Farming Alone: The Human Island (Chapter 12)

So we decided that we can do without ecological services; we islandise our species. Coastal desalination plants, running from a combination of dirty old technology, nuclear and renewable energy, provide expensive yet drinkable water (that we continue to fill our toilets with – go figure), however, food and water security being what it is, subsidies are provided for growers; but only for the essential produce. Luxury (ie. nonessential) and water intensive agriculture is reduced to pocket areas lucky to be situated where the shifting hydrological cycle provides good rainfall. Of course, demand for such items leads to the price to a level beyond the affordability of the average family.

It’s not too essential, however. Many grains do well enough with the increasingly wet-dry seasons as they creep into higher latitudes and higher CO2 atmospheric concentrations, albeit with lower nutritional value [16]. That grains fair reasonably well also eliminates another problem; dwindling natural pollinators. Where good natural flows are found (even if it’s one good season out of five), farmers keep the odd fruit orchard and bee colony, to rake it in on the good year. Of course, such fertile and easily farmed land has since been acquired from remnant vegetation (being as important as it is for human use), so all other pollinators are no longer found locally, as are natural pest controllers and eventually soil repairers.

As was previously needed along the Nile, the Murray Darling Basin and many other major river systems that had previously inundated floodplains seasonally, providing the nutrient booster, before weirs controlled water flow; much more intensive measures are required to repair and fertilise soils without the flows and abundance of soil repairers. Eventually, in the early 22nd century, the previous luxury of expensive land filling of sewage had to be abandoned – regardless of massive protest – to instead go through yet another expensive process to provide fertilisers where natural gas has once been over-used. It is, after all, rich with much of the required materials and with between 8 and 9 billion mouths to feed, there simply remained no other way to provide enough fertilisers without such a measure.

Somewhat surprising, the camel, the rabbit and the goat that demanded control policies around Australia have suddenly found themselves an increasingly positive limelight. Each species fairs well in the changing climate – especially the camel – and each species is edible. The foreign flavour of such gamey meat was quickly overcome by employing the sharp herbs of the East, however, over time these species regained their former rarity and thus increased value. By then, the meat was well established on the Australian palette and so no longer required such masking.

Not only did this provide money and means to keep these species numbers better in check, but as camel replaced the now too expensive beef supply and many other produce now in limited supply or of decreasing quality, the cholesterol and calorie intake values dropped significantly. The human island did what human endeavours couldn’t; it made us healthier eaters. Diets and gym memberships were a thing of our gluttonous past – now looked back upon by new generations who had never personally witnessed it with a sense of awe and disgust.

Another wonderful surprise that results from necessity is that while many introduced crops species find New Australia a less tolerable place, many native fruiting species handle the changes better – provided that they are cultivated. Suddenly native fruit, such as the Quandong, Dessert Lime, Muntries (with the Quandong; my personal favourites), Riberries and Bush Tomato are reapproached with a new zeal. In some respects, the absence of numerous herbs (but certainly not all), native Australian herbs also found a sudden market – something that was seen in much of the New World. Thus there is a resurgence of ‘local flavour’ over universal recipes that swept across the globe throughout the industrial era. Humanity has rediscovered its culinary identity as diverse and unique from region to region as it once was (but obviously not the same flavours of a few centuries prior).

Unfortunately another true survivor is also ever present on a landscape of decreasing biodiversity; the locust. Remnant vegetation is pushed further and further away from where we know we can guarantee food production. Likewise, the birds and predatory insects have also left the new agricultural lands. These wide open spaces too do not favour certain fungal infections that would otherwise limit pest numbers so in short our new vast monoculture landscapes are a wonderland for pests; with ample food and few risks. Chemical treatment of crops is simply the only way to ensure high enough yields beneath massive clouds of these pests.

As with the sewage fertiliser protects and the endless GM protests, so too the public are in outrage by the high level of pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on our food supply, but in all cases the same answer had to be accepted – without the former ecological services, without the former physical processes, we simply had no choice.

Reference
[16] Högy et al. 2009. Effects of elevated CO2 on grain yield and quality of wheat: results from a 3-year free-air CO2 enrichment experiment. Plant Biology. 11(1). pp 60-69. doi: 10.1111/j.1438-8677.2009.00230.x

This is chapter twelve of the series The Human Island: A Place of Ecological Ruin. To see the previous chapter, click here. As the series grows, the complete work can be found here.

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2 thoughts on “Farming Alone: The Human Island (Chapter 12)

  1. Why not eat locust too , I hear they are nice deep fried , there another problem solved 😛 .
    I think we will be lucky if our future is even half this good , my hope in human intelligence over coming our greed is dwindling fast .
    Re [16] I saw a report on ABCs Catalyst that elevated C02 level means plants can put more energy into producing toxins to defend themselves against pests .

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    1. Apparently insects are very high in valuable proteins and are much more efficient in converting plant matter than our general meat sources, but I don’t think I’ll be lining up just yet for locust kebabs! lol

      I’m not sure – I don’t think this future is that great really, but we can be resourceful if made to be and this would be making lemonade… It would be an ugly place, but we would make do, I guess, and may even “reinvent” regional identity.

      There certainly is mounting evidence that “CO2 is plant food” is simply nonsense – not taking the whole picture in respect.

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