August/September 1998 Issue of the Planet Kansas
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Notes From the Corporate Hog Wars, by Craig Volland
Calendars for Kansas, by Craig Wolfe
Water and Toxics, by Terry Shistar
Tell KDHE What You Think About Water Quality in Kansas, by Charles Benjamin
Trains, Lanes, Planes, And Octanes:: Walking and Bicycling, by Wayne Sangster
Now I Love Politics, by Tom Thompson, Kansas Chapter Political Chair
What in the World Is a Worldview?, by John Kurmann
Notes From the Corporate Hog Wars
By Craig Volland & Charles Benjamin
Citizens of Western Kansas File for State Rep and County Commissioner Positions
Frustrated by state government's refusal to effectively respond to their concerns about huge hog factories, a number of western Kansas activists have filed against entrenched, pro-hog state representatives and county commissioners. It's an uphill battle given the resources of the incumbents, but citizens are hoping the hog issue will trump the usual election year concerns. The pro-hog editorial staff of the Hutchinson News has already decried this "single issue" campaigning not realizing it's really about questionable economics, local control and democracy. House majority leader, Robin Jennison, is being challenged by Darryl Schuler of Ness City in the republican primary and Gary McBee of Dighton in the general election. Ellen Verell of Meade, Ks. is opposing incumbent republican Melvin Neufeld in the primary and Jerold Hubbard of Johnson, Ks. is seeking Eugene Shore's seat in the general election as a democrat. Mayor Ralph Goodnight of Lakin, Ks. is focusing on family farm and hog issues against incumbent Gary Hayzlett in the republican primary.
On the flip side, democrat incumbent Ethyl Peterson of Dodge City, who fought hard for the citizens in the legislature, is running for re-election and has opposition in the general election. Republican incumbent, John Edmonds of Great Bend went against party leadership to support the citizens and now has primary opposition. All three candidates vying for Gov. Grave's job have come out against corporate hogs, including republican David Miller, democrat Tom Sawyer and reform party candidate Darrel King. Diversified family farmer and democratic candidate for Secretary of State, Don Rezac is running on family farm and anti-corporate hog issues. However, it's difficult to get a reading on the impact of the hog issue at the statewide level. Below is a listing of sympathetic state rep and county commissioner candidate and their phone numbers.
Primary election: Aug. 4, 1998
District 115 Ellen Verell (R) 316-646-5420
District 117 Darryl Schuler (R) 785-798-3704
District 112 John Edmonds(R) 316-792-4121
District 122 Mayor Ralph Goodnight (R) 316-355-6337
Ford County Commissioner Laura Carlson (D) 316-225-4608
Seward County Commissioner Max Louderbach (D) 316-624-1001
Meade County Commissioner Kenneth Walker (R) 316-646-5466
Barton County Commissioner Frank McKinney 316-792-5601
Greeley County commissioner Marge Hornbaker 316-376-4379
General election: Nov. 3, 1998
District 124 Jerold Hubbard (D) 316-593-4436
District 117 Gary McBee (D) 316-397-2275
District 116 . Ethel Peterson (D) 316-227-6849 or 227-9616
Finney County Commissioner Roman Halbur (R) 316-276-8336 (Unopposed)
Seward County Commissioner Doug Knudsen (D) (Unopposed)
Seward County Commissioner Mary Jo Tilford (D) (Liberal, Ks.)
Hog Factory Results in Lowered Property Value Assessment.
In May, Dewitt Co., Illinois tax officials lowered the assessed value of two dozen homes near a 7000 sow hog farm because of odor. Homes within 1 1/2 miles of the facility received a 30 percent reduction and homes within 2 miles received a 10% reduction. On average these homeowners will receive $120.00 off their tax bill. This is a real breakthrough in the argument over how hog factories impact the local taxpayer. This county had thought they were getting economic development. Now they know that what goes in one pocket, comes out the other. Meanwhile citizens in Missouri have had success stopping a hog factory by issuing a letter threatening to have their homes appraised and to hold the operator liable for any decline in value.
Seaboard Executive Praises Kansas' New Hog Bill
Interviewed recently by the Wichita Eagle (June 7), Rick Hoffman, President of Seaboard Farms, the largest hog producer in Kansas, said HB2950 contains nothing that would prevent the company from proceeding with its plans. "We were real happy with the bill, " Hoffman said. "If it's science-based, why would we argue against it?" Also, in a memo to his employees, Hoffman said Oklahoma's new hog legislation will probably slow down their ability to get permits there. Kansas Chapter response: We don't know what science he's talking about, but we do know who wrote the Kansas bill.
Citizens Vow to fight issuance of Murphy Farms, Inc. hog factory permits in Lane and Hodgeman County.
In June Governor Graves approved permits for Murphy Farm Inc.s huge hog complexes in Lane and Hodgeman counties. The Hodgeman facility will house a total of 14,000 hogs including 11,000 sows, and the Lane facility will house about 28,000 hogs including 22,000 sows. Together these facilities will produce about 600,000 pigs per year for nurseries and finishing facilities elsewhere in the state. Administrative appeals have been filed against both permits by attorney, John Carter. In addition, Carter has filed a suit challenging the refusal of KDHE to grant a public hearing in Lane County. A lawsuit is already pending in Hodgeman County challenging Murphy Farms' claim of exemption from the election banning corporate hog factories. Citizens there have already been granted standing in the case. A suit has been filed in Lane County challenging the original resolution approving corporate hog farming in that county. The County commissioners have refused to allow a vote. The Kansas chapter is lending some assistance to these efforts from our legal defense fund. We still need contributions. These may be sent to:
Craig Wolfe, Chapter Treasurer, 9844 Georgia, Kansas City, Ks. 66109. Please make checks out to the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club and note "legal fund" at the bottom. Thanks.
Kansas Rural Center Organizing Important Hog Conference Oct. 10
The Kansas Rural Center is organizing an important scientific and educational conference dealing with critical issues facing the state with the influx of large hog factories. The one-day conference will be held in Great Bend on October 10,1998. The conference will cover five major subject areas: (1) social and economic impacts on local communities, (2) threat to water resources,(3) review of the new regulations and K State lagoon research project, (4) alternatives to odorous anaerobic lagoons and (5) alternatives to intensive confinement of hogs, ie sustainable hog production. Please mark your calendars and call Mary Fund at the Kansas Rural Center at 785-873-3431 for registration materials. Cost will be about $25.00
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Calendars for Kansas
Chapter Calendars to Support Group Fund-Raising
By Craig Wolfe
This is our second year of trying to sell calendars on a chapter-wide basis. However, we will put a slightly different twist on it this year. Since our March Appeal has met its goals, all proceeds raised by the group sales persons will go to the benefit of the group, after the cost of the calendars is covered.
The idea is simple. All it takes is someone who has access to groups of people, like your place of work, your social club, your school anywhere that your can offer our calendars for sale. Here is how it works 1) We give you our Calendar Kit. This includes a sample of each calendar we have for sale. 2) We give you order forms listing the calendars and their prices. 3) You take orders, collect checks, and send the orders in. 4) We send you the calendars to distribute. 5) For each calendar you sell, the group makes about 50% profit, i.e., for a $10 calendar, the group pockets $5. If a sales person could sell 20 calendars, thats $100 in profit. If we could multiply that by 20 or 40 folks, we would have a real fundraiser on our hands!! See the ad below for more information.
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Water and Toxics
By Terry Shistar
Nearly 20 years as a pesticide activist has given me many opportunities to confront or change my worldview. It also serves as an example of the importance of worldview in problem-solving.
I became a pesticide activist when my family was sprayed with a highly toxic insecticide that was intended for the alfalfa field across the road from my house. Before that incident, pesticides weren't something I thought about very much. I had avoided using them myself, but hadn't thought myself threatened by other people's use.
The spraying incident made me aware that pesticides pose problems when used improperly. I became active in an effort to enforce pesticide misuse laws. I helped organize an organization (now defunct) called Kansans for Safe Pest Control. I was soon elected to the board of directors of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP). The names of those organizations reflected a worldview that is based on several underlying assumptions:
1. There are organisms that are pests, and those that are non-pests, and humans decide which are which.
2. Pesticides are materials specifically designed to kill pests, but they may harm non-pests if misused.
3. Pesticides can be used safely and effectively.
Because this worldview regards pesticide use as a useful but potentially risky technology, it focuses on limiting risks. For example, laws require testing to make sure that the materials aren't too dangerous. Our government makes rules about application techniques and doesnt allow pesticides to be used in high winds, or be sprayed into water bodies, or drift onto susceptible crops. This is the worldview that is the basis for most of our environmental laws, including various amendments to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) that govern pesticide use in this country.
As a pesticide activist, I learned many things that challenged that worldview. I learned that most pest damage is caused by secondary pests--that is, organisms that did not cause significant amounts of harm until pesticides killed their natural enemies. I learned about pesticide resistance--how pests evolve mechanisms to outwit our poisons, causing us to use more and more. And I learned that despite all of our efforts and newer, less persistent chemicals, pesticides are showing up in groundwater and surface water as a result of normal application practices.
My next change in worldview came while at NCAMP's annual pesticide forum, when I saw my friend Allan jot a note to himself: "What are economic poisons?" Well, to anyone who has been in this field as long as either of us had been, there was an obvious answer--"economic poison" is the old term for pesticide. The original pesticides were things like cyanide and arsenic. No one had any doubt that they were poisonous not only to "pests", but to people and other "desirable" life forms as well. They were dangerous poisons that were permitted to be used only because of the belief that they were economically beneficial.
To me, the insight in Allan's question was not just that the purveyors of poisons have managed to disguise their products by changing their names (they have now become "crop protection chemicals"), but that there are a host of other, non-pesticidal chemicals that are economic poisons--solvents, gasoline, paints, dry cleaning fluid, to mention only a few commonplace examples. All are toxic, but are allowed to be used because of their economic value in dissolving grease, running our cars, protecting wood, cleaning our clothes, etc. However, none of these economically valuable poisons are allowed to be dumped on your driveway, let alone be sprayed onto fields. However, the economic use of pesticide requires that they be broadcast into the environment. In addition, toxicity is an unnecessary property of the other chemicals, while pesticides must be toxic in order to do their job.
The "economic poison" paradigm changed some of the underlying assumptions:
1. There are still pests and non-pests, but
2. Pesticides are one of a class of toxic materials that can kill or harm both pests and non-pests.
3. Any use of a pesticide entails distributing a toxic material in the environment, and poses risks.
This paradigm shift entailed a shift in emphasis for me and many other activists. We began to focus more on the pest management context, emphasizing that pesticides should be used as a last resort because there is no such thing as a "safe" use of a pesticide.
Just as scientific paradigms are rejected when accumulating evidence and theory become too difficult to explain using the old paradigm, so also do our shifts in worldview reflect an attempt to make sense of accumulating knowledge and explanations. If you look back at what pesticide reform activists were saying over the past 20 years, you won't necessarily see a clear jump from the focus on "misuse" to the focus on "least toxic pest management". However, the shift in viewpoint made what we were saying make more sense.
I have more recently experienced another shift in worldview. This comes from questioning an essential underlying assumption of our culture--the assumption that the world was made for Homo sapiens. Take away that assumption, and the world is no longer divided into pests and non-pests (which we "knew" anyway because of our work with biological controls and agroecology.) We now recognize that what we had thought of as "pest problems" are really problems that people have living in the world. In recognition of this changed worldview, the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides has recently become Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP. As Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP board member Ken Ogwaro says, "We won't go beyond pesticides until we realize that there are no pests." (In case you think this is some tree-hugging hippie speaking, I should tell you that Ken's profession is what some people call "pest control". Ken says he "helps people with their problems.")
A worldview that divides the world into good guys and bad guys is a worldview that says that we are at war with the world. Look at names of pesticide products, and you'll see that warfare pervades our relationship with many of the organisms on earth. There are products with names like Ambush, Ammo, Arsenal, Avenge, Bullet, Capture, Chopper, Command, and so forth--I've only started the alphabet. This is a worldview that is leading us down the path of assured mutual destruction. We won't avoid that destruction by ensuring pesticides are used "properly" or even as a last resort. We'll only avoid it by changing the way we relate to other living things.
That's why a changed worldview is so important. We can't get where we want without changing minds. Changing laws isn't enough, because new laws operating under the old paradigm will still be inadequate.
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Tell KDHE What You Think About Water Quality in Kansas
By Charles M. Benjamin, Legislative Coordinator
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is seeking public comments on the Final Report of the Kansas Special Commission on Water Quality Standards. Public Hearings will be held at the following dates, times and locations:
Date Time Location
August 11, 1998 1:00 p.m. Independence, Kansas
Legion Room, Memorial Hall
401 N. Pennsylvania
August 11, 1998 1:00 p.m. Hays, Kansas
City Commission Chambers
1507 N. Main
August 13, 1998 3:00 p.m. Lawrence, Kansas
City Council Chambers
6th & Massachusetts
August 13, 1998 7:00 p.m. Wichita, Kansas
City Council Chambers
455 N. Main
You can obtain copies of the report by contacting Jeanne Woodard, Bureau of Water, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Building 284, Forbes Field, Topeka, KS 66620 or by telephone at (785) 296-5500. If you cannot attend one of the public meetings and want to make written comments you must do so by August 21, 1998 and direct them to Ms. Woodard at the address above. KDHE is encouraging those making oral comments at the public meetings to accompany them with written comments.
Why a Special Commission on Water Quality Standards?
The Kansas Special Commission on Water Quality Standards was created by the 1997 Kansas legislature as part of H.B. 2368. That legislation was written by the executive director of the Kansas League of Municipalities at the behest of municipalities reluctant to spend the money to upgrade their wastewater treatment systems to meet the 1994 water quality standards on ammonia, a by-product of urine toxic to aquatic life. Three municipalities in particular were instrumental in the passage of H.B. 2368 Ft. Scott, Topeka and Johnson County. All three have aging wastewater treatment systems that do not even meet the 1987 ammonia standard. Topekas Oakland Wastewater Treatment Plant also does not disinfect its human fecal waste before putting it directly into the Kansas River, polluting the segment of the river most used by recreational canoeists and their families. The legislature suspended the implementation of the 1994 ammonia standard despite evidence that the municipalities were inflating the estimated costs of complying with the standard.
The municipalities were joined by agribusiness interests who did not want to meet the 1994 atrazine standard of 1 ppb set for "chronic aquatic life" designated streams. Using "scientific evidence" provided by the maker of atrazine, these agribusiness interests claimed that atrazine is not a human carcinogen, is not a human endocrine system disrupter and is not toxic to aquatic life. The legislature degraded the atrazine standard for chronic aquatic life streams to the drinking water standard of 3 ppb without holding proper public hearings and without providing information to the U.S. E.P.A. that the 3 ppb standard is sufficient to protect the designated uses, as required under federal law.
In addition to the municipalities and agribusiness interests, salt producers convinced the legislature to suspend the implementation of the 1994 chloride standard, thus allowing them to continue to pollute Kansas waters beyond the background levels of chlorides. The legislature not only suspended or degraded these water quality standards, but also set up the Special Commission on Water Quality Standards to be appointed by the Governor. Unfortunately, Governor Graves chose representatives of municipalities and agribusiness interests critical of the 1994 water quality standards on ammonia and atrazine to serve on this Commission. No representative of environmental organizations was on the Commission. The "staff" of the Commission was Governor Graves legislative liaison on agricultural and environmental issues, whose previous job was lobbying for agribusiness interests.
Most of the hearings that I attended were dominated by paid consultants, staff and lobbyists from municipalities, agribusiness and salt producers making the case for lowering the 1994 water quality standards. Suggestions to strengthen Kansas water quality standards made by representatives of environmental organizations and the academic scientific community were ignored.
Final Recommendations of the Kansas Special Commission on Water Quality Standards
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Trains, Lanes, Planes, And Octanes:
Walking and Bicycling
by Wayne Sangster
The order of the nouns in the new name of this column (I'm leaving "Newza" to its originator, Tom Thompson) reflects my bias in transportation modes. I will take a train if given half a chance. Lanes (as in sidewalks, bicycle paths, streets, roads, highways, and interstates) come next. Then, if distance and time constraints dictate, I will take a plane (it's not that I fear flying -- it's just too confining and not much fun). Octane is a stand-in for whatever provides the energy for locomotion, whether it is 87 octane gasoline or Snickers bars.
Lanes, when used by non-motorized vehicles, can save lots of energy. Walking is my favorite mode of exercise, followed by bicycling. This type of exercise can serve another end -- getting there. After all, the pioneers made it all the way to Oregon from Missouri, walking much of the time. Bicycling is the most efficient way of getting around (using only 35 calories of renewable energy per mile), and walking is next (100 calories per mile). Compare that with driving a car (at 20 mpg requiring 1,860 calories per mile of nonrenewable energy), or a large (10 mpg) sport utility vehicle (3,720 calories per mile). An oversize sport utility vehicle consumes over 100 times as much energy as a bicycle, not to mention the issue of renewability. Bicycling and walking to run errands (not just to walk the dog -- how many people do you see just plain walking in today's suburbs, as compared with those who are running or jogging or being towed along by a dog?) should be encouraged -- the exercise is a bonus. There's the old joke about the guy who insisted on parking his vehicle as close as possible to the entrance to his workout center. Half of this countrys trips are three miles or less -- shorter trips in this range are within walking distance and the longer ones are doable on bicycle. Grocery shopping can be done on foot or bicycle -- two cloth bags (which should be used anyway) with handles are manageable. A cart (yours, not the store's) increases the number of bags one can manage on foot. The bank, Post Office, and shopping centers are other candidates for biking or walking.
Commuting by bus (or commuter train in the not-to-distant future?) can be combined with walking to and from the bus or train stops, which could provide a total of 20 or 30 minutes of exercise. However, biking in a foot of snow is not to be recommended; one can walk in deep snow, however. The average commuter driving to a park-and-ride lot can save 150 gallons of gas a year by bicycling (or walking) instead. Twelve bicycles can be parked in the space required by one car. Each car parking space requires over 300 square feet of land area and costs from $4,000 to $20,000 to construct and an additional $175 a year to maintain. Each bicycle parking space, on the other hand, uses less than 12 square feet of land at a cost of $50-$150 to build and a few dollars a year to maintain. (Source - "Steering A New Course: Transportation, Energy, and the Environment," by Deborah Gordon ). The high rate of bicycle theft in this country (about three times that of automobiles) requires that secure bicycle parking facilities or bike-on-transit programs be provided. Another advantage of walking- or bicycle-and-riding is that it might mean that a family could do without a second or third car, or that a commuter would not have to use a vehicle that uses a lot of gas.
Long-distance commuting by bicycle is possible, but probably not very safe in most of Kansas City. Other cities have made safe riding possible with bike trails. Portland, Oregon recently won a Fitness-friendly Award from Health magazine (in the July/August 1998 issue) for its bike lanes and off-road paths (roughly 185 miles of them). One even occupies prime waterfront real estate -- a freeway was relocated to make room. The city's entire fleet of buses and commuter trains is equipped with bike racks. As far back as 1971 Oregon earmarked 1 percent of its revenue from a gasoline tax to go to cycling and walking projects. Portlanders are three times more likely as other Americans to use their bikes for getting around town.
In the beginning people laughed at John Dowlin, a founding father of bicycling advocacy, when he suggested that police departments could use bicycles. Now over five hundred police departments in this country have bicycles and each one replaces a car (Source -- "Asphalt Nation," by Jane Holtz Kay). Police departments in the KC area should consider replacing some of their cars with bikes.
So, the next time you have the urge to hop in your car to run an errand, consider the alternatives -- walking or biking. And if you have bus service you don't already use, give commuting via bus a try and get some exercise to boot. Our government tells us that we are too fat (exercise will help with that). Here's a way to be good to ourselves and to the environment!
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Now I Love Politics
Tom Thompson - Kansas Chapter Political Chair
Actually, my wife says I'm addicted to politics. The proof of this is my last article, "I Hate Politics." Addictions have a love-hate aspect to them but so do politics. For the past two years Kansas Chapter Sierrans have been asked to contact their legislators, congressmen, governor, and other elected officials to vote for or against various issues. Sometimes officials agreed with us, sometimes not. Sometimes it was hard to tell. It was about as much fun as going to a job interview.
Since we liked endangered species, the Z-Bar Ranch being natural prairie, atrazine, chlorine, and ammonia not being in our surface water, there being no corporate hog farms fouling the environment, logging staying out of old growth forests, and mines out of Yellowstone we made the phone calls and wrote the letters.
Now elected officials want something from us...our votes.
Many say that democracy is a terrible form of government, but it is the best form of government we have come up with. We don't truly have a democracy, representative form as it is, without people getting involved.
It is time to put the feet of anti-environmental government officials to the fire before they burn up the whole planet (this is the "I love politics" part). Now they are out looking for your vote.
Today each of us should be asking, "Mr. or Ms. elected official or candidate, why isn't our government doing a better job of protecting the environment? What in the world have you been doing and what in blazes are you going to do to make it better?"
You cannot expect elected officials to vote for pro-environment issues if you don't vote and work for pro-environment candidates.
The process of endorsing candidates is taking place. By late September or early October endorsements will be in place in areas where Groups are active. Some congressional races may be known sooner. To get involved call your Group Chair and volunteer to help. Or call me at 913-236-9161 (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will pass your name on to where it will do some good.
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What in the World Is a Worldview?
By John Kurmann
In recent issues of this newsletter, I've explored the radical notion that the cause of our current planetary crisis isn't any of the things it's commonly thought to be. It's not greedy capitalists, or consumerism, or transnational mega-corporations, or technology, or the industrial revolution, or fossil fuels, or population growth--none of that. These are all symptoms, not causes. Instead, I've argued that we've gotten ourselves into this mess because the people of our culture are pursuing a vision that, by its very nature, drives us to destroy the world. Vision can be defined many ways, though, so I'd like to clarify what I mean by it in this context. As I'm using the word, "vision" is equivalent to "worldview." What exactly is a worldview, though?
A worldview is, quite simply, a way of looking at the world--a vision of a culture's or a person's place in the world. A worldview tells its bearer why the world is the way it is, and how it came to be this way--in other words, it gives meaning to the world. For those of a religious persuasion, their worldview also explains the intentions of the divine. The Germans have a wonderful word for this concept, Weltanschauung, which literally translates as "manner of looking at the world."
A worldview, however, need not be a written creed, a profession of faith, or a mission statement. Though many people and sects do explicitly articulate their worldviews, a worldview need never be put into words for its existence to be verified. Your worldview is most truly expressed by your lifestyle; by the way you actually live in the world.
Why does worldview matter?
Few people concoct a worldview unique unto themselves. For most of us, our worldview is also our culture's worldview. When a worldview is replicated thousands, millions, and then billions of times, its effects on the world are magnified enormously. If a worldview nurtures and supports a way of life that is healthy and sustainable, its replication promotes the survival and well being of its bearers and the community of life in the world as a whole. Conversely, if it nurtures and supports a way of life that is unhealthy, destructive, and unsustainable, it brings misery and woe to its bearers, and causes them to make war on the other members of the community of life. Eventually, such a worldview could even threaten to devour the world, and this is why worldview matters.
Today, on a fundamental level, grouped by lifestyle, almost the entire world's human population can accurately be counted as the people of a single culture. They are grouped together because their lifestyle--whether they live in Minsk or Montreal, Addis Ababa or Auckland, Karachi or Kyoto, Sao Paolo or Seville--is founded on growth population growth, the agricultural growth which fuels that population growth, the physical growth of villages, towns, and cities, and economic growth. All the people of this culture live in a way which, every year, turns more of the world's biomass, its living matter, into two things, broadly speaking: human bodies and human consumables (food foremost, but also including such things as tree plantations for wood products, cotton fields for textiles, and the like).
Where's the evidence? Let's look at human population growth over all of our species' history. The origins of humanity are now dated to about three million years ago, with the evolution into existence of Homo habilis. Through all but the last 10,000 of those millions of years, through the time of Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens, and on into the time of Homo sapiens sapiens, fully anatomically modern humans, the world's population grew very slowly. It's estimated that, at the time of what is usually called the agricultural revolution, but is really our culture's agricultural revolution, which occurred around 8,000 B.C.E. in the Fertile Crescent, there were still only about 10 million people on the entire planet.
All of this changed, though, with our agricultural revolution. Now, a group of humans had the ability to manipulate its food supply to such an extent that the old limits to growth did not apply. With this agricultural program*, our cultural forebears had the ability to increase their food supply from year to year, and to go on increasing it. Today, after 10,000 years of increasing our culture's food supply, there are estimated to be 5.9 billion people on the planet, all but a few millions in remote places belonging to our culture--and our numbers are still growing.
Think of it: It took 3 million years of human history to reach the first 10 million, yet just another 10,000 to reach the edge of 6 billion. All of the biomass that is now those 5.9 billion human bodies, their food and other consumables, came from our neighbors in the community of life. Inevitably, turning ever more of the world's biomass into human bodies and consumables means that ever less of it can be anything else. In other words, our way of life, by its very nature, progressively destroys the diversity of plant and animal species in Earth, the very diversity that made, and makes, life, as we know it possible. And yet we continue this violent conversion as if it can go on forever.
What sort of worldview could possibly drive such a march of expansion? Author Daniel Quinn, in his novel The Story of B, has articulated our culture's worldview this way: "The world was made for Man, and Man was made to conquer and rule it." Who would argue that we haven't been living as if the world is our property? What else would you call an explosive population expansion from 10 million (and the first people of our culture were only a tiny percentage of those 10 million) to nigh-6 billion over 10 millennia if not conquest?
We have little information about how this conquest was carried out in Europe and Asia, but in these lands now called the United States it proceeded under the banner of Manifest Destiny. Our agricultural revolution was spread through the genocide committed against the indigenous peoples who thrived here before the Europeans invaded. It has been implemented through outright invasion, colonialism, gunboat diplomacy, and Cold War puppet regimes in Africa and Central and South America. Indeed, it's still underway in parts of Latin America (particularly the tropical rainforests), Africa, and on some Pacific islands, now under the banner of the global economy.
Everywhere around us are the signs that our cultural expansion cannot continue much longer, though. We've used up 10,000 years of slack in Earth's incredibly resilient natural systems, and the cord is nearly pulled taut. We must either find a way to stop pulling, and begin to release the tension, or it will break. Life giver-earth, grand and glorious as it is, is still a finite system, and we cannot continue to expand as though it is infinite.
Is there any hope? Of course there is. We must never forget that the human species lived for millions of years without overrunning the planet and making war on the community of life, and that there are still today human cultures who have lifeways that don't devour the world. The problem here is not human nature, but one human culture--ours. This is all the proof we need that it can be done, and the way it can be done is by living a different worldview.
The worldview I have in mind is the first worldview through which humanity lived as part of the community of life, a worldview as old as humanity itself, because we evolved into existence as a species living it, yet never obsolete. It's still here, as much valid and alive in the world as ever, and all we have to do to reclaim it is change our minds. We must remember that we are, in truth, but one species in the community of life, no more, nor any less, and that's a worldview--a vision--worth living for.
*What differentiates our type of agriculture from the many forms of agriculture developed by other cultures throughout human history? Daniel Quinn, in his book The Story of B, has appropriately dubbed our agricultural program totalitarian agriculture, which he defines this way: "a form of agriculture predicated on the notion that all food on this planet belongs to humans exclusively; thus (a) food dedicated to human use may be denied to all other species, (b) any species that would compete for human food may be destroyed at will, and (c) food needed by other species may be destroyed at will to make room for the production of human food."
For more of these ideas, please read Ishmael, Providence: The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest, The Story of B, and My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (all available through your local library or bookstore), or visit the website www.ishmael.org. B addresses the consequences of our culture's agricultural revolution in the greatest detail. You may reach John Kurmann by calling 816-753-6081, by tapping out a message to e-address email@example.com, or by writing to P.O. Box 45798, Kansas City MO 64171.
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