Appetite For Destruction

https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-10/WWF_AppetiteForDestruction_Summary_Report_SignOff.pdf

A lot of people are aware of the impact a meat-based diet has on water, land and habitats, and the implications of its associated greenhouse gas emissions. But few know the largest impact comes from the crop-based feed the animals eat.  Go to the above WWF link and take a look!

 

Agriculture Emissions Stay the Same

https://www.desmog.uk/2017/08/23/lack-progress-agricultural-emission-reductions-shows-need-green-brexit

[Extract from a lightly longer article; go to above link for full version].

The UK has failed to make any cuts to emissions from agriculture. Again.

New government statistics released 22 August show UK farming emitted 49.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2015, the exact same amount as a year before and remaining at about the same level since 2008.Overall, agriculture accounted for about 10 percent of the UK’s greenhouse gas

While the sector only contributed one percent of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, it was responsible for 53 percent of the UK’s methane emissions. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and – pound for pound – can trap much more heat in the atmosphere over the course of a couple of decades.

Agricultural emissions come from a variety of sources. The production of animal feed is the main driver, while generating power to keep the industry going also creates a lot of emissions. Livestock such as cows, sheep and pigs also emit a lot of methane.

A recent study suggested converting land for farming has led to the release of 133 billion tons of carbon dioxide globally over the last 12,000 years. That’s the equivalent of 13 years of global emissions from all sectors at their current levels, the Washington Post pointed out.

Since 2008, the UK has failed to cut its agricultural emissions, with reductions stalling at about 17 percent below 1990 levels. There is no specific climate target for the agriculture sector, instead the industry is captured under the UK Climate Change Act’s general 80 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, from 1990 levels, by 2050.    continues…

An Environmentally Sound UK and US-Produced Meat?

Two items of current focus in Brexit news this week have been environmental standards and trade talks.

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, appear to have differing goals where these two suggested policies meet.

Michael Gove

Post-Brexit, Gove is talking of a ‘gold standard’ for the environment and for farming in the UK, whilst Fox has been in America getting-up close and cosy discussing a possible post-Brexit trade deal, which would very likely have to include meat US, produced to both lower husbandry and processing standards, being imported into this country.  Read here, industrial-scale animal production with far fewer animals enjoying life outside grazing on grass (at least during the summers) and gobbling-up vast amounts of cereal and soya.  Widespread use of growth hormones, antibiotics in feeds and lower cleanliness in poultry slaughter relying on a final clean-up with heavily-chlorinated water.  The emphasis here should be about how the meat is produced not about whether the meat id healthy to eat or not.

Liam Fox

The UK can’t have post-Brexit both Gove’s ‘gold standard’ environmental standards and Fox’s imported meat produced by cheaper, lower welfare standards.  This ‘cheapness’ – with animals paying the difference with their lower standards of well-being, would make both the profitability of UK farmers even harder to achieve and it would also allow meat produced by these morally lower methods into the UK’s food chain.

 

Thoughts on Farming and Rivers

June 17.  A dear friend of mine went for a walk out from Alfriston today, in the heart of the South Downs and through the Cuckmere Valley.  He was commenting on the “crops gently swaying in the breeze. How lucky we are to have such diligent farmers growing our fine food.”  I don’t know about diligent, they and the agro-chemical industry have certainly messed-up the once wonderful balance that used to exist between farming and wildlife.

There is a middle way of doing things, note The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project is based at Loddington in Leicestershire – (https://www.gwct.org.uk/allerton/about-the-allerton-project/ )  Or the RSPB’s Hope Farm, a 181-hectare (450-acre) arable farm in Cambridgeshire (https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/farming/hopefarm/the_farm.aspx )  The government and public opinion just need to encourage and finance farming post Brexit along that route.

Yellowhammer RSPB

He wrote on: “The Cuckmere river is in a state, either side of white bridge it can’t be more than 6′ [feet] wide, strangled with weed & silt!”  Man interferes with rivers at his peril – note all the Environment Agency schemes across the country reinstating river’s natural features and their courses, back to how they naturally once were in various places across the country. So maybe as it’s not built over, its time to consider breaching the Cuckmere’s banks and let the river re-connect with its floodplain?

June Sightings

June 5th.  At breakfast time, noticed a very large ship going down Channel.  It proved to be the MSC Zoe (which with several sister ships) is one of the largest container ships in the world (as of August 2015), it being the third of a series of ships built by the Mediterranean Shipping Company.  She takes her name from the four year old granddaughter of Gianluigi Aponte, the Mediterranean Shipping Company president and chief executive.

MSC Zoe was constructed by Daewoo in South Korea for $140m.  The ship’s particulars are: at a length of 395 metres and has a draft of 16 metres.  She has a capacity of 19,224 TEU (containers) and a deadweight of 199,272 DWT.  The vessel’s massive main engine is a two-stroke MAN B&W 11S90ME-C diesel engine, which has a height of 15.5 m (51 ft), a length of 25 m (82 ft) and a breadth of 11 m (36 ft).  The engine has a maximum continuous rating of 62.5 MW (83,800 hp) at 82.2 rpm and a normal continuous rating of 56.25 MW (75,430 hp) at 79.4 rpm.  Her single five-blade propeller has blade lengths of 10.5 m (34 ft) producing a service speed of 22.8 kn (42.2 km/h; 26.2 mph)

By Hummelhummel, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42056503

June 6.  In view of last night’s un-seasonal gale, I have added a Page* setting-out the Beaufort Scale, the universally accepted scale for wind speed.  In mid-Channel at about 8-9am this morning, it reached Severe Gale force.  Nowadays – even in tv/radio weather forecasts, the term ‘gale’ or ‘storm’ are often misused, so here’s the correct calibration!  *Scroll back to the top of the ‘Reflections’ blog screen and click on Beaufort Wind Scale.  The sea has been wild all day with 2-3 metre waves breaking on the beaches; even by the evening, the wind speed was still registering in the region of Force 7 – ‘Near Gale,’ very un-seasonal for June!

June 11.  There was very good visibility tonight out into the Channel where the cruise liner Arcadia, was slowly passing west along the Sussex coast on passage to Southampton, when I noticed a cluster of lights and orange glow on the very far horizon.  On doing a simple exercise or two on Google Earth, it would seem to be Boulogne, some 45 miles to the south-east!

Today, a 350 tonne transformer was transported by road from Shoreham to Ninfield, see link  https://sussex.police.uk/news/drone-footage-captures-abnormal-load-journey-through-east-sussex/

June 13.  After an apparent absence of about a week due to the un-seasonal windy weather, swifts have returned this morning to hawk insects high above St.Leonards old town. These enigmatic birds have been one of my favourite birds since early childhood.

RSPB image

Late afternoon on the 13th and one Hastings Arrows that’s never going to find its destination!  The engine compartment and almost the whole of interior of the bus being gutted.

June 18.  My strawberries now in full production on the wonderful Marina Allotments!  I came across this thought prvoking quote while on Twitter: “For every kilogram of vegetables you grow yourself, you’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2 kilograms…”

Noticed this colony of relatively large digger wasps under the attractive stone flagstones in Pevensey Road.

June 19.  Heatwave.  These  fella’s have the right idea while working in the heat!

While picking another dish-full of strawberries this evening, I heard an approaching bird call and immediately thought I know what’s making that call.  On looking up, a pale-looking ring-necked parakeet flew over, did a circuit nearby and then disappeared towards neighbouring housing.  A summer escape or from a feral colony nearby?

Livestock Transportation by Sea Still Thriving

The recent news of a shipping collision off the coast of Turkey near the Bosphorus, shows that the despicable trade in transporting of live animals by sea is still flourishing.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-39734998  (abridged).

A Russian spy ship has sunk off the Turkish coast after being breached in a collision with a freighter; all its crew were rescued, the Turkish coastal authority says.  Russia confirmed earlier that the hull of the Liman, part of its Black Sea Fleet, had sustained a breach, with crew working to keep it afloat.  The cause of the collision is unclear but fog was reported in the area.  All 78[!] crew aboard the Liman were safely evacuated, the Turkish coastal authority said.

Note the big bales of bedding on deck

It collided with the Togo-registered Youzarsif H, a livestock carrier, reportedly 18 miles from the Turkish town of Kilyos on the Black Sea coast just north of the city of Istanbul, and had sunk by 11:48 GMT.  The Youzarsif H was built in 1977, 81 metres in length and with a gross tonnage of 2,282 tonnes.  She was presumably loaded as she was heading south to the Jordanian port of Aqaba where her poor wretched cargo was due to be discharged, probably to a gruesome ending.

Apart from breeding stock, my personal view is that no livestock should be transported by sea; it should be slaughtered in the country of its breeding and then exported as chilled or frozen meat.

The Liman, built in Gdansk, Poland, was launched in 1970 [so being some 47 years old, probably a rust-bucket].  Based at Sevastopol in Crimea, the territory annexed from Ukraine by Russia in 2014, it was a regular visitor to the Syrian port of Tartus for decades, the site notes.  In 1999, the Liman made international headlines when it was deployed to the Mediterranean to monitor NATO operations against Yugoslavia.

 

Which Are the Healthiest Oils to Cook With?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33675975?post_id=1281307675222529_1350253378327958#_=_

Which oils are best to cook with?

28 July 2015

From the section BBC Magazine

 

Choosing the right oil to cook with is a complicated business, writes Michael Mosley.

When it comes to fats and oils, we are spoiled for choice. Supermarket shelves are heaving with every conceivable option. But these days it is extremely confusing because there is so much debate about the benefits and harm that come from consuming different types of fats.

On Trust Me, I’m a Doctor we decided to look at things from a different angle by asking: “Which fats and oils are best to cook with?”

You might think it is obvious that frying with vegetable oils has to be healthier than cooking with animal fat, like lard or butter. But is it really?

To find out, we gave some Leicester residents a variety of fats and oils and asked our volunteers to use them in their everyday cooking. The volunteers were also asked to collect any leftover oil which would then be analysed.

The fats and oils they used included sunflower oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, cold pressed rapeseed oil, olive oil (refined and extra virgin), butter and goose fat.

Samples of oil and fat, after cooking, were collected and sent to Leicester School of Pharmacy at De Montfort University in Leicester, where Prof Martin Grootveld and his team ran a parallel experiment where they heated up these same oils and fats to frying temperatures.

When you are frying or cooking at a high temperature (at or close to 180C or 356F), the molecular structures of the fats and oils you are using change. They undergo what’s called oxidation – they react with oxygen in the air to form aldehydes and lipid peroxides. At room temperature something similar happens, though more slowly. When lipids go rancid they become oxidised.

Consuming or inhaling aldehydes, even in small amounts, has been linked to increased risk of heart disease and cancer. So what did Prof Grootveld’s team find?

“We found,” he says, “that the oils which were rich in polyunsaturates – the corn oil and sunflower oil – generated very high levels of aldehydes.”

I was surprised as I’d always thought of sunflower oil as being “healthy”.

“Sunflower and corn oil are fine,” Prof Grootveld says, “as long as you don’t subject them to heat, such as frying or cooking. It’s a simple chemical fact that something which is thought to be healthy for us is converted into something that is very unhealthy at standard frying temperatures.”

The olive oil and cold-pressed rapeseed oil produced far less aldehydes, as did the butter and goose fat. The reason is that these oils are richer in monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids, and these are much more stable when heated. In fact, saturated fats hardly undergo this oxidation reaction at all.

Prof Grootveld generally recommends olive oil for frying or cooking. “Firstly because lower levels of these toxic compounds are generated, and secondly the compounds that are formed are actually less threatening to the human body.”

His research also suggests that when it comes to cooking, frying in saturate-rich animal fats or butter may be preferable to frying in sunflower or corn oil.

“If I had a choice,” he says, “between lard and polyunsaturates, I’d use lard every time.”

Lard, despite its unhealthy reputation, is actually rich in monounsaturated fats.

Our study also threw up another surprise because Prof Grootveld’s team identified in some of the samples sent in by our volunteers a couple of new aldehydes that they had not previously seen in the oil-heating experiments.

“We’ve done some new science here,” he says with a smile on his face. “It’s a world first, I’m very, very pleased about it.”

I’m not sure that our volunteers would have been quite so thrilled to discover their cooking had managed to generate new, potentially toxic compounds.

So what is Prof Grootveld’s overall advice?

Firstly, try to do less frying, particularly at high temperature. If you are frying, minimise the amount of oil you use, and also take steps to remove the oil from the outside of the fried food, perhaps with a paper towel.

To reduce aldehyde production go for an oil or fat high in monounsaturated or saturated lipids (preferably greater than 60% for one or the other, and more than 80% for the two combined), and low in polyunsaturates (less than 20%).

He thinks the ideal “compromise” oil for cooking purposes is olive oil, “because it is about 76% monounsaturates, 14% saturates and only 10% polyunsaturates – monounsaturates and saturates are much more resistant to oxidation than polyunsaturates”.

When it comes to cooking it doesn’t seem to matter whether the olive oil is “extra virgin” or not. “The antioxidant levels present in the extra virgin products are insufficient to protect us against heat-induced oxidation.”

His final bit of advice is always keep your oils in a cupboard, out of the light, and try not to reuse them as this also leads to the accumulation of nasty side-products.

Know your fats

 

  • Polyunsaturated fatsContain two or more carbon-carbon double bonds. When eaten in as food such nuts, seeds, fish and leafy greens, they have clear health benefits. However, the benefits of consuming sunflower oil and corn oil, although rich in polyunsaturates, are much less clear.
  • Monounsaturated oilsContain just one carbon-carbon double bond. They are found in avocados, olives, olive oil, almonds and hazelnuts, and also in lard and goose fat. Olive oil, which is approximately 76% monounsaturated, is a key component in the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Saturated fatshave no double bonds between carbon atoms. Although we are encouraged to switch from eating saturated fats, particularly dairy and other fats derived from animals, the benefits of doing so are being challenged.
  • The percentages of each in the oils below varies somewhat but these values are typical
Type of oil or fat Polyunsaturated (%) Monounsaturated (%) Saturated (%)
Coconut oil 2 6 86
Butter 3 21 51
Lard 11 45 39
Goose fat 11 56 27
Olive oil 10 76 14
Rapeseed oil 28 63 7
Sesame oil 41 40 14
Corn oil 54 27 12
Sunflower oil 65 20 10

 

Demise of the Cadbury’s Chocolate Brand

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/cadburys-chocolate-fairtrade-fair-trade-mark-farmers-kraft-american-brand-abandoned-promise-a7445826.html

In a final betrayal of the Cadbury brand, Kraft has quietly abandoned its promise to stick with Fairtrade.

Hannah Fearn, Tuesday 29 November 2016.

When John Cadbury founded his legendary confectionery firm in 1824, he was selling just three products: tea, coffee and – perhaps more predictably – drinking chocolate. With the help of his brother Benjamin, he grew the business rapidly; by 1885 they were even supplying chocolate to Queen Victoria.

When John Cadbury’s sons took over the business in 1861 it had only 11 employees and was losing money – but the pair turned it around. At the end of the century, inspired by their father’s Quaker ideals, the brothers built the Bournville estate to house the hundreds of workers the company’s now vast factory required and “alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped, living conditions” in the process.

28-cadbury-get

Cadbury’s was just one of a proud tradition of ethical British businesses, including the confectioner Rowntree, Clarks the shoemaker and Wedgewood pottery. Here was a company that provided a quality product to the people, and exercised a social responsibility in doing so.

Sadly, the creation of the still-lively community at Bournville may have been the high point for this historic brand. The first signs of its descent from its origins as a force for social good – the lowermost slopes of which it finally traversed this week – were visible as early as the late 1960s.

In 1969, Cadbury merged with Schweppes. That put an end to its Quaker ideals and social underpinning. It became a business with a single, capitalist motive: selling more confectionary, making more money.

On went the journey towards the symbol of global hyper-capitalist culture it is today. In 1978, a US chocolate magnate, Peter Paul, acquired a 10 per cent share. Its profits outside the UK overtook its British interests. In the late 2000s, jobs were stripped with the closure of a factory in Keynsham. Some of that production moved overseas.

After months of wrangling, in January 2010 Kraft Foods finally bought the firm for £8.40 a share. A great British icon, an important brand in the history and evolution of British business, was no longer British at all. The name persisted, but precious little remained of the company Cadbury himself had created, or the strict business ethics under which he and his two sons worked.

But there was even more change yet to come. When the buyout occurred, Kraft said it would stick to Cadbury’s commitment to using Fairtrade cocoa beans to produce its chocolate. Fairtrade rules mean that cocoa farmers earn a minimum of £1,600 per tonne of cocoa sold. This week, Cadbury confirmed that it was no longer working with Fairtrade, and had instead switched to a new cocoa production partnership known as Cocoa Life – which does not exert the same price rules.

Cadbury has agreed with Fairtrade to keep its logo on the back of their chocolate bars, as a “partner” with the brand. Fairtrade demands that farmers should not be worse off under the new scheme. But this is nevertheless a significant pulling-back from the company’s original commitment.

Cadbury is now a subsidiary of an arm of Kraft, or spin-out company, known as Mondelez International. Its chief executive is Irene Rosenfeld. Her remuneration rose by 50 per cent in 2014, to $21m. What the cocoa farmers who work to supply her global operation will earn for their crucial part in her success is now under question.

Other smaller brands under the Cadbury group have had their ethos similarly stripped from them. Green & Blacks was founded as a small, organic brand and was awarded Britain’s first Fairtrade mark. It was bought in 2005 by Cadbury, and subsumed by Mondelez International as part of the Kraft takeover. Its new range of chocolate for the US market will no longer be organic – the first time that the Green & Black’s label had ever used non-organic chocolate since it was founded in 1991.

Perhaps it’s unfair to single out a single brand when the journey Cadbury has taken, from a local family business to global corporate, is one that so many have followed. But it is the very epitome of the destruction of business value in the search for profit at all costs.

For now, Bournville is still home to Mondelez’s Global Centre of Excellence for Chocolate research and development. Every Cadbury chocolate bar you buy can trace its origins back to the heart of the British business. How much longer before it’s cheaper and easier to do that work somewhere else – whatever the cost to the community that birthed this great British brand?

New ‘Low Sugar’ Chocolate

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/dec/01/nestle-discovers-way-to-slash-sugar-in-chocolate-without-changing-taste

Nestlé says it can slash sugar in chocolate without changing taste.

Haroon Siddique, Thursday 1 December 2016.

ABSTRACT.  Nestlé says it has found a way of slashing the amount of sugar in some of its chocolate bars by 40%, without compromising the taste.

The Swiss food company, whose products include Kit Kats, Aeros and Yorkies, said it has achieved the reduction by discovering a way “to structure sugar differently”. The new process is said to make sugar dissolve faster so that even when less is used, the tongue perceives an identical level of sweetness.

choco

It plans to patent the process, discovered by its scientists, which it says will enable it to significantly decrease the total sugar in its confectionery products.

Visit the above link for the full story.

Soil Erosion

The following article reflects concerns I have had for decades – the loss of soils by un-enlightened farming practices.  Admittedly, some of the best – Walton’s at Alciston and Ellis’s of Litlington are making an effort now with methods involving no ploughing.  In the 1980’s, I can recall soil, flint, seed corn, being washed for over a mile on the Downs!

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/25/treating-soil-like-dirt-fatal-mistake-human-life

We’re treating soil like dirt. It’s a fatal mistake, as our lives depend on it.

George Monbiot, Wednesday 25 March 2015.

Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re finished if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper.

It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanskrit text written in about 1500BC noted: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”

The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops. Even in Britain, which is spared the tropical downpours that so quickly strip exposed soil from the land, Farmers Weekly reports, we have “only 100 harvests left”.

Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction.

To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, 6m hectares (14.8m acres) of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12m hectares a year are lost through soil degradation. We wreck it, then move on, trashing rainforests and other precious habitats as we go. Soil is an almost magical substance, a living system that transforms the materials it encounters, making them available to plants. That handful the Vedic master showed his disciples contains more micro-organisms than all the people who have ever lived on Earth. Yet we treat it like, well, dirt.

The techniques that were supposed to feed the world threaten us with starvation. A paper just published in the journal Anthropocene analyses the undisturbed sediments in an 11th-century French lake. It reveals that the intensification of farming over the past century has increased the rate of soil erosion sixtyfold.

Another paper, by researchers in the UK, shows that soil in allotments – the small patches in towns and cities that people cultivate by hand – contains a third more organic carbon than agricultural soil and 25% more nitrogen. This is one of the reasons why allotment holders produce between four and 11 times more food per hectare than do farmers.

Whenever I mention this issue, people ask: “But surely farmers have an interest in looking after their soil?” They do, and there are many excellent cultivators who seek to keep their soil on the land. There are also some terrible farmers, often absentees, who allow contractors to rip their fields to shreds for the sake of a quick profit. Even the good ones are hampered by an economic and political system that could scarcely be better designed to frustrate them.

Why are organic farmers across Britain giving up?

This [2015] is the International Year of Soils, but you wouldn’t know it. In January, the Westminster government published a new set of soil standards, marginally better than those they replaced, but wholly unmatched to the scale of the problem. There are no penalities for compromising our survival except a partial withholding of public subsidies. Yet even this pathetic guidance is considered intolerable by the National Farmers’ Union, which greeted them with bitter complaints. Sometimes the NFU seems to me to exist to champion bad practice and block any possibility of positive change.

Few sights are as gruesome as the glee with which the NFU celebrated the death last year of the European soil framework directive, the only measure with the potential to arrest our soil-erosion crisis. The NFU, supported by successive British governments, fought for eight years to destroy it, then crowed like a shedful of cockerels when it won. Looking back on this episode, we will see it as a parable of our times.

Soon after that, the [then] business minister, Matthew Hancock, announced that he was putting “business in charge of driving reform”: trade associations would be able “to review enforcement of regulation in their sectors.” The NFU was one the first two bodies granted this privilege. Hancock explained that this “is all part of our unambiguously pro-business agenda to increase the financial security of the British people.” But it doesn’t increase our security, financial or otherwise. It undermines it.

The government’s deregulation bill, which has now almost completed its passage through parliament, will force regulators – including those charged with protecting the fabric of the land – to “have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth”. But short-term growth at the expense of public protection compromises long-term survival. This “unambiguously pro-business agenda” is deregulating us to death.

There’s no longer even an appetite for studying the problem. Just one university – Aberdeen – now offers a degree in soil science. All the rest have been closed down.

This is what topples civilisations. War and pestilence might kill large numbers of people, but in most cases the population recovers. But lose the soil and everything goes with it.  Now, globalisation ensures that this disaster is reproduced everywhere. In its early stages, globalisation enhances resilience: people are no longer dependent on the vagaries of local production. But as it proceeds, spreading the same destructive processes to all corners of the Earth, it undermines resilience, as it threatens to bring down systems everywhere.

 

Short-term growth at the expense of public protection compromises long-term survival

Almost all other issues are superficial by comparison. What appear to be great crises are slight and evanescent when held up against the steady trickling away of our subsistence.  The avoidance of this issue is perhaps the greatest social silence of all. Our insulation from the forces of nature has encouraged a belief in the dematerialisation of our lives, as if we no longer subsist on food and water, but on bits and bytes. This is a belief that can be entertained only by people who have never experienced serious hardship, and who are therefore unaware of the contingency of existence.

It’s not as if we are short of solutions. While it now seems that ploughing of any kind is incompatible with the protection of the soil, there are plenty of means of farming without it. Independently, in several parts of the world, farmers have been experimenting with zero-tillage (also known as conservation agriculture), often with extraordinary results.

There are dozens of ways of doing it: we need never see bare soil again. But in the UK, as in most rich nations, we have scarcely begun to experiment with the technique, despite the best efforts of the magazine Practical Farm Ideas.

Even better are some of the methods that fall under the heading of permaculture – working with complex natural systems rather than seeking to simplify or replace them. Pioneers such as Sepp Holzer and Geoff Lawton have achieved remarkable yields of fruit and vegetables in places that seemed unfarmable: 1,100m above sea level in the Austrian alps, for example, or in the salt-shrivelled Jordanian desert.

But, though every year our government spends £450m on agricultural research and development – much of it on techniques that wreck our soils – there is no mention of permaculture either on the websites of the two main funding bodies (NERC and BBSRC) or in any other department.

The macho commitment to destructive short-termism appears to resist all evidence and all logic. Never mind life on Earth; we’ll plough on regardless.

  • A fully referenced version of this article can be found at Monbiot.com