The Meaning Of Margaret Thatcher, A View From France

Hers was a revolution of ideas and economics that still can be seen in the struggle to shape the future of the West.

The Meaning Of Margaret Thatcher, A View From France


PARIS - She left her mark. Some look back with nostalgia, others with contempt, but few will deny that the 1980s were undoubtedly the “Maggie years."

British Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 – three mandates – Margaret Thatcher left a major mark on her times. The “Iron Lady” was the first woman to be elected as leader of a major Western country. Not only did she give the UK back its confidence then, after years of stall and self-doubt, but we are all perhaps still living with Thatcher’s legacy today.

First, in regard to the economy. She arrived in power a few months before U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1980-1988), who became her ideological ally. Together, they reinvented economic liberalism. They shared a common enemy: the welfare state – established by the British Labor Party after World War II, and the Democrats in Washington in the 1960s.

Their argument is well-known: the Welfare State kills private initiative and hinders the production of wealth, it promotes an egalitarian society that discourages effort and merit while encouraging the poor to live on subsidies. It smothers that essential force, the founding energy that is the market. Thatcher and Reagan “deified” the free market, which – according to them – could do no wrong, because – oh miracle! – it can regulate itself.

Looking back at the UK of the late 1970s, this notion was not totally without merit. At the time, the country was living off aid from the International Monetary Fund, and its all-powerful unions paralyzed a huge public sector that was the result of massive post-war nationalizations.

“Thatcherism” – privatizing, fighting union monopolies, deregulating – gave momentum to the UK economy. But at the same time, entire vital public services were being dismantled, including education and health.

Add to this globalization and free-trade agreements – Thatcher and Reagan were not the only reasons why the economy is where it is today, but they were its intellectual spearheads.

Pure talent

The political left did its bit too to compensate the Thatcher-Reagan years. They couldn’t bring back the welfare state, so they created a “Third Way,” notably Tony Blair in London and Bill Clinton in Washington.

In truth, the Third Way is just another more civilized form of neo-liberalism. On top of that came, at the beginning of the 21st century, the monumental market crash – that was a result of that blind trust in the free market – proof that it does not in fact always regulate itself. That social-democrat left could not benefit from this fact is a continuing victory for Margaret Thatcher.

That’s not the only victory. Europe, unfortunately, still largely resembles the conception that Thatcher had of it: first and foremost a free-trade zone, and not at all a unified institution on the world scene. It is an association of sovereign countries, and not a united community, as its founding texts had hoped.

It is impossible to make a mark on one's times without great political talent. Charisma, charm, staying true to one’s principles, being courageous in one’s choices, being a true leader: Margaret Thatcher was all of that, undeniably.

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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