Expert Speak Terra Nova
Published on Jun 18, 2020
Towards Green Recovery: Our Cultural Life after COVID19 Pandemicf all the occupations by which gain is secured, none is better than agriculture, none more profitable, none more delightful, none more becoming to a free man”, wrote Cicero in On Duties. Surely, the last 6 months that I dedicated to farming has been one of the best-spent moments in the 30-years of my life. Not that I wanted to escape from the city; I had to leave my rented apartment when my contract ended in December last year. But it was also a ‘dream-come-true’ moment since I always wanted to spend time focusing on writing, just like Pablo Neruda and many other writers have done so in their life. Becoming my parent’s private gardener and farmer was another moment of epiphany — and a better learning experience than my days spent in school. After being detached from the centers around the world, I could somehow see things more clearly than before. Not to mention see things drastically different from the days in metropolises such as London, Washington D.C. or Beijing. Most of the time here, I see more butterflies, birds, cats and dogs than people. Oddly, I am the youngest person in this village — except for a nurse in our village hospital. My best friends here are my neighbors in their 70s or 80s; some came here after retirement, but most have dedicated their entire life to land or fish farming. Not only the village, but the entire city has been devoid of younger generations since many have left to seek better jobs in bigger cities. No wonder there are no COVID-19 patients in this city. Naturally, I could observe nature more closely and for a longer term. It was almost the first time in my life that I started to produce food that I will consume by myself. At the same time, I learned more about what climate change means for nature and food production, the importance of preserving biodiversity and the threats that our current practices, such as overurbanization or heavy reliance on plastics, pose to biodiversity.

Life for Rent: Are we breaking the nature’s own supply chain? 

 Nature has always had its own supply chain system long before human beings successfully created our own globalized supply chain system. Anthropocene<1>, alongside globalization, might be the word that can describe the 21st century world. Climate change is only a part of the Anthropocene, along with many other human generated topological changes. Yet, we are the ones who depend on earth and nature, and not vice versa. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 80 percent of our food comes from plants. We know that meat sources are heavily dependent upon plants, since it is a major source of nutrition for livestock. Silk — which is not only an important trade item, but can also provide longer shelf life for foods — is the product of silkworms that grow eating plants. Most, if not all, resources for medicines still come from plants. Researchers have also found clues for plastic-substitute materials from sea plants. However, the news that we encountered during the pandemic was enough to make us concerned about the future more than ever before. Locusts raided crops from Kenya to Pakistan and India, for which global efforts have been set in motion over the past several months. Some people say that the recent oil spill in Russia might be the result of melting permafrost in Siberia. Scientific community has long been concerned about the rise of anthrax in the region due to the thawing permafrost as well. All show signs of the slow fragmentation of nature’s supply chain and its circulation system. This is not just from reading news articles to know more about the climate change and the anthropocene. Life as a farmer here has taught me more than ever about the Anthropocene. I could personally see how undiscernible plastic bags could come from sea plants in and outside the ocean — no wonder plastics are found in fish caught these days. It’s not just Britain that had its driest May. Long, dry months in May here have kept some plants from fully developing fruits, while others are dying from the heat. Frequent storms in the southern part of the world have been headlining news articles, while the flood in Venice was a significant event last year. But it was not just Venice that was submerged under water; I remember this house to be once flooded by water. From Northern Europe to Southern Asia, frequent floods have damaged more and more houses. Water management practices, such as dam building, have become a national security threat. In the end, we have seen how thin the line between life and death can be during this pandemic. This might also be the same for nature. We have also grasped the importance of the ‘golden hour’ to save lives by containing the virus in a timely manner. Again, this might also be the same for nature.

Make our cultures great again

 Noted historian Jared Diamond argues that guns, germs and steel have ‘shaped’ the world history as it is today; yet, it is cultures — such as agriculture, aquaculture, permaculture and artistic culture — that has given birth to the human civilization and what make us humans. Every great civilization in human history has been formed around great rivers — from Nile to Indus to Yangtze — which made agriculture possible. From agriculture, civilization was born with villages growing into towns, cities and nations with markets and roads in between. This is also how we created the global supply chain, by mostly trading natural resources. It might not be a coincidence that the longest run dynasty in the Korean peninsula was also founded near the largest rice paddies of the land. As much as I realize that one needs knowledge and expertise as any experienced professional to be a good farmer, I also realize that the younger generations are now leaving farms to move to cities. The proportion of the population that will dedicate their lives to culture are decreasing faster than ever. This tendency will accelerate if our society emphasizes consumption more than production, and not make cultures more attractive — which I found to be true — than other industry and job sectors. This will be even more so if governments do not prioritize cultures over other areas such as banking or information technology (IT), though the growth of these sectors are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Or, it might be the reverse. More farms need up-to-date infrastructures and advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), to boost productivity. What the governments around the world need are more policies to help these industries work together for the future of our food and nature. Investment in cultures from the private sector is also needed to counteract climate change, which continues to threaten our land and oceans alike. Thankfully, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced important reforms for agriculture. Norway has been active in using AI for better aquafarming. More investors are now investing in urban farming as in the case of Tesla Inc.. Big tech companies that recently announced the end of facial recognition system development might want to fund the development of AI and drones for the future of farming. Though automation in farming has long been discussed, some projected that the COVID-19 pandemic would accelerate automation since farms around the world have faced labour shortages due to border restrictions. With corporate investments and governmental policies focusing on the future of agriculture to improve infrastructure in rural areas, we could also see a resolution of our current problems. Overurbanization and underemployment in cities could be solved with younger generations coming back to the farms. This might ultimately help us achieve minus carbon emissions one day. However — with COP26 delayed to 2021 — more aggressive measures and global cooperation is needed. Will it be an innocent and naïve wish to see more conflict zones transformed to farms, water reservoirs or markets, so that we can feed an ever growing population? With some news articles saying that there has been a substantial increase in property searching and buying in suburban and rural areas during the lockdown, we might certainly see a growing interests in the future of cultures again.
<1> A proposed geological epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on Earth's geology and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, anthropogenic climate change
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Yeseul Kim

Yeseul Kim

Yeseul is in a program committee for Asia Pacific School on the Internet governance and also is an individual member for APRALO ICANN.She also used ...

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