Getting more serious about food system breakdown

Combativeness and moral disdain pervades recent public discussion of environmental problems. It is not just one ‘side’ that resorts to such tactics. Take food and agriculture as an example. Some people speculate that eco-totalitarians will successfully force us to eat bugs and goo, whereas others oddly claim that anyone defending farmers is a far right extremist, obstructing the technological salvation of humanity and life on Earth. The AI generated image above is poking fun at the piety that’s in an unnecessarily binary discussion – as if we must all be steak lovers or steak haters, food tech fanatics or small farm purists. The famous climate activist Greta Thunberg has not descended into those silly binaries. Which is good, as they are unhelpful when we need a plurality of ideas on what to do about the unfolding breakdown of global food systems, as I chronicle in detail in Chapter 6 of my book “Breaking Together”. This blog coincides with the release of that chapter as a free audio (it is also available free from my University). 

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It’s time for a Great Reclamation in the face of collapse

A free audio recording of the Introduction to ‘Breaking Together: a freedom-loving response to collapse’ is now available. It is an extensive introduction in which I seek to encapsulate the full argument of the book, albeit without the detail in the following chapters. Below is an excerpt which introduces a few of the terms and ideas.

Excerpt from Breaking Together (Jem Bendell, 2023, Good Works).

“The people I am describing as ‘ecolibertarians’ have concluded that societies destroy their own eco-social foundations because the self-interests of the powerful are institutionalised to then coerce or manipulate people to experience life as unsafe and competitive, so that more people cope by becoming more unthoughtful, uncaring and acquisitive. Therefore, today, those same institutionalised patterns of establishment power are distorting public awareness of the breakdown of societies and the best means of responding to that (Chapter 13). In response, ecolibertarians believe less-oppressive ways of being and behaving need to be restored and applied to obtaining greater control of capital and state organisations, thereby funnelling resources into commonly-owned organisations, resources, platforms and currencies so that a gentler and fairer collapse of societies might be possible. The agenda is about reclaiming our power from the manipulations and appropriations of our lifeworld by the systems of Imperial Modernity. Around the world, various parts of this ‘Great Reclamation’ agenda are being pursued but, apparently, not yet with an overarching framework that enables integration and amplification of efforts.[i] Although the pace of collapse might be so fast that we do not have much time for updating our strategies for social change, I believe it is worth sharing such ideas while international communications still exist in their current form—so please read on!

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4 better or 4 worse? As XR nears its ‘big one’

Four years ago I stood by the pink boat of truth in Oxford Circus to give the opening speech at the international rebellion against governmental crimes against humanity for inaction on the ecological and climate crises. The video of the full speech:

Four years on, many of the activists who have been involved in XR since that time have been reassessing how they will engage in future. The former finance lead of XR UK, Andrew Medhurst has written up his reflections, where he also summarises some of the new strands of work – showing how movements evolve due to successes and failures. I share my own journey in a book that is now on sale (ahead of free release as an epub in July). It is called Breaking Together: a freedom-loving response to collapse” – a title that I hope conveys some of the ideas. It has entered the Amazon bestseller charts at #1 in its category ‘political freedom.’ That category fits, as I map out a very different agenda to the one that has hijacked Western environmentalism in the last decade. That is the now-dominant agenda telling us that technology, enterprise, surveillance, restrictions and the schemes of billionaires, are the way ahead, and so we must force each other to stay hopeful and compliant. As co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Clare Farrell, has explained “if you want to save some of the world, but hate being told what to do, this book is for you.” She is encouraging everyone out for the ‘big one’ in a couple of days. I am pleased to see a range of environmental groups supporting their effort to remind leaders of the level of public concern about the climate and ecological crises.

I remained convinced, however, that unless the green movement escapes its deference to the establishment and stops looking down on whomever corporate media tells us to, then there is no chance of a truly society-wide mass mobilisation for radical social change.

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I was wrong to conclude collapse is inevitable…

I was wrong to conclude collapse is inevitable… because when I was concluding that, it had already begun.

When I concluded that societal collapse is inevitable, nearly 5 years ago, it may have been one of the reasons my Deep Adaptation paper attracted unusual attention. Many people agreed and thanked me for expressing that conclusion publicly. They said it helped validate what they already felt, and so enabled their emotional processing and to change their lives accordingly. Other people chose a variety of ways to disagree. Some claimed I was not being scientific to claim an inevitable outcome, and instead language like “near certain” or “very likely” would be more appropriate. Others preferred to regard societal collapse as a possibility, as they wanted to hope for a managed transition to a new form of society. Unfortunately, other people misrepresented what I wrote. To recap: in the paper I did not claim that we faced inevitable near-term human extinction and did not claim that the inevitable collapse would happen by 2028. Instead, in that paper in 2018 I wrote: “Recent research suggests that human societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent nations.” In 2023 many experts and UN officials are saying similar.

I summarised my position thus: “Currently, I have chosen to interpret the information as indicating inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe and possible extinction.” I then warned against the trap of concluding inevitable human extinction: “I have witnessed how people who doubt extinction is either inevitable or coming soon are disparaged by some participants for being weak and deluded. This could reflect how some of us may find it easier to believe in a certain than uncertain story, especially when the uncertain future would be so different to today that it is difficult to comprehend.”

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Atlas Mugged

The following is an extract from the book ‘Breaking Together: a freedom-loving response to collapse’, where I discuss the potential meanings of the ‘Kintsugi Atlas’ image on the book’s cover.

The matter of the collapse of industrial consumer societies is not only extremely inconvenient for those of us who are enjoying its conveniences, but also deeply challenging philosophical and spiritually. After a few years of soul searching about aspects of our culture that are implicated in this tragic situation, I arrived at the paradox of our desire to ‘be someone’ and help each other. One way of describing this paradox is with Greek Myth. The image on the cover of this book is an adaptation of the oldest surviving statue of Atlas, a character from Greek mythology. From the 2nd Century before the Christian Era, it depicts him straining to hold up an orb, which in the contemporary era has been widely misunderstood to represent planet Earth. That misunderstanding may have begun in the year 1585 with the use of the word Atlas by Flemish cartographer Gerhardus Mercator, to describe his collection of maps of the world. On the inside cover of his book, there was a drawing of Atlas having removed the orb from his shoulders and mapping it in his hands.[1] With her famous book ‘Atlas Shrugged’ Ayn Rand may have misconstrued the orb as representing our world, and therefore used it to symbolise the weight of the world’s problems (such as parasitic bureaucrats) on otherwise strong and free people.[2]

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BREAKING TOGETHER – a freedom-loving response to collapse

I hope you are having, or had, a good Easter weekend. I’m here to tell you that my magnum opus is available for pre-order! Breaking Together – a freedom-loving response to collapse is out as an e-book on May 9th and paperback on June 16th ahead of a launch event you could attend in Glastonbury Town Hall (June 18th 2023). If you are subscribed to this blog then you will receive a link for the book as a FREE epub in June, to download from the Schumacher Institute website. But why wait? If you use a kindle, then order it now in USA or in the UK or worldwide (by typing ‘breaking together’ into your ‘national’ amazon site).

From the back cover:

“This is a prophetic book.”  Satish Kumar, founder, Schumacher College

This book shows that instead of imposing elitist schemes and scams, regenerating nature and culture together is the only way forward.” Dr Stella Nyambura Mbau, Loabowa Kenya

This book is part of a healing movement that extends beyond what we normally think of as ecological.” Charles Eisenstein, author, Climate: A New Story

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Evidence and theory for how monetary collapse has been made inevitable

“At 8:30 p.m. on 23 March 2020, then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a stay-at-home order effective immediately, backed up by the subsequent regulation three days later. The stated aim was to “flatten the curve” of the rate of infections. So, he launched the slogan “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” and said that the lockdown would be reviewed every three weeks. This was unprecedented and came as a surprise to the public. But a week earlier, on March 17th, the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey wrote to the chancellor Rishi Sunak outlining a similarly unprecedented measure, which would direct tens of billions of pounds directly to large corporations:

“The new Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) will provide funding to businesses by purchasing commercial paper of up to one-year maturity, issued by firms making a material contribution to the UK economy. It will help businesses across a wide range of sectors to bridge across the economic disruption that is likely to be associated with Covid-19, supporting them in paying salaries, rents and suppliers, even while experiencing severe disruption to cashflows. The Bank will implement the facility on behalf of the Treasury and will put it into place as soon as possible.”

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Let’s chatGPT about gardening

After a two year research project, with an interdisciplinary team, the conclusions I came to on the state of the world, and our near future, are not that relaxing. They will be available in the book Breaking Together, out in May. One of the chapters is already available, preprint, as the matter of food security seems so urgent. [subscribe to this blog to get a link to the full book when it’s out]

That context means I am especially happy to have launched a demonstration organic farm, using an approach called syntropic agroforestry. It does not mean I will definitely escape the impacts of agricultural disruptions and the socio-political ramifications. But it means that at least I am doing something about it that will benefit both people and planet. 

As I’ve been writing so much for the forthcoming book, I’d rather garden than write about it, so I asked chatGPT to tell you all about the approach we are taking. The prompt was “Write a summary of many reasons (environmental and social) why syntropic agroforestry is a good idea. Explain why it is helpful to educate and support farmers in Indonesia to do syntropic agroforestry.” ChatGPT responded:

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It really is time to do more about food (and liberty)

It really is time to do more about food. As most governments aren’t acting, we can look to our own organisations, local councils and groups of neighbours to do more – and build from there. My new paper on the trends driving the breakdown of the global food system explains why. Endorsing the paper, the Contributing Lead Author for the UN Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, Scott Williams, notes:

“We are conditioned to fear disorientation and seek safety in certainty and solutions regardless of the information available to us. Breaking that protective screen, this paper adds to the weight of analysis that the collapse of food systems and societies more broadly is inevitable. But how we are in relationship with these changes is not fixed even if, as this paper argues, we are stuck. Perhaps what this paper is calling for is the spaciousness to ask new questions, to challenge habits and myths, that may then shift perceptions. Consequently, we could be in relationship differently with the inevitability of collapse, and sense the possibilities that are perceivable with renewed care, compassion and generosity to ourselves and to all life.”

I hope the paper might help inform the evolution of environmental activism. Co-founder, Extinction Rebellion, Clare Farrell, notes:

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No wealth but life – pig style

Have you ever wondered where the term ‘piggy bank’ came from? Like me, some of you probably saved your spare coins in them when children. I didn’t give it a second thought until I stumbled across an actual living piggy bank in Bali. Midway through a cycling tour, we had stopped in a traditional village, and invited into a family compound. It was the kind where multiple generations all live in small houses next to each other, with a temple at the front, and some animals at the back. That is where I saw pig sty with a half dozen pigs. “The older women here don’t like putting money in a bank, so they buy a pig and feed it as their way to save,” my guide told me. A sensible store of value, I thought, especially with interest rates so low at the time. After the trip, I looked up the origin of the term piggy bank. Some historians guessed the name came from jars being made of a clay that was sometimes called ‘pygg’ in Germany and England, and that was the theory on Wikipedia at the time (it was 2015). But I had seen in the Indonesian national museum a piggy bank that was around 400 years older than when the word pygg was being used in Europe for a type of clay. Maybe I am a bit strange, but the piggy bank origin story had me. I dug deeper to discover that the earliest known pig-shaped money containers date to the 12th century in Indonesia.[i]

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