Petrochemical agriculture is a program that uses statistical risk assessment to balance the need of farmers to extract a capital profit out of farming commensurate with the profit to be extracted from oil-based industries (which severely damage or even destroy the land in order to produce that profit, at least in Canada), the need of people for food, and the need of the rest of the earth to remain alive, in the web of relationships called “life”. In this model, farmers produce food for international export, using imported labour and imported capital, on local land and water (with minimal local employment). Much of this “food” languishes on supermarket shelves or gets turned into juice, which isn’t any good for anyone, as its sugar content is too high for it to be healthy. It becomes only a form of caloric investment. These are, however, the products that a capital-intensive model can support. What it means up close is this: You’re looking at a farmer spraying highly-engineered poisons toxic to insects (and birds and humans) on a dwarf cherry orchard, to produce oversize hormonally-manipulated cherries for a speciality market in China. Millions of dollars are involved per farm. Local people don’t eat these cherries, and, frankly, they are only good to look at. Unfortunately, just a few hundred metres away, this red-winged blackbird …. … and his family need those insects. Deeper into the reeds, the yellow-headed blackbird needs them as well. Risk assessment calculates the relative safety of these chemicals, in respect of their toxicity to both humans and wildlife, such as the red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds above, but it does not calculate the risk of alienation that this approach makes permanent. The humans who share this environment with the blackbirds, the insects, the cherries and the poisons, for example, see “nature” as a reserve area, some place separated from exploitation. That’s understandable, given the social context in which humans today are embedded by their general failure to address the kind of exploitation made evident in the factory farm above. From this social stance,”nature” is an area in which certain human activities are curtailed (but not the general reduction of available insects for birds), rather than a space with its own energies and requirements. Indigenous ways of thinking set aside reserved areas for human habitation, which makes more sense. The reason for this turnaround is that humans are such terrific predators, prone to such insane violence, that in large enough populations, supported by large enough surpluses of excess petrochemical energy, only through a carefully-maintained and carefully-worked-out system of balances can they be prevented from trashing the whole joint. Here is a view of the blackbird’s (and turtle’s and blue heron’s) environment, complete with abandoned boat, four-lane highway on rich wetland, mini-storage, equipment yard, and the ruins of vegetable farms and orchards stretching up the former grassland hill. It might be green, but it’s a ruin, and scarcely productive, although 150 years ago it was a rich source of food. This land above Swan Lake in the North Okanagan Valley was originally alienated by men who grazed 4,000 years of human care down to dust in a decade, to support cattle for which there was little market, most of which died in cold winters due to lousy farming practices, leaving the Indigenous people, the Okanagan Indian Band, poverty-stricken. This (illegally) alienated land was then alienated further before World War I by men who were attempting to invest Belgian rubber money (derived from genocidal rubber extraction policies in the Congo), and alienated yet again by a collapse of local farming under the pressures of industrialized farming in the American section of the watershed, which alienated most of the water and the life-producing potential of an entire Canadian province, British Columbia, in exchange for the expanded industrial capacity of the American Pacific Northwest. Layer upon layer upon layer upon layer, land has been treated as a commodity, and the basis of a capital-based economy, when, in fact, it operates on a different principle. (Well, actually, it’s not land, but a web of mutually-supporting interest, but that’s a story for another day.) Here’s a muskrat, living in his world of checks and balances. If there are too many muskrats, they starve. If there are too many humans, they build capital-based economies, to borrow capacity from the future, which then lead to the discovery and exploitation of capital-based energy sources, such as oil (Canada) and hydro-electric power (Washington, USA). Both of those are energy sources which draw down natural energy in the same way that the rubber-based land development of the Okanagan, and that of the cattle barons which preceded it, drew down a culture in which people lived in a sustainable way on the land — not because they didn’t have the smarts to exploit it and draw it down but because they were smart enough not to. The trick with borrowing capacity from the future is that it changes the future. Time travel, a fantasy literary genre, proposes that a person travelling into the past will change his present in such a way that it will be impossible to travel into the future. It works the other way in real life: cashing in on the future changes it so that it will never arrive, except in a form representing that cashing in. It’s not, in other words, that nature is a field of chance and random activity, but that capital, and the energies which represent its force, has created randomness out of order. To define the living world as “nature”, and to define that as a field of chance operations, is to grow ever more distant from it, as illustrated in the picture of the hillside above. You will never experience it by this route, and it will, ultimately, die. Here’s what death looks like on the grassland hillsides. This is cheatgrass. It will be dead in a week or two, and then for half a year nothing will grow here, because cheatgrass has broken the water cycle. It is one of the gifts of the cattle barons. Even insects can’t survive here, and if insects can’t, then the whole chain of life can’t, and that includes, sorry to say, humans. The alternative will be to produce increasingly technological crops, including genetically-modified crops which embody the principles of randomness created by capital-based energy and its theft of the future (which includes theft of the earth-based energy productive capacity of webs of life) for non-earth-based capital objects representing its energies, such as this: This is an alley in Vernon, BC. It could as well be the hillside above. This is what the past productive capacity of the land has gone into, generation after generation. It is an artwork, certainly, and a representation of human bodily and social space, in many complex ways, but it speaks more of people just trying to survive in the little street space left outside of privatized human space rather than social health, while balancing that with a need for private space within the capitalized environment. Other than those drives, there is nothing alive here, though. That is not meant to be a value judgement. It is meant as an observation that this is the end of the process that began with the capitalization of the land from 1858 to 1893. Against this energy, life has to be put in reserves. I’m arguing that those reserves look the same as this. We have jailed ourselves. Within this drawn-down future (now our present), we are nothing more or less than those weeds.