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Five Carbon Pools – Wes Jackson

Five Carbon Pools – Wes Jackson

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The invention of agriculture ten millennia ago was the first step toward the current problem of climate change. Humans then began a way of life that would exploit the first of five relatively nonrenewable pools of energy-rich carbon—soil. Trees, coal, oil, and natural gas would follow as additional pools to rob from. We are the first species in this multibillion-year journey of life on Earth that will have to practice restraint after years
of reckless use of the five carbon pools.
The invention of agriculture ten millennia ago was the first step toward the current problem of climate change. Humans then began a way of life that would exploit the first of five relatively nonrenewable pools of energy-rich carbon—soil. Trees, coal, oil, and natural gas would follow as additional pools to rob from. We are the first species in this multibillion-year journey of life on Earth that will have to practice restraint after years
of reckless use of the five carbon pools.

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Published by: Post Carbon Institute on Apr 01, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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12/18/2014

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FIVE CARBON POOLS
WES JACKSON
 
This publication is an excerpted chapter from
The Energy Reader: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth
, Tom Butler, Daniel Lerch, and George Wuerthner, eds. (Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media, 2012).
The Energy Reader 
 is copyright © 2012 by the Foundation for Deep Ecology, and published in collaboration with Watershed Media and Post Carbon Institute.For other excerpts, permission to reprint, and purchasing visit energy-reality.org or contact Post Carbon Institute. Photo: George Wuerthner 
about the author
Wes Jackson
 is a plant geneticist and one of the foremost thinkers in sustainable agriculture. In 1976 he founded The Land Institute to develop “natural systems agriculture.” Jackson’s many honors include being named a Pew Conservation Scholar and a MacArthur Fellow. He received the Right Livelihood Award in 2000, and he is a Fellow of Post Carbon Institute. His books include
New Roots for Agriculture, Becoming Native to This Place,
and
 Consulting the Genius of the Place,
 from which this essay is adapted.“Five Carbon Pools” is adapted from
Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture 
; © 2011 by Wes Jackson, used by permission of the author and Counterpoint.
Post Carbon Institute | 613 4th Street, Suite 208 | Santa Rosa, California 95404 USA
 
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1
The First Pool
O
ur very being, the physical and cognitive attri-butes of
Homo sapiens
, was shaped by a seamless series of changing ecosystems embedded within an ever-changing ecosphere over hundreds of millions of years. The planet’s ability to support humans into a distant future was not on the line. The context of our livelihood kept our numbers more or less in check. Diseases killed us. Predators ate us. Sometimes we starved. The context that had shaped us was the con-text within which we lived. Apparently we had been eating grains but not improving them for centuries. But something happened some ten millennia ago called the Agricultural Revolution. It also became a tread-mill. It happened first in one of these ecosystems, most likely in the land to the east of the Mediterranean, but soon spread. Hunter-gatherers initiated what would be recognized later as a break with nature, a split. This new way of being began our escape from gathering and hunting as a way of life. To set the record straight, Eden was no garden and our escape only partial. Where we planted our crops, we reduced the diversity of the biota. The landscape simplified by agriculture locked our ancestors into a life of “thistles, thorns, and sweat of brow.” We became a species out of context. It has been said that if we were meant to be agricul turists, we would have had longer arms.No matter how unpleasant this agricultural work may have been, the food calories increased. Our numbers rose; more mouths needed to be fed. No matter that they disliked thistles and thorns and sweat of brow, our ances tors loved their children and their own lives, and so they kept doing it. They had to eat. Some gave up agriculture when they had the chance. The intro-duction of the horse by the Spanish allowed some of the Native Americans to return to hunting and gathering, for a short while. Eventually the draft animals, espe-cially the ox and the horse, were domesticated. These creatures used the stored sunlight of a grass, shrub, or tree leaf and transferred it to the muscle used to pull a plow or bear a load. They became “beasts of burden.”This step onto the agriculture treadmill was the first toward the current and looming problem of climate change. It was in that time that humans began a way of life that would exploit the first of five relatively nonrenew able pools of energy-rich carbon—soil. Trees, coal, oil, and natural gas would follow as addi-tional pools to rob from. Our crops and we—both of us—were beneficiaries of the energy released as nutri-ents stored in the carbon compounds in the soil now became available. It was agriculture that featured annu-als in monoculture instead of perennials in mixtures where the split with nature began. And so it was at this moment that the carbon compounds of the soil were exposed to more rapid oxida tion. Carbon dioxide headed for the atmosphere, and the nutrients formerly
 
The invention of agriculture ten millennia ago was the first step toward the current problem of climate change. Humans then began a way of life that would exploit the first of five relatively nonrenewable pools of energy-rich carbon—soil. Trees, coal, oil, and natural gas would follow as additional pools to rob from. We are the first species in this multibillion-year journey of life on Earth that will have to practice restraint after years of reckless use of the five carbon pools.

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