Today brings a partial solar eclipse and a new moon in Gemini, making it a good time to engage in fresh ways of thinking and being in the world.
As such, it seems appropriate to return to the topic of changing our discussion about sustainability, which I addressed two weeks ago on the ”Ignorance is Bliss” post. More specifically, I wanted to address an intriguing question posed in a thoughtful comment left by Ben Sullivan:
"How do we get there from here?"
It got me thinking, first along such lines as any individual effort is good, whether it’s planting a garden or reducing consumption of things imported to the island, and then about how government’s role should be protecting infrastructure like dams and reservoirs needed for agriculture.
But as I thought through each scenario that might develop under that approach, I kept coming back to the reality that to continue just about any aspect of modern life here on Kauai requires us to bring in stuff from someplace else, and that in and of itself is unsustainable. It’s unavoidably evident here on this little island in the Pacific, and also true throughout the world, because no one place has everything it needs to make the things we’ve all been taught to want.
Which kept bringing me back to my original premise: industrial civilization, or life as we know it in the 21st Century, is completely, utterly and inherently unsustainable.
So then what? Do we roll back to an agrarian society?
Well, if you listen to Lierre Keith, which I would highly recommend for a thoroughly stimulating and thought-provoking half-hour, you’ll soon learn why that’s not the answer, either. The premise of this former vegan is that vegetarianism as a sustainable model is a myth because agriculture is destroying human health and the planet.
I must say, she makes a good case, pulling from the archeological record to show that all the chronic degenerative diseases we accept as normal are unknown in hunter-gathers.
She also gets into factory farming, corporate control of the world food supply, corn subsidies paid to Midwest farmers, overpopulation as a function of global capitalism and patriarchy, and the massive inputs of energy required to keep modern ag going. Iowa alone, she says, uses the energy equivalent of 4,000 Nagasaki bombs every year in fertilizer and running farm equipment.
I was especially intrigued by her characterization of industrial, monocrop agriculture as “biotic cleansing,” because its repetitive clear-plant-harvest model, which kills even microorganisms, runs entirely counter to the intricate, diversity-driven, perennial plant-dominated workings of nature.
“Agriculture is a wound,” she says, that nature is constantly trying to repair.
“It’s a war every single year,” Keith says. “When we get out there and clear, we’re driving out the plants and animals that need a home. This is a nice way to say extinction. It’s been constant drawdown — of soil, species and water. It’s been 10,000 years, and we’ve trashed the planet. Now we’re out of continents. The human race is at the edge of the cliff.”
As she sees it, “We are going to have to give up agriculture if this planet has any hope.”
You know, that’s not so far-fetched, especially when you see where modern ag is headed, with GMOs and corporate control of seeds, rampant use of deadly chemicals and factory farms that subject animals to the most abhorrent conditions. And when you get right down to it, feeding people is secondary. The primary motive is profit.
Consider this statement by Keith:
“We took 60 million bison in this country and turned them into 40 million tortured cows and destroyed the continent in the process. It doesn’t even make any sense. But this is the insanity of industrial civilization.”
The link to her video was sent to me last week, but I found it in my in-box only yesterday, after writing a post about predictions that food prices will be climbing as demand grows and production wanes, throwing ever more people into poverty.
Agriculture, it seems, is already on the ropes.
But how, the interviewer asked Keith, are we going to feed the planet’s 7 billion human inhabitants if we give up modern agriculture?
“Nothing that we do is going to feed the 7 billion,” Keith replied. "The question is whether we’ll have a soft landing or a crash. We could have a soft landing, but I don’t see any evidence that we’re going to. I think the privileged are going to hang on to theirs until the very last moment.”
The answer, as she sees it, is to repair the world’s grasslands and forests, restore the animal cohorts that belong there and rejoin it as an integral part of a closed loop system – or to use a better term, a living community.
While we don’t have prairies or native game animals on this island, just imagine the diversity of food-producing life that could be generated if the forests and lowlands were restored.
In the process, we could also address climate change associated with global warming. If just 75 percent of the world’s trashed ag lands were restored as functioning grasslands and forests with animals, “within 15 years we could sequester all of the carbon produced since the beginning of the industrial age,” Keith says.
While Keith presented a rather dark view of the future, given our propensity to live in denial, she did point to the one really positive note for all of us who are committed to environmental stewardship, social justice and changing the course of this crazy, mixed up, “civilized” world.
“Frankly,” Keith said, “we just have to get out of the way. Nature will do the work for us.”
So perhaps the place to start, in getting from here to there, is understanding and supporting the workings of nature, and putting a stop to the ongoing destruction of the ecosystems that sustain us.