Search This Blog


Monday, June 16, 2014

How Natural Do We Want it?

Service berries ripening in our pasture
In nature, every being is an exploiter and every being is exploited, and the balance comes from the struggle of each individual to exist. The sense of harmony that we feel when we allow ourselves to experience nature comes from that, but it is a curious thing about humans, that as much as we enjoy the beauty, we are not really willing to pay the price.

Yesterday was father's day, and as Bow was making his usual displays of strength outside, I noticed that right under his feet, tiny little plants were sprouting.

Should I allow the little plants to grow there? Or should I sweep up the dirt and clean the outer pen, for hygiene's sake? It's a tough call. I have seen criticism on the web of concrete floors in enclosures for chimpanzees and other primates. The latest thing seems to be to grow grass inside the enclosures, because that is supposed to be more comfortable to walk on and more natural.

Natural? Do you know that grass grows high and attracts fleas and ticks? Do you know that we have to use insecticide on our lawn to keep the dogs in the backyard flea and tick free? The insecticide would not be good for Bow, so it seems safer just to keep the pen clean.

This reasoning is a constant conflict in my mind, and I can hear it echoed in the discussions of others. On the one hand, we all love nature. But when it comes to the parasites and the diseases and the predators and the risks involved, we don't like nature so much. Take all the rainfall we have been having. It seems more than sufficient for the needs of my pasture, which is green and lush and full of living things.

To me, it looks like almost a tropical paradise. But friends of mine who have horses have told me that we have not had nearly enough rain to maintain the hay and alfalfa needed to support the livestock that everyone depends on.

There's enough rainfall for what naturally grows here. But for purposes of agriculture there is not enough. So how about it? Is the problem not enough rain or too much agriculture? It is a really hard question to answer. In order to feed all the world's people, we need agriculture. And among the left wing contingent, there seems to be a real lack of consensus as to whether we have too many people or not enough farming.

Take this article by a former vegetarian who now admits that eating meat is kind of good for us, and who believes that agriculture is the problem.

Notice that the article makes a certain amount of sense, until it gets into politics. Then all of a sudden it's the wealthy that we have to fight against to save the planet. But whenever someone owns a lot of land and allows everything to grow fallow, that is wealth. Activists don't seem to understand that land ownership is the greatest wealth that there can be, because in order to live like hunter-gatherers and enjoy that healthy lifestyle, each person would have to be able to control a much higher acreage per capita than any of us currently have. We would all need to get to be much more wealthy to revert to that lifestyle. The reason we don't is that we can't afford to. In order to save the bees, we need to grow more flowers and fewer wheat fields.

There are plenty of bees on my land
It's not really just about the evils of GMOs or pesticides. It's about how many humans can we feed and still not lose the ability to sustain the ecosystem that we all depend on. It's a game of numbers. And when it comes to chimpanzees, it's also about the numbers.

I went for a walk in the pasture this morning, and on my way I had brief encounter with a rabbit. A little further on, I met a shy turtle.

The shell of this turtle was damaged, and there were mosquitoes swarming around it. As I was trying to take a picture of the turtle, mosquitoes landed on my hand and took a drink of my blood.

I proceeded to take my walk in the pasture, which now supports a lot of life. But it would not be enough to support the life of a single human or single chimpanzee. We would need a lot more acreage than that.

On the way back I ran into the turtle again.

One of the benefits of being a natural turtle is that you get to decide where you go, instead of being told. It soon decided that it wanted to walk away.

The down side of being a free turtle is that if you get injured or are sick, no one will take care of you. It's survival of the fittest. There is nothing more Darwinian than nature. That's why I wonder sometimes at people who say they want everything to be natural and then support mandatory healthcare. How can they be so inconsistent? What are they really thinking?

As long as I am responsible for Bow's health, I have to keep the ticks and the fleas away, and in order to do that, we can't have wild grass growing on the floor of the outer pen. But the moment I find a large enough ecosystem to support Bow, then he will need to be able to withstand the ticks and fleas on his own, even if it means that some members of his family may succumb to disease because of this. Which is why in nature there is a higher birth rate and higher death rate than the civilized world allows, and populations are kept healthy and fit by the parasites and the predators that feed on them. There is no better health insurance for a population than nature, but the premiums, in the form of infant mortality and death upon disability, are rather high!


  1. That turtle looks like it had been seriously injured at some time in the past, the shell is down to the bone. Either a car or a mower hit it. I am surprised it recuperated. The injury is not recent, as there is no bleeding evident.

    1. Hi, Pam. I thought it looked injured, and yes, the injury did not seem recent. But there were so many mosquitoes swarming around it that I felt it was unusually vulnerable.

  2. I am going to hold conservatives accountable on this one as well. No one can save the planet with the large number of people we have, but agricultural production and animal production are both equally destructive. I read the interview with Lierre, and that is kind of what I am talking about regarding people who look down on vegetarians. There is scientific diet that proves a vegetarian diet can be healthy and sustainable. He should be intellectually honest and say a vegetarian diet does not work for him, rather than saying vegetarians or vegans cannot sustain their health. That preachiness on the part of people who eat meat is just as bad as the militant vegans. Both sides of the spectrum should go fight over what is on the plate.

    1. Point well taken, Julia, I was not endorsing that position or any of the liberal or conservative positions on this issue that I have read. It is a very tricky problem, and I don't have the answer. I just wish we could all be more honest about what the problem is and what each proposed solution would really entail.

    2. There are too many people on the planet, and I think telling everyone it is perfectly okay to have lots of kids might not be a good thing. I never want to tell people not to procreate, but I remember only one baby advice book from the 1970's where the author talked about the population issues, and why people should not feel pressure to have children. Even myself I think I would like to have a child if I met the right person, but that seems unlikely at this point. But I am beginning to see so much preachiness on so many sides of the spectrum. I still have political opinions, but personally have abducated many as of late because I came to the conclusion none of these causes care about what I am doing. None of these people running political campaigns are promoting my art, or anything like that. I am as of late deleted a lot of political junk mail because I just do not care. Probably not a good way to feel, but there just seems to be so much vitriol when people talk about anything political anymore. For myself I guess I just cannot be part of the discussion because it makes me feel antsy now. I applaud you for trying to find solutions.

    3. Hi, Julia. I understand how you feel. There are lots of fights I try to stay out of, too, especially when I don't think it will do any good.

      I used to be squarely in the ZPG camp, and in fact I only have one daughter to replace me. But at this point I am hesitant to tell anyone else what to do with their reproductive lives, because there are so many other factors. Not every person is like every other person, and an elder heavy population presents problems of its own. Also, you never know which children will survive. You can't stop at replacement in your youth when you are fertile and then go back and have more if some of your children don't reproduce or get sick or die. I suspect some of the people telling young people not to have babies are just hoping to end it all or to limit certain ethnic groups, and I am much more cautious when I talk about birth reduction than I used to be.

    4. You are right, people should make this decision for themselves.