Sometimes I get the feeling that the human world might actually be running in some form of the Matrix. However, instead of random aliens directing the program, it’s a rogue corporate AI demon hell-bent on profit maximization at any cost for ‘Choose-Your-Evil-Megacorp’. Probably a cabal of several. Likely on the military-industrial end of things. I mean, is there any other logic to the daily headlines? For so many things, there is no human answer to cui bono.
For example, who benefits from this invasion of Ukraine? It appears from oligarch rumbling that those with vested interests in the red flag do not consider this assault to be in Russian interests. The Russian people sure don’t seem to be down with it. Putin, himself, may soon find that it’s not in his interest, as there is much muttering involving the word coup. Which, for any intelligent human (and Putin is nothing if not clever), should have been a totally predictable result of doing something so devastatingly stupid.
Meanwhile, China is sucking in its cheeks, waiting out the insanity. India is sort of freaking out, frantically trying to calculate which side will maximize the subcontinental labor pool. Europe is just crying. (‘Where’s our cheap fossil fuels and fertilizers?!?’). And the US is its normal clueless basket-case of saber-rattling non-diplomacy. Point is nobody seems to be gaining anything from this. So who was Putin talking to?
For that matter, who benefits from provoking Putin into invading the Ukraine to begin with? Why was there this NATO-related goading of the Ukraine when NATO had no intention of committing to such an idiotic course of action? For nearly a decade! Why would anyone even suggest that Russia tolerate the military alliance formed specifically in opposition to itself setting up shop — and missile silos — within a few hundred miles of Moscow? In a former part of Russia! (In fact, in the original Russia, but who’s counting history…)
The only clear beneficiary is the military-industrial complex. And I’m not even sure if that’s precise. There will be sales of weaponry all around, for sure. But there is also this huge rent in the energy supply continuum that is rocketing the cost of doing everything right up into the stratosphere. Again, totally predictable. Except for maybe an AI that doesn’t have a good handle on human socio-economic behavior yet. Nor of the actual physical world of doing industry.
In any case, there are no winners in this. Not now and not ever. The entire globe is now measurably worse off than it was a month ago. And while there is broad agreement on that point, there is not much definition of the exact nature of worse. Obviously, there are plenty of individual examples of worse. But the whole globe?
I say worse is because I’m afraid that this is where humanity has finally made the wrong turn onto that no-exit freeway and is now barreling along to its destruction at about 150 km/hour. Against oncoming traffic… And the dashboard brake light just came on…
For a short while, it looked like we might be able to pull a Hail Mary out of the pandemic skies. Perhaps be able to just walk away from the things that are killing us. Perhaps get back to living life. Perhaps. Admittedly, COP26 was disheartening. But not many people believe that any positive change is going to come from the top down. (How could it? They’re making this mess…) And there were many reasons to believe that we were seeing the beginnings of the groundswell that might actually topple the whole teetering edifice. Maybe even in some tidy melting implosion that could contain the pain and destruction. A bit.
And yes, the whole teetering edifice is still going to fall. Is falling, in fact… but it’s not going to be neat or tidy. And it’s definitely not contained. A bloody and almost performatively destructive ground assault on a foreign country which shuts down the substantial Russian economy and causes nearly every other state on the planet to set course doubling down on centralized neocolonial extractive economics and reneging on even the pitiful agreements they’d made on reining in carbon pollution (never mind all the other crises, both social and physical) does not count as contained by any imaginative stretch of the word.
(Cui in irrumabo prodest?)
Nope, whatever groundswell there was is very likely going to get swept up in this rolling eruption and blasted into several billion isolated souls, flailing about in the darkness, all blindly trying to survive the whirling chaos.
Or was that too bleak?
Still, I am a stubborn old witch, and I refuse to stop trying to save the world even when it clearly refuses to be saved. And so today I offer this bit of… well, not hope, but maybe a gloomily resolute sort of dismal optimism. Eeyore is one of my favorite philosophers, after all. So here is my bouquet of nettles for today…
First of all, let’s tone down the ‘starvation in the EU’ rhetoric, shall we. It is unlikely that any Europeans are going to go hungry, or even miss a meal or two. (Though there may be — gasp! — less chicken…) It might even be the case that other bread-baskets will step into the Ukraine-shaped void and help feed Africa and South Asia. But then it might also be the case that this crisis in commodities will have absolutely no effect on actual eating. Indeed, it could happen that while the idiots are busy with ramping up protectionism, biofuels, and animal feed production, places where hunger is actually an issue might be freed from the stern wagging fingers of former colonial powers long enough to put some of their own native food production culture back in place. Maybe. Wouldn’t hold your breath. But it’s possible.
However, as it seems that we are now likely heading into a time when ‘head for the hills and take up anarcho-primitivism’ might be sensible advice, I did some calculations to see if this is in fact possible. Re-wilding and techno-utopian folks had me spooked. Was it actually true that humans needed to be confined to apartment blocks and spoon fed Soylent Green in order for ‘nature’ to survive?
The answer is somewhat hopeful.
Today, there are 4.52 billion acres of farmland in production globally. This figure does not seem to include forestry or lands under plantation for wood products, so I believe this is acreage that is producing food for humans or human food animals. It is generally agreed that we currently have the food production capacity to eliminate hunger immediately (again, see here). It’s just that we do a poor job of prioritizing that actual eating thing. Still, it could happen.
But if it doesn’t that is still fine. Because it is likely that we don’t need much more than a tenth of that area to produce a healthy diet for the 7.91 billion humans on the planet if many more of us head back to direct involvement with our own care and feeding.
In Miraculous Abundance, the fabulously cheese-named Hervé-Gruyers have shown that it is no great effort to grow enough food and fiber in a high-diversity, intensely planted, and organically cultivated quarter acre to provide for a household of at least two (but possibly including the permanent staff of their urban farm as well) — and yet have surplus to sell in the Paris farmers’ markets. In other words, it takes one quarter acre to feed, let’s say, four people. Perhaps as many as a few dozen. But let’s stick with four. So one acre will provide for sixteen healthy French appetites. (Lest you believe that this is an outlier, I can assure you there are many other similar experiments with similarly stellar results. This is just the prettiest book on the subject from my own personal library. And Hervé-Guyer! I ask you!)
Rough math from this shows that we need about 500 million acres to produce a similar diet for every living person on the planet. And we have 9 times that in production already. One might say we are doing farming exactly wrong. One might also point out that we could easily disperse back into the 4.52 billion acres of currently cultivated land, and the land would likely not even notice us. We certainly would not expand the human impact on the world by emptying out the cities and providing for ourselves. And if we shrink it down to that 500 million acres, we’ve bested the Half Earth plan by about 36 times.
Take that Soylent Green cheerleaders…
Of course, there are other human enterprises that will need to carry on if we are to feed ourselves, but there seems to be quite a lot of wiggle room. Particularly, if we are scrapping much of the global economy and growing our own food with our own labor.
Now, are we going to be able to waddle off into the weeds and take up our planting tools again? Probably not. But this does show that we could. And that knowledge of our potential to survive is just a tiny bit of reassurance to hold onto in this very unreassuring spring.
©Elizabeth Anker 2022
This is the part where you can respond. The rules of engagement: No rudeness. Absolutely nothing foul. Also nothing personal. If you want to talk direct to me, there is the contact page linked on every post. Send me email. I will always respond.
You can also take these ideas “home with you” and mull them over. Journalize about them. Meditate. Talk with your family and friends — and perhaps future fellow anarcho-primitivists! These are questions that we all need to answer for ourselves, so that we have something bright and solid to hang on to as we slide into the murk.
Might as well get started.