Will we be able to sustain civilization?

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While agriculture made civilization possible, destructive agricultural practices have destroyed many civilizations, making it clear that without a truly sustainable agri-culture civilization will not be sustainable. Neither "organic" nor industrial agricul-ture can sustain civilization on the basis of all evidence before us and thus a new form of agriculture has to be developed. New discoveries and thinking, in both agriculture and economics, are beginning to point the way to the development of such a new agriculture. Agriculture makes civilization possible. But often it so damages the natural resources it relies on that it brings down the very civilizations it once supported. Armies change civilizations. Bad farming destroys them. Ill-suited agriculture has ended more civilizations than armies have crushed--and done it more permanently. The failure of cities begins the demise of civilizations. So we must include our most unmanageable urban centers in our solutions if "sus-tainability" means more than creating small rural lifeboats. Historically, cities have failed when their supporting agriculture could no longer feed them. Impoverished land leads to poor people, urban drift, social breakdown, rising bureaucracy and often war, thus masking the cause of failure. We seldom make this connection today, because indus-trialized agriculture with its high use of machinery and chemicals enables us to bolster food production on deteriorating soils.

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  • Allan Savory

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