Friday, September 19, 2008

Technosanity #10: Monoculture ramble

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Monoculture is the practice of producing or growing one single crop over a wide area. The term is also applied in several fields....The dependence on monoculture crops can lead to large scale failures when the single genetic variant or cultivar becomes susceptible to a pathogen or when a change in weather patterns occur. The Great Irish Famine (1845-1849) was caused by susceptibility of the potato to Phytophthora infestans. The wine industry in Europe was devastated by susceptibility to Phylloxera during the late 19th century. Each crop then had to be replaced by a new cultivar imported from another country that had used a different genetic variant that was not susceptible to the pathogen. Today's episode takes this idea on a tangent. American society is hooked on specific things which have the nature of monoculture, and the principle example is the use of oil to move our butts around town.

Nature abhors monocultures. Nature abhors them so much that they do not exist in accordance with nature. They would be unknown but for modern man. That from a blog post by Patrick Deneen last April which is very much in the same vein as my early morning ramble. As he says our "modern" culture is woven from monoculture of all kind, from the sparsely few varieties of food we have in the stores to the sparsely few varieties of opinions presented in the corporate controlled media, to the sparsely few choices we have in vehicles, etc etc etc. I can hear the question, "Few varieties of food?" Clearly I must be smoking something strong, right? Well consider how even though the grocery stores are burstingly full of a dizzying array of brands, just how little true variety there is. There may be 20 brands of canned corn products but the corn itself is all pretty much the same plant. That even though there are hundreds of species of corn known to agriculturists, the modern practice of agriculture and food marketing causes there to be very few varieties that make it to the grocery stores and can be bought by people.

What if there is some other kind of global crop infestation which wipes out our food supply because everybody on the planet grows the same food?

Monoculture isn't just about crops and food. It's thinking patterns, it's other kinds of products, it's culture, it's language, etc. What of the shrinking number of languages spoken in the world? What are we as a global society losing with every language which goes extinct? What are we as a global society losing as local accents and idioms are lost to a monoculture of speech promulgated by centralized media talking heads?

A huge danger is the monoculture of transportation technology, fuel for transportation, etc. The fossil oil from which gasoline and diesel is made will run out "soon". If we as a global society do not prepare for the eventual total disruption of oil supply, it will kill this beautiful global culture that has been built the last couple hundred years. Fossil oil and the transportation technology which it enabled allowed the global culture to get to know itself because rapid global transit has allowed us to see how everybody else lives, travel to other places, have a broader horizon of our understanding etc. But the technological choices available to us for travel are strongly limited to one fuel source: fossil oil. And fossil oil is due to run out "soon".

In this episode I end with a great question. The peak oil scenario describes our future, that fossil oil consumption will continue rising until the oil companies are no longer able to increase production. Once they reach the peak in production there is an inevitable decrease in available oil products and our global society will enter a crisis, due to its addiction to oil. There will be a window of opportunity to replace fossil oil as the driving force of our global society. Will we be able to quickly enough field a replacement technology infrastructure to enable global travel for our global society? Our ability to do this, to replace fossil oil driven technology with something else is what will determine whether our global society navigates through the coming crisis, or whether our global society crumbles into oblivion.

This episode is an early morning ramble. I literally had this idea floating in my mind as I woke up one morning, and I went directly to the computer and started recording. The text above does not directly correspond to what I said, but they're pointing in the same direction and covering the same territory. If the episode sounds like it's rambling and tangential, it is because I had literally just woken up. I felt like I was onto a cool idea... well, there's certainly a strong thread of a cool idea.

Technosanity #10: Monoculture ramble

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