Rumble Pie | Deep Ecology Blog

Rumble Pie #13
Chow Towers of Babel

SOME SCIENTISTS HAVE become so excited by the work of bio-wall pioneers like Patrick Blanc that they have begun to contemplate greenifying not only the outer envelopes of buildings, but their stratified floors, as well. Specifically, if green roofs and green walls can serve positive purposes, like preventing sewage wastewater from clogging up the city's arteries, maybe green buildings can be put to even more productive use -- like solving the planet's food crisis, perhaps?

THIS ISSUE IS A LITTLE BIT outside the scope of Green Apple's work -- we're certainly an ambitious group of people, but I highly doubt that we're going to be building a full-scale farm anytime soon. But we most certainly plan on introducing much more food production into our landscape designing, from hops and herb gardens to beekeeping and backyard chickens. So it's important that we examine the future of food and its relationship to landscape and localization.

THE CONCEPT GOES something like this: Our food system is currently undergoing a major crisis. Fact: the population of the planet will reach a staggering seven billion by the year 2012, and most estimates put the population at eight billion only 12 years after that, with nine not far behind. And as the human settlement project expands on the land, residential and industrial developments gobble up what were once mom-and-pop farms. We still end up producing more food every year than the year before, but the human population expansion far outstrips these food increases.

FACT: THE WESTERN fast-food industry, which requires massive amounts of grazing ground to satiate our appetite for cheap beef, is responsible for the depletion of huge swaths of the Amazon rainforest, the last set of lungs for Planet Earth. It also diverts a lot of grains grown elsewhere for the feeding of these animals, instead of providing plant-food for people. So a much more meat-intensive diet is mass-marketed to America and less developed countries. The result: more corporate profit, less food for humans, per plant input.

FACT: INDUSTRIAL FARMING, the process by which we bombard the soil with chemicals and artificially facilitate the growth of monoculture food crops, has depleted the earth of its natural nutritional content. This locks us into a vicious cycle whereby we must continue to poison the soil if we want it to yield any harvest. The alternative, letting the land lie fallow for years while we pay for the sins of previous generations and patiently rebuild the mineral content of the topsoil, is too expensive to contemplate in a capitalist system, meaning, that it's not profitable in the short term.

FACT: THE AMOUNT OF fossil fuel that can be pumped out of the ground every day has reached its peak, and is undeniably steadily and permanently declining. Ten calories of oil energy -- in the form of fertilizers and fuel for transportation -- are required in order produce only a single calorie of food. Less oil means less food produced at higher prices. And putting pressure on the grain industry to supply bio-fuels from corn and sugar cane only increases demand, which causes a corresponding further increase in the prices of these food staples, mainly for poor people.

BOTTOM LINE: WE HAVE reached the physical limits of the globalized industrial food production and distribution network. In the last couple of years, dozens of countries around the world, from Egypt to Russia and from Mexico to the Phillippines, have seen rioting in the streets due to rising food prices. Even in rich countries like Canada, food stockpiles have declined to insanely low levels (I would rather not speculate about specific figures I have read about). Add the effects of climate change into the mix, and we only need a couple of unusually low-level harvests in a row, and we're looking at planetary famine.

Food Riots in Mexico, 2007

Food Riots in Haiti, 2008

Food Riots in Milwaukee, 2008

SO AN IDEA BEING PROPOSED as a possible solution to these terminal ills is called 'Vertical Farming'. The general gist of it is: either take pre-existing skyscrapers in the downtown core, or build brand new ones, exclusively for the purposes of growing more food -- kind of like combining the Hanging Gardens of Babylon with the Towers of Babel. If we're running out of space to do horizontal horticulture, maybe there needs to be a third agricultural revolution, this time in the third dimension? This is the problem and the proposal; in the next blog entry in this series, The History of Height, we'll analyze it from a deep eco practical perspective.