Opinion: Sustainability, where do we go from here?

Economy-in-the-UKOur party is not addressing continued economic growth. Our leaders talk about growth solving our problems and recovering pre 2008 living standards, rather than about creating prosperity without growth. Growth through conspicuous consumption is still being sold as the road to recovery.

There are three real stumbling blocks:

  1. High living standards and rising prosperity extolled by almost all parties are only possible by expropriating the living standards of the world’s poorest.
  2. We depend heavily on the rest of the world, especially developing countries, for food and are still reducing farmland in the UK.
  3. Our energy supplies depend on unstable regimes in the Middle East and Russia and we have not begun to address self sufficiency in basic energy.

The party should be advocating:

  1. Challenging the current orthodoxy about living standards and explaining that ever increasing wealth is no longer an option. We have a good record on overseas aid, but we must begin to say to people that the consumer society and that living in luxury aren’t an option when billions in the rest of the world live in poverty, many on less than $2 a day. Radical redistribution of incomes and wealth can help make our society more equal, but we must fight for that in the teeth of opposition from the uber rich and their lapdogs, the press.
  2. We need a huge expansion of the farming sector and an extensive programme to reclaim land for food. Many recent immigrants already have the skills to work the land and we should encourage them to do so, as well as training a new generation of farmers. Serious money is needed to create smallholdings and allotments for people to grow their own food and government must stop the obscene waste of edible food by supermarkets and wholesalers. We should aim to be self sufficient in basic foodstuffs within a generation. The CAP will need radical restructuring to facilitate such change, which would also create real work for people, especially young people.
  3. Ed Davey has made a good start in encouraging renewable energy. The nimby tendency and UKIP and the Tories will oppose any and all efforts to expand renewable power. We must  invest many more billions into renewable energy, and radically increase energy reduction programmes to wrench our country away from power dependency on other countries. Weaning people off car dependency will be extraordinarily difficult.  Electric and hybrid cars are not the answer, because they still perpetuate the myth of individual modes of powered transport.  Only a huge expansion of environmental public transport, far beyond current proposals, will persuade people to leave their cars at home or better still -as my wife and I have done- abandon the car and use bicycles, buses, trains and the occasional taxi.

None of this is politically easy to sell, but it could hardly make us less popular and might start to reclaim our voters from the greens.

We are seen as a part of the national economic consensus, with nothing new to say. The Social Liberal Forum and others talk about the need for a radical manifesto. I suggest that the above would certainly rattle a few cages, but it’s right.


* Dr Michael Taylor has been a party member since 1964. He is currently active in the Calderdale Party.

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  • High living standards and rising prosperity extolled by almost all parties are only possible by expropriating the living standards of the world’s poorest

    That’s not true. Over the last few decades, our living standards have risen and so have those of the world’s poorest, so clearly it is not the case that our prosperity only comes at the expense of theirs. It’s not a zero-sum game.

    We depend heavily on the rest of the world, especially developing countries, for food and are still reducing farmland in the UK

    Why is this a problem? For centuries, for example, London has depended heavily on the surrounding counties for food and continued to reduce farmland within London until there is now basically none. And yet Londoners don’t starve.

    Our energy supplies depend on unstable regimes in the Middle East and Russia and we have not begun to address self sufficiency in basic energy

    Now that is a problem.

    we must begin to say to people that the consumer society and that living in luxury aren’t an option

    Define ‘living in luxury’. What exactly are we (the average Briton, that is, not the ‘uber-rich’) going to have to give up?

    We need a huge expansion of the farming sector and an extensive programme to reclaim land for food

    Why? If the farmland that isn’t being used already, presumably that’s because it’s not of good enough quality that it would be profitable. Which means it would cost more to farm it than it would produce. So doing so would be a net loss. How would that be a good thing?

  • This is a radical proposition from Michael Taylor, but deserves a 9.5/10.
    Selling this to a population addicted to ‘more growth YoY’ however, will be an uphill struggle. As a population, we comfort ourselves by looking back at the last 70 years of phenomenal growth, social advances, and enrichment of our lives, (yes even in the poorest of countries). But the warning sign that such global growth was coming to an end happened in 2007. Since 2007, all manner of QE and creating ‘faux wealth’ out of thin air have kept the illusion of growth going. But the true economic growth of the last bountiful 70 years was the result of *cheap* fossil energy, and we can’t print energy out of thin air.
    I fear the wisdom of this article will not be fully grasped until a decade from now when we are all queuing at a petrol station with our ration card in hand

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Jul '14 - 10:50am

    “High living standards and rising prosperity extolled by almost all parties are only possible by expropriating the living standards of the world’s poorest.”
    What an absurd comment. The living standards of many people in China , India and other less developed have improved enormously in the last 25 years though free trade and economic growth.
    “We should aim to be self sufficient in basic foodstuffs within a generation.” Why ?

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Jul '14 - 11:18am

    “We depend heavily on the rest of the world, especially developing countries, for food”
    In fact our biggest imports are from the Netherlands (5.9%), Spain (5.1%), France (3.3%), Irish Republic (3.2%) and Germany (2.6%).

  • “High living standards and rising prosperity extolled by almost all parties are only possible by expropriating the living standards of the world’s poorest.”

    I take it the author means that because resources are finite and overstretched, and because of the menace of climate change, the whole world cannot possibly continue increasing consumption and raising its living standards indefinitely. Nor can the world expect to reach some sort of benign plateau in consumption. Instead, if we maintain current policies, we can expect a catastrophic crash, not very ahead in time, as resources run out, and climate change displaces millions from the regions which can no longer support them. All that makes sense.

    Where I might disagree with the author is in his assumption that the West will win out by “expropriating the living standards of the poorest”. The West may instead be the biggest losers.

    No doubt people like Bush and Blair will be on hand to argue that, because the West have a morally superior religion, the West is entitled to bomb its way into seizure of scarce resources, and hence starvation for the forces of evil. However, I doubt whether either the propaganda or the bombs will then save the West from the consequences of its own folly.

  • @rob parsons where I live used to be a hill farming area and there were a number of dairy herds as well as sheep. Now most of that has gone. I know that many farms in Wales have gone as elderly farmers retire and no-one takes on the job. I am sure this is a nationwide phenomenon.
    @simon Mcgrath. In my local market and in the local supermarkets there is salad, fruit, mange tout peas and many more greengrocery items from Keyna, South Africa, India. The food they send us doesn’t feed the poor in those countries. Try looking further than the obvious recent success stories of China and India (though even there the poor are left behind). Look at the countries of Africa for example, where many countries are at war or recovering from genocide or are failed states. Yet they export food to the West at the expense of their own populations. Also consider the issue of resources. Many of the rare minerals we need to feed our insatiable hunger for technology come from developing countries, who are paid a pittance for them and where the people who mine them live in poverty and danger.
    That’s what I mean about expropriating the living standards of the poor.
    @dav. Our living standards – even those of the poorest in our society – are infinitely greater than billions of poor people in many developing countries, many of whom live on the equivalent of less than $2 a day. Go to any high street in the UK and see the conspicuous consumption of ‘fashion’ clothes, of tech gadgets and junk food. Clothes that may be worn once, shoes that will wear out in a year or less and which are unrepairable, food that is half eaten and then thrown away, technology that will be out of date before you get it home. All of this stuff available at low low prices because workers in China, India and other countries are paid a pittance to produce them [and even in some cases not paid because they are indentured] or made by children who lose both education and childhood.
    This cannot continue in any civilised Liberal society and we betray our heritage if we ignore the unpalatable and fail to tell the electorate the truth.
    Why do we need to become self sufficient in basic food? Because those countries that currently supply us will eventually need that food for themselves. Water is already becoming a problem, desertification is spreading and there will come a time – quite soon in my estimation – when we may no longer be able to buy the food we need. The continued retreat from the land is foolish in the extreme and needs to be reversed.

  • @david Allen. No, I’m not arguing that the West WILL win out by expropriating the living standards of the poor in developing countries, but that they already are and that it cannot continue like that.

  • To suggest that the ‘average Briton’, whoever that is, will have to accept reduced living standards isn’t a tough sell, its an impossible one. To justify it with reference to the aid budget only tarnishes the idea of having an international development programme in the first place.

    We need to be working on creating a more equal society worldwide, yes, but it isn’t practical to try to pull everyone across the whole world up to the arbitrarily selected level of modern Britain as the first and only stage of the plan. Especially since modern British living standards are so badly skewed and are in steep decline anyway.

    The first priority for Britain and the British must be to repair and renew our own state and social contract. Our state is very bad at balancing regional interests and is overly centralised, lacking both a geographically balanced revisioning chamber and a population-proportionate legislating chamber. Addressing the regional imbalances and structural poverty at home needs to happen if our state is to retain legitimacy.

    Our second priority has to be European development, with the Union delivering the standards of governance that Western European states enjoy to the east, while restoring a certain strategic realism and a slightly less geriatric demographic to the western half. And of course the shared market isn’t a zero sum game, we all benefit there and the goal should be to create the rising tide that lifts all boats, bringing the post-Communist states up to speed and revitalising the sclerotic social democratic and free market states.

    The third priority should be in alleviating extreme poverty around the world. A couple of key reasons – one, the moral case. The current trend in Britain is towards ‘charity begins at home’ conservatism, a fundamentally amoral position holding that the Good Samaritan of the parable would have been a better man if he’d stayed at home and helped his fellow Samaritans. We need to oppose that on moral grounds. And the second reason, opposing that trend on immoral grounds if you like, is the global politics of aid and development – societies that aren’t starving and that have a stake in the world tend not to lash out against their neighbours and tend not to provide all that many recruits for the fundamentalist extremes. But I say extreme poverty for a reason – we cannot simply descend onto a functioning society in relative poverty and start reorganising it according to our notion of how to make it fairer and richer. That would be a colonialist approach that ends up harming both parties.

    That pretty much covers my reaction to the article’s Point 1.

    For Point 2 on agriculture, I don’t really agree with the diagnosis. It isn’t a problem of quantity, and the European Commission has hugely changed the way it handles the CAP, in response to the concerns of members including the UK. The issue for most of the land in Britain that could be productive but isn’t is one of inefficient land tenure. Crofts and such set up so that an 18th century family can subsist. These aren’t investment grade, and frankly if subsistence is your goal the state will provide with no need for the incredibly tough labour that one of these remote smallholdings entail. That, by the way, is no bad thing – in a developed society there’s no reason why anyone should need to be in backbreaking physical labour just to skim along with about enough to eat, plus or minus, barring disaster.

    The answer here, since the landholders refuse to consolidate or sell up, and in many cases aren’t allowed to anyway under the terms of their tenancy, is cooperatives. Pooling applications for funding to break through that critical tipping point beyond which machinery can be bought, and has enough land to work that it becomes profitable. That’s how most of Britain’s most food import dependent areas can become more self sufficient, but it’s a bit of a myth that there is a huge area of the UK just waiting to be brought under the plough.

    Also its worth remembering that the methods that work in East Anglia to create some of Europe’s most productive farmland would fail utterly on the sort of land that is now mostly dormant. That is the big barrier, along with the fact that the methods that do work are mostly lost and need to be reinvented or at least researched.. So although there is no market infallibility in agricultural land use and there is land unused that could be profitable, there are things government needs to do in order to create the conditions to let it take off.

    Point 3 I partly agree with, at least in sentiment if not in the detail. Energy independence under renewables is largely impossible though, for Britain on its own. Our potential sources just aren’t diverse enough. Positive developments are coming from the new European Commission, though, and ALDE’s participation in the governing coalition in the European Parliament is contingent on Parliament instructing the Commission to bring forward the single energy market and grid. This makes renewables far more credible, as a larger network minimises the impact on the whole of the unreliability of any one part of the network. Put simply, if it isn’t windy enough in Scotland to provide, its likely to be sunny enough in Spain to compensate.

  • David Allen 22nd Jul '14 - 1:34pm

    “This made me genuinely laugh,it is the nuttiest thing I have read for ages. 2 cheers to the author for the scope of his ambition, and his charming British understatement.”

    Whenever I read comments like that, I know that the commentator is scared. Scared, because he knows in his heart that he is wrong. Determined, therefore, to defeat his opponent by laughing him out of court with hysterical canned laughter. Totally unwilling to engage in rational argument, for fear of losing in rational argument.

  • Totally unwilling to engage in rational argument, for fear of losing in rational argument

    Okay, if the object is rational argument, then rationally, if ‘the consumer society and that living in luxury aren’t an option’, then what will the average Briton have to give up?

    Just a couple of examples will do.

    Foreign travel? Personal travel — the ability to go where and when you want without planning your life around bus and train schedules? Central heating?

    If our current standard if living is not acceptable, then what standard do you think is acceptable? You must have some ideas.

  • Richard Church 22nd Jul '14 - 2:17pm

    Michael is right that ever increasing consumption is unsustainable. We know it’s true, otherwise we wouldn’t be supporting recycling, energy efficiency, sustainable energy. Green policies like these are now mainstream, but when advocated by us 30 years ago they were viewed as fringe.

    Many years ago the Liberal Party talked about the desirability of ‘No Growth’. Now we talk about ‘Green Growth’, pointing out that the economy should only grow without increasing the consumption of finite natural resources. With the world population continuing to grow, the pressure on resources is ever greater. Yes, new prosperity for some people in China and India comes as a consequence of trade generated by our own material consumption in the west, but it comes at the cost of ever greater environmental degredation and increased competition for scarce resources. We cannot and should not deny to Chinese and Indian people improved living standards, but the planet simply cannot sustain everyone consuming at the levels most of us in Britain take for granted.

    We underestimate the scale of the upheaval ahead if we are to create a sustainable future. It will mean less private travel, less food waste, less meat eating (no I’m not a vegetarian), less energy consumption, less ‘stuff’ in our houses and all kinds of inconvenience it will be difficult to sell on the doorstep. There will still be trade though. what wealth there is is best shared through people buying and selling to each each other. Food will be grown where it grows best, and sustainable energy will be generated where the sun shines and the wind blows. Failure to share natural resources through trade would increase inequalities around the world.

    Let’s not join the climate change deniers and pretend that everything is just going to carry on as it has before.

  • David Evershed 22nd Jul '14 - 2:26pm

    Living standards can only be improved for the many (rather than the few) through increased productivity.

    Productivity has increased by leaps and bounds in the privatre sector and is now being improved in the public sector. But there is plenty of scope for improving productivity in the teaching, police, health and legal professions amongst others.

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Jul '14 - 2:38pm

    Do zero – growth advocates realise that the implication is an end to capitalism? While that may be desirable, it’s not politically sellable in the current UK political climate.
    I agree with the OP’s point that electric cars are unlikely to be a solution – but if we are to get to Dutch levels of cycling usage, (50% modal share seems possible) then we need serious, continued, long term investment in cycling infrastructure, and that will take road space away from cars.
    On the energy front, it’s clear that there isn’t enough renewable energy potential in the UK or surrounding seas to power the whole UK. It’s not just the 40 GW of electricity demand, but things like steel, fertiliser, cement, transport, heating…. Long term, higher quality housing will reduce the demand for low grade heat, and of course local photovoltaic and wind farms will provide some of the required electricity.
    But the remaining electricity will have to come on long haul HVDC grids from hot sunny places – ideally politically stable ones! Maybe Greece/ Spain/ Southern Italy would qualify. The sparsely populated areas south of the North African mediterranean coast would be technically ideal, and if heavy energy industries (as above) moved to that area, it would save some grid building. Also needed would be the manufacture of diesel, petrol and kerosene fuel for road and air transport. These will obviously become more expensive, but there’s nothing to beat those fuels. We’re not going to stop moving things in HGVs, ships, and people in aircraft any time soon.

  • Mick Taylor 22nd Jul '14 - 4:23pm

    Telling the public that the party is over may indeed be sobering, but someone has to do it. And no, I’m not talking of going back to the 19th century or even 1950, the year I was born. Those who think we can continue with a growth society have to explain how it is possible to have economic growth when scarce resources are running out and when millions of the world’s people have nothing.
    Why should people continue the mad shopping spree and purchase vast quantities of stuff as recreation? Is it either Liberal or desirable to continue with the shopping fueled growth society, when many in this country have poor living standards and vast numbers of the world’s population have nothing at all?
    So I suggest to those who do think it’s possible to read Tim Jackson’s ‘Prosperity without Growth’. If we do it right – and really grasp the redistribution nettle – then we can create a more equal society. It is a very traditional Liberal idea to use taxation to correct the gross imbalances in income and wealth.
    Now as to what we will have to do without. Planned obsolescence, food waste, recreational shopping, Trident, there’s a few to be going on with.

  • @ Dav : who asks
    “If our current standard of living is not acceptable, then what standard do you think is acceptable? You must have some ideas.”
    The Transition Towns Initiative don’t pretend to have all the answers, but they are asking themselves the right questions in their pursuit of a truly sustainable way of life.

    @Jenny Barnes who asks :
    “Do zero – growth advocates realise that the implication is an end to capitalism? While that may be desirable, it’s not politically sellable in the current UK political climate.?”
    This is not about *advocating* zero growth. Zero growth is where we are heading, whether we like it,.. hate it, ..or fear it. It is a more accurate analogy to recognise that the cheap fossil fuel economic ‘punch bowl’, that we have supped heartily from over the last century, is down to the dregs.
    Michael Taylor’s article is closer to a warning bell, than advocation. A better word to what lies ahead of us would be economic *triage*. A triage of our energy use so that it is used less frivolously, and put to better use in a ‘less intense’ society for all.

  • David Allen 22nd Jul '14 - 4:35pm

    “To suggest that the ‘average Briton’, whoever that is, will have to accept reduced living standards isn’t a tough sell, its an impossible one.”

    Yes, that’s the key point put forward against this programme. It begs the question, what is anybody trying to sell, and to whom?

    The truth is that we have broadly two options. One is to spend a little bit more, now, on developing things like green energy, green public transport and green “passive house” housing stock, so that we may prevent a catastrophic “reduction”* in our living standards in the not very distant future. The other is to carry on with business as usual and token nods toward sustainability, and try not to look our grandchildren in the face. Presumably the claim is that the first option is unsaleable while the second is a shoo-in. Well, why?

    Dav, above, indicates that the idea of giving up central heating is so unthinkable an idea that nobody would conceivably vote for a party that threatened it happening. Very well Dav, you may be right. If you live in a passive house, you need little or no energy (other than natural solar intake) for heating, so you will probably be able to keep your whole house warm in future. If you haven’t built one, then you may very well be forced to give up central heating when Russian gas and Saudi oil run out, or are banned because of climate change, or are no longer sold to the West. So Dav, are you now sold on the idea that if you don’t go green, your future access to central heating is under threat?

    * – For “reduction”, read famine, pestilence, war, and death

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Jul '14 - 4:50pm

    There is no evidence that any major natural resources are running out. The ‘Limits to Growth’ said that this would have happened by now and clearly is hasn’t. Can people who think we should not have any growth explain what they think will happn to healthcare? New developments in medicine mean we ned to spend more money – without growth this would quickly consume most of our national income.

    @Mick Taylor: ” In my local market and in the local supermarkets there is salad, fruit, mange tout peas and many more greengrocery items from Keyna, South Africa, India. The food they send us doesn’t feed the poor in those countries” They sell us high value products which enables them to have a higher standard of living and more efficient farming. Everyone gains. You appear to lack even the most basic understanding of how trade works.

  • “Because economic growth does not necessarily mean an increase in the consumption of natural resources.”

    In theory, perhaps, but in practice can you point to a period of history when there has been significant economic growth and when the overall consumption of natural resources has decreased?

  • “There is no evidence that any major natural resources are running out. “


  • David Allen 22nd Jul '14 - 6:15pm

    “There is no evidence that any major natural resources are running out. The ‘Limits to Growth’ said that this would have happened by now and clearly it hasn’t.”

    The worst fears have not been realised. This is not surprising. Any responsible analyst who predicts (say) that phlogiston will run out in 25 – 100 years, should warn of the risk that we could have no phlogiston left in 25 years’ time. If, in fact, it takes 50 years before the phlogiston runs out, then the analyst has made a very good set of predictions.

    Simon McGrath, when do you think we are at risk of a major natural resource running out?

    2200? 2100? 2050?

    Don’t want to think about it, don’t want to give a figure?

    Never, because science / science fiction / God / our Fairy Godmother will provide us with inexhaustible supplies?

  • “There is no evidence that any major natural resources are running out”
    To use the phrase ‘running out’, is to misunderstand the very nature of diminishing returns. This is about having used up the *cheap*, *easy to get at*, *low hanging fruit*, and is NOT about running out. A century ago, the cheap crude oil that our economy thrived on, came out of the ground using 200 metres of pipe and a small rig, or ‘nodding donkey’. Today we need a $500 million Rig sitting in a harsh sea environment, to access the harder to get at, expensive stuff.
    So the evidence is clear. We have run out of the *cheap* stuff, and are now into the *expensive* stuff. Our predicament today, is that we built our global economic sandcastle on an assumption of everlasting *cheap* stuff. And that is why future growth is impossible. And that is why over the next decade we will have to triage our energy use as we downscale our society,… NOT because we want to, but because we have NO choice.

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Jul '14 - 8:05pm

    We are certainly nearing the end of fossil fuels. Peak Oil round about now, Peak Gas soon, Peak Coal in probably less than 50 years. But there’s plenty of energy to be had. Concentrated solar in hot sunny places can provide what we need. It’s more expensive than fossil fuel, if you ignore the externalities, but humanity has the technology to produce enough clean energy for our needs. There are, of course, constraints, but capitalism has a history of finding ways round them. And when it comes to running out of raw materials – how much raw material in an e- book?

  • “So do we maximise austerity now,”
    Austerity is a word that suggests a temporary belt tightening. A short term ‘doing without’, until we can get growth back on track to 3,4,5% per year. What I’m seeing on the horizon, is that this next phase is not temporary, and that those expectations of a resumption to Business as Usual are not realistic.
    The words economic collapse give a sense of immediacy, but collapse can occur over decades, and its effect felt in one place but not another. Your view on the likelihood of collapse might be skewed by where you are. London or Swansea. Berlin or Athens. It matters. The future you see out of your window is not necessarily what others see out of theirs.
    We have to stop dreaming about endless growth on a finite planet, and instead over the next decade, identify just what is sustainable and triage our resources to manage that shift to sustainability for the whole of society. Yes it will be painful, but less so if we adapt with common purpose and together.

  • Mick Taylor 22nd Jul '14 - 8:56pm

    @ Simon McGrath. I know very well how trade works. I taught international business including trade for 10 years. If you seriously believe what you wrote then you need to do some serious reading about the states on the African continent. The production of high value goods does bring in money, but it is invariably at the expense of doing something else, like growing food. Take cut flowers for example. Kenya has booming trade in cut flowers which are picked early in the morning, refrigerated, and then flown to Europe. You surely aren’t saying this is sustainable or right? The land used for growing the flowers cannot be used to grow food and I bet the conditions of the workers involved in this trade are pretty awful too, though possibly marginally better than their non-working fellows. Free trade only works between countries with fairly equal bargaining power.

  • Mick Taylor 22nd Jul '14 - 8:59pm

    @jennybarnes. No resources in an ebook, but loads in the Kindle, IPAD, PC, tablet, phone or laptop you read it with.

  • Richard Dean 22nd Jul '14 - 9:08pm

    How strikingly the fiction in academic textbooks contrasts with the facts of the real world!

  • @richard dean. You quote the Kenya Flower Council in defence of the Kenyan Cut Flower Industry! Hardly an unbiased source is it?

  • The ‘no-growth’ society has got very tied up in political issues well outside of environmentalism, and this fundamentally ecological question has been pretty well co-opted in the UK by the anti-capitalist left. This is unfortunate, but its happened.

    Of course, ‘no-growth’ is a tricky thing to pin down. It is possible to enforce no growth in energy usage, no growth in resource consumption, no growth in total input of matter and energy and still see economic growth. This is the decoupling idea, and we can see it happening in the record across the 20th century in relative terms – a dollar’s worth of inflation adjusted GDP in 1950 required fewer natural resources to make than the same amount in 1900, and a 2000 inflation adjusted dollar was cheaper still in terms of resources and environmental impact.

    The trouble is, growth has been so fast across the 20th century that this decoupling is only relative – each dollar imposes less of an environmental impact, but there are so many more of them that the total impact goes up regardless of these efficiency savings. Absolute decoupling where the reduction in energy/environmental costs more than compensates for any growth in total size is a very controversial thing, and many greens standing with the anti-capitalism crowd will simply write it off as impossible and a fantasy.

    Still, even if its only been proven at the relative scale, there is a decoupling rate. So liberals don’t have to advocate a society that prohibits economic growth and commits everyone to substantially lower standards of living. We just have to make that decoupling happen, and happen faster than it has been – making sure that it outpaces the total growth of environmental impact.

    We are seeing green technologies reaching the point where they’re starting to be competitive with their fossil fuel equivalents, particularly in the coastal north and on the continent. This technological revolution has the potential to drive the decoupling of our economy from the hydrocarbon chain, and thus decouple our measure of value from an equivalent quantity of burnt fossil fuel. Once we’ve done that, half the environmental equation is solved. The other half, consumption of things, will need to be solved alongside our consumerism-driven personal debt problem as the current methods of bubble-driven consumption in the British economy at least aren’t sustainable financially, let alone ecologically.

  • Joe Otten, there is no similarity between “austerity” as preached by the Osbornite Right, and green policies as promoted by very different political figures.

    Osbornite austerity would seek to cut employment in public services – teachers, doctors, police, administrators – almost all of which are high-labour, low-energy jobs. Osbornite austerity would seek to grow the private sector – mostly low-labour, high-energy jobs involved in increasing the consumption of resources. Whatever else that might achieve, it’s not green.

    But I think you knew that. You’re just trying to make mischief.

  • Moving towards a plant based diet is the most effective ways of tackling all three of these points. It is much healthier and so would reduce the burgeoning expenditure on the Health Service caused by lifestyle choices; it is a much more efficient use of land than using it to rear animals or animal feed, and would therefore allow the UK to produce a greater proportion of its food requirements (complete self-sufficiency wasn’t achievable even during the command economy of the Second World War); it uses less energy than rearing animals (and less antibiotics); and it reduces global warming to which animal rearing is a major contributory factor.

  • Mick Taylor 23rd Jul '14 - 9:13am

    I never said we should aim for complete self sufficiency, but self sufficiency in basic food. Of course in a free trade world we will continue to trade for those things we cannot produce. My point remains that in many currently very poor countries land is needed first to feed their own populations and that we should not be securing our living standards at the expense of the living standards of the world’s poor. In any event, in sustainability terms producing locally makes sense.

  • @Rob Parsons – “What is the evidence that farmland is being reduced?”
    I assume you are just being provocative as only someone who never ventures beyond their urban home could hold such obviously daft viewpoint. A comparison of practically any OS map from 40 plus years ago to the modern version covering the same area will show you the growth in urbanisation.

    Yes hard numbers will give both some idea of the scale and speed of reduction, both in terms of farm land and land that is being actively farmed.

    However, to some extent as we are talking about sustainability, the amount of land being farmed is irrelevant. The facts as reported by the ONS are that we are only producing sufficient food to feed less than half the current population ie. circa 35m people. So if we are serious about moving to a more sustainable style of living we need to address the problem of the unsustainable 35m plus people…

  • The facts as reported by the ONS are that we are only producing sufficient food to feed less than half the current population ie. circa 35m people

    And again, why is that a problem?

    Should all the basic food for everyone living in London be grown within the M25?

  • @Rob Parsons – re: evidence
    Changing your position!

    There is plenty of evidence that significant amounts of farmland has been and is being taken for development. We only really need to point to the new towns (eg. Milton Keynes) and settlements (eg. Cambourne) and the various structure and development plans held by local authorities, also we shouldn’t forget the land being taken for leisure and conservation (eg. Heartwood forest). The trouble is that there is very little evidence of new land being brought into farming particularly at a rate that would balance that being taken for urban development – last time I looked, the Wash still contained sea water…

    Hence logic tells us that the ‘safe’ working conclusion is that farmland is being reduced, putting the onus on to those who think otherwise to prove otherwise…

    Yes, I agree more granular and accurate data would be of interest and would confirm the broad observations I’ve made. It would also give us a rule of thumb measure: x hectares provides sufficient food for y people, enabling us to calculate how much more food we need to import to make up for the land lost to urbanisation, in addition to that required to feed the enlarged population. Which, looking forward, is probably more important, as it allows us to better assess the costs associated with building the hundreds of thousands of ‘homes’ that some people believe we need…

  • it allows us to better assess the costs associated with building the hundreds of thousands of ‘homes’ that some people believe we need

    You don’t believe we need hundreds of thousands of homes?

    Exactly which sections of the population are you intending to cull, in order to bring the numbers down to where we don’t need hundreds of thousands of new homes?

    Or is your position that people need to re-learn to live four-to-a-room? Is privacy and a house of one’s own one of those ‘luxuries’ that we will have to learn to live without?

    (I’ve looked at that ‘transition town’ website and all I can say is if that’s where we’re heading I hope Lord Falconer gets his finger out, because I’d rather be assisted to die than live like that).

  • @Rob – I suggest you follow your own position and provide accurate data to support it – it is the scientific way…

  • Mick Taylor 24th Jul '14 - 3:18pm

    You can try looking at the following url

    This shows a continuous reduction in land tilled, animals bred accelerating since the 1990s.

  • Rob, I was hoping you could provide some evidence to back up your assertion concerning land being brought back into production that might counter the extent to which land is being consumed by development.

    But in answer to your point about data collection, I would hope that DEFRA has accurate data, since it would need this for subsidy payments etc.

  • Jenny Barnes 24th Jul '14 - 6:03pm

    Just over 2% of the UK is built on. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18623096.
    Key findings http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/28_06_12_uk_national_ecosystem.pdf
    The landscape of the UK has changed markedly during the last 60 years with the expansion of Enclosed Farmlands, Woodlands and Urban areas, and the
    contraction and fragmentation of Semi-natural Grasslands, upland and lowland Heaths, Freshwater wetlands and Coastal Margin habitats.

    Within Enclosed Farmland, crop and livestock production has increased significantly,

    Farmland 10.0 million hectares, Urban (including not built on areas like gardens) 1.6 , woodland 3 out of a total of just under 25.
    So there’s some facts to play with.

    The productivity of farmland is of course critically dependent on nitrogenous fertilizer, which in turn depends on energy supply to fix the nitrogen. However, this energy demand would be a good way of burning excess renewables when there’s too much wind/ solar, to ensure that there’s something to turn off to balance the demand when production is low. similarly for aluminium smelting.

  • I just wonder if the ‘ping pong’ debate about how much farmland we have in the UK is missing the ultimate point of this article, which is our sustainability.? And here’s the thing, no matter how much UK farmland we can agree on, it is definitely *not enough* to feed the present population of our shores. Here in 2014, we cannot feed ourselves, without the import of many other resources. So what you say, it’s all part of international trade?
    If you look closely at all the present wars, social upheaval, and cries for independence around the world, they can all be boiled down to a clamour for resources. Resources which worldwide are (as I said earlier), have moved from *cheap ~ east to access~ low hanging fruit*, to the *harder to get at~ expensive to produce~ diminishing* resources. The world is fighting for the scrapings in the bottom of the barrel. We need to triage, and soon.

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