Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earthday Round the Corner

On this, the eve's eve of the 40th anniversary of Earthday, we should remember to still celebrate what April 22nd, 1970 was a call for. It was a call to improve the quality of life on Earth, to engage politicians, musicians, writers, business leaders and anyone else breathing, that the planet is a prerequisite to our own lives, and that beautifying it beautifies us.

So when John Tierney of the New York Times wrote an article--"7 New Rules to Live By"--I was struck that he did not mention vertical farming. You see, vertical farming is simply a creative expression of the solution to a handful of man-made problems: climate change, hunger, water scarcity, species extinction, all of these are problems whose solutions lie in producing daily behaviors that are in line with the world we hope to produce. So the first question is, What kind of world do we want to produce?

I'll start. I want to live in the world I produce; so it needs to be hospitable, first of all. I want the world we produce to generate more energy than operating it requires; the idea of taking energy from the natural world strikes me as extremely unsustainable; Great Northern Hydroponics is a hydroponic greenhouse company in Ontario that produces more electricity than it consumes, and it sells the excess power to the Ontario power grid, generating an additional revenue stream for the tight-margins business of farming.  I want to live in a world that thinks of its sewers differently; it has been said that the sewer is the conscience of a city; we live in more squalor than we like to believe, as our sewers drain out into our oceans, and the clouds suck up that water, and then it pours down on us: the twice-Texas sized island of garbage north of Hawaii is the secret ledger that knows the sickliness of just some of our world's cities; the backyards of other forms of life are the trash cans of civilization; none of this helps human beings in the long run at all.

I want to live in a world where the beauty of natural things is appreciated, and slowed down for, and smelled, and touched, and sensed.  I want to live in a world where cries of hunger and of thirst never break from the mouths of people, no mater the continent of their birth.  I want to live in a world that our children, from whom we borrow the air, the rivers, and the land, can say that it was produced with foresight, wisdom, courage, (and its steadfast companion, humility), and with love, and that they say we raised the bar for them, we made them better by simply making ourselves better.  We will never improve our behavior unless we can first expect better from ourselves.

So with Earthday just around the corner, I cannot help but think of what kind of world my behavior produces.  One truth about today: a dollar is a vote.  By backing products that have a sound ethos, dollars can remedy our situation(s).  But it is people who perform the act of spending, and it is they who must temper ingrained impulses for cheap and convenient with the discipline of a scientist on the brink of a breakthrough.  Live day by day with values in mind, and spend according to those values, and communicate your values to other people, and then one day you'll wake up and the world will have changed, and it will be better, and it will be because of you.

Tierney says, "Wilderness and wildlife can be preserved only if the world’s farmers have the best tools to feed everyone on the least amount of land."  Vertical farms, by shifting the burden of farmer from countryside to city, allows human beings to behave as we're supposed to: to live within our means  I couldn't agree more with Tierney's point, but I think he should make an addendum: feeding everyone on the least amount of land means taking all environmental factors about farming into consideration.  When you do, urban agriculture is more promising than traditional agriculture.  And vertical farming is a part of the best case version of urban agriculture.

Earthday should make all of us rethink our daily actions, and ponder which small changes we can follow through on.  The best best for vertical farms dotting our urban landscapes are if that critical mass is reached where enough people care enough about changing the world for the better, just ever so much.  Every little action that's in line with what vertical farming really stands for is a nod that it may someday, soon, become our reality.