Ecology of Economics

, March 24, 2015 in Reflective Essays

This winter has been noted as the warmest winter since record keeping began at Environment Canada and all its previous incarnations. There is an old joke saying that everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it. Now we can talk about greenhouse gases, deforestation, melting polar ice caps and air pollution in the same sentence and suddenly the joke becomes ironic. We are doing something about it. We are causing the weather with every lifestyle choice we make. What and how we consume can be measured in the ecosystems on our shrinking planet, Earth. Let us look first at our foods. Picture yourself and your family at the table eating dinner. Imagine there is an empty oil drum adjacent to the dining area. Look at you plates and see what is on them. Is there meat? Is it free range or factory fed? If it is factory fed there is hydro for light, machinery and air handling. Trucks transported the animals to and from the factory farm and to and from the slaughterhouses. Open a tap over the oil drum and begin filling it. The water for processing the meat and the animal wastes needs to be processed and that takes energy. The market where you buy the meat needs freezers and coolers. They are running all day every day. Keep filling that drum with oil. If the animals are eating pellet feeds then their food is made in a factory as well. Did you cook your meat? Open the tap wider. This is just one item in one meal in one home. Make a “google-map” of your neighbourhood with the image settings showing an aerial view in which you can count the houses. Make a map of your city where your neighbourhood image looks like one house. Make a map of the province where your town is a dot on the map. The sequence of images we just created either on our computer or in our mind’s eye has several interpretations. We can feel small and insignificant as the satellite image moves higher up increasing the horizon line or we can be horrified as we realize that each house is filling up barrels of oil for each meal and it is multiplied across the nation. What if we limited our consumption by using the natural boundaries and limitations of the Earth’s ecosystems? What if all animals had to be free range? There would have to be so much pastureland and rivers to provide feed and recycle the waste. Surely, more than half of the meat in the markets would disappear. The prices would soar based on scarcity and not on input values. There would be an enormous amount of energy saved and an enormous decrease in pollution from this change. Francis More Lappe’ showed that the amount of feed grains that went into feeding livestock could be redirected to feeding people. For every meal of meat the same amount of grains made four meatless meals. By moving down one level on the food chain each person can feed three others on this planet. Now multiply this until you reach the numbers and proportions where everyone gets to eat every day. It is actually a real possibility. What if all the food were grown organically and consumed locally? We would never get used to the new limits on our life choices but one or two generations from now would never know the difference. If everyone became aware of the environmental impact of all their choices and actions and then strived to live in harmony and balance with the natural laws of creation we could build us a paradise. What a dreamer.

The same scenario can be applied to our medicines. The multi-national drug companies have managed with the help of the allopathic regular doctors to create one of the largest and most lucrative markets in history. The drug factories are mass- producing synthetic chemical compounds using petroleum as the starting material. Take crude oil and divide it into as many fractions as you can and you will never find edible food. If petroleum products are always toxic how did we begin thinking of them as medicines? The amount of energy to produce a bottle of synthetic drugs and the amount of toxic waste produced both from the factory and from the user of the product defies reason. No one seems to account for all the plastic bottles, blister packs and laminates in the garbage heaps or the effluvia coming out of the factories when we do a cost benefit analysis of modern medicine. There is so much prescription drug residue in our water systems that the fish and wild animals are being medicated and modulated. What if we grew our medicines (herbs) on farms using gentle organic means and only had to compost the waste products into rich loam for next year’s medicinal crops? Am I still dreaming?

Urban permaculture is going to be one of the next big fads that are evolving out of urban sprawl. Soon every square foot of land or property will have so much value that we will begin to perceive our personal space in a new manner. Empty flat rooftops can become decks and gardens with pots and raised beds growing a few veggies and herbs. Lawns will become passé because they are wasteful and consume too much water. Instead gardens that produce vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers and also help to recycle some of our organic wastes will become the wise choice by either ecological or economic reasoning. We will either make the wise choices and sacrifice some of our personal desires for the benefit of future generations or we will be forced by our foolishness to regenerate the world from the brink of destruction. In either scenario we will have to turn to nature and the spirit world and re-establish our relationships with creation and the Creator. We can go through life singing and whistling or kicking and screaming. Which do you prefer?

Professional or amateur herbalists are the kind of people who already try to grow plants in every conceivable space or make use of their immediate environment as they have a sense for all that is living in proximity to them. If you snoop around a herbalist’s house you will find little bottles and jars and pots of dried herbs, tinctures, syrups, salves and creams and homemade soaps. The kitchen and bathroom cabinets of herb aficionados are an ethnographer’s dream. There are more flavours and scents in their houses than most shops. If you want to know what is that red liquid in a small jar on the shelf just ask your herbalist friend and you will hear the story about how the plant was found or grown and how it was taken home and transformed into this magical life affirming solution just waiting for the right moment to be taken out and dispensed. You too can some day brag about the fire breathing stinging nettles that inflamed your arms and legs only to remove your arthritis on its withdrawal. As a herbalist you can tell stories to the grand kids about the time you chewed up a few weeds from the yard and placed them on the freshly skinned knees of someone to stop the bleeding and watch the children’s eyes open in amazement. They will want to fall down so they can try it on themselves. Teach the kids how to make basil pesto, sour kraut, haw berry jam and wild blueberry sorbet and they will become beginner herbalists. Look for help in Nature’s bounty instead of some futuristic scientific technology. The most efficient energy consumption and transference of material goods and needs is called an ecosystem. There is no economy or human invention that even remotely flows and maintains itself, as does an ecological system. If you are looking for ideas for the next big invention try bio-mimicry. Compare a giant dialysis machine and the tiny kidneys. Again compare water purification of rivers and lakes by wetlands. Have you seen pictures of the devastation after Mt. St. Helens erupted or Yellowstone Park burned? Now, within one lifetime the area is green and animals have returned. In time we have tall trees again. Without our interference, the natural self-regulation of ecosystems returned the damaged regions back to living habitats. We can mimic this in small ways to bring the green to our cities and homes. Our consumption of energy and goods can be reduced and we can lead a more naturally oriented lifestyle. Herbs as foods and medicines can be central to transforming our society into the future that understands the past. Herbalists can be leaders by example (amateurs) or for a fee (professional) and some thought that we were a dying breed. We are the vox herbae and the plantanuncia.