Friday, April 25, 2008

Peak Oil, Agriculture, and Practical Resistance

Check out "The Politics of Food is Politics" by De Clarke and Stan Goff.

Shows I should pay closer attention to mainstream media...I hadn't realized that certain implications of peak oil plus the financial crisis that began with the subprime mortgage fiasco had been showing up in mainstream media stories...I knew they had already been causing misery and that more is rushing towards us, but I hadn't realized that circumstances had pushed the dominant media to actually pay a bit of attention...things like food riots and folks at the centre of the financial system predicting gas at $1.40/L in months and $2.25/L in a few years.

I find it very easy to let the bleakness of this future picture fall from view -- a mark of extreme privilege on a global scale if ever there was one, but also a byproduct of the magnitude of it all. Clarke and Goff point towards "the beginning of the collapse of the air travel industry and a global crisis of food-price inflation." It is probably three years since the first time I mentioned something on this blog about thinking related things were likely to happen sooner or later. But on the level of lived I said, it easily fades before the bustle of the everyday. It's hard to guess what the full spectrum of downstream consequences might look like, but pieces of it are all too clear -- class divides here in Sudbury (and globally) will sharpen as food costs skyrocket and welfare cheques stagnate, and as physical mobility is tied ever more tightly to class privilege; the state will turn to the gun more quickly in conflicts with indigenous people over land and resource extraction; open violence will become more central in maintaining global social relations, and the space for Canada/Canadians to pretend we have nothing to do with that violent enforcement will evaporate. Those are just off the top of my head.

Anyway, the real focus of the article is on the agricultural industry. It was particularly interesting, given that I live in a city that exists because of mining, to see the authors point out the ways in which all other industries, especially agriculture, have taken on the logic of mining over the last 200 years. This has resulted in a food system which is heavily dependent on fossil fuel inputs and produces food that is inferior in taste and nutrition. It also means that the vast majority of us in industrialized countries can be held hostage by the threat of starvation: our only access to food is through the market, so we are entirely dependent on the wage. In all sorts of circumstances, from strikes to wife abuse, "Food dependency has always been the most essential weapon of the oppressor." A key factor in future resistance will be decoupling food from money in very practical, on-the-ground kinds of ways: "There is quite simply no independence, and little hope of a sustained resistance, without food security. Nor is there any way to get there (to a state of food democracy or food security) without relocalization as our most fundamental precondition" [emphasis in original].

They write:

Past revolutions began not with ideas in isolation; they began with facts-on-the-ground. By the time the French overthrew their aristocracy, that aristocracy was already moribund except for its political power. In every other realm, the businessmen who led the revolution were already dominant. The revolution evolved through the Kairos of history -- through slowly maturing metatrends -- which then interjected itself into the here-and-now Chronos of politics. The Kairos of history, in our time, is the long arc of fossil fuel depletion and the inevitable collapse of intricate profit-taking systems and hyper-extraction strategies predicated on unlimited cheap energy. "Just throw petroleum at it" is not going to work any more, This means that deep contradictions and crises papered over by desperate energy-intensive bandaids will become visible and painful (and they are, already).

The industrial food system is riddled with such crises and contradictions, barely papered over by throwing ever-more petroleum at it. It has reached a breaking point, and popular discourse is not unaware of this (as we may infer from the groundswell of popular nonfiction books highly critical of the system). The exposure of these fault lines -- and the intimate nature of food, for us social primates -- can be highly politicizing for large numbers of people; and whatever the ideological effects, the praxis of food autarky and community-through-food can only enhance our chances of survival and resistance during a period of (potentially) extreme dislocation.

The kitchen garden -- the "victory garden" -- represents not only the ability to sustain resistance (or aggression) against a foreign enemy, but the ability to resist domestic authority and to withdraw, at least partially, from the money economy and the wage-slavery and debt on which it is based.

Capitalism began by kicking people off their land and forbidding them to grow their own food; the end of capitalism may come when people who grow their own food and share it with neighbors are able to say a resounding No to capitalism's end-phase exterminism.

Read it.

1 comment:

Davis said...

You may also want to check out a couple of other sites, The Oil Drum and Energy Bulletin--two real peak oil mainstays of analysis and news.