The Right To Develop Food Security
What does industrialisation look like when everyone is fed?
Last week I interviewed Max Ajl, academic and author of the acclaimed A People’s Green New Deal, a “radical alternative” to the Green New Deals peddled by government institutions over the past years. Max joined me to discuss the necessity of land reform in the global green transition, explaining the importance of peasants, the relationship between land, production and debt, and how the post-colonial nations can liberate themselves from the late stage capitalist economy inflicted upon them by the global north.
The question that came to my mind, listening to Max, was: What does industrialisation look like when everyone is fed?
Throughout the episode, Max highlights the importance of discussing national, sovereign industrialisation alongside agrarian reform, because if we don’t discuss industrialisation then we could see a global agrarian agenda which forces billions of people in the global south, and generations hence, into peasantry. Many climate plans already proposed by both the private sector and global governments state a percentage of the world’s lands need to be stewarded and protected—but who is going to steward and protect them?
There are plenty of indigenous cultures which wish to have the freedom to steward their historical lands, and some which still do, but there simply aren’t billions of people who wish to carry the world’s responsibility for stewarding land if that very stewardship enables continued exploitation by the global north. This is the trend we have seen thus far, that “protected” areas of global south forests are sold on a carbon market to global north nations and companies in order to justify their carbon emissions and destruction. Carbon budgets exist to balance books, not protect the planet, as evidenced by last week’s Guardian investigation which showed 90% of carbon credits purchased by companies like Disney, Gucci and Shell simply do not exist.
The danger of land reform without the promise of national sovereign industrialisation is it cements global north dominance and perpetuates the exploitation of those who work the land by those who can then reap the benefits of a food surplus. I occasionally call this “bio-serfdom” on the podcast; the continued inequitable distribution of resources so one group may advance their own development at the expense of another, much more crucial group.
30x30 is the worldwide initiative for governments to designate 30% of Earth's land and ocean area as protected areas by 2030, but it begs more questions than it answers: Why only 30%? Why not reclaim private land in the name of protecting the planet? Who will be allowed to live on those lands? Will indigenous lands be claimed in the name of climate change?
But also—how do we ensure these “developing” nations who have the natural land to offer up to protect the planet from global north development equally have the sovereign rights to further their nations and peoples? The cultural sovereignty of these nations is critical for us to build a better world; the most exciting political movements and practices exist outside of the West, just that bit further from global north hegemony, where imaginations can thrive. Remember Chile’s proposed constitution, the most exciting piece of environmental legislation ever drafted. Remember the propaganda campaign launched against it by Western media.
The sovereignty of one country at the expense of another creates a homogenous world order, and one that is heating up.
Development can be done differently. So—what does industrial revolution look like when everyone is fed?
Development Done Differently
This is critical, given we have a finite amount of resources on this planet; our recycling capacities are a long way away from what they need to be; and we may never have another fuel as energy dense as fossil fuels. Also, our way of life predisposes people to mental health problems and isolation and alienation and all of these kinds of things. Given all of these things, degrowth—contracting our expenditure—has to be part of the ecosystem of solutions that we're looking to deploy in the next decade to combat the climate crisis, which is a symptom of the systemic failures.
We're going to have to use less. That means that we're going to have to prioritise how we use our minerals, our materials, and our energy. We need to understand it is fundamentally reckless to waste huge amounts of materials and energy on luxury consumption which harms our physical and mental health.
We need to establish a value system which accurately establishes and prioritises needs: housing, education, healthcare, job guarantee. Applying this to development, we can envision an industrial revolution where everyone is fed, and therefore removing the capitalist incentive which is driven, in part, by the precarity of life governed by the market. Instead of pitting citizens against one another and siphoning surplus off to the few, society could ensure everyone first has their needs met before asking: Now, what do we want to do? What do we all need? What do we want to invest in?
Collaboration, not Competition
If everyone is fed, the industrial revolution would hopefully look like a wealth of brain power and materials being poured into the renewable energy sector, the health sector, education, arts, science, literature, technology. The industrial revolution doesn't have to be based on the mechanistic ideas of the elite to get rich, where public service is a by-product of their profit maximisation.
The digital era created the attention economy where users are the product and usability is valued over usefulness. Many of us enjoy a good amount of leisure time thanks to automation, particularly in the household, but we spend it both producing and consuming digital content which fills the coffers of faceless corporations which provide very little value.
We have finite resources on our planet and we squander them on useless if not dangerous “innovations” which are only made dangerous by the economic system we use to hold together the world order, rather than the technology itself. TikTok or Facebook or Instagram are not inherently negative technologies. But the fact they exist to maximise profit and therefore invest huge amounts of resources in figuring out how to grab and keep our attention at the expense of everything else, including user health, means they cannot exist within this economy to serve anyone except shareholders.
Removing precarity and the profit incentive could free creativity and engages collective responsibility. Maybe there’s nothing to be afraid of in an industrial revolution where everyone is fed.
Planet: Critical investigates why the world is in crisis—and what to do about it.