By Rowenna Hoskin | Science Editor
Greta Thunberg, one of the most well-known environmental activists, has been proven right in her recent accusation of MEPs surrendering their climate and environment goals.
On 23rd October at 6pm, MEPs voted on the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), and despite the flooding of social media, led by Thunberg and other young activists, the vote was in favour of renewing the intensive farming law.
CAP is one of the oldest EU policies and was first introduced in 1962 to provide subsidies for EU farmers to improve food security and productivity after World War II. We have now outgrown this policy.
It still accounts for 40% of the EU’s budget at a massive €48 billion a year; farmers make up just 3% of the EU population and provide around 6% of the EU GDP – and this is one of the main reasons why the agricultural system is broken.
“Economic (ensuring food security by means of stable agricultural production, increasing competitiveness and the distribution of value across the food chain); environmental (sustainable use of natural resources and the fight against climate change); and territorial (ensuring economic and social vitality in rural areas.)”
Unfortunately, these reformed objectives ring hollow. As Thunberg and her fellow young activists explain in her #VoteThisCapDown video, farmers are already in a price race and their objective to make the industry more competitive is worrying– the effects are already far reaching.
Dear MEPs, your vague distant climate targets will have no meaning if you fail to #VoteThisCAPdown and keep supporting the commercial lobby interests.
This is your chance to turn empty words into action. The eyes of future generations are upon you. No more excuses.#FututreOfCAP pic.twitter.com/Z60fWqnZd0
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) October 23, 2020
Farmers with more hectares get more subsidies, which encourages monoculture farming – in turn destroying fragile ecosystems. Intensive farming of anything is harmful, animal farms are no exception. Their effect on the environment is dramatic.
The distribution of subsidies means that 80% of the total funds put into CAP end up in the hands of just 20% of farms – which are not surprisingly big corporations. This means that the other 80% have to fight over the last 20% of the budget.
The CAP system has led to a massive industrial overproduction of food that the European market cannot actually consume.
The overproduction of European food creates unfair competition on African markets. European markets resell agricultural overproduction to African countries which, due to the mass subsidies in production, can be sold much cheaper than local farmers in African countries can sell their local production.
This is not news, the effects of farming are well versed – being the number one driver of deforestation and a massive carbon dioxide producer- the social effects are less spoken about. The CAP policy was already competitive; every two days a farmer commits suicide. More than a third of all farmers earn less than €350 a month and every two weeks 260 farms disappear in Europe. Farming could not survive the way it currently runs, without subsidies – but that says more about the way we farm and just how unsustainable intensive agriculture truly is.
The CAP law is commissioned without a climate target meaning that it is in direct conflict with the same parliament’s Paris climate agreement – which incidentally was agreed on this time four years ago. The EU parliament has re-invested in intensive agriculture which will inhibit the attempt to reach its own climate goal.
The European parliament voted on a range of aspects to do with CAP, one of them on the naming of non-meat products and the media focused on this, with no comment made on the other aspects of the policy – or indeed, the impacts. Thunberg responded:
“While media was reporting on ‘names of vegan hot dogs’ the EU parliament signed away €387bn [£350bn] to a new agricultural policy that basically means surrender on climate & environment. No awareness means no pressure and accountability, so the outcome is no surprise. They just don’t care.”
In the last century, humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970 – and this figure does not include plant species. Our waterways are polluted, and our soils are poisoned due to the pesticides and herbicides in intensive agriculture. The machines used for farming run on fossil fuels, something that we know is quickly killing our planet and by default – us.
“The Earth is set to cross a ‘threshold of catastrophe’ by the end of this century because of fossil fuels,” says Professor Daniel Rothman, Co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Thunberg made this information clear on social media, two days before the final vote of reforming CAP in response to the media silence.
There was a public outcry to vote down the CAP reform, but the MEPs did not listen and the policy went through. This means that Europe’s organic and regenerative farms are not going to be saved, instead they are financing agricultural practices that directly compromise our future.
“The European Parliament voted to massacre nature today. Deciding that they know better than science, they showed that they represent the intensive farm lobby and oligarchs, not European citizens. It is as clear as day that this proposal undermines von der Leyen’s Green Deal, and now the only credible option the Commission has is to withdraw its CAP proposal. It is impossible to achieve a European Green Deal when almost 400 billion euros, a third of the EU budget, is actively spent making the crisis worse. The Green Deal is von der Leyen’s man on the moon moment, but this CAP proposal won’t even launch the rocket,”
says Harriet Bradley, the EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer for Ecosia’s Birdlife Europe and Central Asia.
All hope is not lost, if the CAP policy is withdrawn environmental progress will be made and we can make our way back to – hopefully – fulfilling our global green goals. However, if they do not withdraw the policy, we are looking at another seven years of intensive agricultural farming which is directly driving the collapse of our planet. We cannot sustain the current level of farming and production; our forests are almost all gone and monoculture crops plague the countryside.
Thunberg, along with Luisa Neubauer, Anuna de Wever van der Heyden and Adélaïde Charlier have created an open letter to EU leaders and heads of state, demanding them to face the climate emergency. It has been signed by thousands of activists, citizens and hundreds of scientists alongside celebrities like Billie Eilish, Coldplay, Margaret Atwood and Mark Ruffalo. It is open to the public to add their signatures and challenge the EU parliament’s decision.
If things continue as they are, if we stay on this trajectory, our future looks more and more like an authoritarian industrialised dystopia. The CAP policy will mean that the environmental goals of the Paris Climate agreement are entirely unachievable, and as such climate change will continue to get worse. The EU parliament, who has portrayed itself as a climate leader for the past two years has invested in a policy that will directly inhibit its own climate action plan, leading us to question – what will our future look like?Science and Technology Rowenna Hoskin