|ALUS in the Media - No Date|
Whole New Field of Vision
While governments throw bailout money at cars, bridges and carbon-capture fantasies, another kind of fiscal stimulus isn’t making it to budget announcements.
Colour me puzzled. With all the talk of governments spending their way out of recession, I can’t figure out why the concept of public infrastructure is so narrowly defined.
Sure, we need funding for transit and public buildings, but since when has the protection and restoration of our natural capital, our rivers and lakes, air and soil, ceased to be part of our common infrastructure?
I thought of this March 27, when 80 groups met in Guelph to form the Ontario ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) Alliance, dedicated to the notion that farmers who safeguard planetary resources should receive a public subsidy for their efforts.
This little pre-Earth Day present seems to me the perfect stimulus project, right out of the business model of U.S. consultant Storm Cunningham. His book ReWealth! Stake Your Claim In The $2 Trillion Development Trend That’s Renewing The World probes what he calls “an entirely different wealth-creation process” from the one that creates jobs and money by turning trees into toilet paper. In his future, creative destruction is supplanted by creative construction like using trees for a carbon sink or natural Brita to clean water.
By Cunningham’s estimate, there are multiple trillions in profitable make-work re-projects waiting to be made around the world: $12 billion to reclaim the toxic residue from 100,000 leaking gas storage tanks, billions for rehabilitating a million brownfield sites across North America; $60 billion to restore the once-great fishery of the Great Lakes.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The two-week-old Alliance brings urban wildlife enthusiasts, sustainable food lovers and farm organizations into the same fold, with reps from the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Ontario Nature and Local Food Plus on its steering committee.
But the backbone is working farmers who, on top of producing food for the market, devote a portion of their personal time and private land to enviro services for the general public – thus alternative land use.
As Alliance steering committee member Mike Schreiner put it at the founding meeting, governments and the public have to “step up to the plate.” What he means is that all those who benefit from the full range of farm-produced services ought to pay the farmer. Birdwatching and hunting groups already chip in for the land set aside as animal habitat, in pilot ALUS projects, the way shoppers cough up extra for food that’s local and sustainable.
As for cities and provinces, they should also pay up for all the services they get for free. In a world without freeloaders, municipal water utilities would pay farmers for extra work that keeps streams and creeks clean and cool, just as other levels of government would contribute their share for keeping farms beautiful to attract tourists (the eco version of pay-per-view) and above all for the storing of carbon.
Many politicians are now pushing the pricey and so far make-believe notion that they can find holes in the ocean or old mine sites where carbon can be stored. But nature has a few-billion-year head start on very sophisto tech that sinks CO2 in soil, plants and trees.
Farmers can help nature with that in hundreds of ways – adding compost to their soil, growing hedges, orchards or woodlots and planting tall grasses that stabilize the soil, store carbon and filter water that drips down to the water table.
Bruce Mackenzie, who wrote a thesis for the University of Waterloo on the ALUS stewardship scheme, estimates that Canadian farm services, apart from food, are worth about $750 million yearly – if only governments would foot the bill. The yield in jobs, the savings from water protection and carbon reduction, the boosts to tourism would be enormous, and the cost a mere fraction of what the auto sector and banking will walk away with.
As well, Mackenzie shows, it’s possible Canadian farmers could net something akin to the norm in Europe for such farm services – from $50 to $1,000 per hectare. By contrast, the modest ALUS project now operating in Norfolk, Ontario, yields more like $5 to $50 a hectare.
“You still gotta eat, folks,” Norfolk County rancher Bryan Gilvesy, a prime mover of the project, told supporters at the founding meeting of ALUS. “But we can produce food while working side by side with forests and streams, treating them as part of our working landscape and doing our best to restore them.”
Wayne Roberts’s partner, Lori Stahlbrand, is president of Local Food Plus.