Dec 21, 2012

Those Mindless Ecological Measures

If you take a train or a car and travel across some European countries you will find some of the most odd things in the world. For miles and miles and miles large stretches of land will go endlessly before your eyes sown with very particular crops, such as corn and sunflower. It is indeed strange to think about corn in Salzburg, or exceedingly large sunflower plantations, so one goes wondering what could be going on, after all we all know that Hungarians don't live exclusively of sunflower seeds nor Austrians eat corn flour tortillas to everything. (I've written about this before, and in many, many occasions, so if you find it repetitive, it's not the same blogpost, but yes, you already heard me talk about it.) What comes to play in here are two economical approaches (one more of international trade, and another of ecological tones) that shape our national and international production in ways that are - in my personal opinion - all fucked up. (I promise this will be a rant, and not another boring economics post.)

On one hand we have a classical theory about something called "Comparative Advantage", championed by David Ricardo (you can google all that), according to which, each economy or nation or country... or whatever productive unit, should produce only what they are most efficient at producting, so that they can trade that with others and get more than if they would have produced everything by themselves. You go comparative when you decide to produce something your neighbours or trade mates aren't so efficient at doing even if you are better at doing something else, but they are even better at that same thing. Got that? Okay, quick explanation: say you make shoes and bags. You are very good at making bags, but even better at making shoes. Your neigbour sucks at bags, but surpass you at making shoes, SO even though you are better at shoes than bags, you drop shoes to make bags and leave your neightbour at makings only shoes. So, according to this, you should always choose to produce what in the end yields the most of money (because your neighbour is going to pay more for your bags than for your shoes).

Picture Googled
On the other side, after the numerous fossil fuel crisis we have had, and our evident dependence from them, bright green scientists came up with the idea of biofuels, which reduce our dependence from the highly contaminating fossil fuels and replace them for an environmentally healthier option: biofuel. We all know what biofuel is and what's the main ingredient for it right? Right. So, here we are, with countries around the world whipping off their lands their traditional produce, usually meant to feed their own population and export the excedent (way back in fairytale history, when we all lived in a Golden Age and the world was perfect), and instead go on sowing crops that are not indigenous and that are not meant necessarily for their consumption. Corn and sunflower are today's oilfields. And actually, you don't have to build drills and pits, nor look for expensive studies to see if you can find oil under the soil, because all you need it to sow the fuelseeds, water them and then harvest them.

Theoretically this will yield much more money, than keeping livestock or sowing wheat or veggies or whatever was usually grown on those lands, and from which the farmer and their family could support themselves with. In theory, now they need not to produce what they eat, because they can buy it much cheaper from other countries who are better at producing that. Risk is also supposed to be lower as if one producer fails for whatever reason, the global network will be quick in providing you with the produce of the next best producer of the same product. How would there be other countries producing the exact same thing as others instead of what they are best at? Sure they have this theory of "country blocks" where they are all equally good at the same thing and so produce it and sell it equally to all the others.

So yes, this is so far so good, so what the hell is my problem? Not much, except that it's all bullshit and it has been proven in real life to be the worse possible way to go. Why? Let me break this down from both ends that support this lunacy.

1. Competitive Advantage my Ass

Probably the big industrialized countries don't remember or don't even know much about it or don't even care, but there have been through history many countries that have specialized so much in the production of one single good that they became very sensitive of any market change for it. Pick any case from your part of the world, I'm sure you are surrounded by many similar examples. The closest example for me is coffee.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love coffee, and I happen to live in a country that produces one of the best coffeebeans in the world - or so we are told. Also, coffee is a product that's loved and needed world wide. It's used not only as the coffee beverage we know - hot and cold, black, tall, American or Frappuccined - but also in the medical industry to make some meds, and also by my beloved Coca-Cola Company, as part of the Coke. In Costa Rican history, actually what helped pull Costa Rica out of poverty (all the way to about mic XIXth century, Costa Rica was the poorest country of Central America. Currently we are second only to Panama) was coffee. The production of it helped the country get the money it needed to start developing and investing in infrastructure, culture, education and what not. Hm, but not everything was rosy, for as expected, soon some families rose over others and oligopolies were formed. There were class issues and so on, and the country would have sweeped under the rug the fact that a tiny part of the country was getting uber rich while the rest was sinking in poverty if not because  those rich people got hit when the high dependence on coffee made them vulnerable to any fluctuation of the price. If the price rose they were rich, if the price plumeted, they were in bankrupcy. and guess what happens when there's a lot of product out there in the market? Uhum, you get the general picture.

So once the big rich realized that coffee was going to sunk them among the poors they have exploited, they realized that focusing so much on one product wasn't good. Monocultives weren't good. So came back the diversifying of the crops.

So yes, even in good conditions - and given that big, industrialized economies just looove to gamble with products (they call it, "investing" and "futures" and whatnots that brokers do, which kind of fucked up the global economy a few years ago) - when you go concentrated on one thing, you may end up loosing more than what you would have if you would have produced different things. However, then, it also happens that you will find bad conditions. Your suppliers don't produce with the quality checks you'd expect, or they loose their crops, or there's a war, or even something as simple as the transportation costs becoming prohibitive, or even the breaking of a strike. Maybe your whole country gets isolated for some reason, do you expect to feel and cloth your whole nation with corn or sunflower? By pushing this agenda, you may think that you ensure yourself against the production problems your country may have - floods, wars, draughts, etc. - but what you are actually doing is exposing yourself to the potential productive problems of the whole planet.

It's funny how we are supposed to be the ones "not developed yet", and yet the industrialized, the developed countries are making now the same mistakes we made in the past. Man, you's stupid!

2. Environmentally Friendly

The second and last reason for this crap is the "environmental bullshit". Now, of course I agree that the environment must be protected from the massive destruction we deal upon it, but that's not a carte blanche to then go abusing of people. These solutions that are pushed forward seem to work one way only: "you will get profit by hurting someone, who do you choose to hurt?". It's stupid to think that biofuel is the solution to our problems, as anyone with a bit of working brain can tell you that popularizing that will only mean that you'll end up taking the food away from the poor so that the rich can fill their tank. Cars become more important than people. With the introduction of biofuels less food is produced, because now cars eat too. I wonder if there's any measure of the acres of forest being cut down to turn the land into farming land for more biofuel. So again, how's this working? Other than chopping part of the income from the fossil fuel extracting countries and redirecting that income to other countries, of course.

This environmental crap is being dished freely all over the world with lame ass reasoning. Airlines have decided to go environmental too by using a new type of fuel made out of "forest waste". Now, I'm not a biologist or anything, but do explain to me what the hell is "forest waste"? As far as I knew everything in nature has a purpose and the cycles are always perfect anc complete. What dies becomes the nurture of what lives, and nothing is wasted. However airlines found "forest waste" and decided to use it. As you can expect it, soon there will be forests ripped out to feed airplanes, because those weren't forests, but "forest waste", and that's okay and environmentally friendly.

People, lets get serious: when you'll do something for nature or for the environment, remember that people are part of the environment too. You can't expect to protect by robbing the livelihood of others. You can't ignore the poor because "they are poor anyways, so there will be no difference" because it's not you and yes, there will be a difference. There's a difference between having one cup of rice a day as sole intake of food, and no rice at all. There's a difference between being able to fish some or hunt some, or sow some and sell the product to be able to bring home some food, and having nothing to sell, nothing from which make a living and going to the streets to beg and steal. It's very easy to put on your PETA or Greenpeace or Leaping Bunny shirt and claim to protect nature and animals, and forget that you are with this endorsing the exploiting of human beings in a disadvantaged situation.

Yes, animal cruelty must be stopped, the destruction of the environment must be stopped, but not by shifting this damage onto our own siblings. I won't choose human cruelty over animal cruelty, not human destruction over environmental destruction, I prefer RATIONALITY. However this one, sadly, entails that the heat would be taken by the rich and the exhorbitant profit of their businesses.

And, you, who do you prefer to see suffering?

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