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Rediscovering the Stuff We Forgot to Remember - Joe Turner

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.



The 'future we deserve' is a phrase that can be taken at least two ways:

  • In a positive sense, we might use it to affirm that we have rights as citizens of the world and that we collectively should be working towards a future that we all – collectively – deserve.
  • The phrase has resonance with the idea of getting the 'politicians we deserve' – meaning that if we are as apathetic about our future as our body politic, we'll get what we deserve, i.e., a lot less than we would have had we thought and planned for a better future.

We live in wildly enlightened times, or, perhaps more accurately, wild and enlightened space. We expect our futures to be better than our past, even if we are not really able to articulate what we want from the future that is better than we have today – nor how we will be able to show that things are better when we get there. A large proportion of those of us who live in wealth have, by many measures, lives which have never been better – and it is difficult to imagine a world where it could get any better for us. We are slow to realise that our future will be shared with billions of people whose urges for improvement are more urgent, more demanding, more ethical than ours. Mostly, we want them to develop, but relatively slowly and not at our expense.

But that is not an option in the future we all deserve. On a planetary scale, not all will survive, and the rich are the least able to cope with change, so most of us (include me writing this and you reading) are going to need to swallow a lot of humble pie and remind the rump of humanity why we are worth keeping.

If we (the 'old' rich) have something to offer, we have a chance of surviving with our poor brethren. And, actually, I think we do. For example, in the field of agricultural improvement.

The history of British Agriculture contains many lessons – for example, the humble Chenopodium album, commonly known as Fat Hen, is one of British Agriculture's top 10 weeds (attracting huge amounts of pesticide usage for its removal), yet it used to be a staple food in Southern England. At one point in history, there was a choice between fat hen and cabbage, and ultimately we chose the cabbage.

The British developed skills in agricultural improvement, which meant that new species and cultivars and varieties developed very rapidly compared to other parts of the world. The trade-off was that the old knowledge of species and varieties was lost.

So part of our legacy to humanity is this: We made a lot of agricultural mistakes and learned our way out of them. We did it before, we can do it again. And we can do more than we think we can do, particularly with regard to agriculture and soil management.

If we are to be more self sufficient – and my guess is that we're either going to have to choose to depend more on our own resources or be forced to – we need to learn to survive on the things we throw away or ignore. Remarkably, we can; we've merely forgotten to remember how to do that.