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New Agriculturist: Book reviews - Sharing for survival - Restoring the commons and society
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Sharing for survival - Restoring the commons and society

Sharing for survival

Edited by Brian Davey
Published by Feasta
Website: www.feasta.org
2012, 188pp, 978 0 954051 020 7 (Pb), £14.99

Rio, Durban and Copenhagen demonstrate a poor record for nation states agreeing a top-down global climate solution; is the answer a bottom-up approach, with citizens worldwide taking steps to protect the common resources on which we all depend? The authors of Sharing for survival believe that is so. Nine authors, who have long been active in public campaigning, offer their views on how what is termed the 'cap and share' approach could achieve what appears out of reach of politicians. Brian Davey defines 'cap and share' as: "a reducing ceiling, or cap, [that] would be imposed on fossil fuel suppliers through a 'permit to sell carbon fuels' scheme. The fossil energy suppliers would have to purchase a reducing number of permits. The money raised by the energy suppliers' purchase of permits would be available to share with citizens in various ways." However, as he goes on to admit, "We all started out liking the idea but then discovered that we had different views on how to organise the share." Idealism is fragile, no less when in the hands of idealists. And yet without idealism leavened by pragmatism there is scant hope.

For those new to 'cap and share' Sharing for survival is a good place to become acquainted, and to learn what its application would mean for agriculture, an industry where the use of oil in industrialised farming systems is so pervasive that Professor Albert Bartlett wrote as long ago as 1978 that: "Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food." The impact of a reduction of oil availability in intensive agriculture would have very significant impacts in a globalised world where foodstuffs are produced with fertilisers, pesticides and traction, all carbon dependent, and which travel thousands of miles. Local self-sufficiency is a distant memory. A case study of what may face us is provided by Cuba in the 1990s following the loss of Soviet support. Alternatives were needed and were found, but required major changes, including a return of labour to the land, production for local markets and reduction in fertiliser and pesticide inputs. Biofuels were not then and are not now an option: "For even 10% of US transport fuel to be supplied by bioethanol, independently of fossil fuels, 35 times the US arable land currently in production would be required." Similarly, "for Italy to supply 30% of its transport fuel by biofuels, without fossil fuel inputs, would require 94% of the labour supply to work in agriculture and around 7 times the agricultural land in production."

If policymakers are too preoccupied to address the issues of climate change and peak-oil, and mitigation of their likely impacts on society, then the authors of Sharing for survival believe that members of society needs must seek to address the issues for themselves. Idealism or pragmatism?

Date published: August 2012


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