Columnist favours a reversal of urbanization and a return to rural, sustainable living. (Stock photo)

Columnist favours a reversal of urbanization and a return to rural, sustainable living. (Stock photo)

OPINION: Consumption levels are more than planet can bear

Food systems for the world’s most developed nation are broken, says columnist


Broken food systems are the core aspect of the much bigger issue of human impact since the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, followed by wider travel and communications, accelerated in the decades since the Second World War.

Travel and resource extraction followed by high-tech breakthroughs in communications were fuelled by energy from fossil fuels. Globalization brought growth in monetary activities, consumption and population. People became addicted to travel, acquisition of possessions and convenience in the global culture, which required increased mobility and divisions of labour as the interlocking systems grew into what ecologist Jason Bradford calls “the most extreme case of complex social organization in history.”

Why don’t we accept responsibility, individually and collectively, for our destructive global culture? Is it anything to do with our two ways of knowing – emotional and rational? We rationalize what we already ‘know’ by scientifically cherry-picking facts that fit what we want to know. Or are we biologically hard-wired to grow and consume until nature delivers disasters to reduce our numbers?

The Rockefeller Foundation has just released the report ‘The True Cost of Food,’ admitting that food systems for the world’s most developed nation are broken, leading to early deaths and environmental calamities. While it is interesting to know that the trillion dollars spent annually on food in the U.S. is only one-third of the true cost when health and ecological damages are factored in, the magnitudes of these numbers are beyond the comprehension of most of us.

What is more interesting are the conclusions that renewables cannot deliver what is already too much consumption for the planet to bear and that we must reverse urbanization and return to rural, sustainable living. This is huge. We limits-to-growthers have been have been scorned and laughed at for half a century and now it looks as though the tipping point from growth to de-growth is getting close.

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Sandy Irvine, in ‘Green Critique of a Green New Deal’ (and its Global Alliance for that – GAGND) says banking “just oils the wheels of a total economy that rests on primary production, manufacturing, transport and retail, all ultimately driven by consumer demand.” And further, that “The GAGND website ducks the really big issue. It is growth, growth in the number of people and growth in the economy.”

We can take effective action to help Generations Z and Alpha develop the knowledge and skills of sustainability and forget about envying the antics of billionaire dinosaurs. Or we can gamble that the future does not matter.

Bradford has already left academia for farming, in the belief that “We can rebuild the food system in ways that reflect energy, soils and climate realities, seeking opportunities to recover elements of past cultures that inhabited the Earth with grace. Something new will arise and in the evolution of what comes next, many may find what is often lacking in life today – the excitement of a profound challenge, meaning beyond the self, a deep sense of purpose and a commitment to place.”

Marjorie Stewart is past chairperson of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at

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