From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
Agriculture’s most earnestly held article of faith is that if farmers can continue to increase production to meet the ever-rising demands of population growth, future food shortages and the upheavals that so often follow can be avoided. If you care to look at the situation from a somewhat different angle, the opposite is truer. The more food an agricultural system produces, the more it encourages population growth, and the more the population grows, the greater the chances that social stress, war, genocide and famine will follow. One would think that after elegantly feasting on good food, humans would just want to lean back, belch and enjoy their good fortune. Instead they haul off and procreate more people to join the feast.
I used to brandish Farmers of Forty Centuries as the ultimate last word in sustainable food production and the best answer to avoiding world hunger. I was wrong. That book describes farming in Asia in the early 1900s when more food was being produced there per acre than anything the gene manipulators or the organic producers today have come close to imitating. All it did was keep population growing so that more food had to be produced. China, especially during its wars with Japan in the 1930s, suffered horrendous genocidal depopulation which in turn disrupted its highly refined and intricate garden-farming agriculture. Hunger followed genocide, did not precede it. North Africa, culminating in the destruction of Carthage, suffered the same kind of fate. It had developed a remarkably productive agriculture in what was mostly a somewhat desert-like environment. The success of that agriculture encouraged population increases that brought social instability, wars, and the collapse of its agriculture. Then came the decline of its civilization.
Looking at how genocide has become a regular occurrence these days, I wonder if it isn’t time to open up that can of worms, limits to growth, again. I do so hesitantly because no one except very contrary farmer types (and not many of them) will argue that there really are too many people in the world. The welfare of the whole human circus depends on continuing population growth. Farmers want more eaters. Generals want more soldiers. Preachers want more parishioners. Car dealers want more drivers. Governments want more taxpayers. Politicians want more voters. Writers want more readers. Entertainers want more fans. Dentists want more teeth. Funeral homes want more corpses. Zero population growth, or anything close to it, would mean economic debacle.
Nevertheless I am obstinate enough to insist that there are too many people in the world or at least in parts of it and it doesn’t have much to do with food supplies. Even more obstinately I say that most people secretly agree but because they fear economic debacle more than death, they just go along hoping that the limits of growth and the genocide that accompanies it doesn’t catch up to them personally.
Limits to growth is a many-splintered notion. In this case it refers to more than just our relationship to food and energy supplies. If our smartest scientists could get over their fixation over how technology can always stay ahead of population increases and would quit wasting their time trying to think of more reasons why Malthus was wrong, progress might come. Unrest, war, and genocide precede food shortages. Starving people do not have the energy to hack 800,000 of their fellow humans to death with machetes and if they did they would eat the dead bodies. Genocide is somehow triggered by spatial and mental relationships between human beings in ways we don’t know how to interpret adequately yet. We must work at this concept until science can come up with ways to predict when one group of people is suddenly going to resort to mindless mass killing of another group of people and then try to avoid that situation. Supplying humans with more food is not the solution. That just gives them more energy to kill each other. It is not as simple as this example, but as we discussed two weeks ago, when you crowd strange chickens together in the same space, they start killing each other even though they have plenty of food to eat.