A New Dark Age, Vertical Gardening, and Other News Items

This installment of an ongoing feature reports on a new method of vertical gardening and one observer's fears of an impending new dark age.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
July/August 1974
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Philosopher and ecologist Lewis Mumford believed that persistent inflation and energy crisis signified that the United States had already entered a new dark age.

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The following short news items were drawn from multiple sources.  

New Dark Age

The new dark age is here, we just don't know it," says philosopher Lewis Mumford. The 79-year-old student of ecology and urban planning is convinced that the current inflation will be followed by depression, and that the energy crisis will deepen as long as we continue to live on our capital of carboniferous fuels. Mumford's answer: Large scale use of solar energy (by fermentation of green plants to make alcohol), decentralized food production on all available land and more manual--instead of machine-output of goods and services.

Vertical Gardening

Vertical gardening may be a possible answer to the worldwide need for increased food production. That's the word from Michael Dillon, a British-born experimenter who now lives in Athens, Georgia. Dillon has successfully grown large amounts of flowers and vegetables in towers rising 7 to 10 feet from a base of only one square yard—and he's currently trying for half a ton of tomatoes from 230 plants in a 27-foot-tall "garden." The vertical crops are set in artificial soil made of plastic compost, waste and shredded newspaper. They're nourished by an automated water-and-nutrient distribution system. "One tower, 6 feet in height, will equal 175 feet of conventional garden," says Dillon.

Free Enterprise's Demise

Recently 85 year old historian Arnold Tonybee forecasted the end of free enterprise and the onset of a "permanent siege economy." In his view, the developed countries can expect a future of austerity enforced by authoritarian governments. Simple living, however, might have a value of its own: "A society that is declining materially may be ascending spiritually," says Toynbee.

The Dust Bowl Revisited

The U.S. may soon be treated to a replay of the dust storms that swirled away tons of topsoil from the Great Plains during the 20's and 30's. According to Conservation News, published by the National Wildlife Federation, "An estimated nine and one-half million acres of U.S. forests, grasslands and set-aside acreage are expected to be converted to cropland this year, nearly half of which will be subject to excessive erosion that could result in soil losses totaling 90.4 million tons." The release of the land for farming is the result of concern over world grain and cotton shortages and our own diminished stockpile of wheat.

Minerals Shortage?

Dwindling supplies of essential minerals could lead to serious upheavals in world politics and soon. The major industrial countries have already depleted their own mines of key raw materials—tin, antimony, copper, bauxite, chromium, platinum, manganese and nickel to name a few—and must import increasing amounts from Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia. Result: Immense economic leverage for the Third World, which can be expected to take a lesson from the Arab nations and become adept at the game of resource control. Would-be customers might be compelled to make far-reaching concessions to much smaller and weaker states—and might eventually resort to "gunboat diplomacy" to get control of the minerals they want.

Corn Harvest Shortfall

which the administration has counted on to bring down the high price of livestock feed apparently isn't going to materialize. After an unusually wet spring over much of the Corn Belt—with consequent late planting, reduced acreage and loss of nitrogen (as chemical fertilizers leach away into standing water)—the forecast yield of 6.7 billion bushels now looks more like 6 billion or less. And the carry-over from last year's crop is the smallest in 26 years.

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