Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Want Less

Interesting book on sustainability.  I think present methods of agriculture are in fact unsustainable, even if we don't run out of oil.  I think some of the problem may be prevented if salt tolerant crops are developed - salinization is inevitable with irrigation.  Strangely, we can only grow enough food to feed us all by using oil to make fertilizer, and using that to produce corn and soy beans.  This generates about 85% of the calories we make.  Our lives depend on this production by 'industrial agriculture.'  At the same time, the government's intervention into this industrial model creates many negative eventualities which distort the markets which drive the industry.  This is why we grow so much food that is essentially toxic to the human body.  And yet, you can provide the calories necessary to keep a poor person alive for a lower cost (at the point of sale - this cost analysis goes south when you consider the environmental impact, the higher taxes that sustain the industry, etc) than at any other time in history.

I don't know how humankind will stumble across the solution to all of this, but doubt that this author's suggestion will get us through.
"More food but also disease, craziness, and anomie resulted from the agricultural revolution, according to this diffuse meditation on progress and its discontents. Wells (The Journey of Man), a geneticist, anthropologist, and National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, voices misgivings about the breakthrough to farming 10,000 years ago, spurred by climate change. The food supply was more stable, but caused populations to explode; epidemics flourished because of overcrowding and proximity to farm animals; despotic governments emerged to organize agricultural production; and warfare erupted over farming settlements. Then came urbanism and modernity, which clashed even more intensely with our nomadic hunter-gatherer nature. Nowadays, Wells contends, we are both stultified and overstimulated, cut off from the land and alienated from one other, resulting in mental illness and violent fundamentalism. Wells gives readers an engaging rundown of the science that reconstructs the prehistoric past, but he loses focus in trying to connect that past to every contemporary issue from obesity to global warming, and his solution is unconvincingly simple: Want less."

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