we are the petrol generation

We are the petrochemical generation – our bodies are made of petroleum oil products.  Let me explain:

Crops are grown with artificial fertilizers, and artificial fertilizers are made from oil.  This was part of the Green Revolution implemented globally at the end of the 1970s.  The Green Revolution consisted of agricultural mechanization, irrigation, new seeds that have higher yields, and chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The Green Revolution was proclaimed as a human miracle to banish famines.  It has been promoted globally over the past 40 years to increase world food production.  However, warnings are now coming from scientists that soils only have 30 years left before, through degradation, they turn to dust.

In the 1970s famines struck various countries and the crisis showed that traditional agriculture could not feed the world’s population.  The solution was modern industrialized farming.  New synthetic chemicals were a big part of this revolution.

When I went to study sociology in 1981 only good things could be said about the Green Revolution.  Since I studied Third World sociology it was one of the main topics.

But no one saw the consequences of breaking the cycling of nutrients.  Traditionally nutrients passed from field to crops, to humans and animals, to using manure from animals and human settlements with no sewage systems to fertilize the fields ready for another year of planting.

It is now the case that fertilizers consisting of nitrates and phosphates are produced from crude oil, while waste laced with chemicals enters the sewage system and goes out to sea via rivers.  This is a one way system.  Growing our crops on artificial fertilizers means that we are now cut off from the farming cycle of putting back into the ground what came out of it.

Innovation allowed famines to cease in many parts of the world.  It has been a story of success.  But artificial fertilizers made from oil means that our own bodies are now made from petrochemicals.  This comes from the crops we consume and the domesticated animals fed on crops.

There has been a colossal increase in human population because the organic molecules of our bodies don’t come from a natural organic cycle, but from fossil fuels pumped up from underground.  We are the petrol generation whether eater of meat or fish, vegetarian or vegan. 

A certain number of people can live on organic food grown in a traditional or innovated way – which is a lot more healthy – but there isn’t enough surface area on planet earth to feed everyone that way.

Artificial fertilizers cause the soil to disintegrate over time.  Eventually soils, which before had organic content as humus, degenerate into dry dust.  Soils now have 30 years left in them.  This means we live on borrowed time – when agricultural land turns to dust, we will also return to dust.

what are the answers?

I’m not sure.  All I know is that all we have is now.

I think there are various levels in this:

The first level is choices that I can make that affect my own life and that of my immediate family in the immediate future.  For example, choosing a more healthy diet makes me feel better in myself right now.  Avoiding stuff that will bring my health down has immediate benefit for me and anyone I’m responsible for.

The second level is the ‘saving the planet’ level.  I have opted to get solar panels, heat pump and batteries so my house runs totally on renewable energy.  This makes me feel good, and when the sun shines I’m getting free energy which is great.  Government incentives – the FIT and RHI tariffs for renewable energy are a massive gain in comparison with putting your money in a savings account.  Thus, I ‘save the planet’ and gain financially at the same time – this has worked out well for me by ‘going all out’ on renewables.

There’s the third level of my immediate environment – the local river, the local canals, footpaths in the countryside and local woodlands.  The preservation of these natural amenities is beneficial to me and to everyone living locally walking there, and therefore a source of enjoyment that benefits everyone right now, especially during lockdown.

Then there’s frugality.  I can’t reduce my consumption because I don’t throw anything away in any case.  I eat all the food I buy by using a freezer to good effect, and from the fridge I always eat leftovers rehashed into something the next day while it is still fresh and inviting.  Frugality is great when it causes you to lose weight, spend less in the supermarket, and not have to think about what to eat the next day since there are some wonderful leftovers in the fridge you can eat.

What when frugality is about self-denial?  This fourth level is problematic.  People in the East are increasing their consumption of meat, while many in the West are going from being vegetarians to vegans.  My vegetarian phase lasted two days, and a vegan phase shows no sign of starting any time soon.  Some people are vegan on alternate meals and say its only the thought which counts.  I don’t think that virtue-signalling is going to save the planet.

The issue here is that one group of people are increasing their consumption of resources while another group of people are attempting to decrease their consumption of the same resources.  This is for ecological asceticism, a denial of personal well-being in order to serve a higher cause.  The cause, however, will be lost by the behaviour of the first group of people who do not sign up to this cause or these views.

What I think is that since vegetarians and vegans eat vegetables and cereal crops grown using chemicals, and these chemicals are polluting the environment, the result will be the same in the end.  Total self-sacrifice may just make no difference in the end.  It is only ever a percentage of people who have become ascetics throughout history, and never a high percentage.  This fact makes the end unobtainable.

‘Living simply that others may simply live’ is quite a joyful mode of living; total self-denial is something else, and usually very far from joyful.

In conclusion:

  • Making sensible choices concerning diet is wisdom and wisdom leads to life and health.
  • Life and health go together – nobody needs convincing of that – it is only the path to it that is difficult to discern concerning medications.
  • I feel a reverence for nature as it points to a greater reality that I perceive, but do not see, so I do my bit for the environment gladly and joyfully as a nature lover.

My message is: Tread lightly on the earth to keep it as our home and not our problem.

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