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Resiliency politics

Written By: - Date published: 6:05 am, November 19th, 2020 - 14 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, Economy, farming, food - Tags: , , , , ,

This cheery piece about the end of the world is doing the rounds in Australia and New Zealand. None of it is a surprise to people in the various resiliency movements (Transition Towns, permaculture, peak oil, climate activism and so on), but it’s nevertheless a cold shower wake up call to see it presented so baldly in the MSM and condensed into one year. Tl;dr, 2021 is going to be a challenge. Read it if you’re feeling reasonably robust.

I’d hazard a guess that the Australian reporters that worked on it are to some extent traumatised by 12 months of bushfires and coronavirus. It’s basically a tale of global experts in their field pointing out that food supplies are breaking down and there’s going to be a ‘hunger pandemic’ next year. Probably not for us, as usual it will be poor, black countries most badly affected. But our food security isn’t that secure either in the medium term, and there is an ethical imperative to both not turn our backs on those in need elsewhere as well as developing the tech to ensure a reliable food supply going forward.

The piece also points to the global economy being further shocked and New Zealand won’t be immune from that.

There wasn’t a lot of detail in that article, just people saying this is going to happen. The thing that struck me most about the piece is that it presents the broad assertions of actually quite highly stressful news and almost nothing about the solutions. That’s a recipe for cognitive dissonance, head in the sand, retrenching into neoliberal BAU. All normal human reactions, but things we still have a choice about.

The resiliency and regenerative movements on the other hand almost always present the bad news along with a way through.

While on one level this is simply the kaupapa, naturally arising from the ethics and principles that underlie those movements, I’m going to suggest this is also a political choice. We can choose to also focus on the solutions, the proactive, affirmative pathways in response to the heavy duty, world going to hell in a hand-basket realities.

In my experience, when people are faced with large scale stress they respond better when they are presented with options for positive change.

There is also the dynamic that disempowered people tend to not act, and empowered people act. Most people will act if they can see that it will do some good, and this is often as simple as they feel better when their actions lead somewhere useful even if there is no grand solution in sight.

To that end, I’ve been writing posts about regenerative agriculture and showcasing the sectors that are actively building resiliency especially around food.

A post in February, Climate and food security: annual cropping vs regenerative agriculture, talked about the bad news (the three main annual crops we are reliant on globally are starting to fail under climate change) and presented the good news (resiliency tech developed outside the mainstream has been preparing for this very scenario).

You can also find proactive food security and resiliency posts via the regenag, regenerative agriculture tags, and more general topics in how change happens.

I’m also mindful that class politics are a huge issue in talking about food security. The needs of low income people and those living in poverty are still urgent. This Guest Post in 2018 from Standardista Macro highlights the issues for far too many people going into Christmas, and I expect this year to be even harder on people.

There’s an obvious overlap between the broader food growing security issues and the local ones related to poverty and access. The people I see managing to respond to both are Māori. More work here for the left, with the increasing pressures on Labour to take action on the housing crisis and poverty, to also put this in the context of the rapidly destabilising world. Probably the most pertinent thing I can say right now is that people living in poverty often have good resiliency skills and should be seen as a resource as much as a problem to be solved (not an extractive resource naturally, but a regenerative one if we had any sense).

One of the most heartening things in this covid year was the sheer number of people that gardened in response to the crisis. Seed and seedling suppliers were overwhelmed for a while. Labour need to look at making sure that in another big lockdown, nurseries and garden suppliers stay accessible.

Feel free to share proactive resources and your own stories in the comments. The stories we tell right now are critical to where we are going, let’s make sure they are good ones.

14 comments on “Resiliency politics ”

  1. WeTheBleeple 1

    "in another big lockdown, nurseries and garden suppliers stay accessible."


    But the government make no money off home grown, so their incentive is not there. Well, not till the people are hungry and baying for blood.

    We have seen encouragement (but no subsidy) for water storage in urban areas. Water is crucial to producing food. Auckland has been under various water restrictions (and garden hose seems the first to go) since May. So something has to change or we're in deep shit.

    New builds should store water. Old builds should retrofit.

    I know I'm a broken record but water is the key. Large scale storage for (hydro and dairy and hort) production is cheapest and easiest to store water in the land. Small scale earthworks from the top of a catchment down is the cheapest and easiest way to do this. It's sustainable, resilient (a break in such systems during an extreme event does little damage and is easily fixed as it is a series of small works, not something like a dam.) Trees are an integral part of the systems to stop wind and sun evaporation, to attenuate conditions for animals and humans, to produce microbes to nucleate rain, and to produce food and materials for humans and animals.

    Done right across the landscape we can significantly reduce the impacts of floods and drought.

    In urban situations deep pathways on contour trap and soak in rain, these can be filled with mulch and compost is then made over time to feed the garden beds they run alongside. Water from roofs can be diverted to ponds, rain gardens, swale systems and tanks. Tanks can be beautified/hidden with netting cover and vines grown on the netting.

    Urban water storage, taken up en-masse, could significantly relieve water supply, storm water management, and food security.

    Both urban and rural water management will enable food production despite unpredictable weather patterns. Trees will help protect plants from weather extremes and should at least border every paddock of every farm that 'cares for' their animals.

    Personal stories? Well, the bananas all the neighbors have with no landscaping to hold water don't produce. I got 4 bunches last year from one stand that takes 1 sq metre of ground space. My mate got three from a younger patch at his. Water is key. No water, no food security.

    When we put the water (and trees) back in our landscapes we've taken the first major steps to being truly resilient.

    There is also a financial case to be made for a proper water plan: The costs of fires, floods, water services, storm water services, drops in primary production… HUGE money.

    • Tiger Mountain 1.1

      Good points WTB. Rain Water collection can be done by many, even a small tank for gardening or emergency use etc. As a Far North resident for a number of years, tank water is where it is at, tastes nice too–I laugh when holiday makers stock up on the bottled water when they head North.

      The neo lib agencies like Auckland’s Watercare that actively discourage water collection and storage, are one reason people do not do it. Govt. should pay for people to retrofit water catchment and storage, and make compulsory for new dwellings.

      I grow seedlings and plants for home use, and give some to others to assist them to start herb and vegetable gardens and get into the groove of growing your own.

    • Rosemary McDonald 1.2

      Well, the bananas …

      I should have (I was told the other day) planted mine over the septic tank drainage field. However, I did put in a 2000l litre tank to catch the water off the little deck roof. This will do to keep the well mulched trees moist. And the raised garden beds…growing almost out of control atm with the rain we've enjoyed here in the Far Far North.

      Just discussing with a neighbour about over sowing one of our wee sheep paddocks with a herbal ley. Used to do it in our chook paddock way back in the Waikato. The neighbour has just done theirs following regenag protocols (apart from the pre spray with glysophate, which we wont even consider).

      We have piles of what passes for topsoil up here…dark sandy stuff perfect for growing kikuyu…left over from a shed build. Plan is to use some of it to 'deepen' a natural ponding area. The rest we'll pile up around the two new 25,000l concrete water tanks as well as creating a raised area where pumpkin, watermelon etc can grow wild.

      Three large piles of wood chip produced when the previous owners had some very large trees topped keep us supplied with mulch. The rains we've had have got the old fungi working so deeper down the pile we are getting something approaching much needed compost. The sheep love to stand atop the wood chip piles and do what they doo…all adds to the mix.

      We were more than happy living in the Bus and traveling where the fancy took us. Lockdown changed all that.

      Nothing like being forcibly confined in a city to make one realise the necessity for a wee patch of dirt where a certain level of self sufficiency can be achieved.

      • WeTheBleeple 1.2.1

        This is all music to my ears. Great you have some regen-ag going on locally, despite the chemicals – the transition requires a leap of faith at times – something accountancy, quite rightly, can't support. As they see successful examples of sowing without the chemical 'weeding' they'll change – it's cheaper.

        Gabe Brown (US, youtube) was using a crimping roller type thing on his crop residues as he sowed seed. No poison required and would transition smoothly from crop to crop.

    • george.com 1.3

      swales and contouring the land for water percolation. yes pretty sensible stuff. easiest done on land with hills. I have not seen examples of it being done on flat land without some mechanical involvement to spread the water. I imagine somewhere like northland which has a lot of rolling country and a drier climate is a good place to consider landscape contouring for natural water harvesting/replenishment. I am sure it is being done in some places around NZ on farms

  2. Pat 2

    Not a positive contribution (mine) but the following quote and link are worth consideration

    "When the government was challenged on this issue in parliament last year, it claimed it was “not responsible for the supply of food and drink to the population in an emergency”. That is up to “the industry”. In other words, little has changed since the Irish famine of the 1840s and the Indian famines of the 1870s"


    • weka 2.1

      thanks, will have a read later. The first thing that comes to mind is to what extent the UK has enough land to feed its population, or whether it is now locked into permanent imports.

      Then, more interesting for me (because they can solve their own problems), is when NZ will be ready to have the same conversation (and how that flows into things like housing, which is obviously an urgent conversation). It intrigues me that many lefties believe that we should have a standard of living that essentially requires us to take resources from other places (including wage slavery, but also many materials that are non-renewable and or destructively extractive).

  3. greywarshark 3

    Thinking about how we will cope with extremes of weather – sun for instance, and high humidity without actual sun. Can we reorganise our lives, go to bed early, get up early, go to work early then home and rest, and back to work into the night? It could mean that less people watch television and that would be a good thing.

    Here's one intelligent report about heat waves and accepting them as major problems like cyclontes.


  4. Robert Guyton 4

    Yesterday, I, along with the other councillors of Environment Southland (many of whom are conventional farmers) visited a farm where regenerative practices are used. In a paddock growing grasses, chickory, dock, plantain, various clovers and other "unorthodox" forage plants, we heard from the farmers, husband and wife, about the changes they've made and experienced since moving away from conventional, intensive dairying. Their excitement was palpable. This contrasted to the atmospheres of "ordinary" Southland farmers presently, where angst is the dominant atmosphere. All of the farmer-councillors noted this during our "on board the bus" debrief. A positive, energetic approach to the challenges of farming is not something to be disregarded lightly, imo. During the discussions, I volunteered the view that their practices, in contrast to those of the conventional farmers, meant their farm was now greatly insured against all manner of threats; from the climate, the global market pressures, political actions around supply of phosphates, etc. incursions of pest organisms, drought, flood, strong winds and so on. It was clear to everyone there, I believe, that this future-proofing was a major factor in their farming practice and that the value of such resilience was being ignored or missed by conventional farmers. To my mind, the regenerative farmers were suffused with, not just excitement, even joyousness at what they were doing, but also great curiosity about their farm, their plants, their animals and the interdependence of all. It was an exciting day and bodes very well for the future of farming in NZ.

    Unless the existing agricultural industry smashes the new farmers using the same methods they employed to disable the organic farming sector.

    They will, in my opinion, try to do just that.

    • WeTheBleeple 4.1

      Industry have already tried, have always talked nitrate instead of crap (see what I did there) and continue to talk bollocks. They trot out Ag 'experts' in the Herald and other publications who are Ravensdown shareholders or similar vested interests in salting the land.

      But I've noticed a lot of farmers take to regen-ag solutions readily when they're presented by other farmers. They ask questions and hunt for info. And a trend in the Quorum Sense group is conventional farmers joining and asking if anyone is in their area they can learn from and the answer is typically yes. So more and more are being exposed to this new way of doing things. I've learned more about pasture plants and soils of nz from that group than I ever did from the 'expert' scientists of ag research facilities or lecturers at uni.

      The price we'll all pay for not adopting regenerative/sustainable practices is too high to continue to ignore. We have some brilliant people making things happen, a government nod to all this would go a long way. Kudos for you doing you.

      May the bounty of their pastures shine for all to see.

    • weka 4.2

      that's such great news Robert, heartening.

      (and yes on the industry stuff).

    • george.com 4.3

      I have seen similar Robert. One benefit, amongst a number, is that it provides a buffer against climactic extremes of dry and wet. Elsewhere globally in areas of food insecurity and climactic stresses/extremes a permaculture approach promises real hope. with land to grow and the correct approach it provides the opportunity for food security. The work Mollinson, Holmgren, Lawton at al have done proves such. The key to successful permaculture in my opinion is peace and security. If that can be provided then permaculture can be successful. In areas of strife, war or civil unrest it must be extremely difficult. Food security must need civil security first. Someone might educate me differently but that seems a prerequisite to perma(nent agri)culture

      • Robert Guyton 4.3.1

        Yours are good thoughts, george.com. I wonder if the two states go hand-in-hand and that even the most rudimentary forms of "permaculture/sustainable/regenerative, whatever land-use" represents the first steps down the path of peace and security? Making the first move seems to me to be the significant difference; all else follows. These regenerative people are under-way now and won't be stopped, imo. Personally, I believe they will be affected by their new form of kaitiakitanga in ways they don't know of yet, and will branch out into fields unimagined, to mix my metaphors.

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