Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Learning To Fly

In the comments to my last post I found some interesting thoughts from Leon. He said, “I more and more think that our weird desire "to feed the world" is actually part of the problem.” And I have to agree. “Feeding the world” is and always has been a nice front for economic/political expansion and control. I feel no need to “feed the world”, but I know I must find a way to feed myself, my family, and help feed my community that doesn’t destroy the place I depend on for life. If I find a way that works here, I also feel obligated to share that with others around the world so that they might adapt it to their own place. That way the world feeds itself.
In her book The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, Lierre Keith says, “Agriculture (as we have been practicing it for the past 10000 years) is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us. The truth is that agriculture requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems.”

Allan Savory once said that Organic Agriculture was responsible for the downfall of more civilizations than all the wars combined.

Agriculture, as we have been doing it for the past 10000 years is built on the idea that we MUST produce more. Having more keeps us safe. It gives us power. It has become our one measure of success and worth. (Imagine a CEO saying, “Let’s just produce as much this year as we did last year…” That business would be thought of as stagnant, and if the trend continued… failing. Even though that level of production might provide a comfortable living for all the people involved and keep the business functioning indefinitely, WITHOUT CONSTANT GROWTH WE ARE FAILURES!) Continual growth requires continual increases in resources. Initially we found those resources by eliminating other things that were using them. (Take a good look at a farm field. The only thing that lives there is what the farmer wants there, the crop. Everything else has been displaced or killed.) We quickly used up those resources. So we started taking resources from elsewhere. First we expanded so we had more area to use. Then we conquered, so we could make others produce for us. Then we pushed back in time to take resources that were removed from the system millions of years ago (coal, oil, natural gas…), Now we are out of places to find more resources to continue our growth so we alter what we grow so it will produce more from less. We modify the very structure of life to get more production.
Along the way we have hit limits. When that happens civilization crashes. Those who survive, regroup and try again. They try harder and smarter, develop new methods and new technologies, and get bigger. They crash again and again. The Anasazi, the Maya, the Mesopotamians, the Romans, etc… Every time we rise from the dust of the crash and learn to reach farther, dig deeper, make more from what we take.
We BELIEVE a story where this works. It defines our style of civilization. Kind of like those folks who didn’t believe in gravity. Or, more like the folks who believed they were exempt from or above the limits of gravity. They spent their lives in the sure knowledge that if they walked off a cliff they would not fall. Right up to the day they walked off the edge. CRASH! We are not walking, we are running full tilt, and we will crash yet again. We’ve been doing this for the last 10000 years, running at the edge of the cliff as fast as we can with as much as we can and believing we can fly. We crash and die. Somewhere else someone picks up the bits and does it again, bigger and better. Civilization! CRASH! AGAIN! CRASH! AGAIN! THIS TIME WE’VE GATHERED THE WHOLE GLOBE, EVERY LIVING PERSON, AND EVERY LIVING CREATURE (BY DEFAULT…) WE ARE RUNNING FULL TILT TOWARD THE EDGE….

Time to learn to fly…

Flight only happens when you understand gravity and the rest of the laws that, by limiting, make flight possible.

Let’s learn to fly… or better yet, lets learn to farm in a way that doesn’t lead yet again to a massive crash.


PioneerPreppy said...

Good post. I would ask however aren't we past the point of being able to change? At this time, with the population we have any change will almost certainly cause us to drive off the cliff. Assuming of course something else doesn't beat it to the cliff dive.

I guess the cliff must be jumped before change can even begin as well.

Leon said...

Hehe, thanks for promotion :)

Interesting post. I kept expecting to see you listing permaculture as the answer but you didn't. You don't think it works?

Also, reminded me of one of my favorite quotes: "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."
Edward Abbey

John F. said...

Nice post with some key points.

As for permaculture, I support it, but not as a simple replacement for today's agriculture. Food growing approaches akin to permaculture worked for hunter-gatherers (who were usually also gardeners) for thousands of millennia.

Once a people start depending primarily on food growing for their sustenance, though, upping the scale, creating and storing unnecessary food surpluses, the problems start. And the most fundamental one is that, as a result, human numbers grow, leading to that unending growth cycle described in the post.

Permacuture and similar approaches to food production make good sense as supplementary tools in a hunting-gathering context. I think that is where we will arrive once again.

This article elaborates:

Agriculture: Ending the world as we know it

Leon said...

John, thanks much for the link - I did enjoy the thoughtful analyses in the article as well as very useful info on your site and resources linked from it (actually, still reading - probably, will be back with questions later :) Thanks again,

John F. said...

You're welcome, Leon. Always happy to talk about this stuff.

I should add that I think permaculture and similar approaches to food production will certainly play a major role in any transition away from today's civilization.

Anonymous said...

have you read ishmael / daniel quinn books? just wondering.

Kevin Kossowan said...

Really enjoyed this post. That macro perspective isn't discussed enough. Ever.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...


A very well-crafted piece, with interesting comments. Thanks for being the focus. Can't believe that I hadn't read (or couldn't remember) the Abbey quote.


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