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14 Dec 2011

“Another world is not only possible… she’s opening a bakery round the corner”. Reflections on the Portas Review

The newly opened Dunbar Community Bakery.

I spent a fascinating afternoon on Monday at an ‘Economic Summit’ (nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds) for Members of South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council.  The meeting was called to update councillors on the strategic thinking within the councils in terms of the economic development of the area and to hear their views on it.  Three communities were invited to present to the councillors the work they were doing to regenerate their economies, and Totnes was one of them.  What I want to do in this post is two things simultaneously.  I want to give some reflections from that meeting, but also give a review of ‘The Portas Review’ (“an independent review into the future of our high streets”) which was published yesterday.  Together they give a sense of the two deeply different narratives that were on show at the Summit, the dangers that their incompatibility presents, as well as the opportunities that emerge. 

Narrative One.  ‘Produce Economic Growth or Die Trying’

At the summit event, this was the narrative pushed by the (all-male) presenters from the Council as they unveiled their strategic plans and the new role of local authorities in the local economy.  Most used term of the day?  “Identifying barriers to growth”.  Growth, so this narrative goes, is only being held back by ‘regulation’ and ‘red-tape’, and by a lack of spending on new infrastructure.  The solutions we need are large scale ones.  Tim Jones, chair of the Local Economic Partnership, waxed lyrical about Sainsburys building a new regional depot in the area, a vital piece of infrastructure and investment that will create jobs, the new £10bn Hinkely Point C nuclear power plant getting the go-ahead in the area was, he stated, “a project to die for”.

He talked about the different things that the area apparently needs, roads, more construction and so on, one of which was mentioned as “that whole debate about renewable energy” (funny, there wasn’t any debate around any of the other things).  The next speaker stated that the councils have “some great credentials in the environmental sector” without stating what those actually were.  This is all, we should remind ourselves, in a context now where sustainable development has been redefined as any development which sustains economic growth. The talk was all of “creating the conditions” for attracting businesses and of having a more “flexible” planning system (i.e. build what you like where you like).  At events like that 2 years ago, the term ‘low carbon economy’ was banded about freely.  Now nobody even mentioned it once.

Narrative Two. ‘Erm, we already have a vibrant economy thanks’.

Mary Portas' vision of a vibrant high street, from her report.

Now here’s where it got really interesting.  Even before we got to give our presentation, a number of the council members stood up to say that in the area, 65-85% of economic activity is already generated by small to medium sized businesses, the majority of whom employ less than 25 people.  As one member said “why do we need a Sainsburys distribution centre?  We have local grocers, local farmers, local processors, local markets.  This will undermine, not support them”.  These are the businesses that weather economic storms because they have nowhere else to go.  They don’t make a decision to relocate and overnight throw hundreds of people onto the dole.  They are the businesses that actually build a community’s resilience.  They are the ones with the links to local farmers, local producers, local people, and to each other.  They are the ones who care about that place, because they have to live there.  What is required, one might suggest, is to stop undermining that sector of the economy, and to rethink its value in the context of the bigger challenges bearing down on us fast.

“Barriers to growth?”.  Start with these….

I started my presentation by pointing out the very real barriers to growth that represent the elephants in the corner as far as Narrative Two is concerned.  The first is the woeful oil dependency it fosters, and the fact that all the changes we had heard proposed thus far would increase our oil dependency rather than reduce it, and this is not a time when that is a smart thing to do.  Bloomberg are now stating that the smart money in the options market is for the price of oil to reach $150 a barrel within a year.  The Financial Times reports that the cost of importing oil into the EU has risen from $280bn in 2010 to over $400bn in 2011, and it is clear now that the price of oil will strangle any possibility of a revival of economic growth (and if you think ‘unconventional oil’ will make much of a difference, think again).  You want to identify a barrier to economic growth?  Well there’s one very big one.  Until we massively reduce our oil dependency, we can kiss any chance of any sort of revival in our economic fortunes goodbye.

Then of course there’s climate change, and the fact that our inability to prevent runaway climate change within the next few years will be the mother of all “barriers to growth” (and the smart money is on the probability that we won’t prevent it).  And, lest we forget, there’s the economic crisis, the scale of which few people still appreciate.  In a recent post at Automatic Earth, Stoneleigh quotes Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital in the US as saying “our government doesn’t have enough spare cash to bail out a lemonade stand”.  Yet bailing out the EU would take hundreds of trillions of dollars, which no-one has.  And if we in the UK think that by not signing this week’s EU treaty we are somehow insulated from the crisis unfolding there, have a look at this chart by Morgan Stanley Research:

As George Soros put it recently, “people don’t realize that the system has actually collapsed”.  All of a sudden the word “barrier”, at least in the way it was used at the Summit, looks like a considerable understatement.  The question that needs to be asked, I said in my presentation, is “does any particular new development or development model increase our oil dependency and our scale of economic precariousness, or decrease it?”  These are the very real risks, the very real “barriers to growth” identified by the World Economic Forum as the risks with the greatest perceived likelihood of occurring and economic impact on developed economies.  Let’s get real here.

Enter ‘The Portas Review’

Mary Portas (see right), star of ‘Mary, Queen of Frocks’ (a TV programme where she goes and makes-over failing retailers) was asked by the government to do a report about how to revive the UK’s high streets, and her report was published yesterday.  In the main I have to say I thought it was rather good, delicately straddling the space between ‘Narrative 2′ than ‘Narrative 1′.  At one point she says, in a soundbite perfect for our discussion about the Sainsburys distribution centre:

“A pound spent in a retailer with a localised supply chain that employs local people has far greater domestic impact than a pound spent in a supermarket or national chain.  What’s more, out-of-town developments are often presented as major new sources of employment, but we need to recognise that this ‘job creation’ is often just job displacement”.

Her argument is that rather than sit back and be battered, high streets need to come out fighting, to innovate, to become places people want to visit.  She puts forward some great ideas for making our high streets the vibrant, bustling places they need to be:

  • The solutions need to bubble up from each place.  As she puts it, “each high street will need to find its own bespoke response to revival, rather than being prescribed some generic response from on high”
  • “Local people”, she argues need to be seen “as co-creators not simply consumers”
  • She argues for the creation of ‘Town Teams’, charged with regenerating high streets and town centres, arguing that shopping malls have a management team, and high streets need something very similar
  • She argues for ‘Super BIDs’ (Business Improvement Districts) where local businesses come together, funded by an annual fee to all local traders, to oversee the stimulation of business in the area.  These ‘Super BIDs’ she argues could have the power to compulsorily purchase empty shops and get them going again
  • She proposes new street markets, where for perhaps just £10 a table, anyone could sell anything (legal), and some of the shops could also have stalls
  • She proposes cuts in business rates for new start-up businesses
  • Big retailers, she argues, could mentor smaller businesses, and large chain retailers should be compelled to highlight in their annual reports “what they are doing at a local level to support the local high street”
  • She also is clear that one big problem is absentee landlords who have no interest in their property being a part of this kind of regeneration process, and she suggests ‘empty shop management orders’ and a range of ways to force landlords to use their properties more responsibly
  • The community should have the right to take over empty properties, and as well as the ‘Right to Buy’, she also proposes a ‘Right to Try’, which I love, arguing that “if [a community] can’t buy an empty property then they should be able to try it”, and “to go into the property and test co-operative ventures”.
  • She also proposes the use of loyalty cards, although doesn’t mention the Brixton Pound, which would no doubt, like the forthcoming Bristol Pound, be right up her (high) street.

In short, there are loads of great ideas in the report.  I love her talk of “looking beyond simply price-based considerations to include community wellbeing and long-term sustainability”.  There is a passion that runs through it which I admire.   I do however have just two criticisms of the report.  The first is that there are a couple of places where I feel she is simply not angry enough, where she pulls her punches.  She acknowledges the terrible situation that many high streets have been thrown into by out of town shopping centres and supermarkets muscling onto the high street, but is frustratingly shy about naming names as to how that has happened.  She writes:

“The fact is that the major supermarkets and malls have delivered highly convenient, needs-based retailing, which serves today’s consumers well.  Sadly the high street didn’t adapt as quickly or as well.  Now they need to”.

It’s a bit like blaming a mugging victim for not ducking in time when the mugger took a swing at him.  It is hard to adapt quickly enough when a supermarket pitches up next to your shop and undercuts all your prices, provides acres of free parking and uses all the other tools at its disposal to push you out of business.  Have a look at this graph from the report showing the percentage change in UK store numbers between 2001 and 2011:


This is not a change in direction that happened by accident.  Nor did, as the report states, the fact that 8000 supermarket outlets now account for over 97% of total grocery sales in the UK.  This ‘transition’ (if you like) was supported, indeed driven, through subsidies, through a planning system driven by the same mania for growth that we are seeing today, it was driven by corporate interests, lobbyists, a whole wretched economic model that saw small businesses as disposable and large corporates and shareholder returns as essential, not just by unimaginative shopkeepers who failed to “adapt” quickly enough.  Communities up and down the country tried to resist their towns being taken over by out-of-town shopping centres, becoming ‘CloneTowns’, and tried to protect their local traders by stopping supermarkets opening up on their high streets or one the edge of town, but were usually defeated by supermarkets’ huge budgets and legal fire power.

To give her her due she does suggest that when it comes to communities and supermarkets, there is not a level playing field.  Her suggestion that “people need a powerful, legitimate voice and planning needs to be a much more collaborative process than it has been to date”.  She suggests that developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local community has a strong voice in the planning system (I can see that one going down like a lead balloon). There is a key tension here though in terms of a government who would see such an approach as a “barrier to growth”, as unnecessary ‘red tape’ to be swept asunder.

The other problem with it is that reading it one would think that the decline in high streets is happening in isolation from the larger economic picture.  There are some trends working in favour of the high street.  The price of fuel has meant that John Lewis recently reported that sales at their out-of-town stores are now down 12% compared to their town centre stores.  I would have love to have seen what this report would have looked like if she has explicitly been asked to look at how high streets could also boost community resilience in the wider sense, actually responding to the looming energy crisis, to the debt crisis.  Although she does touch on some things that would be very helpful for this, some joining up of dots is frustratingly elusive.

Back at the summit… tools for building bridges

What was fascinating at the summit was a sense that began to emerge about how a dialogue might look that was about building a bridge between these two narratives.  It was the Conservative councillors who were arguing for support for local businesses, for more apprenticeships, for support for new businesses.  Arguing that economic growth, as we’ve known it so far is over, is probably not going to register, whereas presenting Transition as the opportunity for entrepreneurship and innovation, for supporting local businesses which are key to community resilience, seems to gain far greater traction.  What will impress such people is not the amount of carbon we’ve saved, but the number of jobs we’ve created.  Often they see those two things as mutually exclusive, we can model just the opposite.  Once Transition becomes the thinking that underpins hundreds of jobs in a place, it becomes a no-brainer.

The Portas Review presents a powerful and well-reasoned argument that we need to nurture and revive the high street, that they need to be diverse and innovative, that local people need to be more involved and that they need some kind of protection from the predation of the chainstores.

I left the meeting feeling that the strategic planning guys are a dead loss, they have to make the kinds of plans that include Sainsburys distribution centres and nuclear power plants because that’s their job.  They represent a slow moving supertanker in terms of how long it takes to move things forward, and how long it takes to turn them around, what the film ‘The Story of Broke’ refers to as ‘the dinosaur economy’.  Will the finances to build them still be in place in a couple of years?  Will the realisation dawn that they deplete rather than enhance the area’s resilience?  Will the new Community Resilience Framework‘s assertion that it is up to communities to choose what they are building resilience to mean that they will also, under the localism agenda, be given the powers to resist things they see as diminishing their resilience?

A question arises here in terms of timing.  We have very little time to make this stuff happen, it needs to happen now.  Local authority strategic infrastructure planning work stretches out 20 years into a very uncertain future, yet moves very slowly and is very difficult to turn around.  So the question that arises from the Summit is is there any value to a Transition initiative putting its energy into these long-term strategic consultations or into setting up community enterprises, retraining, reskilling, new food systems and so on?  Also, given that most of the money from central government is distributed via. the networks of Narrative One, much of the resource that is needed to build the more resilient systems won’t reach them.  Again, plugging the leaks of our economy and enabling inward investment are vital.  I think this is a different take on emergency preparedness, that what we need to do right now is to take the ‘can do’ spirit and entrepreneurial drive Portas lays out, combined with the bottom-up mobilisation, the intentional localisation and resilience-building that runs through Transition, and harness the inherent enthusiasm and support for this that can be found everywhere.

Transition is so important because it is about doing things, engaging the community, starting to create and model the economy we do want to see.  Across the world, Transition initiatives are doing just that, whether it’s Sustainable Dunbar’s new community bakery now open for business, Bath and West Community Energy just raising £721,350 in a community share launch for renewables in the area, or the Plymouth Food Charter which Transition Plymouth are a key part of, they are starting to model the kind of economy for which there is much more support.  Yes it needs support, it needs investment, it needs that money currently being spent on bypasses and new roundabouts, and it needs to be far more visible on the ground.  Portas puts it beautifully in her report, “what really matters, what’s really important, is that we roll up our sleeves and just make things happen“.  Indeed.

At the end of the meeting, one of the senior representatives of South Hams District Council stood up to give his reflections on the day, and what he said gave a great sense of how these two narratives might find some common ground, and how Council thinking might shift.  He talked about how own his thinking had shifted as the day went by, and that he was now questioning why developing an economic strategy for the area always meant thinking in terms of large scale ‘solutions’ and big centrally-funded infrastructure projects, and that perhaps focusing on local economies might be a more skillful way to move forward.  This felt like a powerful observation, and one we can certainly build on locally.

I often end talks with Arundhati Roy’s quote “another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day I can hear her breathing”.  Might we be able to adapt her quote, so that, in the context of what I have written about here today, it is not only a case of hearing her breathing, but being able to see her, around us, setting up local businesses, reviving her local economy, setting up a community bakery, mentoring scores of young people with business ideas, attracting inward social investment finance, creating the models whereby people can invest in their communities, creating economic blueprints which set out the case clearly for how the local economy can be strengthened and supported?  Yes there are very real barriers to growth, such as the barrier that you can’t do infinite growth on a finite planet, but there are no barriers to the growth of the innovation, community and resourcefulness that already underpins our local economies and local traders, and which represents the real bedrock on which a new, more resilient economy needs to be built.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.

13 Comments

Tess Wilmot
14 Dec 12:13pm

It is heartening to know that you have the energy and skills to weave relevant themes together and stimulate the debates that can help us stop the supertanker! It gives me a sense of support and confidence in the transition work I do in Plymouth and Ivybridge.

Alan Brown
14 Dec 12:15pm

Perfect timing, and here’s me chewing my way through pages and pages of waffle from our regional strategic planners ( http://www.sesplan.gov.uk/representation/proposed-plan.html ) in which Dunbar made a good argument for the need to consider Peak Oil, which was rejected!. It seems these Strategic Planners are processing the Environmental issues on Climate Change, and flooding risks etc, but are fundamentally fixated on growth models, not only in the economy but also on population and development that is totally un-sustainable.

I’m inclined to ignore these long term plans and get on with local action, but I know for sure that the councils will develop their local plans as sub-sets of this strategy, and if the strategy is wrong, then the whole planning system will be permanently geared towards large chain stores as mentioned above, and pseudo employment, pushing bar-coded boxes, and typing on computers in bland office zones all with a smattering of some new train stations to call it truly sustainable.

I think we need to work on 2 levels. Focusing on local solutions and also spending a little time arguing the case that the strategic thinkers are not armed with a full set of facts and that they need to look at issues such as Peak Oil before deciding to replace prime agricultural land with housing and industrial units for the sake of short term visioning.

My favourite phrase, is that if they do need to trash the green belt, they need to do it with sustainable urban drainage solutions !. Argph….

Peter
14 Dec 1:06pm

@ Alan Brown
Yes…it seems that there is a very fixed line. On the one side there are people who are under the illusion of progress, blinded by the belief that continues growth is not only the most desirable and sole thing to aim for, but that it is actually possible. Do they think that we will not one day run out of certain resources? And on the other side, we have people who are not caught up in this insane rush to consume Earth, whilst inadvertently (sometimes advertently) destroying the life support systems which we, and a whole host of living beings, depend on for survival.

We have been so mindless and down right stupid with the way we have used our energy and the way we have let those means adversely affect our habitat, our home.
What kind of being, pulverises, disintegrates and degenerates the precious soil with which we grow all our means of sustenance? What kind of being, pollutes and renders undrinkable and unlivable the very life of this planet that is water? Are we so stupid, to think that such a mode of living is desirable? Fair enough, we did not know how we were impacting the Earth when we started. But, in the last few generations we have progressively understood our interactions with the world in ever more subtle and accurate ways. The likelihood of catastrophic climate change is now well documented and well understood by most people. The unsuitability of our fiat, debt-based currencies is now starting to be accepted. But the underlying, root cause being peak oil and its massive impactions is still given little if any recognition if the mainstream media – which is the worst crime or violation against humanity and the larger living world that this planet has ever seen; perpetrated by the corrupt and greedy officials that preside over most governments, financial institutions and corporations. We are stuck in the mind-created idea that we can ride this fantasy, perpetual motion merry-go-round model of living indefinitely without regard to its thoroughly unwholesome impacts on all life on Earth. It makes me, at times; feel altogether disgusted at our race. But I also see a great potential that we have to go back to living in harmony with Mother Earth.

Alan (if your reading this), I think that what you say is right. We need to focus more on brining awareness and fundamental change to our communities, rather than trying to go through the political system. It’s not the hot air of politics that we need right know. Its committed action that fundamentally changes the way we live and function on this planet. However, I would like to raise one very important point. We need to change our own individual lives within our own homes – become more self-sufficient, with food, water and energy needs. Personally, and being involved in the transition movement for some time, I feel that the Transition Initiatives are becoming more hot air, with too much talk and chin wagging, and not enough solid action taking place. You can only educate and bring awareness to people in so many different away and through so many different mediums before you are just running through the same old things but in a different manner. And to be frank, it only takes a little time to asses the predicaments we face and to see the solutions that we need to implement in our lives. After that, we need to just get the heck on with it and change the way we bloody live!
Though, I fear that many people feel just too comfortable with their high-impact, earth destroying lifestyles, still relying on their food supply from the massively destructive supermarkets and so on. We are just not prepared to make the real changes, so we develop all these fancy means of “visioning”, of gathering people together and talking, talking, and talking, and so we end up running around in circles not getting anything done! The means are there and have been for a long, long time. Low-impact housing is an ancient practice. Growing your own food is tens of thousands of years old. We have the ability to be self-sufficient with energy need with renewable (perhaps off-the-grid) energy technologies; which can be purchased by someone who is on minimum wage, saving up for only a few months!

So, there it is people! What or who are we waiting for? Do we want someone else to do it for us? We are the ones we have been waiting for! Do we want to talk our selves to death, literally!? Its time we shut up and got on with the real physical work of changing the way we live, while we still can. This is not a cake walk. We really could face very severe condition in the very near future.

Peter.

Jo Homan
14 Dec 3:23pm

I enjoyed reading this post, Rob. Feels like you’ve pulled off the gloves. Fending off supermarkets and nuclear reactors is a kind of self-defence for a community. Who are the real stakeholders behind nuclear reactors and supermarkets (as opposed to their employees) and how can they be involved in the discussion?

My understanding, Peter, is that a ‘cake walk’ was a dance invented by US slaves to mock the posh white people’s dances. White people came along to watch and award these dances, apparently not realising they were the subject of the joke. Perhaps transitioners need to find a way to sneak in something similarly subversive. After all, taking on the whole system is a bit of a tall order.

I went on some training on the Sharing Economy the other day – which already exists, in the many social transactions that go untracked and untallyed. These transactions are social glue, neighbours and contacts you can rely on and trust. Maybe celebrating this and supporting / promoting Timebanking and Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS) and alternative local currencies is a good start for us. I think it’s also good to start developing social enterprises that become so localised they can potentially de-couple from “the machine” of traditional economics.

One person on the training suggested that there’s enough “stuff” out there for us to never have to buy anything new again. We also have enough skills, creativity and ingenuity in our communities to really surprise ourselves. At the moment the skills, the creativity and the ingenuity are (mostly) locked up in keeping “the machine” or “narrative one” running. I can see this changing out of necessity but I feel optimistic that on balance, it’ll bring out the best in us. As I argue here: http://www.transitionnetwork.org/stories/jo-homan/2011-12/consensus, it’s also important we start modelling a better approach to reaching decisions in our communities if we want to change our underlying approach (and avoid re-creating the same problems).

Greenpa
14 Dec 3:25pm

“We have very little time to make this stuff happen, it needs to happen now. ”

Ah, but. I think we need to face the ugly reality that- it just isn’t going to happen now. It can’t. The societal and governmental inertia are immense, not going away, and possibly becoming more immovable, not less, as disasters accumulate.

Your “narrative 1″ is a solid example. The guy believes what he’s selling, and it’s still the party line from The Owners.

I don’t mean attempts to affect the mainstream dialogue should be abandoned. On the contrary, the voice of reason needs to be there. But- I think there should be no qualms about maintaining a separate dialogue, aimed at just working around the insanities; rather than trying only to change them.

One specific suggestion, Rob- how about attempting to get every shop on the high street to take on an apprentice, or two? As part of an organized effort.

The whole street could become a school for resklling; and the presence of the apprentices would actually draw more folks to the street; their friends and families, first of all; but that has high potential to be a positive feedback process.

If it were a town-wide inclusive project, you could build on it, socially. Apprentices’ football teams? Competing with the next town’s apprentices? Apprentice choir? parade? festival? Apprentice-only Boxing Day?

Quite a lot of local and community potential- and for the shop owners- a bit of less expensive labor? And a stronger high street.

Peter
14 Dec 4:02pm

@ Jo Homan

I think that in the sense that you define the literal term and historical roots of the phrase “cake walk”, Transitions Initiatives are indeed doing something exactly analogous to that: They are departing from the segmentation caused by the greed and disregard of the “infinite growth paradigm”, and returning to the roots of how it is to live in harmony with each other and the wider world. However, I meant it in the more conventional sense: that we cannot just take time enjoying ourselves and each other – with all this networking, visioning and the like – at the expense of getting things done. Like I said, the means are there for us to implement sufficient change. It’s just up to us to make to move while we still can.

Also, I was just trying to suggest that while it’s nice if it can feel like a party, celebration and revival of what we have lost and so desperately need, I don’t think we should let this lessen the vigour and determination which we so often find at a protest march. If may not be all fun and games and we may not be able to walk along the path towards, self-sufficiency, low-impact and localised communities without some, perhaps, very hard times.

Peace, Peter.

Man in the Street
14 Dec 6:27pm

Supermarkets are great for people on low incomes.

I’m sure you all love buying organic and paying through the nose, but there’s no way that kind of shop will make money in many parts of the UK. Anywayu, what’s wrong with poor people having access to cheap staples – try buying the same in an independent shop. I remember thinking farm shops would be great until I tried them and realised they’re much worse value than Aldi, Lidl and Tesco and many even import fruit and veg as well!

Well meaning but pie in the sky. Allotments and growing your own is the way to go rather than enriching middle class petit bourgeois owners of ‘green’ shops to salve your conscience. Grow yr own – don’t pay ANYONE for your fruit and veg, as far as possible.

Brad K.
14 Dec 6:55pm

I think there is an argument to be made, that large stores and chains that take on specific lines of business, whether mid-level fancy, or low-priced basic, or building supplies — or automobile fuels — create opportunities for surrounding business people. I am sure there are some operations that deliberately set out to impair competition, rather than simply use marketing and market placement to attract customers to increase market penetration.

If the existing and small businesses pick up the opportunity to focus on niches, to provide the local product or leave the low-end, low-quality stuff to the big stores and focus on products with better margins. The big stores, after all, aren’t selling eggs and cabbages grown just around the corner.

Local stores and communities must factor in expected loss of access to cheap energy. The prices of oil are going to continue climbing, and access will start getting spotty. That means the big, consolidated schools and government centers, the shopping malls and big stores that depend on significant travel by their customers will be severely challenged.

Prices here in the US keep going up, significantly faster than wages, despite the pick-and-choose statistics our government uses to support our President’s re-election prospects. It is my understanding this is a global effect, and with the economic crisis in play now, should be expected to continue.

Local producers will have the luxury of raising prices to meet there costs — which will be a lot less than national chains and importers will need to account for.

Communities should be anticipating change. They should be evaluating, “Where will we be if/when this enterprise shuts down/moves on?” With the current banking and sovereign debt problems, no one in authority should be allowed to make plans more than a year out, when considering tax relief or other means to lure “new business” in. We might not have that year to recoup what we give away today.

Brad K.
15 Dec 1:38am

@ Man in the Street,

I think the point here is that big supermarkets and low prices there are an artifact, a side effect of cheap oil.

As the oil prices rise, some of the supermarket prices will rise — but some of the producers and transporters will stop doing business. The current credit “crunch” will have a similar throttling effect, as the crisis deepens.

Raise the cost of seed corn — a product of common corporate operations highly dependent on access to cheap energy — and pesticides, and you start preventing some crops from being planted. Here in the US most food is raised in the big agri-business model, which carries heavy debt at all times on equipment and requires borrowing to buy seed at planting time. As governments and banks squander national credit assets on unworkable schemes to “save” banks (for another month or three), they threaten the ability of farmers to plant the food we hope to be eating next year.

So the concern about local food production, for what you cannot raise yourself, is to have as much access to *any* food as possible, as the modern globalized system continues to erode. No one is suggesting that local is cheaper (although in season, there might well be bargains), the concern is to establish the resources of producers independent of the global “village” to be available in the near future. What purchases we make from local sources help to establish that hope for a comfortable tomorrow.

And no one is suggesting that the big stores won’t be able to switch, some of them, to local sources. But it takes time to teach farming, time to learn the vagaries of each individual field and type of livestock, and we cannot start too soon to develop the producers needed in tomorrow’s constrained energy world.

Peter
15 Dec 12:10pm

@ EVERYONE!

It’s is true what some people have mentioned: we should grow our own food, with regards to fruit, vegetables and grains etc. Why? Because once you have prepared the land (whatever size plot you may have) by creating the best possible soil conditions within you own personal means, then you can start to grow you own fruit vegetables and grain from as little as £100 – 200 a quarter acre!!! And if you select and buy open-pollinated (which, from their offspring, can produce next years crops without deformities) seeds and produce then you can continue thereafter indefinitely; by harvesting the seeds!!!

So for a few hundred quid you can start your own organic (provided the seeds and soil conditions etc are organics in the first place) food production garden. With a decent composting system – say a compost tumbler, which boosts the rate at which you can create compost to as little as two months! – You can sustain a no-dig organic (free from genetic modification and chemicals) garden for a very small amount of money. And, by logical extension of this, you can see how it would make rapid returns within only a year or two on the amount invested to set up such a system. So, like some people have mentioned or hinted at, it is more economically viable to grow your own fruit and vegetables and grain. Not only do you know exactly how it was produced it also tastes infinitely greater than any shop brought produce. Why? Because it can be eaten within minutes or hours of being picked. So the taste of home grown produce is second to absolutely none, and the added ensured knowledge that it has been created using the most organic/natural mean possible, will give an even greater sense of satisfaction and contentment to your feeling of self-sufficiency.

I say this based on personally experience. And to be frank, in the near future can we really all be certain of getting our food supplies from a shop that has no more than 5 days supply in stock? With the coming certain collapse of the Euro and Dollar, global food chains will collapse if only significantly diminish. (It is the inevitable and undeniable fate of all fiscal, debt-based money systems to eventually eat themselves to death. They are by their very contract, unsustainable) This will put an unprecedented squeeze on our food disturbers. And I say this in a very light manner. Another way would be to say that: we will face severe food shortages in the near future (anyone who is ages 30 or younger now, will see starvation of scale which as never been witnessed before – in the billions). This will be due to 1) the depletion of fossil fuels and adequate water supplies (which account for roughly %60 – %70 of out consumption of these resources in the creation of food – for every 1 calorie of food we consume 10 calorie of fossil fuel energy has gone into creating it!!!) and 2) the break down of the globalised economic and therefore national trade systems – due primarily to peak oil and crippling amounts on debt (who knows which one will topple the already unstable situation?) For example, a spike in oil could topple (which means destroy!) the system within a matter of days – this is a fact people! Its time to get real!!! And to very seriously get on with growing our own food supply immediately!

During the Second World War we had a few years to establish our “Victory Gardens” by growing our own, individual food supplies. But because of the nature of our current predicament, we are not sure when the crisis in food will come. And be under no illusions: it will come, either more rapidly due to economic breakdown or perhaps slower (and that is a big perhaps) due to diminishing fossil fuel supplies. It is much more uncertain today than during the Second World War, in so far as it was certain that we were in a war and that supply chains to Europe were breaking down. But today it is less certain and more fragile in terms of how and when the system will break down, thus rendering us all impotent in terms of supplying our own food needs!

Please, I urge all people who read this to start trying to meet their own food needs by growing food in there gardens. We do not have much time, and the sooner we start the more assured we can be to us being prepared for food shortages. Which will definitely be coming in the near future.

Lastly, look around you, in your local community. How many people are aware of the fragile and severe situation we face today? Only a few % of you community perhaps? And so what does this mean? Its means that most people are dependant on supply systems – on food, water and money etc – that could collapse in an instance! It’s a simple and deeply sad truth that mostly everybody you meet has no idea of the fragility of our globalised system and how it is on the certain brink of disastrous collapse.

I only hope and pray that more people can become aware and thus prepare for this coming time of great calamity.

Peace and best wishes, Peter.

Nick Wright
21 Dec 9:42am

Excellent blog post – thank you. The point about planning being behind the curve (and behind “the people”) is very well made.

Steve
4 Jan 3:38pm

Of course we import most of our food, and much of this comes from regions that are already water stressed. So not only will the costs of growing and importing food increase as we accelerate down the slippery post-peak slope, but fertility in countries that export to the UK will also decline as climate change causes more extreme flooding and drought. The UN FAO predicts that 2/3 of the world’s population could be water-stressed as soon as 2025. http://www.fao.org/nr/water/issues/scarcity.html

So we urgently need to create sustainable local food supplies.