How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Agriculture and the Lies Humanity Tells Itself

9 July 2016

In the past couple of days, I have passed from temperate forests to boreal forests to prairies, shifting with earth's latitudes and precipitation rates. The temperate and boreal forests have, for the most part, been logged, but many are regenerating with secondary growth. I drove 500 miles today across Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and I am still looking for an unfragmented piece of natural prairie. Check out Google Earth of the area to get an idea of what it looks like. Rapeseed, wheat and cattle fields make a patchwork blanket on the landscape that stretches on and on and on...

In the 1960s, rapeseed was a crop grown almost exclusively for local consumption in Canada. In 1986, Canada had approximately 6.5 million acres of rapeseed under production. In 2015, the number of acres under production was almost 20 million. In 2015, Canada exported more than 10.6 million tonnes of rapeseed oil, meal and seed. Rapeseed oil production is such a significant agricultural commodity in Canada that they went ahead and changed the name to "Canada oil" or "canola" for short. The transition from prairie to cropland has been great for Canada's economy, with canola bringing in billions of dollars in foreign exchange annually. I am trying to imagine why the earth needs so much canola oil. How is it used? How much is going to the production of potato chips and Cheetos, and how much is actually going to supporting healthful nutrition for the population of the planet? My guess is that much of it ends up in cellophane bags on the shelves of convenience stores.

As prairies have been converted to electronic and paper dollars, something of real value has been lost. Temperate grasslands are among the most endangered habitats on earth. In North America, the loss of these habitats has resulted in significant population declines of at least fifty percent of all prairie bird species. The birds are just an indicator of everything else that has been lost: frogs, salamanders, wildflowers, carbon, natural history, cultural identity, aesthetics, the list goes on and on.

As I am driving, I am listening to Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (what a great name). In this book, Harari objectively describes the anthropological history of humankind. In doing so, he challenges all of the anthropocentric, arrogant and misguided beliefs we humans cling to. In particular, he talks about the human inventions of money and agriculture and the mythologies surrounding them.

Money evolved as a means of exchange for practical purposes.  If I have a lot of apples and I want a pair of shoes, the shoe maker may not want any apples, so we need a common form of currency that we both recognize as valid. This is a practical and important use of money. Unfortunately, money has taken on a life of its own. The people of the world are now driven to earn it, accumulate it and spend their entire productive adult lives in its pursuit. It has become the cornerstone of modern existence. In and of itself, money actually has no real value. It is paper, coin and electronic bytes of data. Worthless and meaningless stuff. It is only our belief in it that gives it value. Shoes, wildflowers, birds, salamanders and apples have value. Money doesn't.

Agriculture is another myth. We are told in our history classes that it was this human invention that lifted primitive man from the terrible toil of hunting and gathering into the age of enlightenment. In fact, neolithic hunter gatherers were far healthier, enjoyed shorter working hours and led far more enriched lives than their agricultural counterparts. Even modern hunter gatherers (where Western cultural values have not invaded) work only a few hours per day, enjoy rich and varied lives and strong communities. The myth that they die young is also just a myth. If infant mortality is taken out of the equation, on average they have longer, healthier lives than most people living in the industrialized world (think Bangladesh, India and similar countries, where the majority of the world's population lives, not Canada or Finland). The main problem with hunting and gathering is that there is a small environmental carrying capacity for this kind of lifestyle, and the world now has too many humans for it to be a feasible option anymore. We must come up with alternative solutions.

Fortunately, such solutions do exist. We can limit agricultural production to crops that actually feed people, rather than subsidizing and encouraging monoculture commodity crops, such as corn, canola, wheat, etc. We can reduce meat consumption, thereby reducing the need for livestock feed. We can use permaculture, growing soil enriching species, such as legumes, side-by-side with other crops to avoid the need for fertilizers. Permaculture also mimics natural habitats, which in turn supports wildlife. We can eat seasonally appropriate food. We can eat locally. We can grow our own food. We can employ farmers, rather than machines and chemicals, thus boosting the economy for everybody, not just for multinational corporations. This is one environmental area where there actually is significant hope and feasibility. We can foster a paradigm shift back to things of real value and away from the worship of modern man's false idol, money. The birds and the wildflowers can return, and the world can be a healthier place for all species, including humans.

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