Whether by causation or simply correlation, 40 years of EU membership has coincided with a period of unmatched peace and prosperity for the average Briton, which is by any yardstick, a good thing. But on balance, perhaps a little too much of a good thing.
In a society with few major problems, minor issues assume disproportionate significance – a state of affairs more commonly known as “First World problems”, where the politically correct opinions of the well-intentioned, but invariably less well-informed, are elevated far beyond their deserved status.
This results in significant and often unnecessary costs for the wider economy.
This virtual and highly regressive tax on society may provide a salve for the consumerist guilt of the most affluent; yet is levied on everyone.
Brexit is a wake-up call for us all and perhaps a long overdue opportunity to cure the “affluenza” that is both a blight on our society and a handbrake on our competitiveness.
See also: We have neglected our soils for too long
Nowhere is this needed more than in food production, where aesthetic environmentalism, as advocated recently by the National Trust’s Dame Helen Ghosh, rather than genuinely resource efficient land use, has for too long been held up as the apotheosis of sustainability.
The rise of campaigning organisations – many, ironically, funded by the proceeds of the very economic activity they can barely disguise their contempt for – has distorted the debate and hampered development of truly sustainable, modern agriculture, that delivers value for all in society, rather than simply appeasing the liberal chatterati.
Novel technologies that, where employed elsewhere in the world, have demonstrated genuine and significant sustainability dividends, should no longer be demonised, but rather judiciously deployed in a country that has chosen, albeit by the narrowest of margins, independence from the single-issue lobbying and narrow-minded protectionism that pervades EU policymaking.
True sustainability is the optimisation of economic, environmental and social considerations that, despite shrill assertions to the contrary, are far from antagonistic to one another.
“Intensive” agriculture, on land that can sustain it, should not be seen as a pejorative term and should be celebrated for the wider economic, environmental and social benefits it confers.
It requires less land and uses less inputs for a given level of affordable food production; something that itself is determined by market demand rather than corporate greed.
This, in turn, frees up more land for habitat creation in more marginal and often more aesthetically appealing areas of the countryside.
And before the inevitable barrage of opprobrium pours forth from indignant environmentalists, I am not proposing a “productivity-at-any-cost” free-for-all in lowland Britain, with scant regard for the environment. Far from it.
Managing invaluable natural resources, such as groundwater and soils for the longer term is a fundamental part of any sustainable food system and retaining a sufficiently well-resourced capability to safeguard them should be an essential component of any future food policy for the UK.
Ironically, one of the major causes of chronic low-level environmental degradation is the lack of investment in farm infrastructure, itself a consequence of unsustainably low levels of long-term profitability, perpetuated by ill-thought-out protectionist policies that have encouraged overproduction, increased costs and depressed prices.
Unfortunately, when one views this against a backdrop of ever-reducing budgets and the politically skewed priorities of environmental regulatory bodies, it is hard to see how this wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs can change until the root cause of the problem, namely our economic competitiveness, is addressed.
Technology in all its forms, as it has proved time and again in so many areas of society, holds the key to this.
It is time for an open-minded, post-Brexit technological revolution.