Angelica E. De Leon

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ABSTRACT ONE

When I think about climate change and the impact it can create on our world, I at first become wary and imagine all of the changes that it can produce. Of all of the different scenarios I have previously thought up, an effect on agriculture was never something I had considered. From the article by Richardson et al, I first gained an understanding of reasoning behind why agriculture may not have been possible until the transition to the Holocene, which includes the change in abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere, an increase in precipitation, and a more stable climate. My understanding previous to the reading of why agriculture had not taken off yet was more because of an understanding of how to farm, which could still have played a major role. However, when learning about the factors that went into humans transitioning into an agricultural society I can’t help but wonder what a change in climate would do to that system, especially reflecting on the closing statement made in Richardson et al, “Nevertheless, the intrinsic instability of the Pleistocene climate system, and the degree to which agriculture is likely dependent upon the Holocene stable period, should give one pause.”

From this line of thinking I am led to the question of whether our agricultural system will be able to survive an increase in the climate and the changes it will bring to the earth’s ecosystems. Will an increased global climate cause changes in the composition of the earth enough that wide scale agricultural practices will no longer be viable causing major food shortages? Can agriculture shift from being the safer method of food gathering and growing, to being unstable and uncertain? This could potentially cause a shift back to humans being hunter-gatherers as opposed to agriculturalists.

There could be several contributing factors that may affect the ability of humans to continue producing massive amounts of food. If we exhaust the natural resources available in the soil that make it possible in the first place, without coming up with some sort of new technology that may fix the problem. Also, if the climate increases, the effects that may also bring could affect the ability of humans to depend on farming. If weather is a lot less predictable and there is an increase in major storms, droughts, etc., could very easily mean a not as secure food supply each year. I would think that without large-scale food production the world’ s population could not be sustained, and if there was a shift towards being a hunter-gatherer, I don’t think that would be able to sustain a world population of 7 billion people either. This could potentially mean a major scaling back of the human population.

The conditions of the Holocene have made it possible for humans to farm and rely on agriculture as a means of food stability. This in turn has led to the ability of humans to set down roots, rapidly expand the population and build a culture and the infrastructure that we now have. The earth has undergone many shifts during its existence, and the increased climate may be the next shift to take place. There have been many periods of time that agriculture would just not have been possible, and it was discovered during a time period because it was able to happen. To me, it seems unlikely that with all of the changes the earth has already undergone, it would maintain an ecosystem that would support agriculture for the rest of time.

Richerson, P. J., Boyd, R., & Bettinger, R. L. (2001). Was Agriculture Impossible during the Pleistocene but Mandatory during the Holocene? A Climate Change Hypothesis. American Antiquity , 66 (3), 387-411.

Adeleon 22:07, 10 March 2013 (UTC)

  • So, if climatic stability was prerequisite to development of agriculture -- even makes it a certainty (as per Richerson) -- does it necessarily follow that subsequent reduction in climate stability makes agriculture impossible? A nascent agriculture might be completely destroyed by a climatic change. Is the 'highly developed' agricultural system we have likely to be similarly vulnerable? More vulnerable? Less vulnerable? Kwoods 14:56, 13 March 2013 (UTC)
  • This isn't the first time the planet has undergone a rapid change in climate, and in the past plants and animals have been able to adapt. By all estimations, they should be able to adapt to this period of warming as well (the only reason they may not depends on how quickly humans continue to accelerate this change). I've spent some time at Bennington thinking about ways agriculture might be affected by predicted climate change, and while the system will certainly be changed, humans will be fine I feel, and will be able to keep up their production. If you look at Vermont, agriculture might even get easier here in the next couple hundred years, with a longer growing season and conditions capable of producing a wider variety of crops. It would be at a sacrifice of some of Vermont's core features (like possibly the maple trees), but humans and agriculture will persist. Gfredericks 17:30, 14 March 2013 (UTC)


ABSTRACT TWO

The idea that humans have continuously damaged the environment for all of agricultures existence is an idea that is slowing fleshing itself out in my mind. From first reading William Rudiman’s article where he discusses the possibility of humans having effected the climate since the birth of agriculture. Then reading about the soil erosion and damage done to the areas in Greece that were once thought to be pristine and natural. I have also done some reading on my own in 1491 by Charles Mann, which discusses the Americas before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Though I haven’t read the full book yet, what I have read has discussed how the natives of Bolivia changed the landscape to their benefit so that they could practice agriculture. So far, all of these articles and readings have alluded to an eventual demise to the civilizations. What will this mean for the future of agriculture?

The Fertile Crescent and other areas where agriculture started are no longer as productive as they once were. Will there be a trend in shifting fertile lands based on varying production levels and where certain elements we use fall. The Amazon is only still as productive as it has been for so long because of the massive dust storms that travel across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa bringing with them large amounts of phosphorous. Humans have the tendency to pop up in an area, deplete resources and move on. Can this happen on a worldwide scale? For my first critical essay, the study I used two different climate models to predict how climate change might affect agriculture in the future. Their findings produced results that led them to believe that agriculture in the U.S. will be more productive than it is now in most areas, except for the south. These studies take into account weather conditions, but what about soil erosion? 

I’m having trouble reconciling all of these different ideas and something cohesive that is able to incorporate all of these views, but still make sense logically. It seems that if one is true, then how can the other also be true. I realize that there are alternative methods for transplanting the necessary nutrients into soil so that it is fertile and productive, but I’m not convinced that our industrialized method of using fertilizers will be able to be sustained for generations to come.

Reilly, J., Tubiello, F., McCarl, B., Abler, D., Darwin, R., Fuglie, K., et al. (2003). U.S. Agriculture and Climate Change: New Results. Climatic Change (57), 43-69. Runnels, C. N. 1995. Environmental Degradation in Ancient Greece. Scientific American.

Adeleon 18:16, 28 March 2013 (UTC)

  • Your last paragraph raises a common and important question. But is it really necessary to find a general model that 'incorporates all' of these stories? We like to find a single narrative that fits everything, but that doesn't mean it has to be that way! Maybe some scenarios are just different from others in fundamental ways. (Another question: In your first sentence, you say 'humans have continuously damaged the environment' -- but why the word 'damaged'? What about just 'changed'? Kwoods 13:22, 13 April 2013 (UTC)


ABSTRACT THREE

In Raup’s article, “A View From John Sanderson’s Farm” Raup looks at how the land use has changed in Petersham and how human’s perception and value of nature has caused that change. A line that immediately struck me was, ”And again the land did not change, except in terms of the human values of the time. It merely seeded itself to white pine and went on being productive but in its own way.” To me this says that we value land and resources gathered from the earth, not by it’s actual productivity, but by the productivity of the things we find most useful from it. Land does not change, except for the human concept of what is valuable over time, and therefore what part of the landscape is valuable to humans changes with our consumption patterns.

What troubles me about this is how value is being defined. Is it economic, personal, or should there be an inherent respect towards nature and for the flora and fauna that exist within it. Realistically any resource on the planet is available for the use of any human for free. It can be there for the enjoyment, as well as benefit of humans. However, in our consumer centered world, all things must be assigned an economic value. In my economics class we were discussing how a good is assigned a value that may seem contrary to its worth. For example, diamonds are very expensive, but offer very little use to us. They are for the most part used decoratively. On the other hand water, which anyone can get for very little money, is an essential resource to human’s existence. So why are diamonds so much more expensive than water? The answer lies in the supply and demand relationship of the two goods. While there is a high demand for water, there is also an abundant supply of it, where as demand for diamonds are high and supply is low. In an economic sense, our assignment of value makes sense, but at the same time troubling—I can live without diamonds, but not without water.

This isn’t to say that I think water should become expensive, but it does lead me to believe that many resources in nature are undervalued on personal levels due to low economic values. How can people’s perceptions of value towards the environment be changed, and should it be changed at all? I wonder whether this economically based value system of nature’s resources and phenomenon’s is a deterrent towards societies move to a more sustainable living style.

Raup, H. (1997). The View From John Sanderson's Farm. Forest History Today , 3-10.

Adeleon 06:04, 2 May 2013 (UTC)

Well, I think we should probably all be troubled by how 'value' is defined in a lot of circumstances! But, you're right -- he's talking about 'value' pretty much strictly in the economic sense -- the utilitarian notion of value. How would Aldo Leopold address this? Kwoods 00:10, 6 May 2013 (UTC)

ABSTRACT FOUR

As we read various articles that discuss eco-agricultural and the importance of researching and developing agricultural practices that take into account the importance of biological diversity and ecosystem preservation I can’t help but wonder at the viability of implementing such practices (and I’m mainly thinking about in the United States) when our government seems to be in the pocket of big business who are already thriving off of current practices. Most legislation seems to be in favor of large mono-cropping systems that use massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides. These practices only add to the environmental degradation of the land.

What I’m most curious about is if the switch to eco-agriculture will even be possible without a change in politics as well. It seems that the big corporation like Cargill and Monsanto have too much influence over policies for a real change to be possible and effective. I recently watched Food Inc. and in other articles that I have read by Michael Pollen, which have revealed that major players in large food corporations will take positions in politics, and help enact legislation that will benefit their corporation before returning to business. There is always the argument that large corporations largest incentive is profit, so that if consumers demand a change in their operating system to more ecologically sound practices then the shift in demand will drive a change in business practice, but I am very skeptical of this outcome.

As I gain new knowledge of how the food system in the U.S. works and how government policy affects the method of cultivation I have begun to toy with the idea of trying to take business out of politics. As there is supposed to be a separation between church and state, I wonder if there could also be a separation between business and politics. If government positions become a revolving door for large corporations to supplant their executives to have legislation passed in their favor, then I don’t think that is a role the government should be assuming in our country in the first place. I think certain priorities need to be realized, and the biggest is food stability for the future. As complex as we have made our agricultural system, a simply realization is that the system we have created does not seem like it can be sustained. That should be the main focus looking forward for new government policy and legislation. They have to let go of their corporate interests, and look towards the betterment and security of the nation as a whole.

Adeleon 20:18, 19 May 2013 (UTC)