Review of “The Great Re-Think: A 21st Century Renaissance” by Colin Tudge

Enough for All: Colin Tudge speaking at the Oxford Food Symposium in 2017.
Colin Tudge speaking at the Oxford Food Symposium in 2017. Photo by Andrew Davidson, CC BY-SA 4.0

This book is by a former farming correspondent for the New Scientist. He is also the founder of the Oxford Real Farming conference and the College for Real Farming. However, the book is not just about agriculture, but ranges far more widely in relation to our global problems of Climate Change. He calls the possible result of not changing our ways to “hit the buffers.” His main thesis is that we need to change our materialist attitude and become more spiritual. He suggests that we also need to respect the planet and tread on it lightly.

Food Enough For All

Since food is so important to the human race, it is vital that we get the supply of it right. This is what farming is about. Feeding the world’s population is easy, he says. Our present world population is 7.8 billion, of which almost a billion are undernourished, while another two billion or so suffer from “diseases of affluence.” The world now produces enough food for 14 billion people. Obviously, we have a severe distribution problem – otherwise people wouldn’t be starving. In the affluent world, we have a major problem of food waste.

Thomas Malthus and Population Growth

Tudge discusses Malthus and also estimates of how the world’s population has grown and is growing. In the 1970s there were alarming predictions that the world population would increase to 16 billion by 2050 and over 30 billion by the end of the century. In this case, it would be impossible to feed everyone.

However, population growth has levelled. In particular this is due to women who reach a certain economic standard choosing to have fewer children. Indeed in Japan and several European countries the population is declining and the birthrate is below replacement levels – meaning that deaths exceed births – even though people are living longer. In China, following the end of the one child policy, the birthrate is falling, despite efforts to increase it.

More Veg, Less Flesh = Enough For All

If we all ate nourishing food and “plenty of plants, not much meat and maximum variety,” we would not only be healthier, but also there might be enough food for those who desperately need it. The problem is how to get food to those who need it and at a price that they can afford to pay. If we go back to farming – using more labour – then those people working on farms might at least be able to eat enough.

Rapid urbanisation in many countries means that many people have left the land and therefore need to have a job and earn money in order to eat. The climate crisis might mean that there is less land for farming.

Uneven Distribution

Distribution of food has gone horribly wrong – as has farming (which in the West has become agro-industrial). This is related, not only to big business, but also to politics and economics. If everything must make money, rather than be good for people and the planet, no wonder we are in trouble! This has led to both the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. Tudge delves into history to suggest that “competition” has benefitted human society less than cooperation. People clearly need to live in communities

We need to change our attitude to life and become less materialistic. The goal, he thinks, should be Convivial Societies with room for personal fulfilment, within a flourishing biosphere. We can only achieve this by a Renaissance. Tudge does not suggest a revolution or a top down replanning. We do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but a radical re-think is required.