Friday, December 06, 2019

World Soil Day.

Thursday, the 5th, was World Soil Day.

Soil erosion is a growing threat and one that has the potential to impact the entire world. Soil erosion poses a threat to the environment. While it occurs naturally, soil erosion has been on the rise as a result of what the FAO calls "unsustainable" agricultural practices and "improper" land-use changes such as deforestation.

In Malawi, for example, soil erosion shaved between 0.6 and 2.1 percent off the country's gross domestic product (GDP), according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Such a reduction in GDP is particularly painful for the low-income country. World Bank data shows per capita income in the African nation was roughly $389.40 in 2018 in comparision to the United States, where per capita income topped more than $62,641 in 2018, according to the World Bank. 
"Degraded soil is no longer a source of income for farmers," Ronald Vargas, a soil scientist and the secretary of the FAO's Global Soil Partnership, told Al Jazeera. "Because of this, they then need to find alternatives such as migrating to cities." Soil degradation, Vargas explains, is "a cause for rural poverty and triggers migration". At the same time, he adds, "food security, adaptation and mitigation, and even sustainable development is severely affected" by the problem.
According to the FAO, the world's cultivated soils - meaning soils that have been rearranged - have lost between 25 and 75 percent of their original carbon stock, which has been released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. The agency says this is mainly due to unsustainable land management practices such as overpumping groundwater into soil and improper plowing - and that such land degradation lowers a soil's ability to maintain and store carbon, in turn contributing to climate change. The FAO is imploring stakeholders - especially the largest greenhouse gas emitters - to not only practise sustainable soil management (such as mulching and covering crops to protect the soil's surface), but to also practice more sound environmental policies.
There are many who are surprised by the attention that Marx and Engels gave to the environment, in particular, farming and the fertility of the soil. Many neglect the environmentalist Marx but he understood how nature was central to economics. He argued that the nutrients of the soil were sent to cities in the form of agricultural produce, but these same nutrients, in the form of human and animal waste, were not returned to the land. Thus there was a one-way movement, a "robbing of the soil" in order to maintain the socio-economic reproduction of society. Marx thus linked the crisis of pollution in cities with the crisis of soil depletion. The rift was a result of the antagonistic separation of town and country, and the social-ecological relations of production created by capitalism were ultimately unsustainable.

“Capitalist production collects the population together in great centres, and causes the urban population to achieve an ever-growing preponderance. This has two results. On the one hand it concentrates the historical motive force of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e. it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil...But by destroying the circumstances surrounding that compels its systematic restoration as a regulative law of social production, and in a form adequate to the full development of the human race...All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress toward ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility...Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker.” - Capital, volume 1, on "Large-scale Industry and Agriculture"

In practical terms Marx talks about the sewage and pollution of London and the inability of capitalism to transform this into fertiliser.

“In London...they can do nothing better with the excrement produced by 4.5 million people than pollute the Thames with it, at monstrous expense". Capital volume 3

 Marx  emphasised it was both necessary and possible to rationally govern human relationships with nature, but this was something "completely beyond the capabilities of bourgeois society." In a future society of freely associated producers, however, humans could govern their relations with nature via collective control, rather than through the blind power of market relations. There was a need for planning and measures to address the division of labor and population between town and country and for the restoration and improvement of the soil. Marx’s asserted that a concept of ecological sustainability was of very limited practical relevance to capitalist society as it was incapable of applying rational scientific methods and social planning due to the pressures of competition.

Engels wrote in The Housing Question:

“The abolition of the antithesis between town and country is no more and no less utopian than the abolition of the antithesis between capitalists and wage-workers. From day to day it is becoming more and more a practical demand of both industrial and agricultural production. No one has demanded this more energetically than Liebig in his writings on the chemistry of agriculture, in which his first demand has always been that man shall give back to the land what he receives from it, and in which he proves that only the existence of the towns, and in particular the big towns, prevents this. When one observes how here in London alone a greater quantity of manure than is produced in the whole kingdom of Saxony is poured away every day into the sea with an expenditure of enormous sums, and what colossal structures are necessary in order to prevent this manure from poisoning the whole of London, then the utopia of abolishing the distinction between town and country is given a remarkably practical basis.”

Land in capitalism is a commodity as Engels explains:
 “To make earth an object of huckstering — the earth which is our one and all, the first condition of our existence — was the last step towards making oneself an object of huckstering. It was and is to this very day an immorality surpassed only by the immorality of self-alienation. And the original appropriation — the monopolization of the earth by a few, the exclusion of the rest from that which is the condition of their life — yields nothing in immorality to the subsequent huckstering of the earth.” - Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy

 As he also pointed out elsewhere this drive for profit can lead to ecological catastrophe:
“ What cared the Spanish planters in Cuba, who burned down forests on the slopes of the mountains and obtained from the ashes sufficient fertilizer for one generation of very highly profitable coffee trees--what cared they that the heavy tropical rainfall afterwards washed away the unprotected upper stratum of the soil, leaving behind only bare rock!”

Marx offers a vision of the nature of a future society in Capital, Volume 3
“From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation or all simultaneously existing societies taken together are not owners of the earth, they are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations, as boni patres familias [good heads of households].”

Socialists thus demand the abolition of the capitalist relations of production so that the problem of natural limits can be managed without aggravating ecological disruptions. The moral of the tale is that the capitalist system runs counter to a rational agriculture, or that a rational agriculture is incompatible with the capitalist system. What was required was the “the control of the associated producer” and “the land as permanent communal property, as the inalienable condition for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generations.”

The capitalist does not primarily take into account the ecological sustainability but aims to maximize profits, which leads to a wasteful or irrational cultivation of the soil.

"The property in the soil is the original source of all wealth" - Marx

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