Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Back to Nature?

Ted Kaczynski, who is precisely 83.27% nuts, went back to "wild nature" by living in a plywood house, hunting rabbits with a rifle, and riding his bicycle to the town library to read magazines and books. That's in between manufacturing bombs using high explosives and sophisticated electrical devices.

Ted's problem is that, like it or not, he's a creature of the enlightenment and he lives in the industrial age. He was trying to use his power over the genie to order it to put itself back in the bottle, but that's one wish -- maybe there are others -- that is not its command.

As much as I admire and believe in the work of people like Festus and my late friend Bert DeLeeuw, I don't want people to get the wrong idea about it. They aren't re-creating an older way of life, they are creating something new.

Festus owns six tractors, five of which actually work. The price of diesel matters to him a lot. He also uses gasoline to drive his truck to his markets, to pick up compost, etc. He has built hoop houses (for the agriculturally naive, a common style of inexpensive greenhouse) out of PVC piping and polyethelene film. He uses a synthetic textile for row cover. He has noticed very specifically that the price of his petroleum-based inputs has been going up. He uses phosphate rock mined in Florida -- and by the way the Florida mines are expected to give out soon and we'll be importing most of our phosphate from North Africa.

The people who buy his produce of course earn their money in the industrial economy. His techniques depend on a knowledge base that did not exist until recently. The price of farmland depends on its value for other uses, and farming in most of New England would be nearly impossible without tax breaks. His business operates in the context of a modern, complex economy and society in which all of current history intrudes on his fields, as much as he tries to hide from it.

So, inevitably, we come back to petroleum. On the one hand, we suspect that as the price continues to rise -- and over the coming decades it will, even if it dips a bit over a shorter horizon -- intensive organic farming serving local markets will gain a better competitive position. On the other hand, in some ways it will get harder, not easier. Individual farmers and the economic, social and political networks of which they are a part will have to adapt. Jim Kunstler looks at the geopolitical big picture. Each of us needs to be thinking about our locality as well.

1 comment:

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