Desertification: Unstoppable process?
History teaches us that there is nothing under our eyes that is not different from yesterday and in change for tomorrow; to put it like the philosopher king Marcus Aurelius: the universe is change, our life is a consequence of our thoughts. Likewise, even certain certainties on which we have constructed our theorems, our procedures, can be challenged by new discoveries or even by a new vision of reality. We can say that the only and true constant of the Universe is change.
It is precisely in this change, in this evolution that, today, humanity must rediscover its path, its place and its relation within this evolutionary constant. Social, ecological and economic crises are the result of our thinking; a thought that, born with the Enlightenment and then evolved into positivism laid the foundations for that trust in Newtonian Science and in the consequent philosophical, social and economic applications.
Although enlightenment and positivism had evident positive effects in overcoming many swamps of the Middle Ages, over time, the blind and presumptuous application of these doctrines is manifesting all its wrinkles, generating a logic unsuitable to explain, and above all, to harmonize with the things of the world. What in modern epistemology is called reductionism; that is, that way of facing reality, simplifying it to such an extent, to be alienated from it.
Yet today, despite the philosophical and scientific principles of Newtonian culture have been faced and brilliantly overcome by scientists of the caliber of Einsetin and Heisenberg, we continue to apply, in concrete facts, mechanistic social and economic models and very distant from the real identity of the universe and of its laws.
Unfortunately, the effects of this way of observing and classifying reality, with its aberrations of the last century and with blind faith in the arid current technological model, have led humanity and planet towards a dangerous point of no return. This sterility of thought, by reflex, is ending up to dry up, diminish and degrade every tangible reality. The reductionist approach in solving the problems that we ourselves have generated is no longer suitable for finding valid solutions. To put it like Einstein: “We can not solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that we used to create it”.
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This process can be accomplished only if we rediscover ways of growth, wellbeing and lifestyles that respect the principles and rules of nature. Thus, from agriculture to the use of any resource on the planet, we must move with models that see the protection and promotion of diversity, the complexity and reciprocity of the key principles of a new model of civilization.
Even today, in the field of agricultural production and the agri-food system, we adopt models, researches, studies and analyzes, often completely antithetical, and therefore in contrast, with the energetic principles and the rules of ecological systems. On the contrary, in the attempt to find solutions still tied to criteria of the past, we are exasperating even more specializations and homologations. The result is a greater widening of the gap between the need for environmental protection and solutions adopted. The Rural Development Programs, many agricultural policies, incentives for free trade, are affected by this “worn-out sterility of thought”, adopting criteria that are often in total disagreement with the laws of the Planet.
The reductionist model has led humanity out of the vein of the correct ecological vision, redistributing the energies badly, causing unprecedented social, ecological and economic imbalances. A wrong concept of production, especially in the agricultural sector, and of relations between it and the inhabitants of each territory has led us to urban systems increasingly concentrated in large cities and, unfortunately, to depopulation and degradation of internal areas and small towns inhabited. The responsibility is to be attributed to a wrong reading of the functionality of natural and agricultural ecosystems, both on a large scale and in detail.
Even an urban center is an ecosystem, which must however respond to the laws of physics and thermodynamics in particular. Every cell in the territory responds to certain balances, without the knowledge of which it tends to degrade, to generate rates of increasing entropy, which manifests itself with increasingly poor energy forms, both from an ecological and human point of view.
This leads to loss of biodiversity, ecological erosion, cultural and social degradation, and finally: poverty. If we were to define what poverty is, from this perspective: we could define it as the diminished human capacity to interact and coexist with the laws of Nature.
Still today, following the reductionist thinking, we believe to increase agricultural production, the well-being of its operators and the overall economy of the sector, adopting specialization criteria, increase in yields and logistic systems that are in stark contrast with the laws of ecology and that, gradually, they are impoverishing, desertificating and depriving humanity and planet more and more of energy. And ecology does not forgive.
Applying energy balances in agricultural activities, it turns out that specialized agriculture has a yield of up to a tenth of the traditional one; to understand the antecedent to the Treaty of Rome and the so-called Green Revolution.
According to Jeremy Rifkin, this trend is rapidly increasing precisely because the model of agricultural production has escaped from the canons of system efficiency, to meet only market needs and not ecological requirements. To understand this statement we must highlight two aspects that are based on the function of the Farms: these are dissipative systems. In a farm we do nothing but draw, especially solar energy and those of the subsoil, to turn them into food energy. When we produce a grape or a spike we do nothing but accumulate these energies and make them usable for a secondary energy process, which is human nutrition.
This process can take place in two ways: either according to Closed Thermodynamic Systems or through Open Thermodynamic Systems. In the first case the energies of the process are free to flow and be exchanged, while the masses must move as little as possible and in any case with short shifts. We remind here that every mass (whether agricultural products, fertilizers, fuels and so on) to be transferred needs as much energy as the distance is greater. In the second case, that is in the Open Thermodynamic Systems, which we see circled with red, both the masses and the energies are free to move without rules. It is evident that the more our production system is of the open type the more the overall process yield is low. Today, most of the agricultural systems, especially those specialized in the West, are of the Open type, with very low yield and with no longer sustainable human and ecological costs.
Systems that originated a homologation of agricultural production with the consequent exasperation of the use of chemistry, further cause of deterioration of the ecological balance.
But there is a second aspect: in order to be able to perform at its best, the System must necessarily increase the complexity of its structure (according to an order of energy reciprocity) by decreasing its entropy. The system, in short, must biodiversify. In Nature we can therefore find negative entropy models (the so-called negentropy) that allows closed and biodiversified thermodynamic systems to have the highest energy yield. This theory, which is the basis of Agroecology, earned the Russian physicist Ilya Prigogine (who is the father of modern epistemology of complexity) the Nobel Prize for Physics of 1977.
From the application of these concepts we can derive a series of speculations and, consequently, a new systemic approach. The first speculation is territorial. All Systems: whether it is a small farm, a forest or a city, respond to these laws; they are all dissipative structures. Whenever our dissipative system reconverts little and badly the energies it receives (which are largely solar) the greater energy received, highlighted by the arrows in red, compared to the transformed one (represented by the arrows in green) following a production of entropy which is a form of degraded energy, no longer transformable and responsible for the so-called global warming and desertification processes.
The second speculation is instead of human order: we refer to social entropy. In order to be able to manage these inefficient energy models, the community must create structures, flows, markets, bureaucracies, control systems and so on, increasingly complex, which absorb additional energy levels. In Jeremy Rifkin’s book Entropia, this process is seen, if the necessary remedies are not posed, as a function of non-return. Just as in chemical equilibrium, when the ratio of reactants is produced is excessively unbalanced, one risks being unable to balance the equation. The ethical and scientific reflections and speculations are obviously consequential.
So agriculture must be brought back to a natural level: we must recreate in these small ecological cells, which are the farms, the same principles and rules that underlie ecology. We need completely different agricultural policies, aimed at protecting and promoting biodiversity, subsidiarity, sharing and re-establishing ecological and human balances, unfortunately tampered with by a culture that sterilizes soils, living beings and consciences. Suffice it to say that in Italy, in the last century, three fruit varieties out of four have disappeared from the table, also due to the modern systems of commercial distribution that favor large quantities and standardization of supply.
The new rural policy models must aim to create social and territorial pacts; to do this, we need to start again from that food sovereignty that protects the rights of peoples, communities and countries to define their agricultural, labor, and land policies; that are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique reality. Food sovereignty can not be achieved if some ethical principles are not rewritten, and therefore political, without which the productions, their derivatives and the agri-food system, are seen always and only as commodities and systems of mercantile exchange.
For this reason, at the center of food sovereignty, as defined in 1996, there are people and not markets or businesses: there are peoples, rural workers, migrants, nomad breeders, communities living in forests, women, men, young people, consumers, ecologist movements, social organizations. At the center of rural policies is the protection of the person and the land, in the freedom of the rights of forms and substances. Every other rule is against nature.
Without a rural policy that speaks another language and therefore makes its creed of diversity and identity, we will see a gradual desertification of men, environment and things. To nourish this new course of history we must therefore abandon the sterility of Reductionism to arrive at a new fertility of Systemic Thought. In this they can make us reflect the words of the one who is perhaps the Father of this epistemological form of Thought.
“Being all things caused and causing, assisted and adjuvant, mediated and immediate, and all being bound by a natural and insensitive bond that unites the most distant and most disparate, I think it is impossible to know the parts without knowing the whole, as well as it is impossible to know everything without particularly knowing the parts. “(B. Pascal).