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Green Lipstick On A Europig

Each year, the EU spends $75 billion on farm subsidies, fully two fifths of the EU’s annual budget. Considering the economic turmoil already consuming Europe, this year’s debate over agricultural subsidies promises to be entertaining, especially as greens start shouting for environmental restrictions on farming. The WSJ reported yesterday:

The [European] commission also wants to make a third of direct payments contingent on farmers following new rules on protecting the environment. Among them are proposed obligations to set aside at least 7% of arable land to “ecological focus areas,” such as forests or buffer strips, and to grow at least three different crops at any one time.

Some critics said the 7% rule risked being largely symbolic because it would keep subsidy money flowing to farmers…

Green lobbies are usually not strong enough to get what they want without help; the classic green strategy is to team up with some commercial interest that stands to benefit from some kind of regulation or subsidy.  The politics of ethanol in the US is a classic example.  The green lobby couldn’t get alternative fuel policies without allies; farmers couldn’t get more corn subsidies without the help of the greens.

The push for cap and trade carbon regimes and carbon permit markets is supported not just by starry eyed green activists but by a range of financial and industrial interests who see profits ahead.

So far, so normal.  But the problem for greens is that when it comes to actual policy design, the pure greens are usually weaker and often less canny than their commercial allies.  Again, there is ethanol: by the time the farm lobby was finished, it was a monstrosity that starved the poor and on balance added carbon to the atmosphere.  The environmental movement had let itself be reduced to a smear of green lipstick on an Iowa pig.

This happens over and over and, judging from the EU debate, it is happening again.  The green label on a policy is popular enough that by invoking it farmers can get more money out of the taxpayers, but farmers are not willing to make any sacrifices of profitability or flexibility in order to get the dough.  Greens are too weak and/or unclever to counter the farm lobby, so yet another pig waddles to the feeding trough with a nice coat of organic green gloss on its moist and tender lips.

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  • Corlyss

    “The push for cap and trade carbon regimes and carbon permit markets is supported not just by starry eyed green activists but by a range of financial and industrial interests who see profits ahead.”

    That is precisely why I have said for 2 years that the science, or lack thereof, in AGW is totally irrelevant. You could have 10 Climategates, 100, or 1000. You could have scientists in the millions come forward to admit they cooked their research books till the turn of the next millinneum. It will not stop the criminal government expendatures of vast sums going to pet AGW scientists, foundations, etc.

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    The dilemma confronting a more ecological agriculture is primarily mental and emotional, not technical. I say that as an agronomist who farms for a living. Two different farmers in Iowa provide an illustrative vignette:

    One said, “You know, the biggest weed problem I have is down at the coffee shop.” — IOW his colleagues talk about the weeds in his fields, but he then added that he kept his bank accounts about four towns away, nodded, and said “So the neighbors don’t know how much a few weeds ADD to my bottom line.”

    The other, when encouraged to add alfalfa to his rotation — which plenty of research shows is a path to a better bottom line — sputtered in frustration “But real farmers don’t grow HAY, dammit!”

    A third, major, problem is that most farmers are over-equipped, and therefore over-indebted. Many buy brand new equipment they don’t really need in order to use depreciation thereof to eliminate income tax. The resulting debt burden, however, forces them into ever-more intense production techniques and concomitant abuse of the land and its associated support systems.

    The tendency of greens, most of whom don’t even know which end of the bull […] goes into the cow, is therefore to REGULATE a more ecological approach.

    Yet because they really don’t understand practical farming they propose over-arching solutions that do not address the true underlying problems and therefore treat only passing symptoms.

    My current operation already surpasses (by quite a bit) the proposed norms for Europe. I do it because it makes this particular farm more productive and more profitable. I rarely use even the organic-certifiable insecticides because such a diverse system not only leads to healthy, robust, pest-resistant crops, but because it supports a massive and aggressive community of beneficial insects and micro-organisms.

    The real problems arrive when urban eggheads notice the success of a system such as mine and assume it ought to be normative.

    What should be merely de-scriptive thus becomes PRE-scriptive, but from their perspective that’s a good thing because it give rise to ever-deeper levels of bureaucracy, consultants, inspectors, and grants, all of which tend to provide a steady income stream to a bunch of over-educated idiots who’d have trouble finding jobs in the real economy.

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