Saturday, October 19, 2019
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The world in the anthropocene era*

If human beings define culture as something uniquely created by human beings, they will, when they look back, come across agriculture first of all. What humans discovered in their development on earth was a paradisiacal, but wild nature, which may well have been enchanting, but which they still remain afraid of today. Their culture therefore requires settlement in towns, and it is perhaps in that way that tourism developed over time because people continue to carry a nomadic existence in their genes – albeit for just a short time every year.

Out of settlements, villages developed, and from them towns and cities and, since the Middle Ages, states too. Now humans have reached the stage of globalisation. This also means, for example, that 51% of humanity now makes itself understood in just 19 languages, while the remaining 49% speak almost 7,100 languages. Linguists expect that two-thirds of these will have died out by the end of this century. Since 1970, 30% of the languages spoken at that time no longer exist. Globalisation devours its own children. Because people can observe extinction not only in nature, but also in their very culture. People themselves are losing their diversity, and they hardly notice the loss as they move from one generation to the next.

Nine of the 19 great languages of their civilisation have rice as the main agricultural product, the other ten have wheat. But the cultivation of rice appears to be capable of supporting large, dense populations, and accounts for a high degree of social organisation: higher birth rates, lower infant mortality and higher life expectancy. What gets lost here though is the richness of nature. The loss of biological and genetic diversity, the extinction of species, is a phenomenon, and it goes hand in hand with the ongoing globalisation of communication networks, with world trade, the expansion of the internet and mobile communication; and TTIP too would only continue this development. Resistance is growing, however. But what do human beings want in its place?

People have arrived at a crossroads and now have to decide, whether they want to continue along the same path they have followed so far: that of industrial, mechanised agriculture with all its consequences; continuing deforestation, gene technology and the continuing destruction of the soil through chemical fertilizers, through pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, with so-called free world trade and an excessive use of transport OR whether they wish to rethink and restrain themselves and in so doing embark on a new path? Do they want to organise themselves differently, pursue local and regional agriculture and trade – living organically and in harmony with nature – and fair trade, with much less, nonsensical, energy-intensive transportation? Do they want to fill their markets once again with many different local and traditional, organically produced products, and thus regain their good life?

That would also be a decision in favour of a varied, slow and healthy life, for decentralised organisation on all levels. Because, from an ecological point of view, towns are foreign bodies in nature, which many people also feel intuitively and which makes them continue to seek out contact with nature. Why do people go hiking, go to the sea and the beach, why do they seek out a quiet place by a stream for a picnic, why do people climb Mount Everest?

Feeding the world starts in front of each individual’s front door. However, people living in towns are unfortunate, because neither rice nor wheat nor potatoes will grow in tar or concrete. Compared with life on a farm, the shopping centre is just show, which is staged every day with a lot of advertising and with many dreadful products by way of foodstuffs, clothing, cosmetics and cinema. It would only take an earthquake or some other natural disaster for the air conditioning or the door opening system to stop working and for the supplies for the many shelves to dry up. People have become dependent, convincing themselves that comfort makes their lives easier and that their seat on the sofa in front of the television is a safer one. That may be so for some people, for whom their soap opera is more important than life itself. Because that’s where you get your hands dirty, and have to sweat – in organic farming where you move good earth around.

However, for humans, the conservation of nature is in permanent conflict with their lifestyle. There is no avoiding it: people must return to the forest and to the garden, put a seed in the ground and sensitise their senses. A visit to the zoo might help, and, in a quiet moment, a look over the sea to the horizon. This makes people sharpen their farsightedness, which matters for the preservation of the flora and fauna of their biotope. In this way, people and their longings would perhaps destroy the basis of their existence somewhat less.

*Title of a book in German by Wolfgang Haber, Martin Held and Markus Vogt, published by www.oekom.de.

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