We live – also in the time of Covid19 – in a beautiful world. In a world of luxury.
And we, at least we Europeans, can afford to waste luxuriously – and we do.
For example, we use our valuable fertile soil, which many parts of the world envy us for, to fuel our cars. It is nothing but luxurious waste if, for the purpose of agricultural profit optimization, we grow rapeseed for the production of organic diesel on the one hand and do not use enough agricultural land for a species-appropriate meat production on the other.
Covid19, some say, is also a time of change. A time after which the world will no longer be what it was.
But sometimes I feel that we humans are waiting for these permanent changes to drop from the sky. And that, in the context of this lasting change, the solution to some of our luxury problems will also drop from the sky. Besides the agricultural luxury problem described above, we have several other similar (luxury) problems.
I would say, for example, that one of our central (luxury) problems is that we always and everywhere consider the optimization of profit as the only goal that must be absolutely achieved and that all others are secondary and optional.
And, if I accept this Covid19 time as a time of change: who is currently working on pragmatic, sustainable solutions to our central problems? Covid, “the virus”, will not solve the problems for us. The virus neither solves the world’ s food problem nor does it reverse climate change.
No, as much as we perhaps crave for a time of change, we have to drive this change on ourselves.
We are the ones who must now push forward pragmatic solutions and changes. Otherwise, if at some point something like a normal life will be possible again, exactly the same normality will return after Covid19 as before Covid19 – without the much-mentioned change.
For example, when I return to the agricultural problem described at the beginning, the first thing I notice is that those who cause it by optimizing their profits do not see it as a problem at all, but as a solution. For some farmers, it is very much a solution to their economic (possibly self-inflicted) problems if they use their land for BioDiesel and BioGas production. The fact that they use land that is valuable for food production is of secondary importance to them.
A solution to the higher-level problem of land lost for food production, which is not a priority for individual farmers, could be to return this land to food production.
It would be pragmatic to adapt already existing solutions. For example, CO2 emissions trading could help. To put it simply, CO2 emissions trading works in such a way that I transfer 100,- to my neighbor and in return I am allowed to mispark 5 times a year free of charge.
Regardless of the fact that I consider emissions trading to be a relict of old times, it could be used, so to speak by copy&paste, to solve the land problem of agriculture:
If I assume that the percentage of land that is currently used for BioDiesel (e.g. rapeseed) and biogas production (e.g. maize) is about 15% (in Germany this was 2.7 million hectares in 2018), a first step could be a reduction to 5%.
In a first step, copied from the emissions trading system, every farmer receives “area certificates” for the agricultural land he uses and a legal requirement to use at least 95% of his land for the cultivation and production of food.
If he cannot do this (because he is focusing almost entirely on energy generation in his land use), he has to buy corresponding area certificates from other farmers who exceed the 95% limit, which is also copied from emissions trading. If he cannot do this (because he needs much more land use certificates than are available on the market), he must pay a fee for each hectare, which is so high that it will nip any attempt to optimize profits in the bud.
In the mid-term, this “land trade” would bring the proportion of agricultural land not used for food production closer to the 5% target. By the way, I would like to mention that the use of land is not subject to exclusivity. There are already plants that are primarily used for food production but which can also be used for energy production. Allowing a combination of uses, so to speak. If one would introduce the “area trade”, I am sure, more of these plants would be developed quite fast. This in turn would increase the multiple use, which would bring us closer to an optimal use of our agricultural land as a whole.
The principle of emissions trading could also be used to increase the sustainability of food production. In short, a first step would be to establish common criteria for sustainable agriculture – in other words, to define a basic, widely valid organic label. The second step would be to define the percentage that each farmer must farm sustainably. And in the third step, we allow the exchange of land certificates as in the example above.
When I imagine how agriculture and the energy industry will react to this, in my opinion, practical proposal, it is hard to imagine how quickly potential, sometimes outrageous, objections will come to my mind.
But this is also very important if we want this time to be a time of sustainable change for us: We have to stop trying to please everyone. We will not manage that anyway.
Instead, whenever we try to do so, the individual with his or her individual interests, possibly represented by a reasonably strong representation of interests, is pushed into the foreground and the overriding problem into the background. If we try to please everyone, we always end up at one point: the optimization of the individual’s profit. And as long as we know this as the only goal to be achieved, we do not solve the higher-level problems and do not start a sustainable change.
This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)