Birmingham - hungry city?
There was on-line comment and a flurry of emails after last week's entry Green shoots of recovery. This was about Roger Levett's essay on guerrilla spud-growing in the WMRO publication West Midlands: Fit for the Future.
we're as dependent on the natural world as much as our ancestors were . . . we live in a world shaped by food . . . food is a fundamental ordering principle . . . one billion of us are obese while a further billion of us starve . . . 80% of the world's global trade in food controlled by just five international corporations . . . it's a grim picture
How do we make good decisions about our future when faced with seemingly intractable problems, plus great uncertainty?
In terms of any policy decision-making, I'm reminded of Deep Blue. You may remember that this was the computer programme that thrashed an understandably miffed and sulky Kasparov. This fiercesomely complicated software, as the chess programme Deep Thought developed at Santa Fe, was based on four simple heuristics which, I suggest, work pretty well as guidelines for decision-making in the real world (I quote from Kevin Kelly):
- Favour moves that increase options.
- Shy away from moves that end well but require cutting off choices.
- Work from strong positions that have many adjoining strong positions.
- Balance looking ahead to really paying attention to what's happening on the whole board.
As we're people not chessmen, we need something about the common good, especially for future generations. And for 'board', don't read Birmingham, read world as we're all in this together.
Basing decision-making on the heuristics above, we could follow Carolyn Steel's notion that food is a fundamental ordering principle. So a start would be to follow the advice of one of my email correspondents; i.e. determine what levels of food security Birmingham and its West Midlands hinterland actually has.
This would enable us to see what connectivity and other investment, both social and capital, is needed for all our supplies. Moreover, it would generate ideas about how we might get rid of dependency on corporate men in far-off places like Little Rock, Arkansas, and on the vulnerabilities inherent in global logistics.
It would also give us a practical understanding of the natural world and, crucially, our dependency upon it.
Meanwhile, as Roger Levett concludes his essay:
"the West Midlands has nothing to lose, and potentially a great deal to gain, from promoting low technology, low impact mutual enterprise meeting basic human needs such as food and warmth in a convivial way as one strand of economic recovery."