Stuart Staniford of the Oil Drum posted yet another rosy scenario about the future of food. What has struck me about this series is the fantastic gaps, assumptions and leaps of faith Staniford takes as givens and most of the commentators go along with. To give just a brief example, he says that there’s no problem with producing nitrogen in the future, despite the fact that natural gas is a critical component in the production of ammonia, which is the critical component of all nitrogen fertilizers. No problem, we’ll just substitute the boundless renewable energy he talked about in a previous post.
David Holmgren points out that if there’s boundless energy, then all of our work in Permaculture and sustainability is probably a waste of time. There’s still that pesky global warming issue, but we can ignore it for a while longer. Nevertheless, Staniford’s posts represent a possible scenario in the future, and we need to consider it, however unlikely it is to come to fruition. Holmgren considers this view as the “green tech” solution- one among a number of possible scenarios, each of which require differing strategies.
My point here is not to take Staniford’s arguments apart. At least not yet. What’s interesting to me today is that the process of uncovering the assumptions leads to more learning. To me this is like digging a trench (to use my friend Bill’s expression). Working at the trench level of detail, close to the ground, gives a strong and coherent foundation to one’s knowledge. So while I intuitively disagree with Staniford’s conclusions, he’s providing tremendous service by defining this swiss-cheese structure, whose negative space is a patch pattern of very fertile intellectual ground.
Permaculture points out that the interesting stuff, the productive areas are at the edges and transitions. This suggests that it is not the anti-assumption that is interesting but the points at which the assumption and anti-assumption approach eachother, where the anti-assumptions spread out to touch eachother, like pioneer patches in a successional field.