Before I delve into today’s topic, I’d like to define what my husband calls “chalkboard experts.” These are highly educated people with no real-world experience, but who are famous for devising “fail-safe” theoretical scenarios, even for things with which they have absolutely no first-hand experience. You know the kind I mean: “But I’ve got it all figured out! See, I’ve written it all out on the chalkboard! Of course it will work!”
Farming comes to mind. Far too many educated people dismiss farmers as poop-kicking rednecks too dumb to understand the lofty “chalkboard” scenarios devised by these armchair experts. Witness Michael Bloomberg’s snide remarks when he told a crowd he could “teach anybody, even people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer. It’s a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn.”
(Dwight D. Eisenhower understood when he famously said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”)
OK, back to the topic of this column. There’s been a lot of chatter lately about the climate change crisis and how entire nations had better go green before it’s too late. The U.N. chief is calling for an end to oil, gas, and coal use in favor of renewable sources as part of a self-described global climate Marshall Plan. The Russia/Ukraine crisis has brought this matter to a head as European nations, which were dependent on Russian gas or Ukrainian exports, suddenly find themselves scrambling to provide necessities for their people. Worse, the conflict has brought to a head a fertilizer shortage, with global repercussions.
In theory, green solutions seem like the sure-fire answer. They’re cleaner, healthier, more productive, less damaging and more reliable, right? At least, that’s what it says on the chalkboard. Sadly, the results are now playing out in real time all across the world.
For example, let’s look at Sri Lanka. This island nation, for those who haven’t been keeping track, is on the brink of collapse. The worldwide pandemic lockdowns decimated its vibrant tourism industry. Foreign exchange reserves are at a record low. Sri Lankans suffer from supply-chain issues. Inflation is soaring. Fuel shortages have led to rolling power cuts across the country.
To make things worse, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa – using his “chalkboard expertise” – was elected in a landslide victory after pushing a campaign manifesto to provide his people with food without harmful chemicals. Last April, he banned non-organic fertilizers and ordered the entire country to switch to organic instead. Crucially, he pushed this reform in a single season rather than over several years.
Though the commercial-fertilizer ban was later rolled back after widespread protests, only a trickle of chemical fertilizers made it to farms. The result? Harvests nosedived. Food shortages became rampant. Without commercial fertilizer, growers became desperate. “Farmers around here really tried everything possible to grow their paddy. They applied coconut fertilizer, liquid fertilizer, compost … basically, anything they could get their hands on,” said one rice grower. Another farmer added, “These crops need urea. Compost is just not good enough, and we didn’t even get any of the organic fertilizer that was distributed by the government.”
How can this be? Didn’t the experts have it all figured out on their chalkboards? President Rajapaksa’s goal was an ambitious one: to transform Sri Lanka into the first nation with 100% organic agriculture. “Less than a year later,” reports Modern Farmer, “the country is left in an economic and supply shortage crisis as a result. … What was intended to be a positive move ahead for Sri Lanka’s nearly 2 million farmers soon backfired. … [N]early a third of all agricultural land in the country remained dormant due to the ban.”
How could the Sri Lankan government have so spectacularly miscalculated the effects of switching to organic fertilizers? According to a 2021 USDA report, “the lack of organic fertilizer productive capacity, coupled with the absence of a formalized plan to import organic fertilizers in lieu of chemical fertilizers, raises the potential for an adverse impact on food security.” [Emphasis added.]
In other words, the chalkboard experts decided to implement their feel-good blackboard strategy without considering how things work in the real world. As a result, yields of vital crops, particularly rice, are catastrophically lower. Today, people in Sri Lanka are on the verge of starvation. Formerly self-sufficient, taxpaying farmers have lost as much as 83% of their income. The nation is close to bankruptcy.
Coupled with a critical fuel shortage, Sri Lankans are revolting, burning the homes of politicians and dumping cars of government officials into canals. As of this writing, at least 200 people have died, shot dead in the streets by security forces – all because the chalkboard experts knew best.
“Climate crusaders calling for personal sacrifices to save the planet seem oblivious to immediate dangers many of their ‘solutions’ pose for real lives – sometimes billions of them – especially in developing countries where people face persistent poverty,” notes this opinion piece. “Climate diplomacy and green policies are already causing havoc where economic growth and daily life are being threatened by a constraint on access to affordable energy.”
And this, more than anything else, underscores my objection to the kinds of chalkboard “solutions” being proposed by world leaders in response to their ginned-up climate change hysteria. (It goes without saying that politicians who are most in favor of green policies will exempt themselves from living green themselves.)
I have no objection to green living as an individual choice – we live green ourselves – but forcing entire nations into these policies before the infrastructure can support it is asking for results as disastrous as what is happening in Sri Lanka. Green policy initiatives around the world are resulting in skyrocketing prices for fuel, home heating and food. It has pushed endless millions to the brink of poverty and hunger.
In theory, green policies are fabulous. Just ask the chalkboard experts. But maybe these chalkboard experts should talk to the farmers in Sri Lanka to get a hard dose of reality.
Everyone is just nine meals from anarchy. Sri Lanka’s premature switch to green farming methods by chalkboard experts is proving this to be true.
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