A thought today / by Simmon Li

So, I am reading a new book called "More Good News" by David Suzuki and Holly Dressel. I was in the middle of The World Is Flat 3.0 and it was funny, something happened. More Good News, The World Is Flat, The Omnivore's Dilemma, The Plundered Planet. All of it came together in my head. The World is Flat talks about how Globalization took the world from component parts to an integrated whole. The Omnivore's Dilemma talks about the idea of component, industrial agriculture vs the idea of holistic farming (ie, Polyface Farms). Plundered Planet talked about taking stock of African countries in a holistic way, viewing them as complete, self-sustaining countries through enabling their economy. More Good News touched on more or less all of these topics, and I was a little shocked. Then I realized something, and I'm sure a lot of much smarter people have already realized this.

We need more holistic approaches to everything that we do. Policy, education, food production, global economy, the biosphere, and personal life. Everything links to everything else.

Why is it that we expect citizens, scientists, and politicians to think holistically to solve our energy, climate, and political issues when we train them in a compartmentalized, reductionist way? I suppose the idea of separate entities to manage what we imagine to be "component parts" of a natural system fits the old paradigm of how we see things. Why is it that we have a Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure that is generally for the most part, disconnected with the Ministry of Agriculture? Why are they both not a part of the Ministry of the Environment? While I may be just some idiot babbling, I think it's about time we took a more holistic approach to government. Not only in the sense of taking the larger picture approach to our climate and sustainability issues, but also when it comes to the human factor. Business needs should be balanced with human needs. Human needs with nature's needs. I'm not nearly as articulate as I would like to be, but something inside my head tells me we're doing this whole government thing all wrong.

The whole idea of bottom up management (which is given a huge pat on the back in Suzuki's book) is very intriguing, and I think that while I can see Paul's point about it being a bit of a romantic ideal, I very strongly believe that David has a point. If a system can't be sustained without industrial input, then we are simply spending natural capital as opposed to spending natural interest, or making a net natural savings. The main issue I want to get more reading on is whether or not holistic farming can sustain the population of an economic bloc like NAFTA or the EU. I know that a lot of industrial agriculture is subsidized, and so the food is cheap (usually people say it's cheap because it leverages economies of scale, but the fact is, corn is heavily subsidized in the US).

The Suzuki book brings up a really good point that was made a few times in the Omnivore's Dilemma. Current policy favours the industry. With Omnivore's it was that legislation favoured the industrial food complex. Subsidizing corn. In the Suzuki book so far, he's talking about current policy that favours large heavy industry, and energy production. Oil and gas is heavily subsidized so that we can enjoy it as cheaply as possible. Car manufacturing is subsidized, so we can enjoy having cars.

Suzuki points to Germany as a country that put the right tax incentives to encourage sustainable technologies. I think Canada would be extremely wise to follow step (and, I'm not done the book yet, but I think we have taken very baby steps on this path).

Anyway, think about what would happen if we removed all the hidden money that goes into our cheap food, our cheap cars, and our cheap gas. The problem with the way these industries work is that we haven't thought about the problem of transportation, energy and food security with as wide a scope as we should have. With the cheap cars, we are now not only adding to our energy problem, but we have subsidized cars so heavily in NA, that there is very little left for public transit. I've never been to Europe (not that I remember), but I've heard that their public transportation is the best. While I'm sure they do subsidize their cars as well, they seem to have a more holistic approach to managing how people get around. The food security issue was pretty well summed up by The Omnivore's Dilemma, so I won't go into it again. Basically, holistic management of farm land can not only produce healthy food, but also restore the land and make farming sustainable. The holistic approach to energy is an interesting one. In most of the climate change books I've read, they all recommend a strong mix of renewables. Some are looking for silver bullet solutions (nuclear, or heavy solar investment), and Suzuki brings up a good point: we can't just plaster our deserts with solar panels, nor can we just line our coasts with wind turbines. A holistic approach to solving our energy problem would massively benefit everyone. Now, I don't quite have the same vigor against nuclear as Suzuki does. I happen to think nuclear can help us while we ramp up investment to boost development of better renewables.

Anyway, all this text is pretty disorganized at the moment, it vaguely links together. I didn't even talk about the whole point of this post: holistic education. I think it was a TED talk, Suzuki's book, and the fact that I had just read in Thomas Friedman's book his revelation to his children that people in India and China are competing for their jobs. Anyway, I think holistic education is the answer to all our current problems, whatever holistic education is. I'm still so stuck in this whole faculties of specialization thing still. No surprise there, since I'm a product of such a style of education.

That's it for now, I may do a follow up post, because I'm sure someone else out there has articulated what I'm trying to say much better, and with much more authority.