From the CUPS library vault: This is a speech that Wes Jackson, president and founder of the Land Institute, gave at The Monterey Aquarium’s 2009 Cooking For Solutions Media Conference. Although this previously unpublished talk was filmed a number of years ago, when it comes to Wes Jackson, his ideas are generally so far ahead of their time, it’s certainly relevant today.
When Dr. Jackson speaks of deficit spending as a conservative voice—he’s not referring to the national U.S. Treasury debt, he’s referring to the overdrawing of our finite natural resource bank that no amount of future money will likely be able to replenish. When he speaks out in support of nature, in particular, for the protection of our agricultural soils—he is also speaking against the folly of human society that appears almost hell bent on destroying the very ecological foundations that have fueled the entire human economy.
His personal crusade in conjunction with the work at the Land Institute, is to develop commercial varieties of perennial grains— wheat, sorghum, sunflowers, that mimic the natural resilience, and protective properties of the native prairie grass of the Midwestern plains.
Jackson’s continued call for a 50-year farm bill, not a recurring 5-year bill as currently exists, he argues is necessary to reflect the ecological realities of farming. The federal Farm Bill, the single largest piece of agricultural legislation, focuses its main priorities (outside of the funding for low-income nutrition assistance programs) on the agriculture export markets, not nearly enough toward creating 21st century sustainable farm policy and funding.
Here’s a sampling of highlights from his keynote speech:
- Sustainability is a value term, like “Justice” difficult to define, nonetheless important, we organize our society toward achieving them.
- The best examples of sustainability are found in nature.
- For human economies, the best examples are from hunter-gatherer societies that predate agriculture.
- As long as we have an increasing world population, and/or growth driven economies, future technology is not likely to provide meaningful solutions for achieving sustainability.
- Our problems have started out slowly, roughly over the past 13,000 years, but have reached a dangerous speed in our current time, as reflected in the following facts:
- A 10-year old today has lived through a quarter of all the oil that has been burned.
- A 22-year old, 54% of all the oil burned.
- A person born around 1934 has seen the world population triple in their lifetime.
- Since 1963, the world population has doubled.
- Prior to 1930, no person had ever witnessed a doubling of the population in their lifetime.
- A person born in 2050, or later, will likely never see the population double again in their lifetime.
- The first of our deficit spending occurred with agriculture, made possible from “pulverized coal” deposits in the soil.
- Second, about 5000 years ago, the cutting down of our forests provided the fuel for both the bronze and iron ages.
- Third, about 250 years ago, coal, provided the fuel to spark the industrial age.
- The Drakes oil field in 1859, the first commercial discovery of oil, has more than any single event, brought us to where we are today with our modern economy, and precarious environmental state.