The thoughts behind the Renegade Ecologist

From my 30 years as a nature conservationist I have learned the utter futility of trying to protect nature under our current economic system. But by making some small changes to our taxation system we could make a world fit for our children to inherit full of wildlife & prosperity for all.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root....
Henry David Thoreau
"In many ways, nature conservation has become just another method of rent extraction by landowners who are trying to hide the fact that modern farmers’ fields are essentially deserts, devoid of wildlife, and the taxpayer must pay ‘rent’ if we want wild animals to occupy ‘their land’."
Peter Smith

Land Value Tax, which is in my opinion the Holy Grail of legislative changes to protect wildlife, is the simplest expression of the Economic theories of Henry George. This theory goes that if we abolish all harmful taxes on our hard work and trade and instead charge a rent for the use of natural resources such as Land we will not waste them or allow private interests to exploit the rest of humanities access to them.

Such a tax would not only stimulate jobs and enterprise but put a value on all of our natural resources and force us to look after them. If it was implemented for agricultural land, where the lower value of perpetually designated wilderness or natural grazing land is reflected in its land value taxation, it would be the surest way to save the wildlife of the UK and for the least cost to the taxpayer”

This would mean hard to farm areas, steep banks, riverbanks, rocky outcrops and areas landowners want to designate a nature reserves, which must be legally binding, could be set aside for wildlife and as such attract no taxation. The result of this would be that unproductive and marginal land would become wildlife havens and receive long term protection for future generation to enjoy. But it would also take away land and monopolies from our plutocrats who own wealth with no obligation to the rest of society, these plutocrats fund both the red and blue (and Yellow) faction of the vested interest or ‘line my friends pocket’ parties that control the legislature in Britain.

This blog is dedicated to teaching those who love nature that there is a simple ‘magic bullet’ that can save the rare wildlife of this country at no cost to the taxpayer. This magic bullet will actually grow our economy and create jobs and help create a better society based on rewarding those who work hard while penalising idol people who make monopolies such as bankers and landowners.

The solution if adopted worldwide would alleviate poverty and starvation and make a significant contribution to preventing war and terrorism.

Follow me on twitter: @peetasmith

Views are my own and don’t reflect the views of Wildwood Trust

Friday 14 February 2020

How do we stop the Insect Apocalypse?

There have been a number of articles this week on the insect apocalypse, with some studies showing an 80% drop in insect numbers since the late 90s. These come from the car windshield splatter effect. We now see so few bugs splattered across our windscreen when many of us over 40 in childhood saw  our car windscreen splattered with insects, and every stop our parents had to wipe hundreds of squashed bugs from our windscreens during the summer.

More detailed studies in Germany have identified a 75% decline in flying insect numbers over a 26 year period.

As those who read this blog will know I am more interested in solutions to ecological issues and one of my pet hates is this futile dilemmas presented in mainstream media as fact.  So listening to  people once again wringing thier hands saying nothing can be done and if we do it will cost a fortune, poor people will suffer etc against those saying we must ban pesticides now, whatever the cost makes me quite agitated. Such futile dilemmas are indeed futile if we approach the problem without knowledge of the economics of land.

Reading the articles this week there have been impassioned calls to cause terror that our whole biosphere will collapse and we are sleepwalking into a ecological and human catastrophe. This could be true but so far humanity and policy makers have not made efforts to avoid such a unforeseen catastrophes.

The issue of is not just that insecticides are killing all our bugs, its issue like biomass in soils, food availability (weeds), seasonality of food availability, loss of complex boundary habitats,  connective habitats, drainage etc,  basically land in a wild condition is not available for insects to have homes and food.

What I find criminal is the lack of government research into such a vital topic, just some relatively low scale NGO research, surely this is something vital to the security of  us all and thus something government bodies should have excellent research on. (for all the tin foil hat wearers perhaps they already do!!!)

The other issue forgotten by such media coverage is  about how we actually stop this life threatening decline in the very fabric of our biosphere... As ever efficient use of land and pesticides is key. Legal instruments are useful but the best solution would be to increase the cost of using land and pesticides (and all harmful chemicals). A simple Land Value Tax and a simple Pesticide tax (externality taxes)  would make all farmers and landowners think seriously about land and chemical use and therefore look to use less allowing more insects to thrive.

Such an economic solution would reward hard working farmers for thier ingenuity and skill and punish those push button agronomist advised agribusinesses  pumping ever more chemicals into what little remains of our soils.

Such a system would improve economic activity and the health and welfare of people.

Having sustainable agriculture under a system of Land Value Taxation will take away the monopoly of land that allows people to profit from rents and capital value created by insecticide use, thus the new taxes will impose costs on land and chemical use would come out of rents received by landowners and  capitalised into the ever increasing cost of land. Such costs would not come out of having to charge more for food, but the profits derived by those who have not earned it or deserve profits made from killing nature.

But if we increase taxes on Land and externalities we can relieve the poor of thier tax burdens of VAT and Income tax which will make poor people better off and improve the quality of their food, drinking water and environment. So no one has to suffer for improved environmental standards. The only losers will be monopolists, tax dodgers and bank shareholders (I for one will not lose any sleep at thier loss)

And maybe our children can suffer the mutterings of parents wiping the bugs off car windscreens on summer trips once again... and maybe our future generations will have a world that will both support them and delight them...

Friday 25 October 2019

Only economic Justice can save our future & restore nature...

My talk to the Coalition for Economic Justice last Saturday.

In this talk I explore what is nature, the history of its destruction and how economic justice will lead to its restoration, sucking carbon back into the ground, reducing carbon output and rewilding our world. All this with a vibrant environmentally friendly economy. Just by some simple changes to our tax system... But with profound effects that will change all our lives for the better. But make no illusions our economic system is designed to prevent such simple solutions to our problems for the greed of the few.

In many ways’ nature needs no wildlife charities, natural resource economists or government laws to thrive. It just takes people to stop abusing it and to have space to thrive on. The rewilding movement has shown Government policy and establish environmental NGO’s are achieving little in tackling nature’s destruction or combating climate and ecological breakdowns. This fundamental truth has rocked nature conservation who are struggling to cope with this social movement where established NGO’s and Government wish to be seen as having a monopoly on the protection of nature. Rewilding has enthused people that wildlife loss is not inevitable, and something can be done to bring wildlife and the natural systems all human life depends on back in profusion without spending a penny of taxpayer’s money.

We can eliminate poverty, reduce population and protect our planet from climate catastrophe with some simple changes to how we raise taxation. The shifting our taxes on incomes and trade and putting them on Land Values and environmental

externalities will make every person, business and government body value nature in every decision they make.

A change to our tax structure will allow a natural compensation system to happen automatically between the winners and losers when land is rewilded, based on understanding land values & taxation. Such solutions would protect nature and stimulate human progress, by getting to the very economic roots of the problem– we can see how simple economic steps, such as Land Value Tax & Green taxes, can efficiently and effectively internalise the costs and benefits of nature and create the Ecological Renaissance many people wish to see, allowing all to share the

Friday 20 September 2019

Protect, Restore and TAX

Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot are absolutely correct with one small amendment...

Protect, Restore and TAX – Tax land, natural resource use and pollution. Shift taxes from incomes and trade to Land Value Taxes and Green Taxes. Nature needs no funds, no $trillions of pointless projects that are economically inefficient, just make nature’s use (and abuse) expensive.

Tax carbon and we will have amazing efficient homes and transport. Tax land and we will have 40% rewilded as its economically pointless for agriculture our human use.  Just as a plastic bag tax resulted in nearly 90% reduction in plastic bag use, or sugar tax cut sugar in drinks by 50% virtually overnight

so a tax on land and natural resources will have an immediate and systemic shift to achieve a planet that can survive and still provide prosperity for all. Every economic transaction will contain the abuse of nature and Land used so every transaction will force down the use of land and nature as companies and trade avoid the tax.

And land taxes and carbon taxes can not be avoided, dodged or offshored – there is no escape – environmental protection will be relentless and every bank, investment house, multinational corporation and government will turn their energies to using less land and natural resources in everything they do.

Funding is the wrong approach - its vastly inefficient  if you buy land the price just goes up rewarding landowners.  So we can achieve all that the army of activists inspired by Greta and George desire, and save our planet,  for no cost to the taxpayer. 

Friday 28 June 2019

George Monbiot & Chris Packham are getting close to the fundamental solution to saving our planet

Two recent reports, George Monbiot’s #LandForTheMany  and Chris Packham’s #peoplesmanifestoforwildlife sub report "Where there’s muck there’s brass: revealing the billions hidden in farmland tax shelters”, published today, have started highlighting the economics of land and wildlife destruction.

Miles King - has investigated some of the more obvious tax breaks that  farmers get that are incentivising natures destruction in the People Need Nature Report - See here:

But the journey these leading figures in wildlife protection have gone down, and the many authors they have drawn together, is still not fully complete.  Both reports have highlighted how we are destroying our planet because our current tax and subsidy systems gives incentives to people to kill our wildlife, pollute and use land and natural resources inefficiently.

My personal campaign for the last 20 years has been to highlight this and promote rewilding, understanding that if we cannot tackle these issues, we will continue to lose wildlife no matter what social movements happen, wildlife protection laws are enacted or how many landowners we can win over to rewild their land.

It’s really very simple, if we want to save our planet and rewild land we need to base our entire tax policy on taxing monopolies and externalities and have a tax policy that does not allow avoidance. Shifting taxation from incomes (earnings and trade) and put it on land values. Taxing pesticides, diesel etc (externalities) will all provide a positive incentive to use such resources less and much more efficiently. Taxing land values will reduce land use and allow rewilding. Our current corrupt system is based on inflating land values to benefit the tiny minority of landowners. This has been a political fight waged over hundreds of years, the basis of the Corn Laws and the Liberal movement of the late 19th century, it was behind the Parliament Act and the landowners and bankers win in the end because most people are unaware of the fundamental economic forces at play.

Such a tax shift will save our planet, rewild 40% to 50% of the world, abolish poverty, reduce crime and take away many of the incentives for war. It’s all about understanding the marginal economic choices of the people who control natural resources and land – be it a hill farmer or Donald Trump; people choose to destroy our planet and hurt others because they make money by doing so. Our current tax system pushes people to misuse land and natural resources in so many complex ways that no matter what laws we try to enact it cannot counteract that economic force of those trying to make money from nature’s destruction. If we have a tax system that forces people to use land and natural resources more efficiently then they will choose to damage the planet less, the free market will become our ally as people try to outcompete one another to provide goods and services that use less land, pollution and natural resources within them.

A land value tax collecting the full unimproved rental value of land will make landowners compete to provide food with less land, landowners will be begging to give poor quality land to rewilding charities, grouse moor owners will be falling over themselves to shoot on less land and give up the moors. But by reducing labour taxes we will have more farmers producing more food with less inputs, a true democracy in land is best achieved by fiscal measure and not laws.
If we continue to have policies that give subsidies to landowners, let them off scot free when they pollute, have a system of money creation that is used to fund ever increasing land values then we enshrine natural destruction and poverty, a bleak future for humanity. This is a battle that must be won and for those campaigning to protect our planet the fundamental economic forces must be understood otherwise we will continue to fail in our efforts.

One of my lectures on the subject:

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Be Terrified (tackling) Global Climate Disaster will Destroy the NHS

“MPs are voting today to commit to reducing Britain's CO2 emissions to 'net zero'. The cost is likely to be more than £1 trillion. Ministers say an impact assessment is not required.”

So, says spam Facebook posts from dodgy think tanks spamming my social media feeds today. Their slickly produced videos have pictures of nurses and doctors with an ominous title spelling out how many doctors and nurse £1 Trillion would pay for.

View more of the 'Global Warming Policy Forum's' drivel here:

They are trying to scare people into being frightened of tackling a global climate catastrophe and it works judging by the comments.  But such futile trade-offs and false dichotomies are at the heart of tackling all societies problems, whether it is saving wildlife, helping people with physical and mental health problems or educating our children.

Its all fundamentally a load of old bollocks! But unfortunately, most people are too dumb to recognise the false framing of both those actively manipulating the dialogue to save us from a global catastrophe, or those determined to bury their heads in the sand and deny we have a looming disaster on our hands. The only winners are those that ensure such a false narrative perpetuates on both sides of the augment and can use public outrage to frame Government policies for their own self advantage.

Whether its companies or banks looking to own ‘carbon credits’ to trade as the new land barons of the future with a tradeable commodity to pollute or the landowners and natural resource owners looking to abuse nature’s bounty for their personal wealth, they are both playing the system for self-advantage and hoodwinking the general population to accept their avarice and greed harnessing fear and outrage.

Such false dilemmas and futile trade-offs presented here are highly disingenuous and let me explain.
It would cause no problems to truly tackle global warming, in fact we could increase wealth and jobs for most people if we simply transferred taxes from earned incomes to carbon taxes and land value taxes. But those who own the rights of economic rents from land and natural resources try to hide this economic solution. Such tax shifts would create efficiency in production using the free market to create low carbon and low land use in our goods and services. Lower land use would allow carbon to be reabsorbed back into organic matter such as soils and land rewilded for wildlife. But such sense is hidden by foolish and selfish policies of a corrupt system of Government and self-interest of those wedded to our current monopoly capitalistic system instead of true free market principles that correctly account for monopoly and externalities.

This is compounded by most people not understanding the best policies to use to tackle runaway climate catastrophe, such policies often proposed by those politicians and groups wedded to preserving our monopolistic economic system use the feelings of people terrified of global warming, saying; ‘if it costs a trillion so be it’, but without a knowledge of economics and money supply such people are allowing a different portion of our corrupt elite to steal their future incomes, this time with the promise of averting a global disaster. Under our current system the costs of the taxpayer coving inefficient efforts to reduce carbon use would fall on the poorest further dividing society and creating poverty, while at the same time doing little to tackle carbon use.

But if we adopt land value taxes and externality tax shifts we could solve this futile dilemma and create a world fit for our children to inherit, that truly values our natural world (by actually making people pay for its abuse) and makes perfect economic sense. But the rich would get poorer and their political cronies would lose power – so it not going to happen until we all educate ourselves on the basic economic principles by which we choose to use and abuse natural resources and land. We all must understand that it is monopoly, mostly in the ownership of land and natures gifts that drives poverty.

Monday 25 June 2018

Garden Ponds & the Uncommon Frogs & Toads of Britain

The uncommon Frogs & Toads of Britain in danger

Latest research show sightings of toads have fallen by over 30% in the last 5 years & frog numbers have plummeted 17% in that time. Toad numbers have dropped nearly 70% over the last 30 years, as reported in the Guardian today. But this sort of reporting drives me up the wall as it recommending we build ponds in our gardens to reverse the loss. While it will make a tiny difference, and everyone should have a pond in their garden, it again shows our powerlessness in the face of the real calamity that is befalling wildlife in the UK. And what is far worse shows the timidity of  NGO’s and our media in reporting what is happening to wildlife in the UK, that they will not even highlight the real causes of wildlife loss let alone challenge landowner vested interests and say what must be done if we are to reverse that wildlife calamity..... and Garden ponds have virtually nothing to do with it!

 Common Frog at Wildwood Trust
Common Toad at Wildwood Trust

Now is the time to make a pond in your garden to help our froggy friends so go and plan your garden pond today BUT! if we really want to help nature in the UK we must address the core problems of inefficient land use and the tax breaks and subsidies we give to landowners who are destroying Britain's wild habitats. Allowing our water ways to meander, land to remain undrained and stopping subsidies to very poor farmland, that only produces a tiny fraction of the food we eat, is key if we are to reverse the last 100 years of wildlife destruction and extinction.

These press reports have asked us to build more ponds in our gardens  but really it's just marketing aimed at driving up membership of NGO’s as  gardens in the UK make up just over 1% of our land surface so cannot be the solution to the wildlife catastrophe that is happening around us. The inefficient use of land in the countryside and modern factory farming methods continue to be the real cause as to why we are wiping out all the places where many of our most threatened creatures live.

Behind every wildlife disaster, including the one happening to our frogs and toads in the UK are Government rules set in place that rewards people with tax breaks and subsidies for killing our wildlife. Much of our wildlife is clinging on to small pockets of suitable habitat when contrary to many people's beliefs it is not housing or roads that is killing our wildlife but what is happening to land in the countryside.

With Brexit comes a once in a lifetime opportunity to save the taxpayer billions in wasteful subsidies and tax breaks to those who use their land inefficiently and rob our wildlife of a home. Rewilding the UK offers us a chance to benefit our economy, create more jobs, make our food production more secure for our children and protect nature but we have to address the core issue of inefficient land use and the rewards that can be made from destroying wildlife.

Central to this is stopping the rewards on offer for the mere ownership of land and alternatively rewarding real hard working farmers. Redress the balance of those that earn from their labour in our countryside while charging more to those that abuse land for little food and less employment. The only way we can do this is to stop subsidies land use, shift taxes from VAT and employment taxes and put those same taxes onto land values, effectively making the town subsidise our countryside. We should not tax the hard working farmers who can produce food sustainably with less inputs and put those taxes and remove the tax breaks that fund intensive farming,  that perpetuates the harm we do to our soils and wildlife through inefficient use of farm chemicals. And remember we are not talking about romantic visions of farming past - but just shifting the margin at which land use decisions are made in how we treat the land.

We can rewild about 10% of our total land surface currently farmed with no appreciable difference in food production and a massive saving to the taxpayer, and ensure frogs and toads are around for our children to discover for many generations to come… if we tax land values!

Thursday 17 May 2018

A Price on Nature - can save us from environmental collapse & poverty, if done right

George Monbiot wrote another piece on his fears and distaste for the economic process promoted by some economists to calculate the economic value of nature and ecosystem services.  I have seen many criticisms of his approach from those that think he is an idealist and we must calculate a value of nature to help decision making so we can at least save some. I personally say a plague on both your houses as you are wrong and both right, but totally missing the point!

The UK government wants to put a price on nature – but that will destroy it

To me the real crux of the issue is are we going to make people pay a price to when they destroying nature, thus when priced correctly pushes us to destroy less nature and turn us from abusers of nature to conserveres. Those who abuse nature less in their activities such as farming or manufacturing will then out compete the abusers. We internalise the destruction of nature into our economic choices (also keep the laws that protect nature as well)

Further to this is the idea of using nature as a means of rent seeking by those that ‘own’ it. Monbiot has not elaborated on this but is right that if we undervalue nature we will go on abusing it in the current framework and dominant economic illusions held by governments and corporations, and may use this as a justification of further destruction.

I have discussed this with some members of the  Natural Capital Committee and they mostly are of a mind to funnel taxpayers cash to 'compensate' landowners and businesses for abusing nature less which is a travesty and only make us poorer and create a vastly unequal society of natural capital haves and have nots,. new landed barons to milk humanity's need for natural resources to live....

The simple solution is of course to transfer taxation off of incomes and trade and put it in the destruction of nature, best achieved by a Land Value Tax with surcharges for special natural value. So, destroying an ancient habitat become extremely expensive, prohibitively so. Land and natural resources become expensive to exploit and when not a 'true' economic benefit get left alone.

Taxation means we leave fossil fuels in the ground, we stop farming marginal habitat and it becomes wild again, we reduce the extraction of fresh water and it stops in rivers and wetland. Carbon will come out of the atmosphere and be sequestered back into the ground.

So get rid of subsidies for farmers and industry and tax the use of land & natural resources, proportionate to the damage their use causes. So special taxes and laws to prevent the destruction of high value habitats and dangerous pollution, and areas that provide specific ecosystem services such as flood prevention and carbon sequestration.

These taxes need to embody future destruction, and not at any ‘discount rate’, also land taxes should be yearly taxes so we properly value that destruction in the future and we do not undervalue the ecosystem we leave to future generations.

The idea of using nature as a means of rent seeking by those that ‘own’ it is an appalling idea and is the fundamental problem of ‘neo-classical’ economics and one we must fight with all our might!

Some of my thoughts on the value of nature

How do we stop the Insect Apocalypse?

There have been a number of articles this week on the insect apocalypse, with some studies showing an 80% drop in insect numbers since the l...