22 April 2009

Immense, evolving, dynamic whole

When The Land pavilion first opened in EPCOT Center in 1982, guests were able to study innovative and novel agricultural techniques in Listen to the Land or gain a firmer grasp on what it meant to consume balanced meals. One of the often overlooked, or napped through, attractions of Future World took place in The Land’s Harvest Theatre, the film Symbiosis.

Symbiosis spoke to our relationship, a symbiotic relationship, with the earth, its environments, and its inhabitants. Though not a particularly exciting film, the breathtaking vistas and detailed looks at agricultural movements across the globe could create questions and a sense of wonderment in even the most isolated soul.

Today, as we celebrate Earth Day, the Gazette would like to give every reader a glimpse into the world Symbiosis clued us into twenty years away, and yet, still, a part of our world today. While the stunning visuals may be missing in this transcription, the heart and message of cooperation for the world around us, still rings loud and true. And now, ladies and gentlemen, Symbiosis.

Nothing in the universe exists alone. Every drop of water, every human being, all creatures in the web of life, and all ideas in the web of knowledge are part of an immense, evolving, dynamic whole, as old and as young as the universe itself.

All creatures in the web of life, all ideas in the web of knowledge. Suddenly this timeless equation this delicate balance seems threatened. Suddenly we’ve begun changing our world rather than adapting to it. Suddenly? Not really.

History has surrounded us with monuments to our enthusiasm for changing the environment. An enthusiasm prompted by the most basic of all motivations, survival. Certainly, nothing less motivated the Ifugao tribe to undertake the terracing of these magnificent mountains in the Philippines over three-thousand years ago. It was a simple, direct answer to the food problem of their time. But what of the food problem of our time?

The International Rice Research Institute, less than one-hundred and twenty-five miles from the Ifugao and their terraces. Here research into the very chemistry of growing things, coupled with the permanent cold storage of every type of rice seed known to exist, gives scientists the opportunity to create new, more productive, easier to grow strains of rice. Yesterday’s technology, and today’s, only one-hundred and twenty-five miles, but three-thousand years of time, lie between.

North Africa and the Middle East not land, but water, has always been the missing element. For thousands of years the people here have used all of their ingenuity to make the best use of what little could be found. And nothing has changed, except the approach. In one such new approach, plastic irrigation tubing is laid on apparently useless land in Israel. And computers, reading information provided by sensors in the fields, control the flow, delivering the water to where it is most needed, drop by precious drop. And the desert blooms.

Yes, the desert blooms, but if the problem here has always been too little water, elsewhere it’s another story. Not too little, but too much.

Holland, where out of necessity, water management approaches art. Quaint today, Holland’s windmills were actually built as part of what is now an incredibly elaborate nine-hundred year old water removal system. A system, without which, more than half of this country would be under water. A system still being built.

The world’s most sophisticated hydraulic laboratories are now creating Holland’s enormous, new, Southern Delta Flood Control System. Planning everything, down to the minutest detail, are models that belie the project immense scale. And all of this, is happening side-by-side with this.

Yes, nothing has changed, while everything has. We have always intervened in nature. But sadly, these interventions have not always been so benign. With an unbridled enthusiasm for technology, we misused our farmlands. Watching helplessly as our precious top soil blew away in the Dust Bowl or washed away in the rain. We misused our forests. Watching helplessly as barren hillsides created floods, where there were none before. And we used our lakes, rivers, and streams to dispose of our wastes, and looked on helplessly as they began to die. But then, finally, we decided that this tragic waste could not go on, that we would have to take charge of our technology if we were to coexist with it. And then, more importantly, we actually began to do it.

In England, where after hundreds of years of pollution so severe no fish remained in the river Thames, twenty years of intense effort to restore it to health have seen the fish begin to return. At Europe’s Lake Constance, where the cooperation of three nations, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, was required to save the lake from the ravages of population growth on its shores. And in Oregon, where the Willamette River, also under the pressures of population growth and industrial expansion, was dying. But now, the oxygenation ponds prepare industrial water for safe return to the river. And because of new concepts like these, and the laws that require their use, the Willamette runs clean again. And constant monitoring of the river’s water promises to keep it useful, healthy, and safe for everyone.

But what about forests? What have we learned from our past mistakes with our forests? Much. From Germany’s Black Forest, successfully managed for over six-hundred years, from the well-managed forests of Sweden, and from the forests of America’s great northwest, one fact has made itself unmistakably clear, no forest is big enough to withstand, unassisted, the onslaught of technological man. No forest, unassisted.

And so, we assist, using nature’s own internal tool, fire. Yes, using fire, just as nature does, to set the stage for renewal. Planting tomorrow’s forests, and then waiting. Ten years, and more. To keep our forests not simply productive, but a place of life, wonder, and beauty as well.

And whatever happened to the Dust Bowl? This. To what do we owe this remarkable recovery? In large part, ironically enough, to technology. To the technology of irrigation, using our water resources with greater care and effectiveness. To the technology of no-till farming, planting crops without plowing in order to protect the top soil. And to the technology of planting nothing at all. Fallow field farming, giving the soil precious time to regenerate its own fertility, before being used again.

Yes, we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. For although chemicals and pesticides are vital tools in fighting world hunger, will we employ adequate foresight to ensure that some do not again turn up in the food chain or environment? How much longer will more than one fourth of the world’s food supply rot on the ground or be ruined by pests, simply because of a lack of proper storage or delivery systems? How much more of the world’s precious arable land will be made useless by poor planning or uncontrolled development? And how much more of the world’s rain will fall bearing pollutants that poison our lakes, rivers, and streams?

For many of these problems solutions already exist, for others they can be found. It is within our power to address these issues. It is within our power to use or to abuse, to wound or restore, to marshal or to waste. What is needed is the will. For every drop of water, every human being, all creatures in the web of life, nothing in the universe exists alone.


Princess Fee said...

Wow - what a piece! Massive thank yous, Ryan!

Disney_Barbie said...

wow thanks for posting this.. I didn't think I could remember the Symbiosis show, but after reading that - it started coming back to me!
I'm a new reader of your site & i LOVE it!!
keep up the great work.
magic & pixie dust
Disney_Barbie :)