44. The Money AND the (Pandora’s) Box (06/2011)

by brettthevet

We are living in extreme times. Destructive events propelled by human conduct locally and abroad seem to be reflected in the apparent rise of natural and unnatural disasters affecting the town and planet. New global symptoms of an age old diagnosis are emerging (compounded by rampant population growth) namely bizarre weather conditions, environmental degradation, pollution, wars, and a rising tide of obesity in humans and our domestic animals. The number of overweight people in the world now outnumbers that of the malnourished. The same may not hold true for our domestic animals but even here in this Karoo town cheek by jowl the voices howl from hunger, and groan from surfeit.

In the Club of Rome’s seminal work ‘The Limits to Growth’ population growth is described as exponential until resources run out, or limited by either predators or disease. Crowding eventually reaches the upper limit or ‘carrying capacity’, a precariously Pyrrhic denouement, always teetering on the brink of collapse. As the area of agricultural land that is being degraded escalates, the imminence of Malthusian catastrophe vindicates proponents of sustainable agriculture. In South Asia for instance food production has peaked and at least a third of agricultural land has become irreversibly barren. Still, rarities like Cuba and, less obviously Brazil, have demonstrated success in feeding their nations through small scale Agro-ecological farming methods.

Closer to home farmers are dealing with the reality of economies of scale and the dynamics of risky business. ‘Experience has demonstrated that if you try to keep more than fifteen hundred ostriches in a restricted area, the flock succumbs to health problems and heavy losses occur’ commented one farmer. The same can be said for overpopulation of other animals. Abundant food and lack of predators, leaves just opportunistic microbial disease to infiltrate creatures living in overcrowded conditions: Nature’s way of reducing numbers. The human inventions of vaccination, antibiotics, and artificial growth hormones are now used routinely in animals farmed en masse to prevent premature loss of life. The rub lies in the ever mutating, increasingly pathogenic, and potentially zoonotic viruses such as H1N1 (porcine) and now H5N2 (avian) flu that constantly threaten factory farming institutions, food security, and human life.

The multitudes of cattle raised for meat are held in feedlots for the express purposes of fat gain and lack of exercise which softens the flesh to meet consumer demands. Similarly broiler chickens contain excessive fat deposits, as do unnaturally raised pigs. The detrimental health effects on humans and non-human animals alike of carrying excess fat in the body (resulting from excessive carbohydrate intake), and actually ingesting too much fat, are similar: high rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, liver dysfunction, and depression (or behavioural abnormalities).

And so avarice, ruler of the capital vices, wreaks havoc in its extended sphere of influence. Broader than gluttony (as gold is inedible) greed can be as subtle as a glimpse and blatant as a bulldozer.
To assuage contrition Idries Shah astutely chides “Do you not see how people use your greed?
They only have to say: Do not be greedy, for you to develop a greed for generosity.
Do you imagine that a greed for generosity is not a greed, with all its destructive aspects?
When are you going to register that anyone who develops greed in the belief that he is stimulating generosity is more likely to be ignorant than evil, and that ignorance is what greed feeds off?”
Improving the world requires certain sacrifices once the destructive forces have been recognized. If we so loved the earth enough then we would surrender to lightness and dance softly upon its delicate crust.