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.
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.”
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
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