the Grain, the dissolution of the earliest states, that were founded on slavery and coercion, is likely to have been experienced by many people as an emancipation. When centralised power began to collapse, through epidemics, crop failure, floods, soil erosion or the self-destructive perversities of government, its corralled subjects would take the chance to flee. In many cases they joined the “barbarians”.

This so-called “secondary primitivism”, Scott notes, “may well have been experienced as a marked improvement in safety, nutrition and social order. Becoming a barbarian was often a bid to improve one’s lot.” The dark ages that inexorably followed the glory and grandeur of the state may, in that era, have been the best times to be alive.

But today there is nowhere to turn. The wild lands and rich ecosystems that once supported hunter gatherers, nomads and the refugees from imploding early states who joined them now scarcely exist. Only a tiny fraction of the current population could survive a return to the barbarian life. (Consider that, according to one estimate, the maximum population of Britain during the Mesolithic, when people survived by hunting and gathering, was 5000). In the nominally democratic era, the complex state is now, for all its flaws, all that stands between us and disaster.

So what we do? Next week, barring upsets, I will propose a new way forward. The path we now follow is not the path we have to take.

http://www.monbiot.com





By George…… he finally gets it…….

7 12 2017

Everything Must Go

Economic growth will destroy everything. There’s no way of greening it – we need a new system.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 22nd November 2017

 

George-Monbiot-L

George Monbiot

Everyone wants everything – how is that going to work? The promise of economic growth is that the poor can live like the rich and the rich can live like the oligarchs. But already we are bursting through the physical limits of the planet that sustains us. Climate breakdown, soil loss, the collapse of habitats and species, the sea of plastic, insectageddon: all are driven by rising consumption. The promise of private luxury for everyone cannot be met: neither the physical nor the ecological space exists.

But growth must go on: this is everywhere the political imperative. And we must adjust our tastes accordingly. In the name of autonomy and choice, marketing uses the latest findings in neuroscience to break down our defences. Those who seek to resist must, like the Simple Lifers in Brave New World, be silenced – in this case by the media. With every generation, the baseline of normalised consumption shifts. Thirty years ago, it was ridiculous to buy bottled water, where tap water is clean and abundant. Today, worldwide, we use a million plastic bottles a minute.

Every Friday is a Black Friday, every Christmas a more garish festival of destruction. Among the snow saunasportable watermelon coolers and smart phones for dogs with which we are urged to fill our lives, my #extremecivilisation prize now goes to the PancakeBot: a 3-D batter printer that allows you to eat the Mona Lisa or the Taj Mahal or your dog’s bottom every morning. In practice, it will clog up your kitchen for a week until you decide you don’t have room for it. For junk like this we’re trashing the living planet, and our own prospects of survival. Everything must go.

The ancillary promise is that, through green consumerism, we can reconcile perpetual growth with planetary survival. But a series of research papers reveal that there is no significant difference between the ecological footprints of people who care about their impacts and people who don’t. One recent article, published in the journal Environment and Behaviour, finds that those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not.

Why? Because, environmental awareness tends to be higher among wealthy people. It is not attitudes that govern our impacts on the planet, but income. The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of our good intentions. Those who see themselves as green consumers, the paper found, “mainly focus on behaviours that have relatively small benefits.”

I know people who recycle meticulously, save their plastic bags, carefully measure the water in their kettles, then take their holidays in the Caribbean, cancelling their environmental savings 100-fold. I’ve come to believe that the recycling licences their long-haul flights. It persuades people they’ve gone green, enabling them to overlook their greater impacts. [I know people like that too…]

None of this means that we should not try to reduce our impacts, but we should be aware of the limits of the exercise. Our behaviour within the system cannot change the outcomes of the system. It is the system that needs to change.

Research by Oxfam suggests that the world’s richest 1% (if your household has an income of £70,000 or more, this means you) produce around 175 times as much carbon as the poorest 10%. How, in a world in which everyone is supposed to aspire to high incomes, can we avoid turning the Earth, on which all prosperity depends, into a dust ball?

By decoupling, the economists tell us: detaching economic growth from our use of materials. So how well is this going? A paper in the journal PlosOne finds that while in some countries relative decoupling has occurred, “no country has achieved absolute decoupling during the past 50 years.” What this means is that the amount of materials and energy associated with each increment of GDP might decline, but, as growth outpaces efficiency, the total use of resources keeps rising. More importantly, the paper reveals that, in the long term, both absolute and relative decoupling from the use of essential resources is impossible, because of the physical limits of efficiency.

A global growth rate of 3% means that the size of the world economy doubles every 24 years. This is why environmental crises are accelerating at such a rate. Yet the plan is to ensure that it doubles and doubles again, and keeps doubling in perpetuity. In seeking to defend the living world from the maelstrom of destruction, we might believe we are fighting corporations and governments and the general foolishness of humankind. But they are all proxies for the real issue: perpetual growth on a planet that is not growing.

Those who justify this system insist that economic growth is essential for the relief of poverty. But a paper in the World Economic Review finds that the poorest 60% of the world’s people receive only 5% of the additional income generated by rising GDP. As a result, $111 of growth is required for every $1 reduction in poverty. This is why, on current trends, it would take 200 years to ensure that everyone receives $5 a day. By this point, average per capita income will have reached $1m a year, and the economy will be 175 times bigger than it is today. This is not a formula for poverty relief. It is a formula for the destruction of everything and everyone.

When you hear that something makes economic sense, this means it makes the opposite of common sense. Those sensible men and women who run the world’s treasuries and central banks, who see an indefinite rise in consumption as normal and necessary, are beserkers, smashing through the wonders of the living world, destroying the prosperity of future generations to sustain a set of figures that bear ever less relation to general welfare.

Green consumerism, material decoupling, sustainable growth: all are illusions, designed to justify an economic model that is driving us to catastrophe. The current system, based on private luxury and public squalor, will immiserate us all: under this model, luxury and deprivation are one beast with two heads.

We need a different system, rooted not in economic abstractions but in physical realities, that establish the parameters by which we judge its health. We need to build a world in which growth is unnecessary, a world of private sufficiency and public luxury. And we must do it before catastrophe forces our hand.

http://www.monbiot.com

Economic growth will destroy everything. There’s no way of greening it – we need a new system.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 22nd November 2017

YES George……  we need a revolution.





It’s simple. If we can’t change our economic system, our number’s up

30 04 2017

I occasionally publish articles by George monbiot. At times I have labelled them ‘Monbiot at his best’, even if I disagreed with bits of it….. but this time, he utterly nails it. There’s very little regulars to this site will learn from this, but it is a good piece of writing, and it needs to be shared far and wide, because we truly need this revolution. It’s two years old, but even more relevant now than when he wrote it.

Found on the Guardian’s website…..

'The mother narrative to all this is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots.'
‘The mother narrative to all this is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots.’ Photograph: Alamy

Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham.

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems. It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.

To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues miraculously vanished, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.

Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained. But coal broke this cycle and enabled – for a few hundred years – the phenomenon we now call sustained growth.

It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, with the accessible reserves exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.

On Friday, a few days after scientists announced that the collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet is now inevitable, the Ecuadorean government decided toallow oil drilling in the heart of the Yasuni national park. It had made an offer to other governments: if they gave it half the value of the oil in that part of the park, it would leave the stuff in the ground. You could see this as either blackmail or fair trade. Ecuador is poor, its oil deposits are rich. Why, the government argued, should it leave them untouched without compensation when everyone else is drilling down to the inner circle of hell? It asked for $3.6bn and received $13m. The result is that Petroamazonas, a company with a colourful record of destruction and spills, will now enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, in which a hectare of rainforest is said to contain more species than exist in the entire continent of North America.

Almost 45% of the Yasuni national park is overlapped by oil concessions.
Yasuni national park. Murray Cooper/Minden Pictures/Corbis

The UK oil firm Soco is now hoping to penetrate Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo; one of the last strongholds of the mountain gorilla and the okapi, of chimpanzees and forest elephants. In Britain, where a possible 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil has just been identified in the south-east, the government fantasises about turning the leafy suburbs into a new Niger delta. To this end it’s changing the trespass laws to enable drilling without consent and offering lavish bribes to local people. These new reserves solve nothing. They do not end our hunger for resources; they exacerbate it.

Look at the lives of the super-rich, who set the pace for global consumption. Are their yachts getting smaller? Their houses? Their artworks? Their purchase of rare woods, rare fish, rare stone? Those with the means buy ever bigger houses to store the growing stash of stuff they will not live long enough to use. By unremarked accretions, ever more of the surface of the planet is used to extract, manufacture and store things we don’t need. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that fantasies about colonising space – which tell us we can export our problems instead of solving them – have resurfaced.

As the philosopher Michael Rowan points out, the inevitabilities of compound growth mean that if last year’s predicted global growth rate for 2014 (3.1%) is sustained, even if we miraculously reduced the consumption of raw materials by 90%, we delay the inevitable by just 75 years. Efficiency solves nothing while growth continues.

The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result, they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle-class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.

Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn’t worthy of mention. That’s how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it.





No fracking, drilling or digging: it’s the only way to save life on Earth

29 09 2016

“Do they understand what they have signed? Plainly they do not. Governments such as ours, now ratifying the Paris agreement on climate change, haven’t the faintest idea what it means – either that or they have no intention of honoring it” writes George Monbiot in the Guardian…… but does George himself ‘get’ what he’s writing….?

Any regular visitor to this blog will know I entirely agree with the title of Monbiot’s thesis. But at least, I know it also means the end of civilisation as we know it.

Using the industry’s own figures, it shows that burning the oil, gas and coal in the fields and mines that is already either in production or being developed, is likely to take the global temperature rise beyond 2C. And even if all coal mining were to be shut down today, the oil and gas lined up so far would take it past 1.5C. The notion that we can open any new reserves, whether by fracking for gas, drilling for oil or digging for coal, without scuppering the Paris commitments is simply untenable.

Too right. Especially as we have pretty well already reached the 1.5°C threshold according to several sources.

on-the-edge-of-1-5-c

The only means of reconciling governments’ climate change commitments with the opening of new coal mines, oilfields and fracking sites is carbon capture and storage: extracting carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of power stations and burying it in geological strata. But despite vast efforts to demonstrate the technology, it has not been proved at scale, and appears to be going nowhere. Our energy policies rely on vapourware.

All this nonsense is a substitute for a simple proposition: stop digging. There is only one form of carbon capture and storage that is scientifically proven, and which can be deployed immediately: leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

So far so good…..

[governments’] choices are as follows. First: a gradual, managed decline of existing production and its replacement with renewable energy and low-carbon infrastructure, which offer great potential for employment. Second: allowing fossil fuel production to continue at current rates for a while longer, followed by a sudden and severe termination of the sector, with dire consequences for both jobs and economies. Third: continuing to produce fossil fuels as we do today, followed by climate breakdown. Why is this a hard choice to make?

But George…… if we are at 1.5°C already, not even choice 1 is viable….

arcticspiral

The Arctic ice death spiral has lost no momentum, with current volumes at the lowest they have ever been recorded, and cruise ships actually being sent to the North West Passage for the filthy rich to see the product of their handy work……

Only an economic collapse can fix this ongoing insanity. At least it’s interesting to see Monbiot making no mention of nuclear power in this Guardian article. Has he changed his mind, or was it a mere omission..?

 





Channelling the Joy

18 06 2015

George Monbiot

George Monbiot

Go George……  I think his latest writings show a deeper understanding of our predicaments than ever, and we need him as a popular ‘voice’ to spread the truth.  Enjoy….

In defending the natural world, we should be honest about our motivations – it’s love that drives us, not money.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th June 2015

Who wants to see the living world destroyed? Who wants an end to birdsong, bees and coral reefs, the falcon’s stoop, the salmon’s leap? Who wants to see the soil stripped from the land, the sea rimmed with rubbish?

No one. And yet it happens. Seven billion of us allow fossil fuel companies to push shut the narrow atmospheric door through which humanity stepped. We permit industrial farming to tear away the soil,banish trees from the hills, engineer another silent spring. We let the owners of grouse moors, 1% of the 1%, shoot and poison hen harriers, peregrines and eagles. We watch mutely as a small fleet of monster fishing ships trashes the oceans.

Why are the defenders of the living world so ineffective? It is partly, of course, that everyone is complicit; we have all been swept off our feet by the tide of hyperconsumption, our natural greed excited, corporate propaganda chiming with a will to believe that there is no cost. But perhaps environmentalism is also afflicted by a deeper failure: arising possibly from embarrassment or fear, a failure of emotional honesty.

I have asked meetings of green-minded people to raise their hands if they became defenders of nature because they were worried about the state of their bank accounts. Never has a hand appeared. Yet I see the same people base their appeal to others on the argument that they will lose money if we don’t protect the natural world.

Such claims are factual, but they are also dishonest: we pretend that this is what animates us, when in most cases it does not. The reality is that we care because we love. Nature appealed to our hearts, when we were children, long before it appealed to our heads, let alone our pockets. Yet we seem to believe we can persuade people to change their lives through the cold, mechanical power of reason, supported by statistics.

I see the encyclical by Pope Francis, which will be published on Thursday, as a potential turning point. He will argue that not only the physical survival of the poor, but also our spiritual welfare depends on the protection of the natural world; and in both respects he is right.

I don’t mean to suggest that a belief in God is the answer to our environmental crisis. Among Pope Francis’s opponents is the evangelical Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has written to him arguing that we have a holy duty to keep burning fossil fuel, as “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork”. It also insists that exercising the dominion granted to humankind in Genesis means tilling the whole Earth”, transforming it “from wilderness to garden and ultimately to garden city”.

There are similar tendencies within the Vatican. Cardinal George Pell, its head of finance, currently immersed in a scandal involving paedophile priests in Australia, is a prominent climate change denier. His lecture to the Global Warming Policy Foundation was the usual catalogue of zombie myths (discredited claims that keep resurfacing), nonsequiturs and outright garbage, championing, for example, the groundless claim that undersea volcanoes could be responsible for global warming. There are plenty of senior Catholics seeking to undermine the Pope’s defence of the living world; which could explain why his encyclical was leaked.

What I mean is that Pope Francis, a man with whom I disagree profoundly on matters such as equal marriage and contraceptives, reminds us that the living world provides not only material goods and tangible services, but is also essential to other aspects of our well-being. And you don’t have to believe in God to endorse that view.

In his beautiful book The Moth Snowstorm, Michael McCarthy suggests that a capacity to love the natural world, rather than merely to exist within it, might be a uniquely human trait. When we are close to nature, we sometimes find ourselves, as Christians put it, surprised by joy: “a happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality.”

He believes we are wired to develop a rich emotional relationship with nature. A large body of research suggests that contact with the living world remains essential to our psychological and physiological well-being. (A paper published this week, for example, claims that green spaces around city schools improve children’s mental performance).

This does not mean that all people love nature; what it means, McCarthy proposes, is that there’s a universal propensity to love it, which may be drowned out by the noise that assails our minds. As I’ve found while volunteering with the outdoor education charity Wide Horizons, this love can be provoked almost immediately, even among children who have never visited the countryside before. Nature, McCarthy argues, remains our home, “the true haven for our psyches”, and retains an astonishing capacity to bring peace to troubled minds. Acknowledging our love for the living world does something that a library full of papers on sustainable development and ecosystem services cannot: it engages the imagination as well as the intellect. It inspires belief; and this is essential to the lasting success of any movement.

Is this a version of the religious conviction from which Pope Francis speaks? Or could his religion be a version of a much deeper and older love? Could a belief in God be a way of explaining and channelling the joy, the burst of love that nature sometimes provokes in us? Conversely, could the hyperconsumption that both religious and secular environmentalists lament be a response to ecological boredom: the void that a loss of contact with the natural world leaves in our psyches?

Of course, this doesn’t answer the whole problem. If the acknowledgement of love becomes the means by which we inspire environmentalism in others, how do we translate it into political change? But I believe it’s a better grounding for action than pretending that what really matters to us is the state of the economy. By being honest about our motivation we can inspire in others the passions that inspired us.

http://www.monbiot.com