We have even in the United States serious and growing water scarcity challenges. We have contamination problems with chemicals that we have not adequately regulated here in the United States. We have conflicts between states in the United States about who gets to use what water to do what. We have evidence that climate change is already influencing water demand, affecting water availability, changing extreme events. There are a whole suite of water-related problems, here, unrelated to these basic human need challenges that’re pressing in other parts of the world.
The United States plants more than 170 million acres of corn and soybeans a year, more than any country in the world. And the primary mechanism in the US that we use to subsidize agriculture is actually called the Federal Crop Insurance Program. So, the crop insurance program in the US is also the largest such program globally, with over $100 billion in liabilities annually. So it’s a very big program.
In many countries, the very ability to eat a food like avocado is a direct benefit of international trade. We are eating on an interconnected planet. Food trade now shapes land use worldwide and is reshaping the food supplies of many nations.
My thinking is how do we design systems that provide for every aspect of our humanity? How do we design a city that cares for all of our needs? You know it’s not just thinking about shelter, but it’s thinking about our food and our air and so, obviously the types of industry we have are very different, because we have to make sure that our air and our water is clean. And that our food is readily available, and that we have spaces for contemplation and reflection. And that we have places for communing with each other.
Some of my artist friends think what I’m doing isn’t art, and I’ve given up on art. It’ll take care of itself. You know. I mean it’s always been there, it will always be there, and we always know that new art never looks like art at first, ever. So why should this be any different? We just have to trust the process. And I would say that must be true for every other discipline.
You’re dealing with timescales that are beyond humans’ interest. I mean, it’s sorta like global warming. The heat that we have now built up, that carbon was burned thirty years ago. It’s going to take a while for the correction process. So, if you have the elements of the phosphorus, the potassium, the manganese, and so on, it can be built back pretty fast. But a shorthand way of putting it is that soil is as much of a non-renewable resource as oil. And, more important than oil. I mean, we’re talking about stuff we’re made of. So that’s why I’ve said that the plowshare has destroyed more options for future generations than the sword.
I see a set of constraints facing us in the future, and they’re all going to be very expensive. First is funding retirements for the Baby Boom generation. Second is continuing increases in the costs of healthcare. The third is replacing decaying infrastructure. The fourth is adapting to climate change and repairing environmental damage. The fifth is developing new sources of energy. The sixth is what I see as in all likelihood continuing high military costs. The seventh is the costs of innovation.
Although we haven’t reached peak surveillance, we’ve reached peak indifference to surveillance. There will never be another day in which fewer people give a shit about this because there’ll never be a day in which fewer people’s lives have been ruined by this.
Throughout the colonies of the various European powers, water engineers used dams, ditches, and sluices to control the flow of water. They claimed that their approach to water management was more rational and efficient than existing indigenous approaches.
I’m going to be talking about how the arts engage ethically and politically with the technization of the food chain, the chain or flow of sustenance from field to dinner plate. This is an inter-disciplinary talk but don’t worry, I won’t be claiming quite that poems and paintings are computational machines for working out social policy, because that would be crazy. But if I’m not willfully misunderstanding Joscha’s excellent talk on the computational universe, it seems that a likely candidate for the substrate of consciousness is the numinal, the realm of ideas, and that’s precisely where art and literature lives. So it’s the ideal place for deep processing of ethical issues, the big issues like food and tech.