Natural News Observer

Has the Observer become like Natural News?
You would be forgiven for thinking so on reading today’s issue which carries an article by one Lucy Siegle with the alluring title “Are biodynamic products worth the money?”

Hmmm tricky one that, let me think for a minute… no. Actually, no.
That is because they are nothing more than products of Organic farming with a load of whackeroonery added- astrological plantings and weird and somewhat unsavory compost preparations which employ such exotic techniques as burying cows horns stuffed with manure at certain phases of the moon. Siegle explains:

Growers are famous for planting according to the phases of the moon and burying cow horns filled with “preparations”. Actually there’s method in both these forms of madness: research shows that plants respond differently to different moons, absorbing more water during the full moon, for example. As for the animal horns, silica is extracted from them as the elements break down, maintaining soil fertility.

Wat? Research? I dont think so- plants do not respond to tidal forces exerted by the moon, but even if they did, this is not what Steiner said- he claimed that fruit should be gathered on “fruit” days (according to the Moon Planting Calender) Flowers on “Flower Days” and so on- ie that the supposed moon influence actually differentiates between differnet parts of different plants depending on which part we humans are interested in eating. A quaint if rather anthropocentric view of the Cosmos- the Stars and the Planets all revolve around for our benefit, how lovely.

But wait- we Noes Dis is Trues because as Siegle tells us, Steiner was a scientist!

Based on scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical theories, biodynamics is a “holistic and regenerative farming practice”.

Nooo! Steiner was not a scientist. He was an esoteric looper who believed that his gardening methods would help bring down “etheric energies” which would transmute into spiritually purer food and hence a spiritually purer race. Purity of the Soil would lead to Purity of the Food – and so Purity of the Race. Yes, that is correct- Steiner’s religion Anthroposophy, unbeknownst to the innocent Observer readers and purchasers of fine Biodynamic Wines, is really a system of Kharmic racism. That might explain its popularity in Nazi Germany. Seriously.

“Ah!” I hear you cry, “but I went to a Biodynamic Farm and saw lovely vegetables and drank lovely Biodynamic Wine- weird and mystical though it may sound, this stuff actually works!!”

Well Duh, if you are a good gardener and do most things right- sow the seed in warm soil at the right time of the year, not too deep, protect from vermin and heavy rain and cold, weed and water, feed and nuture, then you should get perfectly fine produce. Sacrificing Reason on the Altar of whacked out cultish pseudoscience will not add anything else I’m afraid to say- and yes, the actual science has been done on this.

Lucy Siegle apparently

is one of the UK’s most recognisable opinion forming journalists on environmental issues and ethical consumerism, devoted to widening their appeal. She is also a knowledgeable and experienced awards host and keynote speaker, and is a regular presenter on The One Show.

This is bad news for people’s opinions on environmental issues so, and barely elevates the Observer to the comic-book status of Natural News.

And as if to add insult to injury, with reference to some of the comments, Alicia Hamburg points out on Twitter:

A more shocking indictment I can hardly imagine…

Greens to the Left- or Greens to the Right?

“You’re so Right-wing!” So I was told recently by one of my students who took exception to my pro-fact pro-evidence- based stance on things like genetic engineering and nuclear power. Another blurted out at me when I suggested her complaints about my course were mainly political “no it doesn’t matter how much of a fascist you are- if only you teach the course properly!”– which apparently means not presenting any facts or information unless they have been vetted and blessed in advance by her.

This kind of feed-back suggests that many prevailing views within the environmental movement are traditionally- even unquestioningly- considered to be “left-wing” and “progressive”: the struggle to protect pristine Nature and keep nasty chemicals and other such horrors out of our food and water share common cause with defending the rights of the common man against the ravages of untrammeled corporate capitalism.

Is this really the case? Or does environmentalism have its roots in the far-right? Or is it a strange hybrid of both Left and Right?

In a radio presentation last year Brendan O’Neill calls the more recent alliance between Green and Red a “historic betrayal”:

in going green the left has signaled abandonment of values that distinguished it from more conservative static views

This betrayal can be seen most clearly in the the original environmental cause of over-population, which comes of course from Malthus. But Malthus was an arch-enemy of Marx and Engels: Marx described him as ‘a professional sycophant of the landed aristocracy’ who was intent on ‘building the capitalist case for the inevitability of poverty’ (quoted by O’Neill here)

In other words, Malthus’ theory was entirely self-serving: the threat of a “population bomb” in the phrase of his more recent successor Paul Ehrlich, was invented in order to refute the radical idea that the poor and down-trodden would be able to overthrow their oppressors and that humanity in general- not just the ruling classes of whom Malthus was a member- would be able to improve their lot and aspire to greater things than just subsistence.

Marx and Engels disagreed with Malthus’ basic premise that over-population was a result of the Laws of Nature: rather, they saw the negative consequences of rapidly increasing populations as being the result of the social system, with specific causes according to the state of evolution of the society: in developing nations, it was a result of the legacy of colonialism; in capitalist nations, tied in with the Principle of the Reserve Army of Labour: in Marxist theory, capitalism required a large number of unemployed to draw on in times of rapid economic growth.

According to socialist theory, human problems are more social than natural; far from being the prisoner of Nature or Divinity, O’Neill argues there are no natural limits, but merely limits to our social imagination. He quotes Francis Bacon who stated that our mission is “to put nature on the rack and extract her secrets” and Sylwia Pankhurst who said “socialism means abundance for all… a great production that can provide more than we can consume.”

“How times have changed” laments O’Neill: through environmentalism, the Left is now at the forefront of arguing for natural limits; “Nature” is depicted as sentient force that punishes, and we see a return to 19th Century ideas of mankind as prisoner of nature.
Some even say we cannot end poverty:
Mark Lynas has claimed “the struggle for equity within the human species must take second place to the struggle for and intact and functioning biosphere.”

Although some greens, like Lynas, have repudiated the more obvious shortcomings of Malthus and distanced themselves from his incipient racism, O’Neill argues in his review of Fred Pearce’s PeopleQuake that they have really just re-phrased the reactionary case for limits by claiming it is not population per se that will be our undoing, but consumption:

Pearce describes Earth as a ‘finite planet’ and bizarrely claims that we are ‘consuming 30 per cent more resources each year than the planet produces’. This overlooks the fact – recognised by true humanists – that there is nothing fundamentally finite about Earth or its resources, since what we consider to be, and use as, a resource changes as society itself develops. The Malthusian idea that nature’s limits mean people must inevitably live in poverty is here. ‘It is of course true that poor people with small ecological footprints may grow rich… eventually assuming footprints as great as ours. If they do that, it is hard to see anything other than disaster ahead’, says Pearce.

How did this come about? While some from the Right have claimed that environmentalism is really just the new guise of socialism, trying to come in unnoticed through the backdoor as it were, Rupert Darwall, in The Age of Global Warming argues rather that after the Berlin Wall came down, the Left was simply too insipid to resist the rise of neo-Malthussians from the Far Right, with their Limits to Growth philosophy, and simply became subsumed by it.

The timing of the demise of Marxism as a living ideology meant that global warming never had to contend with opposition from the Left of the political spectrum.

Without even being aware of what had happened, the post-Soviet Left took on the mantle of much darker forces of environmentalism, inspired as they were by the early eugenics movement in Britain and the nature-worship and occult mysticism of the Nazis.

These origins can be most clearly seen today in the retro-romantic organics movement, still shaped and inspired by the cult of Steiner and his occult version of farming called biodynamics, which found common cause with the Blood and Soil- Blut und Boden– philosophy of the Nazis, as Staudenmaier has documented:

we find that the “ecological scene” of our time -with its growing mysticism and anti-humanism- poses serious problems about the direction in which the ecology movement will go…these reactionary and outright fascist ecologists emphasize the supremacy of the “Earth” over people; evoke “feelings” and intuition at the expense of reason; and uphold a crude sociobiologistic and even Malthusianbiologism. Tenets of “New Age” eco-ideology that seems benign to most people in England and the United States – specifically, its mystical and anti-rational strains- are being intertwined with ecofascism in Germany today.

Likewise the leaders of the anti-GMO movement and their allies, far from being representative of the Common Man or the rights of workers, are instead emanating from the privileged classes, lead by figures such as Goldsmith and Prince Charles, in the tradition of Schumacher, with paternalistic view of humanity that would not be so far from the contempt expressed by Malthus.

The fear of over-population, of the Yellow Peril or its equivalent, is still evident behind much anti-technology thinking amongst today’s Greens. Once, after a class discussion on global poverty and development, in which I expressed the hope that through technology and other factors, the bottom billion in the world might sometime improve their lot sufficiently to have at least some of the benefits that we have in the richer parts of the world, one earnest young student, no doubt considering himself radical and “left-wing” made a point of coming up to me afterwards to say emphatically: “No. We must stop them! They are much better off being poor.”

This blurring of the Left into the Far Right is also evident in the figure of the darling of the anti-GMO movement Vandana Shiva.

According to Noel Kinsbury in Hybrid:the History and Science of plant breeding

Meera Nanda, a leading Indian critic of what she calls “reactionary postmodernism,” points out, “the populist left opposition to the Green Revolution, GM crops, and other science intensive initiatives, is routinely co-opted by the ultra-nationalist, autarkic, elements of the Hindu right.” Shiva has been interviewed and favorably quoted by The Organiser, the journal of the Rashtriya Swayamsavak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization, the sight of whose members marching in formation wearing khaki shorts, is a powerful and frightening reminder of its original inspiration—Hitler’s brownshirts.554 Identity politics is the natural playground of the political Far Right. In rejecting the universality of Enlightenment values, antiscience critics on the Left have found themselves sharing a bed with those on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

Despite Shiva’s best efforts at condemning the poor farmers of her country to remain in their “natural state” of peasantry forever, many Indian farmers showed they had other ideas:

Shiva’s “Operation Cremate Monsanto” had spectacularly failed, its anti-GM stance borrowed from Western intellectuals had made no headway with Indian farmers, who showed that they were not passive recipients of either technology or propaganda, but could take an active role in shaping their lives. What they did is also perhaps more genuinely subversive of multinational capitalism than anything GM’s opponents have ever managed.

Greens often seem far more concerned that a corporation like Monsanto might make filthy profits than ordinary farmers might actually benefit from the technology they have developed, just as green activists themselves seem only too happy to use technology such as computers, cars and airplanes, and organic farmers to use polytunnels and tractors and pop to the supermarket for cheap industrial food when it suits them.

There are of course many political causes that one might want to support. Today’s mega-corporations should be held accountable for their workers’ conditions, and should be compelled to pay their taxes. I am more than willing to hear good well-thought out political arguments concerning social justice etc; unfortunately it is very rare if ever these days that I hear any such argument from Greens, so completely dominated they seem to have become by eco-fascist ideology and back-to-nature woo-woo naturalistic beliefs.

And thus I find myself in the peculiar situation of being insulted as being “right-wing” for defending ideas that are in fact far closer to traditional Marxism: that progress and innovation and technology are generally forces for good, and that human creativity is, almost by definition, something that uniquely can break the chains of natural limits.

Monty Python and the Tale of Sir Robin

Simon Singh has received a response from media celebratory and Soil Association chief Monty Don in response to his two questions concerning organic farming.

Apart from completely evading the relevant scientific issues Singh raises, Don makes the following extraordinary comment:

Having known you for nigh on 20 years – albeit with great gaps – I suspect that you are as temperamentally and intellectually suited to immersing yourself in organic, holistic agriculture as I am in particle physics. Your mind just doesnt work that way. That does not make you wrong or me right. Well,OK, I am just being polite but it doesn’t make you bad for being wrong…

WTF?! I mean, really, what is he actually getting at here? And what is the Bigger Picture about “organic, holistic agriculture” ?

Perhaps picking up on Singh’s admission that organics is not really his subject, Don recommends some reading:

Suggest you inform yourself a lot more before taking this any further. If you are genuinely interested in understanding what it is all about start by reading Michael Pollan, Colin Tudge and Rob Hopkins. No specific scientific work so you may not feel comfortable with it but very good cross section of the field.

Let’s have a look at what these three authors have to say on the subject under discussion:

Pollan’s 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma is celebrated by foodies, and it is certainly an original perspective and well-written survey of many of the issues in food production.

But in Chapter 9 he takes a look at Big Organic and concludes

So is an industrial organic food chain finally a contradiction in terms? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that it is…. The inspiration for organic was to find a way to feed ourselves more in keeping with the logic of nature, to build a food system that looked more like an eco-system that would draw its fertility and energy from the sun. To feed ourselves otherwise was “unsustainable”, a word that’s been so abused we’re apt to forget what it specifically means: Sooner or later it must collapse. To a remarkable extent, farmers succeeded in creating a new food chain on their farms:trouble began when they encountered the expectations of the supermarket. As in so many other realms, nature’s logic has proved no match for the logic of capitalism, one in which cheap energy has always been a given. And so, today, the organic food industry finds itself in a most uncomfortable, and, yes, unsustainable position: floating on a sinking sea of petroleum.

Pollan is aware of the limitations of trying to live “sustainably”- he is accutely aware of course of how impractical it would be for him to always eat the hunter-gatherer meal he prepares for himself in the last section, because of the extreme amounts of time and work it would involve; and so ends his book with something of a lament:

..imagine for a moment if we once again knew, strictly as a matter of course, these few unremarkable things: What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what, in a true accounting, it really cost. We could then talk about some other things at dinner. For we would no longer need any reminding that however we choose to feed ourselves, we eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and what we’re eating is never anything more or less than the body of the earth.

Ding Ding! Naturalistic Fallacy- sorry, Michael, “nature” does not have “grace” and does not give a wit as to whether we eat or not- we eat by dint of our own ingenuity and hard work, and famines were a constant threat until the advent of industrial food and the globalised food industry. The Malthussian fears of a burgeoning population outstripping food supply have not been realised because of technology. Any move back to nature will not only turn us into peasant laborers but will also put us right back as defenseless against the vagaries of nature and living always in the shadow of hunger.

Colin Tudge, in his 2003 book So Shall We Reap is another prominent critic of modern farming, and while convinced that its “unsustainability” could be our downfall, nevertheless addresses many of the very shortcomings of organics raised by Lynas and Singh, specifically the need for extra land:

Organic farming has much to recommend it, of course, but could it in conscience be recommended to all the world? I find it hard to see how…Manure can be polluting…could organic farmers really double their input of nitrogen, as they would need to do to maintain present agricultural output if artificials were banned? Could they double it again in the next fifty years as world population doubles? Nobody knows but the odds are surely against.

…if yield is lower farming must then occupy more space, spreading into wilderness and into marginal land that should not be cultivated at all.

Tudge correctly concludes that artificial fertiliser need not destroy soil structure or lead to polluting run-off if properly applied- thus “good farming” is always the key- and even points out that we will not run out of natural gas for manufacturing artificial fertliser- he cites a figure of only 1% of fossil fuels currently being required for this- “a small price to pay for half of agriculture’s fertility”- and that it could be easily made from solar power or biofuels(?) if needed. Although Tudge is opposed to GMOs, even he accepts that

GMOs are currently deployed for dubious economic and political purposes but the science that has given rise to them should not be banished out of hand.

Pollan and Tudge are well-known published authors on food and farming, but Hopkins, really?! There must be some mistake. Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins would not I think qualify as, nor claim to be an expert on organics, although like the other two he is of course a strong proponent of it. Unfortunately, he has found the wet summer too much for his own garden which has been overtaken by slugs; at least he confesses to the limitations of self-sufficiency in such circumstances, but shirks the logical conclusion that it is a globalised food industry which leads to true resilience, allowing us to grow the most suitable crops in the most suitable climates and ship in surplus to where there is a shortfall.

In the same post, he challenges the genetic engineers to do something (Hopkins and most of his followers are vehemently opposed to GE):

If those people working on genetically modified crops while also claiming to be working for the benefit of mankind actually want to do something useful, perhaps they might engineer a kind of grass that you could grown in your lawn that would be more attractive to slugs than the things you actually want to eat? Or engineer a slug that prefers the boring stuff that you don’t actually want to eat (like brambles, Woundwort or bindweed) to the stuff you want? Just a thought.

More likely, it might be possible to insert slug-repellant genes directly into the plants, as the Bt pesticide has been successfully engineered into corn and cotton, thus saving vast amounts of sprays. (My comment to this effect was deleted as I am banned from Hopkin’s blog.)

(I should say that as a gardener I found most of Rob’s post quite amusing and I do sympathize, though I have not had nearly as much trouble with slugs as he describes; it’s a great gardening column, easy to forget that this is a writer who heads up an influential international movement that is opposed to modernity and influenced by quacks and other doyens of New Age occultism.)

Transition Towns, like much of the organics/back-to-the-land movements, resembles a Medieval re-enactment society, aiming to turn back the clock to an imagined romantic past of local communities growing their own veg and darning their own socks under lights powered by windmills and solar panels, while fleeing in fear, like Monty Python’s Brave Sir Robin, from the very technologies-such as genetic engineering and precision farming- that might actually improve farming and ameliorate both world hunger and some of the excesses of industrial farming.

The idea, you see is to turn everyone back into peasant farmers: organics takes a lot more labour, and for it to increase its tiny market share from just a couple of percent at present to challenge conventional farming would require the wholesale reversal of the main demographic movement from parochial country to cosmopolitan city that defined the 20th century.

So what was that “Bigger Picture” again that Don speaks of? Maybe he found it on this Biodynamic farm he visited in 2002 in the Black Mountains, where a family are using the magical methods of Steiner’s astrology and alchemy to grow vegetables on poor land where “The Soil Association wanted money to even talk to them.”

Don admits BD is whacky:

But there is an aspect of biodynamics that needs to be taken with a dumper truck of salt. This is the essential tenet that cosmic and terrestrial forces can be harnessed for the benefit of soil and plants by the mixing of certain preparations. These range from oak bark buried over winter in the skull of a domestic animal to Valerian flowers buried inside a stag’s bladder. The preparations are used in minute quantities – such as a level teaspoon to 10 tons of compost. Crazy stuff.

but cannot quite dismiss it because the farmers are “models of health and vitality” and the veg is just sooooo tasty. The whole place seems a picture of the rural idyll amongst rolling green pastures with a communal lifestyle and plenty of laughter in the fields, that many organics supporters yearn for.

But he gives it all away in the last paragraph:

Conventional farmers and growers are in a mess. I suspect that the government is incapable of understanding the problem, let alone providing any solution. The answer lies in us as individuals – gardeners or people brave enough to buy a patch of ground ‘no good for growing vegetables’. And if that is accompanied by the burial of dandelions collected at dawn or a chart of the phases of the moon, then is it any weirder than the damaging potions and incantations of scientists, ministers and so-called experts down the years?

You see Monty, the thing about science is, it provides a method for examining these things rationally, using evidence. Thus, there are plenty of other successful small farms using either conventional or organic methods that are just as successful, where the produce is just as good, the laughter just as vibrant, but without the magic, which adds nothing other than the fog of delusion and the propensity to foster the creation of cults. Biodynamics is not as Don seems to think “one step further down the organic road” -unless that road is one leading back into the Dark Ages of witchcraft and goat-sacrifice.

Betweeen Don’s tolerance of superstition, and his apparent sharing of the aims of Hopkin’s Transition Re-enactment Society, we would seem to have something closer to Monty Python rather than any useful contribution to addressing the very real issues of food and farming in the 21st century.

Moon-planting Fairy-worshipping Whackos

Update: Post by Mark Lynas here. I had missed the start of the Twitter debate, which originated with a tweet from @GMO Pundit (David Tribe) showing that the campaign to have GMOs labeled was funded by Big Quacka.

Update 16-07:
Simon Singh’s commentary here.

Update: Good piece on GE labeling by David Zilberman Why labeling of GMOs is actually bad for people and the environment

Interesting Twitter exchange yesterday on the subject of food labeling- specifically, the campaign from the Organic movement to make the labeling of GMO crops a legal requirement.

Mark Lynas started it, arguing that the only reason to label foods containing Genetically Engineered crops would be as a “skull and crossbones” for the benefit of those who have an ideological position against GE technology- ie as an aid to a boycott movement, and suggested instead

How about a label on organic foods: ‘Warning, land-inefficient product, may cause damage to the environment’.

Andrew Apel joined in:

I prefer ‘May Have Been Sprayed With Bacterial Toxins’ on organic veggies.Truthful and accurate!

The problem with labeling is, where do you stop, and what is the motive for the label? I am all in favour of more information for the consumer, but given the well-funded campaign against anything GE, a label for that alone would simply act as a falser warning NOT to buy- without reams of peer-reviewed references and lengthy discussions around all aspects of food and farming, such a label on its own would do little to benefit the consumer.

I had been thinking about the labeling issue for a while, and wondered what sort of label might be suitable for Biodynamic crops- that is, essentially “organic” food grown by people using astrology (planting by the moon) and other esoteric practices advocated by the extremist anti-science cult founded by Rudolph Steiner:

for Biodynamic produce “warning! Grown by moon-planting fairy-worshipping whackos. AVOID

This was re-tweeted by Lynas and then picked up by John Walker, author and award-winning organic gardener:

Real grown-up stuff eh? Oh the joys of constructive debate…

who then made his own grown-up suggestion:

Maybe the real priority is to label big ag’s produce with list of pesticide residues it contains? #choice

For someone of with such a high media profile, Walker seems lamentably unaware of the issues. Astonishingly, it would appear that he has not even listened to the Skepteco Podcast on Organics.

There is actually no evidence that “conventional” produce contain harmful levels of pesticides; these things are tested very thoroughly, and it maybe even that the tiny trace residues- far below what is considered safe- that are found may even be beneficial, perhaps providing some protection against “natural” toxins and predators including cancer: this was the conclusion from Trewavas, as discussed on our podcast, who cited a longitudinal study with a very large sample of farmers and foresters, ie those groups who come into contact with pesticides the most: they were found to have lower levels of some diseases than the general population.

Organic produce can also be harmful, as the tragic case of the Organic German Beansprouts incident showed last year; should we put warnings on organic food alerting shoppers to the risks of ecoli poisoning as a result of the use of animal manures? Another organic movement bugbear- food irradiation- could save lives and eradicate the risks of ecoli – but unfortunately this technology is also being campaigned against by those who think that deadly natural toxins are preferable to minute traces of any synthetic chemical.

Walker responded:

And of course no evidence of wider effects of pesticides on environment? Is organic-bashing really useful?

The excellent @gmopundit joined in:

#organic farming also needs more water. Matters a lot some countries

and Andrew Apel opined:

Organic bashing is useful because they peddle lies about conventional farmers.

Again, this issue of wider environmental impacts is different to toxic residues, and of course all forms of farming have a tremendous effect on the environment- there is no perfect, garden-of-Eden-type way of farming that ticks all the boxes; and the original point from Lynas- that organics require more land- still stands. While an individual organic farm may take greater care to leave habitat for wildlife, more land will be needed in total- including a lot of land for all those manure-producing animals that organics rely on- and that means less wilderness habitat.

The lower yields for organics are a serious issue that need to be engaged with by its supporters- maybe it would be a good idea to put this on a label to make more people aware of it; and all this reminded me of a tweet from @geneticmaize a few weeks ago, who said that she avoids buying organic food for this very reason (though she says she is not religious about it.) With world population heading towards 10billion, there is simply no option of switching wholesale to less productive methods. They need to become more productive, and the only way for this to happen is by technology.

Which brings us back to GE. Mark Lynas offered an olive branch on the twitter discussion:

We can end this now if you agree that GM chemical-free should be considered organic.

The irony is of course that there IS already a GMO-free label- “Organic”- but that, for organics to overcome its other limitations, it could embrace GE technology to make it more viable- as proposed by Pamela Ronald in Tomorrow’s Table.

Organic food currently provides a very small part of world food supply. There is still a place for it, and hopefully for many other kinds of farming, and organics plays an important research role. But at the end of the day it is just a label, a rather arbitrary list of criteria. What is really needed is a more integrated system that is not afraid to use technology.

Too much of the organic movement is however dominated by Biodynamics (which is where organics came from in the first place), homeopathy, astrology and general woo based on the naturalistic fallacy: in reality, Mother Nature wants to Eat You.

So shopper be aware. While there is nothing to fear from GMOs, your food may have been grown by moon-planting fairy-worshipping, anti-vaccine, quacks and whackos: is that what you want for your children?

EcoFascism Revisited

Book Review
Ecofascism Revisited
Lessons from the German experience

Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier
Pbck; 188pp
New Compass 2011
First published 1995

The historical connections between fascism and environmental movements remain relatively unknown in the contemporary world where “Green” issues are more generally associated with the Left and liberal values.
In Britain, early environmentalism was strongly influenced by eugenics and concerns about the burgeoning human population. A good overview of this can be read in Fred Pearce’s PeopleQuake. This in turn had been influenced by Malthus and his dire warnings of population outstripping the food supply- perhaps the original single issue defining the course of the environmental movement.

First published in 1995, this updated work by Peter Staudenmaier provides a powerful historical analysis of the how environmental thinking was adopted by some quarters in the Nazi party in 1930s and 40s Germany, and how this alliance between romantic environmental thinking and far-right politics may still be significant today.

The book consists of three essays, the first two reproduced unchanged from the original, and a new essay by Peter Staudenmaier reflecting developments since the mid-1990s.

Staudenmaier is an Associate of the Institute for Social Ecology and a Professor of modern European history at Marquette University, Milwaukee, and has been active in anarchist and green movements in the US. In 2010 he completed his dissertation Between Occultism and Fascism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race and Nation in Germany and Italy, 1900-1945 at Cornell University.

As a social ecologist he takes a pragmatic and rationalist approach approach to environmental problems, but keeps them rooted firmly in left-wing politics and issues of social justice: for the social ecologist, environmentalism is as much a struggle against structures of oppression of people as of the environment, and this is in stark contrast to the romantic and Malthussian, anti-human wing of environmentalism, which sees the enemy to be not capitalism and the profit motive, which exploits people and nature equally, but the human race itself- or more accurately perhaps, certain racial groups.

In the Introduction, Staudenmaier explains:

In Europe as in the United States, most ecological activists think of themselves as socially progressive…For many such people, it may come as a surprise to learn that the history of ecological politics has not always been inherently and necessarily progressive and benign. In fact, ecological ideas have a history of being distorted and laced in the service of highly regressive ends- even of fascism itself….

important tendencies in German “ecologism”, which has long roots in nineteenth-century nature mysticism, fed into the rise of Nazism in the 20th Century. During the “Third Reich”…Nazi “ecologists” even made organic farming, vegetarianism, nature worship, and related themes into key elements not only of their ideology but in their governmental policies.

Moreover, Nazi “ecological” ideology was used to justify the destruction of European Jewry. Yet some of the themes that Nazi ideologists articulated bear an uncomfortably close resemblance to themes familiar to ecologically concerned people today.

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Does the Spiritual have a place in Permaculture?

Interesting and welcome post by Craig Mackintosh of the Australian Permaculture research Institute discussing the role of metaphysics and “spirituality” in the Permaculture movement.

I personally often feel frustrated that too many permaculturists are mixing subjective spiritual/metaphysical/religious elements into their courses, and are thereby helping to ensure permaculture is relegated to the periphery rather than — as desperately needs to happen — being taken up broad scale by all people everywhere, regardless of their culture and preferred belief system.

As permaculture teacher myself, this is an issue I have been wrestling with myself for the past several years, in the PC (permaculture) movement as well as the wider environmental movement.

The concern is that Permaculture Design Courses- which are typically run over 10 days or two weeks as residential courses- are being diluted and compromised by some teachers who include time or even give classes on spiritual beliefs and practices, including Shamanism, yoga, and other aspects of New Age or Earth religion.

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