Category — Desrochers, Pierre
“By concentrating the growing of crops in ever more suitable locations, hydrocarbon-powered long distance trade not only maximized output and drastically lowered prices, but also significantly reduced the environmental impact of agriculture.”
“Turning our back on the global food supply chain and, in the process, reducing the quantity of food produced in the most suitable locations will inevitably result in larger amounts of inferior land being put under cultivation, the outcome of which can only be less output and greater environmental damage.”
An article of faith among local food activists is that modern industrial agriculture damages the environmental more than decentralized food systems. The article of faith is that concentrated impacts are worse than multiple, smaller operations–negative environmental scale economies, as it were.
This belief is erroneous, creating a gulf between (good) intentions and result. The low-productivity practices now advocated by locavores, ironically, are the very ones that previous generations of environmental activists blamed for deforestation, massive soil erosion, depletion and compaction, and outright ecological collapse.
Agricultural Alarmism Historically Considered
In an often quoted passage, Plato complained that Athens’ hinterland hills–once “covered with soil,” the plains “full of rich earth,” and the mountains displaying an “abundance of wood”–could now “only afford sustenance to bees.” Like the decline of small islands, Athens’s “richer and softer parts of the soil [had] fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land … left.” 
Even though some scholars now suggest that the Greek philosopher was exaggerating to make a point,  fears of widespread land mismanagement and irremediable top soil losses recurred from then on.
In the 1939 classic, The Rape of the Earth: A World Survey of Soil Erosion,  for example, British writers Graham Vernon Jacks and Robert Orr Whyte argued that “as the result solely of human mismanagement, the soils upon which men have attempted to found new civilizations are disappearing, washed away by water and blown away by wind.” [Read more →]
July 18, 2013 5 Comments
“The diversification of our food supply sources via cost-effective and large-scale, long-distance transportation is one of the great unappreciated wonders of our age…. [T]he best way to improve the security of humanity’s food supply is to press forward with specialized large-scale production in the world’s most suitable locations, backed up with ever more scientific research and greater reliance on (for the foreseeable future), carbon fuel-powered long-distance trade.”
In a speech delivered in 1875, the Australian entrepreneur Thomas Sutcliffe Mort observed that the advent of the railroad, the steamship, and artificial refrigeration had paved the way to a new age where the
- “various portions of the earth will each give forth their products for the use of each and of all,”
- “over-abundance of one country will make up for the deficiency of another,” and
- “superabundance of the year of plenty… for the scant harvest of its successor.”
Humanity’s long history of famine and chronic malnutrition, he pondered, had not so much been the result of God’s not having provided enough and to spare, but rather the unavoidable consequence of the fact that “where the food is, the people are not; and where the people are, the food is not.” It was now, he observed, “within the power of man to adjust these things.” 
“Foodsheds”: A Recent Lesson
The prosperous age forecasted by Mort soon came to be and even the specter of famine soon disappeared from the collective memory of the citizens of advanced economies. [Read more →]
February 22, 2013 7 Comments
The Globavore’s Achievement — A Review of ‘The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet’
“When reading this book, I had two feelings that I often have when reading Desrochers and Shimizu’s work–’Why was I never taught this?’ and ‘Everybody need to know this!’ …. The Locavore’s Dilemma will give you an appreciation of the unappreciated glory that is capitalist agriculture, which is responsible for the fact that you are alive, will live a long time, and in greater health than nearly anyone in history.”
One reason why the modern Green movement has won Americans’ hearts and minds, even as it advocates anti-development, anti-capitalist policies, is that the advocates of capitalism have spent too little time explaining, in vivid detail, the staggering improvements to human life that capitalism, and only capitalism, brings.
Advocates of capitalism have too often played defense, allowing anti-capitalists to control the debate: the anti-capitalists blame every problem (or pseudo-problem) under the sun on capitalism, and the pro-capitalist painstakingly refutes the charges point-by-point.
This is a futile strategy, because its best-case scenario is that observers hold the absence of a negative view about capitalism.
But why not make the positive case? Why not showcase the amazingly positive nature of capitalism, both its ingenious inner-workings and its glorious results?
If we frame the debate on our terms, the anti-capitalist side clearly gets exposed for what it is–an anti-freedom movement that seeks to interfere with and expropriate individuals whose lives would be much better without the anti-capitalists’ coercion.
Taking a positive approach to defending capitalism is one of the chief virtues of Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu’s must-read The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet.
July 16, 2012 6 Comments
Pierre Desrochers is a scholar’s scholar. His prolific research, writing, and teaching facilitate our own research and learning. His reference and use of some of our work is a vindication of sorts.
I recently encountered Professor Desrochers syllabus for Energy and Society, a course that he is currently teaching at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Wow! Lucky are his students; this course is a model for its subject for North American and far beyond.
Desrochers sets out three main objectives for this course:
• To cover the basic physical, technical and economic issues related to energy use;
• To cover broadly the history of energy development and use;
• To introduce students to past debates and current controversies.
He describes the course as follows:
The development of new energy sources has had a major impact on the development of both human societies and the environment. This course will provide a broad survey of past and current achievements, along with failures and controversies, regarding the use of various forms of energy.
Understanding of technical terms, physical principles, creation of resources and trade-offs will be emphasized as a basis for discussions about energy options. The local and global dimensions of the economics and politics surrounding the world’s energy resources will be recurring concerns in this course.
The lecture titles and readings follow. [Read more →]
October 7, 2011 1 Comment