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

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

What’s killing our wildlife?

What’s killing our wildlife, is a question that occupies my mind a lot & getting to the bottom of the issue and addressing it is my lifes work. So it is my mission to understand why many people do not critically assess this and put the policies in place that address wildlife loss as efficiently as possible. In my career I have two issues with fellow conservationists and ‘greens’who have been getting it wrong for so long:
  1. Following the herd and not addressing the real needs, chiefly not addressing the issues of inefficient land use as the primary driver of biodiversity loss
  2. Focusing on ineffective solutions that are counterproductive to biodiversity conservation, chief of which is subsides to landowners and not on fundamental solutions such as a Land Value Tax and taxes on environmental degradation.

One approach, to put some real numbers on the relative importance on the things that are killing our wildlife, is to look at all the threatened (and near threatened) wildlife and look at the most prevalent threats to their survival. A new study reported in Nature has just done that by Sean Maxwell & collaborators at the University of Queensland.

Obviously such research has many limitations and is just one way of looking at biodiversity loss. Firstly, biodiversity is not just some species numbers, it is a complex mix of biological life. Issues such as abundance, interdependence, complexity, endemism, ecological processes and inorganic biodiversity all have to be taken into account when assessing 'biodiversity'. The second is that we have little knowledge of many species and the data collected by the IUCN is far from comprehensive. The list of such limitations is long but we can use this as a rough guide to threats to wildlife across the globe.

If we look at the UK, the list here will change significantly as extractive industries are much smaller and most of the biodiversity being destroyed by the UK through such extractive industries is perpetrated abroad by the things we import.

In the UK agriculture especially livestock farming will be the greatest threat to UK biodiversity which is why the conservation movement is waking up to this and starting to challenge cultural norms, powerful vested interests and reassessing the impact of sheep farming against its economic value as the biggest win for wildlife at the least cost to the country. 

Housing is another area where the UK will differ significantly from global trends as we have some of the smallest, densest, houses in the developed world. What we have is grossly inefficiently allocated making the Uk have probably the worst housing in developed world. I have blogged before about why the economic rules the Uk is using both harms wildlife and harms peoples chances of having a decent home:

This is a legacy of our almost unique history of enclosure acts, stealing common land and forcing people off the land and into industrial working. Since the 'thatcher revolution' we have increase lending to land values while at the same time reducing house building further exacerbating the land monopoly. Land Value Tax would solve this issue very quickly and efficiently making us develop what land is already developed far more efficiently, increasing the living quality of all, and even return some land to agriculture and nature. Good quality planning can create housing that allows us to reduce environmental input and create spaces for nature and wildlife corridors getting a win-win for people and wildlife & LVT will help this process. 

"Land Value Tax is a rocket to put up the backsides of landowners & developers to make the most of what we have, in doing so we put all our human effort into building better housing on the land already developed, we will make farming and recreation ‘land efficient’ and thus create the space to rewild Britain and at the same have great housing & jobs aplenty."   Peter Smith

When formulating conservation policy, we must look at the activities we carry out against their economic and cultural benefit. In doing so we would find the big anomalies that are destroying British biodiversity are sheep farming, grouse shooting and golf courses.

The Woolly Maggots

Sheep farming in the UK, my personal bĂȘte noire, an activity that strips our land bare causing global warming, floods to towns and catastrophic loss of wildlife. Yet in total the area of land affected is greater than all our arable land put together, yet sheep farming only makes up one half of one percent, 0.5%, of all farming revenue. A colossal waste of land and one that is only possible by taxpayers giving huge subsidies to this otherwise uneconomic activity.

"Agricultural subsidies: the mad idea that we have to pay taxes to give to landowners and then legally enforce those subsidies are used to destroy wildlife." Peter Smith
George Monbiot talks about our sheepwrecked uplands:

Inglorious Basterds 

In the UK well over 1.3 million Hectares of land is devoted to grouse shooting (source British Association of Shooting and 'Conservation') a essentially worthless activity that burns and over grazes land, destroying biodiversity, causes flooding and a colossal release of carbon from its soils equivalent to 140,000 cars a year; Source: John Muir Trust 'A Burning Issue'  
Not only is this activity very bad for wildlife to ensure enough grouse are living at high densities the 'managers' of these places have to kill all the predators and competing wildlife on these moors leading to the catastrophic loss of birds of prey, especially the recently reported Hen Harrier debacle or the death of 8 golden eagles reported in Scotland. Again this land use recieves huge subsidies and tax breaks a terrible waste of public effort.

A Good Walk Spoilt

Mark Twain put it best with his quote: "Golf is a good walk spoiled." But in England Golf Courses take up more than twice the area of land than all our houses put together (Source: Golf Cub Management) yet thier carefully manicured greens are often very poor for wildlife. It is a testament to our times that some golf courses, especially 'links' courses do harbour rare wildlife but that is just relative because there's so little land for wildlife left in this country and only for a few grassland plants.

So to save wildlife we must start charging a Land Value Tax on all land to suppress such wasteful activities as Sheep farming, grouse shooting and playing golf. We do not need to ban them(apart from prosecuting those killing Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles and the like), but a land value tax, removal of subsidies and tax breaks will make those wishing to use land have to do so efficiently when compared to other activities that Britain needs, especially rewilding. Additionally taxes should be levied to cover damage to ecosystem services such as carbon release, drainage causing flooding and we should of course remove all subsidies and tax breaks associated with these activities. 

Excuse the extreme profanity but I think George Carlin summed it up best for me:

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Why Conservation NGOs Must Target the Financial Drivers of Ecological Destruction

"Something vital was missing from the campaigns to alert the world to the way our natural habitats were being wrecked." Conservationists must relaunch their vision to target the financial drivers of ecological destruction:

So says Fred Harrison, the economist who predicted the financial collapse of 2008 in his blog commenting on the chapter I wrote in the new book 'Rent Unmasked'

Read his blog about it here:

Saving Nature: the Missing Link

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Where is the BREXIT NHS money going? To landowners of course!

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, yesterday committed the UK government to providing subsidies for farmers worth £2.3 billion a year until 2020 and most of the press has hailed it as vital to the UK economy but is it?

Phillip Hammond, the enemy of real British farmers - the friend of landowners 

The first thing to understand is where does all these subsidies go, whether its direct payments to farmers or in manipulating global food prices. The net effect of these subsidies is that they are capitalised into higher agricultural land prices and higher rents.

"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

Rent & high land values are unique in that it stifles our farming efficiency and robs the productive capacity of our farming industry, so for every pound in subsidy nearly all of it does not produce efficient farmers but gets siphoned of in higher rents for tenants and higher land values, virtually non of that helps farming.

Furthermore the high land values and high rents not only sap our ability to compete in the world marketplace but also represent the theft from the poor to the rich, from the young to the old. It distorts farming, robbing those that wish to make a living from the land and leaves land in the hands of a growing landlord class. This mirrors what has happened in our housing market creating an army of private renters destined to be poor the rest of their lives no matter how successful they are in their careers, just as it creates an army of tenant farmers destined to be poor no matter how much subsidy we throw at farmers.

This is easily demonstrated when looking to rent land. Agricultural land is offered for rent at two prices. One price where the subsidy is claimed by the landowner and another collected by the tenant. The difference is exactly what that subsidy is minus a tiny amount to cover the hassle  of doing the paperwork etc. and some smoothing issues.

“Agricultural subsidies tend to be capitalised into the purchase and the rental price of agricultural land. Because of higher incomes farmers are prepared to bid more to rent in or purchase extra land. But given that the overall supply of land is fixed, farmers will bid against each other up to the point where the entire increase in profitability is dissipated by the higher cost of land. Thus, it is landowners who are the main beneficiaries of farm support policies."
 Alan Matthews, CapReform.EU, More on who benefits from farm subsidies, October 14 2007:

So overall subsidies does not help real farming - just landowning and those involved in lending money to purchase land (banking).

So what does subsidy do to our land? Subsidies lower the margin at which it is profitable to farm land, therefore more poor quality land is now in agriculture, that means a lot less wildlife, and economically the land now farmed does not produce that much food. An example of this is our bĂȘte noire the humble sheep, these woolly maggots that strip our land bare causing global warming, floods to towns and catastrophic loss of wildlife are actually destroying more land than all our arable land put together, yet they only make up one half of one percent of all farming revenue.

Subsidies also have the effect of pushing up the value of land in marginal cases which means it is much more expensive to buy. This is a big problem for nature conservation charities like Wildwood Trust because it makes it more expensive to acquire land for nature and to promote the rewilding of land across Britain. In fact any subsidy, not just farming subsidies, such as tax breaks to landowners of which there are many kinds, acts as a barrier, preventing the establishment of nature reserves or the rewilding of natural area. In my 20 years as a conservationists the cost of land for nature reserves has risen about 23 times or an inflation rate of 2300%  over that time.

"Landlords grow rich in their sleep without working, risking or economizing. The increase in the value of land, arising as it does from the efforts of an entire community, should belong to the community and not to the individual who might hold title."

John Stuart Mill 

"The widow is gathering nettles for her children's dinner;'a perfumed Seigneur, delicately lounging in the Oeil de Boeuf hath an alchemy whereby he will extract from her every third nettle—and call it rent. "

 "Now what had the landowner done for the community; what enterprise had he shown; what service had he rendered; what capital had he risked in order that he should gain this enormous multiplication of the value of his property! I will tell you in one word what he had done. Can you guess it! Nothing."
 Winston Churchill

This inflation rate would shame any banana republic, but it is a direct result of the hard work of charities, generosity of donors and government grants yet it is utterly wasted by rewarding landowners for doing nothing but own land.

"A Rewilded Britain is a lost dream, just as an affordable home is a lost dream for so many young couples today." Peter Smith

Because land is so expensive we cannot buy it, just as young people cannot afford to buy a home today. This means nature conservation has had to become renters just like most of the country's would be home buyers. 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’. So just as we have silly schemes like funding for lending to banks and 'help to buy' or a outrageous housing benefit system, so taxpayers and charities are now paying off landowners to protect the bit of nature on thier land. That is a yearly payment that is cruelly counterproductive, making the vision of a Rewilded Britain an unobtainable dream, just as an affordable home is a lost dream for so many young couples today.

Subsidies and associated tax breaks are the biggest obstacle to recreating wild habitats in Britain and it is very sad that the government has promised the lion’s share of yesterday's post BREXIT cash to ensure landowners don’t lose out in the future and that nature will suffer and remember that every subsidy, every hand-out, every tax break received by land represents not just a nail in the coffin of British wildlife, but also theft from those that have paid the money through taxation and also what that money could have been spent on such as the promise to fund the NHS. Many credit the NHS promise by the leave campaign as the key issue that swayed  voters into pulling us out of the European Union.

Subsidies are just one part of the equation and if we are to create an agricultural system that rewards the hard work of 'real' farmers, uses the land efficiently and leaves a space for nature for future generations then the only policy we can follow is to institute a land value tax for all land in the UK. On top of this we need a taxation system based on the environmental damage that fertilisers pesticides and other land uses create.

If we are to have a subsidy system then that subsidy system must be based on rewarding those that truly work the land, those with the knowledge and skill that can direct what we do and to create an economic topology which favours the most efficient of land management practices. Only then can Britain farm to a world-class standard, create the jobs our countryside so desperately needs and leave a living wildlife legacy to future generations.

If we do not ween ourselves off subsidies then our landowners and bankers can only get ever richer, while real jobs are lost, wages are driven down and our environment is destroyed.

Much of the economic concepts above where first described by the great economist David Ricardo - in his Ricardo's law of rent. This basic and irrefutable law must be at the heart of all government policy making and later this month I will be submitting my suggestions based on this to the Governments consultation on Future Environmental Policy after BREXIT.

To Understand Ricardo's Law then I suggest you read  Ricardo's Law: House Prices and the Great Tax Clawback Scam by Fred Harrison: Available on Amazon:

And watch this video: 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Rent - Umansked: A new book that could save the planet....

I have had my first contribution to a book published, co-authored with 12 leading Professors from around the world, the book focuses on economic solutions to social and environmental problems.

 The book comprises of essays in honour of Professor Mason Gaffney, who has for years researched and published the most insightful work in to the economic concepts that can solve our social and environmental problems. Professor Gaffney is a personal hero of mine I am am deeply honored to be chosen by the Schalkenbach Foundation to honor Mason in this way.

 “An inveterate optimist [who] makes an excellent case that, by applying the Henry George principle, we can reduce inequality, and raise ample public revenues to be directed at any one of a multitude of society’s ills”. Joseph Stiglitz (University Professor at Columbia University, recipient of the 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in economics) 

 Mason Gaffney Describing how to solve the water crisis in California:

Rent Unmasked explores the new economic paradigm that policy-makers need to solve global problems in the post-2008 era. With conventional economic theories discredited, the new model must equip governments with tools to re-stabilise societies in a dangerous world. Rent Unmasked explains why one paradigm only qualifies to serve this purpose: the dynamic model that reinstates time and space in economic theorising.

The Flat Earth economics of the neo-classical school is analysed by the 13 contributors to this volume, which honours the seminal role played by Mason Gaffney, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of California (Riverside), in exposing the way in which classical economics was debased to serve rent-seeking interests.

The authors are drawn from the legal and property professions and from universities around the world. They evaluate the key contributions from Mason Gaffney, the Ultimate Heterodox economist, and they apply the new insights to current challenges. The issues confronted in Rent Unmasked range from corporate tax evasion to the rise of irrational forces within democratic societies; the housing crisis to the fractured politics of the Eurozone; the misdemeanours in the banking sector to the way in which financial policies must be framed if economics is to be harmonised with ethics. The social science branded as “dismal” because of the ideological prejudices of past exponents is shown to be empowering for problem-solvers in the 21st century.

Buy your copy Here:

Or on Amazon:

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