My generation has done a terrible job of living on this planet.

Collectively, we have created no end of enormous problems – social, environmental and economic. It was this that caused me to get involved in politics, and the consequences to future generations of our mismanagement remains my political inspiration today.

We talk of global climate change as a “problem”, but more accurately it is the symptom of a deeper and larger problem – our collective choice to pursue unlimited economic growth on a finite planet. Insatiable greed and short-sightedness are the problem, and one of the symptoms of those attitudes is climate change. There are countless other examples of the current challenges we are facing that are the result of a misguided set of priorities and values.

This week there was a fish kill on PEI. We call them fish kills because whatever causes the sudden mass mortality is made visible by the hundreds of dead fish which suddenly appear. But other aquatic life forms – insects, amphibians, invertebrates etc – while perhaps not as obvious as the brook trout, are just as dead. River kill is a much more accurate description of such events.

But these regular and catastrophic incidents (there have been 51 “fish kills” since 1962 on PEI which have been proven or suspected to be caused by pesticides) are really only symptoms of a deeper problem.  That problem is the way we farm. This isn’t just a PEI problem, it is something which is happening all over the world where industrial agriculture has risen to prominence. The unavoidable consequences of the type of farming we have embraced on PEI are many – increased erosion, decreased organic matter, and contamination of surface and groundwater to name a few. Although we have been farming PEI for many generations, the type of agriculture that has come to dominate our Island is a relatively recent event.

Many highly sophisticated and successful civilizations have come to a crashing halt because they failed to take care of their soil (Ronald Wright discussed the examples of Rome, Sumer, Maya, and Easter Island, among others, in the 2010 CBC Massey Lecture A Short History of Progress; audio). We need to treat soil as a finite, non-renewable resource. This is especially true here on the Island where our topsoil is thin and friable. We have “gotten away” with the loss of topsoil that the Island has endured in recent years only by pumping more chemical fertilizers to sustain yields. The soil has become little more than a medium for growing chemical-dependent crops. But healthy soil is a living organism. It has been said by some more traditional farmers that they are not just growing crops, they are growing soil.

And when our pesticide-contaminated soil ends up in streams, we are not only losing arguably our most precious resource, we are ruining our watercourses in the process. And that’s a problem – or more accurately that’s a symptom of a problem. It is not useful to attach blame for why we are where we are, but it is absolutely necessary that we acknowledge the unavoidable problems created by the system of agriculture we use. It is equally necessary that we develop a vision of how we can grow our food differently, and how we can support Island farmers in getting from here to there. Next time I will talk about what options we have to support Island farmers in a transition to a more sustainable way of growing our food.

-Peter

 

10 Comments

  1. RON 3 August 2016 at 5:11 pm

    Your words are a breath of fresh air too bad Wade and his boys won’t do something

     
  2. Michele Kazakos 3 August 2016 at 7:34 pm

    correction re: author of A Short History of Progress is. Ronald Wright , not Robin…oops

     
  3. Connie Doucette 3 August 2016 at 7:35 pm

    God, how I wish you were not only our Premier, but our Prime Minister as well! You seem to have the most important things in the top of your list…. The environment, our health. Once that’s gone, pardon my language, we’re screwed.

     
  4. fred schueler 3 August 2016 at 9:25 pm

    we need communiites that don’t leak nutrients from sewage or agriculture into their streams – http://pinicola.ca/nutrfws.pdf – “net ombrothrophy”

     
  5. irwinjudson 4 August 2016 at 6:18 am

    Besides the environmental costs Peter points out, erosion of farmland has so many economic costs: irreplaceable loss of the basic resource for the farmer’s production; loss of downstream recreational fisheries and the cost of remediation; and my own sphere of interest – the catastrophic loss of oyster beds and general shellfish productivity in the estuaries.

    Peter, I wish you great success!

     
  6. Bill Kays 4 August 2016 at 7:41 am

    I am always bothered when a politician states “It is not useful to attach blame for why we are where we are, but it is absolutely necessary that we acknowledge the unavoidable problems created by the system of agriculture we use”. Without the ‘attachment of blame’ how might we hold our farmers accountable, our agri-systems accountable, or our elected government servants accountable, both past and present. I look forward to the next blog regarding the vision for transitioning farmers to different agri-systems and practices.

     
  7. david weale 4 August 2016 at 9:39 am

    Spot on Peter…finally, a big picture politician…something we haven’t had in this province for a very long time, and something we urgently need.

     
  8. Jean 4 August 2016 at 10:33 am

    Excellent, Peter. Thank you for having the courage to write what many of us believe. Good luck with getting other politicians to listen to your wisdom. Know that you have support from Islanders behind you.

     
  9. P. John Burden 4 August 2016 at 8:11 pm

    TY Peter –
    a breath of fresh air amidst the stench of corruption.
    Keep on truckin’!!
    – john

     
  10. Barry Bigger 10 August 2016 at 10:33 am

    Five stars Peter, Mr. Weale hit the nail on the head. The latest RIVER KILL is/was caused by extremely high levels of nitrates clogging our estuaries providing a great growing situation for species such as sea lettuce. I believe it is critical that we educate people not only about the pesticide damage but also about the tons of nitrates filtering into our waterways. I also believe pointing fingers at the farmers is counterproductive for all stake holders. Instead let’s have a hard look at the multinationals who are holding all of us hostage. For example Irving threatening to pack up and move elsewhere if he didn’t get the deep water wells; they will do it anyway once they find a cheaper sandbox – as did the McCain interests here and in Carleton Co. NB.

     

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