The Unreality Principle

Went to two meetings on Tuesday 13th. The first, by a local activist was small but perfectly formed and contained useful information. The second was a big ol’ thing organised by Manchester University and with a “star” intellectual. It was dia-fucking-bolical.

Andrew Leask, of Trafford Eco-house and Transition Hale/Altrincham gave a talk about “Aquaponics and Manchester’s Food Security” at the latest Manchester Green Drinks.
Here are some of the stats I scribbled down-

3% of our food is locally grown in Greater Manchester
9 days of food in the supermarkets
12% is the Council’s guesstimated ceiling of the amount of food that could be grown locally
80% of the UK population lives in cities.

Cited by Leask from the Ecologist;
600,000 of the UK population working in agriculture, with 60,000 new farmers required in the next 10 years. Or 1,000,000 small holders. According to Richard Heinberg, you’d need 12,000,000 people working in oil free agriculture in the UK
There’s 200,000 allotments in the UK, with 100,000 people on the waiting list. There were 1,500,000 allotments at the end of world war two, growing 50% of the UK’s fruit and veg. Of course, we had fewer people then, and more land available for growing.

He then launched into an interesting account of using fish, water, bacteria in a (relatively) ‘closed loop’ to produce yummy protein. (Protein, as Marvin Harris points out in his wonderful book ‘Cannibals and Kings’, makes the world go round).

So, by the time I’d necked a second pint (thanks Chris!) and staggered up to the Fiends Meeting House, Will Hutton (for it is he) was mid-flow. Oh dear.

Facile boosterism for the north west, breathless talk of ‘commercial space travel by 2150, jargon around ‘agglomeration’. [What’s the matter with David Harvey’s Spatial Fix? Oh, right, liberals didn’t think of it- Not Invented Here Syndrome and all. Sigh.]

Hutton. Just. Would. Not. Shut. Up. He overran his time dramatically, (asking for “permission” to do so) spouting ever banaller banalities and observer, sorry, ‘absurder’ absurdities. Apparently we’re all going to retire later. That’s fine if you’re a white collar worker (as everyone in the room was. Significantly more males than females too). But what if you’re a knackered manual worker? Sigh.

In the q and a, which had to be squeezed because of his needless and self-indulgent over-run, he was explicitly asked about the possible teensy-weensy contradictions between continued economic growth and a habitable planet. He first admitted that the atmospheric concentration of C02 was climbing every year, and then raffled (that is, rambled and waffled simultaneously) about clean coal, more efficient use of water and how we can’t tell India and China to stop developing (er, does that mean you support contraction and convergence? If so, say so.)

And that was it. For one of the foremost progressive public intellectuals in this country (we are in deeper trouble than I thought) to give such an ill-informed answer about the real challenges that face us was unsurprising, but shocking all the same

He then, mercifully, buggered off back to London. Don’t let the train doors hit your arse on the way out.

After a brief tea break, we were supposed to hear four talks, each of 5 to 10 minutes, framed as a letter to the new Prime Minister on the “main challenges” around Economy, Environment, Housing and I can’t quite remember what.

We got to hear a bit about General Purpose Technologies.

Then Professor Alan Harding did a mini-Hutton. Five assertions and five challenges. David Harvey’s spatial fix and Aidan While’s sustainability fix still ignored. Sigh.
Asked about a steady-state economy (see Tim Jackson etc) Prof Harding at least had the good manners to admit that he didn’t see what such a thing would look like. That’s OK, neither can I, but the difference is I can see that we need it. The business as usual approach of extracting copious raw materials from t’planet and expecting it to absorb the waste is not going to work anymore.

Again, if our public intellectuals can’t see the dangers, explain the dangers and suggest some ways forward, then what are they for??

Next up came Caroline Downey, director of MERCi.

She, surprisingly, took some pot shots at other people in the room, and at the NWDA for its faith in nuclear power and GDP (that was me applauding, Caroline). She gave a shout out to the Mersey Bioregion group and new economics foundation.
A good trick she had, too. Asked us to close our eyes and imagine a sustainable city. Most everyone’s included water and wildlife, which Research Shows is what makes us happy.

She gave a shout out to the “Third Sector” (though I believe the politically correct terminology is first sector” At least according to that nice young and trustworthy Dave Cameron) and gave some examples of making the bioregion more resilient and self-sufficient with vertical gardens and increased access to green space.

She, in her letter, thanked the incoming PM for the Environment Bill that mimics Ecuador’s bill on the right of nature to persist.

She also congratulated the PM on the Energy Descent planning that was taking place

Asked the standard (and entirely justifiable) question of How to Pay for it all, she said scrap trident, tax the rich and pull out of Afghanistan. She was less successful on the question of what MERCi has done lately for the deprived wards around it, but then that IS a tricky question!

By this stage, your intrepid reporter had had quite enough, and cycled home, missing the transport and housing sessions.


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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