Saturday, April 17, 2010

A reminder

The vulcano eruption on Iceland and its consequences are brisk reminders of how dependent on nature we still are. I often hear people say that industrialism has made us less dependent on nature. That is an illusion. On the contrary, current society is dependent on much bigger parts of nature than any previous society was. Hunter and gatherers were certainly dependent on nature, but they just foraged on the surpluse of limited parts of the ecosystems. The didn't use all the mineral and fossil resources that we do today; they were not dependent on a lot of physical infrastructure like we are and they used less of the ecosystem services. A vulcano eruption on Iceland would have almost no impact on any people outside Iceland (which wasn't even populated at that time....). The same with changes in climate. We are more stuck in all our investments. ,Gatherers were of course also affected by change in climate, but they could move on or change their foraging habits quite easily.

Even compared to the agriculture civilization that preceeded us, we are as or more dependent on supply of product and services from nature. True, we produce a lot more per square meter, but we have increased the population so that all that extra surplus is needed. There is no more food surpluses today than before, rather the opposite. Storage of food is probably a lot less than in the agriculture societies. In Sweden all farms stored food for a year or so (with the less pleasant effect that they ate old food all the time). I am told that the Incas had food storages for seven years (!). True, one difference is perhaps that we can today ship food from surplus areas to deficiency areas with the help of cheap fossil fuel and modern technology meaning that local food shortages should be less devastating. But the fact is that we don't do that. 1 billion is short of food despite all our progress. (Most people forget that countries like Japan and England are less food self-sufficient than Africa, just because they can buy their food). Fodd trade is certainly nothing new, both the Greeks and the Romans were totaly dependent on food imports for their survival....

The industrial society occupies half of the biosphere, i.e. half of all biologicial production is directly in the service of human kind. In addition it uses so many minerals etc, that WWF calculates that we use like 1.5 Earth for our survival. See graph above

The illusion of that we are less dependent on nature is caused by that we live further away from nature. But that is just screwing up our perspective. The fact that we get electricity in cables and petrol frpm tubes in the petrol station doesn't mean that we are less dependent on nature for energy than the hunter sitting around the camp fire or the farmer putting another log on his hearth. On the contrary, we have never been so dependent on nature for our style of living.

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