By Peter Bevan-Baker (commentary)
Dr. Peter Bevan-Baker
If you have been promoting green ideas for a quarter of a century, as I have, you almost expect your warnings of imminent crisis to be politely ignored or gently ridiculed. Such was the case last week when Darcie Lanthier and I made a presentation to the standing committee which is receiving submissions on the high capacity well issue.
It is clear that this matter has struck a chord with Islanders who fear for the safety of their water, but this issue goes much, much deeper than the underground aquifer at the centre of the debate. Prince Edward Island is on the cusp of an important decision: one that will shape the agricultural, social and economic future of our province. For many decades, when it comes to agriculture, P.E.I. has followed the conventional industrial pattern of consolidation, monoculture, dependence on fossil-fuel inputs and competing in a global market place. Successive Island governments have welcomed, aided and abetted this model, embracing the economic activity and jobs which flowed from it. But we have also paid a high price. Rural Prince Edward Island has been decimated, farmers bankrupted, farmland damaged, drinking water contaminated, rivers and estuaries spoiled, and Islanders’ health compromised. Somehow we have accepted all these problems as a tolerable cost of doing business. But for how much longer should, or even can we do this?
We have other options: choices which promise not only to reverse the ills of the current model but which will forge a future for P.E.I. which is safe, prosperous and sustainable. Proponents of the industrial model like to talk about how it is such a sophisticated approach to food production. The Federation of Agriculture repeatedly talked about conventional agriculture as not simply the only hope to grow food for an expanding population, but also the most precise, efficient, refined approach. On both counts they are absolutely wrong. Growing more Russet Burbanks of consistent size has nothing to do with feeding the world, and everything to do with feeding a voracious corporate master that cares nothing for the land from which their product comes, nor the well-being of those who provide it for minimal return. And there is nothing sophisticated about planting a single variety of crop over thousands of acres and then continuously dousing it in chemical-based fertilizers and pesticides so that it survives to maturity. Real sophistication in agriculture comes from developing systems over hundreds of generations that work with nature, not war against it; building up soil health; planting multiple varieties of different crops in long rotations; practising mixed farming using natural, home-grown inputs; and producing high-quality, safe, nutritious food.
In our presentation, we cited several global systems which are showing signs of overwhelming stress energy, water and food supplies, and climatic and economic stability. If any one of these parts of our human support system were to collapse, we are in deep trouble. Following our submission, there was not one question from any committee member related to this central part of our presentation. As I said, you get used to being ignored. Less than a week later, a report commissioned by NASA, based on concerns in exactly the same areas as Darcie and I had highlighted, stated the following: “closely reflecting the reality of the world today... we find that collapse is difficult to avoid." It is less easy for members of the standing committee and Islanders in general to ignore these sorts of warnings when they come from institutions such as NASA, and writers like Jared Diamond, whose book “Collapse; How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” written in 2005 predicted many of our current day problems.
P.E.I. has an enviable opportunity: to be ahead of the rest of the world, and to embrace a future that will provide us with more jobs, more prosperity, better products and rejuvenated rural communities. This is about more than water, it is about choosing the future of our province we prefer; one that will succeed.
- Peter Bevan-Baker is leader of the Green Party of P.E.I.