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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
Paradise lost (06/13/2010)
By Janet Lewis Burns
“The economy right now is 99.9 % global and industrial, which puts it at a greater risk of systemic collapse.” “We’re losing millions of acres of farmland a year to development.” “We’re not investing enough in small-scale, organic agriculture. Rapid economic growth has created tons of cheap food with a long shelf life, but it’s destroying family farms, which are vital to rebuilding and preserving soil fertility.”

–Woody Tasch, from the June SUN magazine interview by Thea Sullivan.

As we drive through an apparently fertile countryside, I wonder what genuine, unadulterated paradise would look like. To the naked eye, there seems to be no shortage of natural beauty, if one looks beyond man-made obstacles and barriers everywhere. Unoccupied wilderness areas are out of reach, to be discovered through explorers’ chronicles, such as the late Sigurd Olson’s adventures through Canada’s Yukon, or romanticized in such contrived places as Jimmie Buffet’s Margaritaville.

I’ve often mused, where was all this magnificent scenery when I was young? It was always there – I just wasn’t looking, preoccupied with the mini-tragedies of teenage years and the angst, joys, and struggles of young motherhood. Now I devour wispy, pink-tinged, roadside grasses, even as their trembling rhythms are interrupted by ugly traffic signs, azure skies, where high lines stretch from pole to pole insulting its serene backdrop, and rolling fields of lush green and gold, severed by fences conveying a foreboding message: “no trespassing.”

Saddest of all, clumps of stately trees surround weed-infested clearings, where homesteads loom, barren and unkempt, their farm buildings often eyesores of decay and abandonment. In a book written by geomorphologist David Montgomery, entitled “Dirt: The Erosion Of Civilization,” he did an analysis of civilization throughout history, and found a direct correlation between the loss of topsoil and the decline of those civilizations.

Woody Tasch writes in the SUN interview, “Only 19 cents of every dollar ends up in the hands of a farmer. 81 cents goes to this huge system that includes transportation and retailing and distribution and refrigeration.” “Somehow we have to get ourselves out of this Catch-22 of having to produce cheap food to feed the masses while high-quality, locally grown food is available only to those who can afford it.” Tasch reports this: “The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that at least half of a percent a year, and possibly one percent a year, of total arable land is being degraded by erosion.” “You certainly don’t want to dump tons of chemicals on a piece of land and run over it with tractors and plows, destroying all the organic matter.” “Left to its own devices, a prairie will build maybe an inch of top soil in a millennium.” Go figure!

Faces frozen with fright, in unfathomable numbers, seem like little more than props for sad and tragic news stories that happened somewhere else. It’s already old news – that massive earthquake in Chile this spring, leaving two million homeless, along with an undetermined number killed...nameless, unknown casualties.

A few months earlier, in a different place, another disastrous earthquake hit Haiti, killing 200,000 people and leaving a million more homeless. Our own lives comfortably go on. We think, thank heavens my little corner of the universe, my family, and my precious possessions are safe!

Most disastrous is that we have failed to recognize catastrophic negligence, which has been occurring through millions of small offenses against mother earth’s environmental systems at an alarming rate. Instead of working to restore what’s been deteriorating due to over-consumption and waste, we continue to reap benefits from unsustainable systems. Tasch advises producers, “Trust how abundant nature is, how fast it can come back if we let it.”

Closer to home, the aftermath of the biggest oil spill in U.S. history is swiftly turning marshlands into death zones for wildlife and staining pristine beaches, of states along the Gulf shores, to crimson. Mankind has been the most rampant and destructive spoiler of paradise.

Is the bleeding Gulf of Mexico yet another sign that people of the earth are destroying themselves?

Janet Burns can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.  

 

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