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Where we are & where we could go…

Our Beginnings

To the best of our knowledge, in the four and a half billion years that our humble planet Earth has existed, mankind is the most advanced species to have evolved during that time span. This advancement didn’t arise because we had the biggest teeth or the sharpest claws – it came about because we became a bipedal species, our hands, freed from locomotive purposes evolved to serve a manipulative role – developing the long, opposable thumb we know today. Accompanied with a large, growing brain, humans we able to develop tools and technologies that gave us mastery over the flora and fauna around us. Increased survival meant enlargening populations, which required more food than could often be foraged, which led to the development of one key practice: Agriculture.

The Rise of Agriculture

An Artist’s impression of early farming and settlement – src: https://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s–CHMpnqsX–/c_scale,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800/zlh1iknpwenlxpqon60o.jpg

The shift from foraged meat and plant proteins to farmed goods occurred at different times for the different group of humanity, with a wide range of plant and animal species being domesticated between 11,500 BC and 3000 BC, a time period known as the Neolithic Revolution. As time went on, more technologies were developed that enabled more food to be cultivated, that made farming more efficient and widened the range of food that could be grown. As human populations spread out, they brought the farmed species and farming technologies with them, spreading agricultural practices across the world. But they weren’t the only things that were spreading.

The Rise of the Side-Effects

The spread of humanity meant deforestation to make way for farmland. It meant an increase in methane and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere due to the increasing populations of farmed animals and reduction of forestry.

The farmers didn’t realise it at the time, but their conversion and consumption of land also meant the transition from biodiverse ecosystems to monoculture plantations,  inefficient use of water leading to the degradation or depletion of natural water sources as well as causing run off, which carried nutrients away from the soil, as well as pollutants. Exposed topsoils fell into a cycle of erosion, leading to the degradation of land quality and fertility, and causing subsequent issues such as increased flooding. The introduction of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers began to contaminate not only the land but also the produce is grown in it. These problems have only grown in scale and severity with time.

Cause & Effect: Our Modern Predicament

All of this has led us here, to the modern day. We find ourselves in a global environment where human activity, agricultural processes included, has led to an acceleration climate change process, which is currently in a global warming phase. The world’s forests continue to disappear to make way for additional farmland, 70% of the worlds fresh water is used for agriculture, chemicals have leeched their way into our lands, our foods, our oceans and even our bodies, causing untold harm. Our water ways are clogged with excrement and toxic farming byproducts, old depleted farmlands are abandoned in favour of still fertile lands, leaving behind eroded dust bowls. The oceans fish stocks are over farmed, nevermind the fact that they are also filled with the byproducts of our existence – plastic waste and chemical runoff from the land pollute many of our oceans.

A polluted landscape in Bangladesh – src: https://digitalsynopsis.com/buzz/environmental-pollution-pictures-earth-day/

Looking ahead, with the current rates of expansion, global temperature increases and current farming technologies, all paint a bleak picture. Melting permafrost and underground erosion are opening sinkholes in the all over the world – swallowing up the ground around them and emitting greenhouse gases that were frozen or trapped underground. Melting ice caps cause sea levels to rise, drowning coastal cities and farmlands – to make matters worse, the ocean itself not only becomes warmer but also acidic, killing off thousands of ocean ecosystems and species. Reductions in available or usable farmland, as well as increased global temperatures and more extream weather patterns, strain agricultural production, leading to food shortages and leading to violent clashes as hungry people fight over food.

While this may seem like a hopeless situation, there is hope, not only for humanity but also for the planet.

“We have a single mission: to protect and hand on the planet to the next generation.” – Francois Hollande, ex-President of France

A Path to Salvation

There are multiple issues that we face, and subsequently, there are also multiple solutions that can be developed, not only to halt the current destruction but also to reverse it. Many of these technologies have the potential to be combined into single, multipurpose structures, that are clean, renewable and efficient production and processing centres – otherwise known as vertical farms. Extend this concept a bit further and we also see the possibility of eco-cities becoming a possibility. At this stage, you may be wondering what are vertical farms are, what eco-cities are, and what are all these technologies that can combat and overcome the current issues. Well to find out the answers to those questions, you are going to have to stay tuned.

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P.S.

Want to explore some of the points I’ve mentioned in this post? Check out the links below for further reading.

Environmental impacts of farming

Agricultural Timeline

History of Agriculture

The Neolithic Revolution

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