Sunday, January 14, 2007

Refuting the Gospel of Helplessness...

I use the label for the apocalyptic philosophies so prevalent today but so short on evidence. The Gospel of Helplessness is also the undergirding of our farm policy - farmers are incapable of coping with reality or creating their own future. That aspect of the Gospel has now become agri-dogma.

The GOH also extends to matters environmental. It is not useful to merely attack the adherents as wrong-headed, some alternative vision should be offered. Here is an excellent view on humans and the environment and how we are creating a future very different from the GOH:

The logic for Reversal and Restoration is obvious and deep. Intelligent humanity made revolutions in productivity sweep all industries in the 20th century. We now stamp out cars like tin ducks and microchips too. Unnoticed by many, revolutions in productivity also penetrated forestry and farming. Combined with more efficient production chains and changes in consumer taste, rising yields began to allow us to meet demand for food, fiber, and fuel while using less land: the Great Reversal. The enlarging forests and abandoned farms in the US and in many other nations show it.

Because cities will take a few hundred million hectares more land for the 10 billion people of 2070, we need the Reversal to spread to more nations and for it to extend into a Great Restoration. In the US, foresters may offer 70 million hectares for nature and farmers that much or more. The net effect should be to allow a restoration of nature on land in the US exceeding the size of 100 Yellowstone National Parks or twice the area of Spain. Regional and national case studies could build a global picture. Reflecting the diffusion of productivity through industries around the world, the Great Reversal will surely happen at different times in different places and with different potential. Setting goals, such as a 300 million hectare or 10% expansion of the world's forest area by 2070, may help.

Accomplishing the Great Restoration is the work of the 21st century for foresters, farmers, scientists, engineers, and all the other participants in the wood and food businesses. While avoiding the dangers of intensive cultivation, wise humanity can lift average yields toward the present limits and lift the limits even more. By sparing cropland, we can also spare water and nitrogen.

Malthusians are simply wrong. And for all the hatred extended to it by its beneficiaries technology continues to solve problems, increase productivity and improve lives - even correcting its own errors along the way.

And if we don't, I think life on Earth will find a way to adjust to that failure as well.

If you want a more bucolic version of the ecological future, consult a paleontologist. The paleontologists look further into the future to a time when the great evolutionary opportunities are not agricultural habitats, but are, instead, vast forests—to a time when the seas are again filled with large species—to a time when new large vertebrates roam new kinds of plains. They look forward in time to a world more interesting to us than our present evolutionary future. The paleontologists can do all this because they begin their discussions of future evolution with the statement, "once humans go extinct." [More]

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