A Michigan retailer promotes its “organic” foods as “products grown from the Earth the way Mother Nature intended.” Let’s hope not.
The 21st century has stamped itself as a fantastic era, that is, an Era of Fantasy. Energy policy is famous for having the substance of pipe dreams, relentlessly propounding the fable that a modern civilization can be powered by the erratic idiosyncrasies of so-called “clean energy.” Now food production is being wrapped in the same garb of romantic fiction.
The Granholm administration has held out the figment leaf of “green” energy as essential to the state’s future gale-force prosperity. Yet its policy restricting expansion of coal-fired electricity has its best odds of succeeding only if the state remains in the economic doldrums. Instead, alternatives like wind and solar are hyped as viable substitutes even for Michigan. That is, our state’s energy future will rest on the twin pillars of unreliability and inefficiency.
It’s difficult to take wind-based electricity generation seriously. It has to be propped up by billions of dollars of public tax incentives. The megawattage of particular projects is publicized by suspect figures since most of the time wind power’s delivery is zero. Critic Robert Bryce in “Gusher of Lies — The Dangerous Delusions of ‘Energy Independence’” describes wind power’s best-case contribution to overall electricity production as so negligible as to be “only a rounding error.”
The departing administration’s ardor has blown hot not only for wind turbines but also for “advanced batteries” and electric vehicles, even though the potential markets remain at best a robust guess. Our ancestors abandoned electric automobiles, as they did wind energy, as soon as a superior alternative was available. The state has allocated multi-million-dollar funding to the debt-ridden battery sector under the much-applauded investment principle that risk is better tolerated when the money involved is public rather than private. The mirage behind this pay-out is “green jobs.” The shimmering dissipates under the enlightenment that plug-in electric vehicles in real-world Michigan will be energized by coal (demonized for being dirty) and nuclear power (demonized for being nuclear power) mediated through the inefficient medium of the battery. All the electric vehicles are snugly plugged in for their nightly recharge, and the winds are still. “Green” means keeping the coal shovel ready for its job.
Bryce quotes from Robert Heinlein as his book’s theme: “What are the facts? Again and again and again — what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking . . .” That advice applies to food production as well as energy issues.
The intentions of “Mother Nature” are anything but benign. Humans may consider certain plants as foods, but in the natural world they are merely impersonal vegetation. They function as hosts for insects, bacteria, fungi and viruses, which from a human standpoint ruin everything they touch. If you have a strong stomach, visit a pest-control website sometime for photos of unchecked natural damage to crops like corn or tomatoes or potatoes. But don’t do so before dinner.
To use a current buzzword, a food crop is merely part of an ecosystem, a complex of biological relationships. Agriculture is the destruction of natural ecosystems, for which we may be grateful.
Our forebears had few tools to limit the natural blighting of food crops and were content with the leftovers after the non-human competitors finished their work. Two generations ago an old quandary was still getting a chuckle: “In biting into an apple, would you rather find half a worm or a whole worm?” Now growers can keep wormy larvae largely at bay, and the bewildered answer to the question is “Why would you find a worm in an apple?”
That’s a testimony to the great advances we take for granted in modern agriculture. Mother Nature’s malign intentions have been thwarted. We have bounties of food as a result.
It’s sobering to remember that in the 1840s all farming was “organic.” In Ireland a fungus-like organism got into the potato crops and swept through like a plague, leaving plant death — and ultimately human death — in its wake. The same organism exists today, if anything in even more virulent strains. It also attacks tomatoes. Last year it established a foothold in Michigan, destroying home-gardeners’ tomato and potato plants and spreading even into rural crops. Commercial growers have complex weapons now to contain the disease, but the struggle is serious. Many suffered significant losses.
Today we don’t have to rely on “Mother Nature’s” agriculture, and potato famines have dropped from existence.
As Michigan tries to work its way out of its problems, the lesson from the energy and food fields is to abandon fantasy: “Shun wishful thinking.”
Daniel Hager is an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.