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A Short History of Progress

One of the differences between the agricultural societies in the fourth chapter of A Short History of Progress (Ronald wright, 2004) and the global agriculture we see nowadays is how easy it is to migrate away from ecologically worn out areas. In Canada we have so much land to work with that it is hard to see what kind of long-term implications come along with our agricultural industries. Another obvious problem that we have in Canada is the growth of cities on prime agricultural land. This is something the Egyptians tried hard to avoid. However, in Canada we don’t see a problem with this because given our current population there are really no foreseeable issues. This would be true if the population was not growing and if we had an unlimited supply of fossil fuels to indefinitely sustain this population.

The ease of migration makes the issue of destructive agricultural habits a global problem. What are we supposed to do whenever the Earth’s resources are insufficient to the population requirements ? Our generation is burdened with the prodigious problem of stopping this cycle before it encompasses the entire Earth, instead of just small civilizations as in our history. If we can’t figure out a way to stop this cycle we will perpetuate the problem and place an even more difficult burden on the shoulders of our children. One of the best lines in this chapter is “Sex, food, wealth, power prestige: they lure us onward, make us progress”. All of these factors motivate us to advance and grow. In today’s society it seems that success of any business is dictated by its ability to grow and produce. For instance if we take a look at any magazine, generally the focus is on either prosperous businesses, or: sexy, wealthy, powerful and prestigious individuals. Subsequently as humans we see this and our human nature takes over. As a result we work hard and strive for this power and fame. The problem lies in the means to our success because along the way to any successful business non-renewable resources are used directly or inadvertently.

Western agriculture is very dependent on the use of fossil fuels for survival. But other than this we have to keep our agricultural resources renewable. The example in the book is the destruction of land because of the overpopulation of goats. The goats eat the saplings and don’t let the land naturally regenerate. We do this in Canada just the same with the logging industries. Because we have so much land we can continue this with the use of tree planters to remediate the land. On Easter Island they did not have enough land to support their population and they simply kept on doing what they were accustomed to doing and the results were catastrophic.

The big question is whether or not this cycle is endless or not. To answer this question from a historical point of view the answer is yes because eventually with inventions and technology land is ruined. One line from the book was spot on “Clever human nature, victim of your inventions, disastrously creative, why cordon cities with towered walls? Why arm for war?” Historically our technologies have helped us for a short time but in the long run these technologies eventually put stress on the land and make it fruitless. Another line sums this up: “A culture is no better than its woods.”



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