Why both the root causes and solutions to the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis are the same, and the active potential of this recognition to unite forces for social transformation.
We are at a huge turning point in history, in all spheres of life there are signs of collapse and renewal. It is Autumn at the time of writing, and similar signs of collapse and renewal are being mirrored in the land - the gradual decay of the outer fire, the waning of the sun and the shedding of leaves into the earth, to be composted into the next cycle of life. This time of Autumn is a welcome respite and deep outbreath on the farm, as the pace of work slows and we are allowed a greater spaciousness to take in the abundance of the season, the manifestation of all our efforts and the return to greater balance (approaching the Autumn Equinox 23rd September where day and night are equal). It can also be a bluesy time of return to mourning and letting go, we release the outward summer excitement and step into the emotional waters of darker and often harsher months. It's a time of gathering in and preparation for potentially difficult times ahead. This mirrors the social context, as cost of living crisis looms, and the fear of it looms even greater, fuelling a common response to hoard, to hold back, to protect our individual survival through a winter of potential hardship. This response was witnessed this time last year, and the year before, as covid fear swept the nation and many responded by hoarding and escapism, whilst the privileged profiteered from the crisis and the majority suffered, labouring away twice as hard to keep essential needs met - sure they were recognised more, but now we've slipped back into business as usual and the 'recognised' are becoming further marginalised with the cost of living crisis and ecological destabilisation hitting them the hardest, and the realisation coming that we can't eat recognition or use it to warm our homes. History has been marked more by our collective responses to events, rather than the events themselves.
There is a counter story to the dominant response of individualism and scarcity.. A jewel amidst the rubble, also witnessed during the pandemic - the response of community resilience, solidarity and regeneration. We easily fall into patterned responses, dominated by cultural norms and subconscious programming in an individualistic paradigm. We do this with the climate crisis just as much as the social crisis, pretending that the an appropriate response to the sixth mass extinction is to make an individual consumerist choice and for example use a bamboo straw instead of a plastic straw... We're told that this sort of action the solution, because it conveniently dissolves government or collective responsibility onto individuals, and it conveniently allows corporations to profit when they should be paying the clean-up and restoration bills. Parallels can be drawn to the energy companies' rising profits in this time when subsidised affordable energy should be provided as a basic right, especially when renewable energy is cheaper than ever in history and now much more viable (in long and short term) than fossil fuels. Our patterned response to these interwoven crises has been dominated by consumer culture, power and individualised economics of extraction. We've handed over our power to these forces to decide our future for us, and habituate our responses to the crises that will define our children's health and survival.
Choosing the response of community resilience, solidarity and regeneration is the key to our collective thriving within planetary boundaries. The concept of living well is inseparable from planetary health. No one can live well, or even meet basic needs, without planetary and ecological thriving. Since 2018, a monumental year for climate action, awareness and movement, there has been a waxing and waning of hope as the rise of solutions has accelerated, largely from the grassroots and the fertile edges of society, meanwhile the centres of power have spoken an awful lot of words about Green plans whilst delaying action and continuing to channel resources into the destructive economy. The climate crisis was pitted as a separate issue to covid, despite being completely interwoven in both origin and solutions, and this led to further delay in addressing the real health crisis of our earth systems collapse. The price is already being felt by this delay, with record breaking extreme weathers worldwide, raging wildfires right now in California, new species extinction every week and reports of air/water pollution at epidemic levels. We're now repeating mistakes, and being drawn into polarised narratives that the cost of living crisis is separate from the climate crisis. As extractive oil companies profit at record revenues of $100bn, the average energy bill in the UK is expected to rise by £1500, doubling those in fuel poverty to at least 12 million . The removal of subsidies for wealthy oil companies is a necessity in this time, as is the rapid redistribution of this funding towards resilient community energy initiatives like this one - Bath and West Community Energy,.
Just as with our food systems, if we don't redistribute sovereignty of our energy systems then we are perpetually vulnerable to continuing cost of living crises, climate crisis and the whims of global market speculation. The same systems that profit from this are the root cause of the overlapping challenges our society faces, and our response must be to radically redistribute energy, power, food, land and decision making for all our futures. Economic, ecological, social and food systems are all entwined, and the vulnerability of one causes an avalanche of the others resting precariously around it at the cliff edge. Similarly, they all face cycles of life, like we all do. One of these patterns studied by systems theorists is of collapse and renewal:
Economic systems collapse and renewal
Ecological systems collapse and renewal
Social systems collapse and renewal
Food systems collapse and renewal
The lens of the food system is helpful to understand this pattern and the potential emergence which could come of it, provided we can galvanise an appropriate collective response from diverse communities of hope and solidarity. We are witnessing an inevitable global phenomena in our vulnerable food system – the first signs of collapsing global supply chains, rising commodity food prices and increasing market volatility. This is in some ways a complex challenge humanity face as it intersects with fuel prices, fertiliser availability, politics, economics, culture and psychology. It is also a soberingly simple fact that the food system has been designed with short-term profit before planetary and social resilience, and we are beginning to see the consequences of this. There have been countless warnings about the vulnerability of the global food system that is dependent upon an industrialised model with several weak points that could lead to tipping points, mass starvation and social conflict (UN 2015). [The same UN report quoted we have 50 harvests left at current rates of topsoil loss from industrial agriculture, but this alarm bell did not elicit the response it should have.] Now the signs are even clearer, as nations are releasing statements about the rising cost of food, energy and the basic needs of life. Furthermore, it all appears out of our control, as a few global corporations and the invisible hand of the free market dominate and control not only the supply of the worlds food but also seeds, medicine, energy, water and materials (Shiva 2018). Whilst people have generally complied with this system through our food choices, lack of protest/resistance and blindness to the looming issues, it is also been a system that’s forced upon us not by choice but by globalisation, an unregulated free market and governments corrupted by money and power-over.
There is simultaneously a counter-force that is trying to take back food sovereignty into the hands of the people, return indigenous land and increase local resilience and collective flourishing within a regenerating biosphere. This counter-force takes many forms and names which need to come together for system wide global change. La Via Campesina is the most coherent and widespread banner, focusing on land access and the right to autonomous custodianship of land and food production for local communities. Other related movements fall under the approaches of agroecology, permaculture, regenerative agriculture, community growing, CSA model (Community Supported Agriculture), co-operative farming and many others. The Landworkers Alliance and Food in our Hands are the UK drivers in this critical work. These movements are not only creating alternatives but also opposing and resisting the current paradigm – both are necessary for system change and different movements and people fill these niches together in an ecology of change.
Never has the moment become more urgent for all of these movements, farms and people to be supported, scaled out & up, multiplied and prioritised by all communities who eat. Ironically, the phrase ‘There Is No Alternative’ been more relevant. There really is no other option for planetary and collective survival if we do not radically regenerate and redistribute land, food production and economies. Nearly a billion are overfed whilst nearly a billion go hungry. We waste over 30% of food whilst not feeding adequately over 20% of humanity. We ship food globally when it can be and often is grown locally – the UK exports 5800 tonnes of lamb to New Zealand whilst importing the same amount from New Zealand! Almost no one eats seasonally and naturally, and our bodies and energy pay the price for this as witnessed by countless converging physical and mental health crises. We are witnessing the failures of global capitalism and industrialised monocultural food systems, and we will all be paying the price for this (except a small elite who will further profit from it – right now food reserves of grain are being withheld by market forces in order to profit on the increased demand through food shortage and thus increased food prices).
What are the glimmers of hope and invitations for transformation within this bleak context? The more that the vulnerability of global food (and energy) systems is brought to the surface, the greater the awareness and disillusionment with it becomes. Disillusionment, whilst not comfortable, is a crack of light through which to heal and transform, we have to first acknowledge the brokenness of a system to then begin the repair and restoration works. Its important to remember our collective power and agency in these times, to break through the cracks of disollutionment and despair and into the joyful work of active hope - because there’s so much work to be done and we all have gifts (realised or unrealised) to contribute and weave together. There are local resilient food systems already in place, in the pockets of global resistance created by peasant agriculture and movements like La Via Campesina. These are strongholds to build from, learn from and apply the lessons in our own specific contexts and communities. Whilst global food prices rise, our food prices are falling every year. We’re a 16 acre regenerative farm growing a range of vegetables, staples, fruits, berries and nuts for wholesale and veg boxes. As we focus on soil health and regenerative land practice, the land is increasing in health, yields are increasing (without any input of artificial fertiliser or chemicals), biodiversity is restoring and our methods are continually improving in tandem, allowing our food to be competitive even with global suppliers using a totally different rule-book!
As our collaboration with the land and each other deepens and nature does more of the work for us (such as pest control, composting and pollinating), our costs are lowered over time. We also have lower overheads than a global food corporation running huge offices, refrigerated global transport, inputting tonnes of chemicals, fertilisers and increasing expensive fuel. We are non-reliant on these vulnerable systems and supply chains, instead opting for delivery bikes and hand tools powered by the sun and our bodies. We have tiny fuel and input bills compared to any industrial farming model, and we employ over 4 full time living wages on 16 acre farm providing over 200 families each week with fresh produce. Our delivery radius is local, within a few miles and we use no plastic packaging, incur no emissions fees, and have relatively small administrative overheads. These factors combined with the improvements in our growing and soil health mean that our food prices are lowering. Our wholesale organic rates are now lower than international organic averages, and we compete on fresh items with even global conventional foods which are highly subsidised and do not account for social-environmental costs. We can go even further as our localised food web becomes more immersed in community and responsive/adaptable to need. For example we are trialling a sliding scale CSA (veg box scheme) in 2023 and already donating dozens of veg boxes on a regular basis to families in need, funded by other members of our community who choose to donate a box. The same could be applied to a regional scale producers co-operative (in the pipeline if anyone wants to help fund this ?!) , further integrating social justice into the work of regenerative growing.
The cost of living crisis does not have to cost the earth even further. The two need not be pitted against each other. Instead we can find a union in both their root causes and in their holistic solutions of community resilience, solidarity, economies of care and reciprocity, and the redistribution of all forms of capital.