Local Productivity

2017-03-26 16.28.38

A viable community, like a viable farm, protects its own production capacities. It does not import products that it cannot produce for itself. And it does not export local products until local needs have been met. Wendell Berry

I think there is a danger if local amenities depend entirely for their profitability  on visitors and an even greater danger if big businesses are only in the City (I am talking about Gloucester here) to extract profit. A similar issue is one of local productivity.

To what extent are we dependent here in Gloucester on imports; not imports from abroad but from London or Birmingham or Bristol? Do we produce any food, clean water, electricity, building materials, furniture or clothing within the city boundary? Some, perhaps. There are allotments and vegetable gardens, occasional windmills and an assortment of solar panels; some folk collect rainwater and others (very few, I suspect) make their own clothes and build their own furniture, though nobody spins or weaves or makes bricks.

We are now so far down the track of dependence that the whole subject hardly seems worth discussing. Of course we don’t live like that! Is Gloucester some sort of desert island on which we have suddenly been marooned? Yes, but that’s just the point. The modern city is part of a vast complex machine which provides us with everything that we need. But what if the machine stops? What if there were no electricity? What if we were cut off from our food suppliers? Is it not time that we made a move in the direction of becoming more self-sufficient? Full self-sufficiency is admittedly not something that we can easily achieve in this complicated world, but we can make a start.

This is not just a matter of survival. I believe we would be much happier and healthier if we grew our own food, built our own outhouses, brewed our own cider, made our own clothes, entertained ourselves more, walked more and lived more.




A bunch of problems needs a bunch of people and they need to work together


As I said in my last blog we need to see connections and then be connected. Just to mention (again) all those worrying and distressing items that we watch on the news or read about in the papers, and which are now so familiar to us: climate breakdown disasters, famines, wars, failed states, huge amounts of money spent on weapons including weapons of mass destruction, bad government, corruption, refugees and people trafficking – and I am only making a selection. Obviously these all belong together. Start at any point in this list and your journey is likely to take you on a pathway that visits the other items. Climate breakdown leads to food shortages, which lead to conflict and refugees and bad government and so on.

But those who oppose these things also belong together. If you put together the people who, at different times and in different ways, have felt they wanted to react to these conditions, we would have a mighty army. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to work quite like that. It appears that, at the moment, many individuals have not even seen the possibility of linking with others; similarly, many small organisations, while doing a great job, are scarcely talking to each other.

I used to work at an international school in India. Most of the staff were expatriates like me. On the wall of the staff room there was a picture of a sailing ship and under it the comment: ‘We may have all come in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now’ (a quote incidentally from Martin Luther King). It was so true. It was no use pretending that there was another ship that we could go to, or that the crew of the ship was likely to change in a hurry. No, we were stuck with what we had got and had to get on with it.

What we had to do was to work better together. This applies to many life situations – a school staff room, an office, a rugby club, a hospital ward. It also applies more widely. Our neighbourhood, our city, our nation: it’s what we’ve got and who we have, and working better together will always help. In the end it applies to our world. I suppose one day some of us might live on Mars (not a happy thought!) but for the time being this planet is our home. We are going to have to do better at looking after it together.

Time to stop arguing about climate breakdown


(c) Gloucestershirelive.co.uk

In a recent London Review of Books article (LRB 39/10) Thomas Jones mentioned some familiar information.

The World Meteorological Organisation reported in March (2017) that last year was ‘the warmest on record’ with ‘exceptionally low sea ice, and unabated sea level rise and ocean heat…Extreme weather and climate conditions have continued into 2017.’

He also suggested, in the same article, a surprising response to this situation.

There is nothing to be gained from trying to persuade the likes of Pruitt and Tillerson (Head of the US Environment Agency and US Secretary of State respectively) of the reality and seriousness of climate change. It’s exactly what the deniers want. The longer ‘that debate’ goes on, the more those who profit from the status quo can plausibly deny the need to do anything.

I think he is right. There comes a moment when a situation is so serious that the talking must cease.

There are two points here. Firstly, the obvious one, that in an emergency there may not be time for much talking. We might use a simple example from the past. Walled cities were built in part to provide a safe place when an enemy army was advancing on the land. The herald’s job was to warn people in the countryside that they must get inside the city as quickly as possible. This was not a time for discussion. If they lingered they might find the city gates shut and the enemy upon them. A second point (here I am referring to an interview with Salman Rushdie in the Guardian 2.09.17) is that evidence is evidence. Denying it does not change the evidence. As Rushdie says: ‘Let me put it to you this way: if you say the world is flat, it doesn’t make the world flat. The world doesn’t need you to agree that it’s round in order to be round, because there’s this thing called evidence.’

So I am not sure that we need to win the argument any more, in the sense that we want to put time and resources into arguing the case for climate breakdown. Instead, we must simply get on with the job of doing everything we can to save the planet, while helping as many of the already-victims (currently people in the southern United States, large areas of South Asia and the Caribbean) as possible.

If we are going to do any arguing, perhaps it should be about connections. Climate breakdown and natural disasters and food shortages and communal wars and bad government and the increasing flood of refugees (just to make a selection) are all part of the same picture. Saving the planet is one thing and saving ourselves, I mean our whole civilisation, is the same thing. They belong together. ‘

Hurricanes, floods and loss of life – come on Gloucester!

No, I am not setting up as a local weather forecaster or as a sort of prophet of doom either. I am wondering, however, how we here in Gloucester feel about the news from other parts of the world where they are enduring such terrible disasters.

There seems a fairly straightforward connection between the current crop of troubles, hurricanes Harvey and Irma in particular, and climate breakdown. There have always been Atlantic storms at this time of year, but the additional warmth of the atmosphere and especially of the oceans caused by global warming has meant that the storms are more frequent and more intense.

I don’t want to be too hard on us here in Gloucester but I suspect that we feel that global warming, and therefore stormy weather in the Caribbean, is not really much to do with us. I stood as a parliamentary candidate in the 2015 General Election. I was asked about all the usual things – schools, the NHS, austerity, transport, taxes and so on – but never once, in all the seventeen times I spoke at public events, was there a question about the environment. This was despite the fact that I was the Green Party candidate and might have been expected to know something about it. I was much less involved in the 2016 election but, as far as I could make out, the pattern was the same – very little interest.

Recently, Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Sequel: speaking truth to power (four stars in the Guardian) was showing for a week here in Gloucester at the Sherborne Cinema. The evening I saw the film there were seven of us. After the week was over I asked the management what the overall attendance was like. They agreed that it was small. I think this is a pity, not so much for the sake of the cinema – they were quite relaxed about it – but because it was an important film, well worth seeing, about a subject which concerns us all.

Going back to the bad news, perhaps we feel that though we are sorry for the victims in faraway places, there is not much we can actually do about their troubles. But there is. There is a sequence. Climate breakdown comes from global warming and global warming is by definition something that has to do with everyone, whether they live in the Caribbean or Gloucester. We, and they, cause it and suffer it. Solutions will have to be local if they are going to be global. This is something we cannot hide from. Come on Gloucester!

Photo (c) AFP/Getty, sourced from bbc.co.uk/news