23 July 2013

Rewilding our Economy?

I went to see the second part of the documentary Wild Carpathia at the Romanian Embassy last night. It was a delightful event, although the audience were rather like characters out of a Forster novel waiting for the monsoon. Our patience was rewarded, however, by a lovingly crafted portrayal of a life in an unspoiled environment for which many of us are nostalgic but which still exists in the areas of Romania in the Carpathian mountains and the Danube delta.

I am interested in this idea of wild. It seems to refer to something out there, a way of life others preserve and that you/we can visit before returning (flying back) to our modern, electronically connected lives in complex, energy-intensive cities. And how wild is too wild? There are lynx, wolves and bears roaming free in the Carpathians, a source of delight to the film-makers. But how would we feel about our children playing in forests there?

Don't get me wrong: I am a sucker for the simple peasant life, and I particularly enjoyed the city of Sighisoara, where the historic towers were once used by the guilds to defend the city against invading Turks. Attempts are being made to revive the guilds and to keep their skills alive. This is all music to the ears of an economist like me who writes about a 'bioregional economy'. It was also interesting to note that it was the capitalist era that saw the most serious destruction of Romania's patrimony and that the communist regime protected the country's heritage and its natural beauty.

But I have a sneaking feeling that there is a level of inconsistency here: are the film-makers suggesting that we should idealise this lifestyle from afar, or is there a proposal wrapped up in the soft focus and ethnic music that we should attempt to re-create a land-based, self-reliant and simple life in England's green and pleasant land? While we are being invited to admire the peasants it is also suggested that our 'slow tourism' visits are essential to support their continued existence, which feels akin to philanthropy for the globalisation age and leads me to question why some of the world's citizens are granted the bounty to be able to patronise others.

To propose a future based around provisioning based on your local land is to risk ridicule and derision. Yet simultaneously many idealise exactly this kind of society outside their own backyard. While technological advances mean that the bioregional vision will represent a backward step, or a backward existence, it will still require a great deal more physical work and considerably reduced mobility. I would argue - and do argue - that quality of life would be massively enhanced, but how many would choose this as their daily reality rather than their annual escape?

1 comment:

  1. To base a future around local provisioning should not risk ridicule - it is after all the only way we can cost effectively moderate causes & effects of climate change.

    Viable flood & drought control in steep catchments like those we enjoy in Stroud can only be effected by restoring hydraulic capacity here.

    A side benefit of this would be at least a doubling of agricultural productivity gains through irrigation - and enable large scale re-wilding of other redundant farmland.

    The factors presently preventing this in US were well described in 21 July NYT editorial ( http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/opinion/our-coming-food-crisis.html?pagewanted=1&ref=general&src=me&_r=4& ).

    “*... there are dozens of time-tested strategies that our best farmers and ranchers have begun to use. The problem is that several agribusiness advocacy organizations have done their best to block any federal effort to promote them, including leaving them out of the current farm bill, or of climate change legislation at all. ” “One strategy would be to promote the use of locally produced compost to increase the moisture-holding capacity of fields ...” “ ... we need to reduce the bureaucratic hurdles to using small- and medium-scale rainwater harvesting ... urban and rural food production can be greatly enhanced through proven techniques of harvesting rain and biologically filtering grey water ... ”.

    It is just the same here in UK - only corruption of policy by Environment Agency & Defra and at least incompetence by local planners prevents this.