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  Home  > Helping Professionals  > V. Ecology, Farming, Economics, and Appropriate Technology

V. Ecology, Farming, Economics, and Appropriate Technology

Primitive peoples lived in balance with the organic give-and-take of the land and the cycle of the seasons. The equation of power-over and "progress" with a growing economy is a recent concept that emerged with the rise of the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution gave man machines that wreaked havoc on the land, land that seemed freely available to his manipulation and control. The lands of Europe, previously open to the common person, were fenced, then logged, mined, and grazed as the wealthy classes claimed them as their own. Colonialism, conquest, and overpopulation took their toll on the earth worldwide, and by the middle of the last century, pollution and desertification were clearly evident all over the planet.

While it was apparent to a small number of people that this way of living could not continue, big business had no incentive to reform its practices. A few determined people, recognizing that they could not leave decisions with those in high places who considered themselves removed from the earth and their environment, began to rally the public to stop the destruction: the ecology movement was born. Tracing its roots to Teddy Roosevelt's interest in creating National Parks, John Muir's Sierra Club, and Rachel Carson's landmark Silent Spring, the ecology movement's concern for the impact of technology on our planetary environment came bursting to the surface in the late sixties.

Buckminster Fuller (Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth), known for his invention of the geodesic dome, used for low-cost housing (and the Epcot Center Main Pavilion). A self-educated renaissance man, he became a leading proponent for Alternative Technology (AT) in the late seventies.

Farmer and prophet Wendell Berry (The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture), has challenged the values and assumptions of our officially sanctioned agricultural policies and techniques of farming that destroy the health of the soil and sacrifice quality for quantity, driving millions of farmers from the land and unsettling whole communities.

Along with an interest in protecting the land, many people felt a need to live closer to it. This migration out of the cities gave rise to thousands of cottage industries that began providing goods appropriate to people living simply on the land. Equipment ranged from apple peelers like those of our grandparents, to solar or wind-powered energy sources. The term appropriate technology (AT) became popular and referred to equipment that provided for basic human needs and yet did not destroy natural resources or produce toxic by-products.

Another champion of the "back-to-the-land" movement was E. F. Schumaker, whose Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, challenged the prevailing norm that big is better by showing that beyond a certain size, large organizations often become more inefficient than the smaller ones that they often gobble up.

At this time a symbol appeared that was to have a profound impact on our psyche--a photograph of the earth from space. Never before had such a symbol been seen--one that contains within it the seeds for leveling the petty concerns of individuals and nations. It got widespread circulation from appearing on the cover of Stewart Brand's series of best selling Whole Earth Catalogs. Brand was one of the leading voices in the ecology movement and his catalogs became a central clearinghouse of information in the field of alternative technology.

More recently personal computers have become a major interest of Brand's, which he sees as another form of AT. His organization's pioneering electronic communications system, The WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link), is an electronic bulletin board/conference roundtable accessible to anyone with a microcomputer and phone modem. It is designed to be a modern-day counterpart to the village well, where people would come to draw water and exchange information, gossip, and support. It has a large following in the Silicon Valley (the center of computer technology south of San Francisco).

Also in the late sixties Theodor Nelson (Computer Lib) described a radical concept he called hypermedia. With a computer, information can be retrieved according to the interests of the user, not just in the linear order authors must use when writing on paper. Through the computer, topics are cross-referenced to many related subjects so that users can follow paths through the information in ways unique to their needs. Twenty-some years later, hypermedia has become accessible with the affordable technology of personal computers.

Trudy and Peter Johnson-Lenz, who coined the term "groupware," have been doing innovative group work via computer since 1977 and are pioneers in using computers for personal and spiritual growth.

Greenpeace has certainly gained attention worldwide, and the now many "Save the ______(fill in the blank)___" organizations evidence concern for the destruction of our environment.

Earnest Callenbach (Ecotopia) inspired many with his writings of an idealized society that puts the principles of a self-sustaining culture into universal practice.

Michael Phillips (The Seven Laws of Money) helped found the Briarpatch Network, a loose collective of small businesses in the San Francisco area that support each other and are based on the concept of "right livelihood."

John Naisbitt (Megatrends) has analyzed the ten trends that he believes foretell the future of our economy. They are the movement from:

an industrial to an information economy,
forced technology to high tech--high touch,
a national to a world economy, <short-term to long-term economy,
centralized to decentralized economy,
institutional help to self-help,
representative to participatory democracy,
hierarchies to networks,
North to South,
either/or to multiple choices.

Duane Elgin (Voluntary Simplicity) offers a practical personal approach to inner fulfillment through learning how to live lightly on the land. His current interest is to put the "vision" back in television to make it an educational resource.

Recent decades have seen a tremendous resurgence of interest in the practices of Native Americans. The original human inhabitants of North America lived in harmony with the environment for over ten thousand years, leaving scarcely a mark on the land (some cave grafitti, cliff dwellings, and a few mounds of earth).

Balance, rather than growth, is the key to a viable culture. Those who revere the unbridled growth urged by the patriarchy ignore the basic biological fact that organisms usually grow to an optimal size and then level off. After this point, there is a diminishing return with increasing size.

As Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest whose writings have inspired a generation of spiritually and bio-regionally oriented activists, has said, "The human is as much the earth as are rocks or mountains or rivers. It's one community...(so) to have an increase in the gross national product by dissipating the gross earth product is just absurd."

Today rapidly growing numbers of people are beginning to recognize their interdependence with the environment and are taking a stand against the massed power of governments and corporations that are blatantly continuing to serve the minority interests of those atop the patriarchy.

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