by Gretchen Morfogen

It is fascinating to discover valuable information regarding the foundations of modern thought and action stemming from words and issues hundreds of years old. Current writings mention the word protoecology in connection with the mindful awareness of our food souces and the impact that industrial food production has on the overall balance of the economy of nature. Come to find out that centuries ago the same thoughts were beginning to form from the early scientists whose ideas were later brushed aside for the mass industrialisation of the planet and the ever powerful dollar. It saddens me to think where we could be if the industry forefathers had taken a more long term approach to their methods and it’s profound impact on our natural resources.

“Hardly could we treat our valuable forests with more hostility than is happening here: they look only to immediate profits, and never even dream about the future.” A quote from Per Kalm’s* depiction of America in 1748.

The idea of the economy of nature (protoecology) was taken up by very few nature disciples only to a very limited extent. The tradition of developing botanical science came to be dominated by species description, systematics, and a highly comprehensive mapping of flora and fauna. Why this was the case deserves close attention from the point of view of the history of science. The fact that so little further research was done about the economy of nature probably has several explanations, most of which have to do with the exponential growth of industry and its consumption of presence. Founding minds had laid down rules to show how nature could be systematized, paving the way for a time-consuming effort to put together the pieces of a puzzle. During the development of the terminology of science, there ensued a period of ‘normal’ science. Both the first and second generations of researchers were fully occupied with charting the flora and fauna of the world, seeking the more general connections, and in the process the laws of nature fell by the wayside.

Many of these ideas fell on fallow ground and where acknowledged, were further convoluted.
In travelogues from America we find several astute protoecological observations, especially regarding the impact of humans on nature. A description how forests are cut down, how birds are made extinct, and how drainage ditches are changing the climate. It contrasts with the greed of Europeans with the compliant way of living among the Native Americans, just depicted as a people who live in harmony with nature.

It was also observed that the farming of the pioneers was worthless. They cut down the forest and cleared for cultivation, taking advantage of the black soil that had been building up for hundreds of years. But after a few harvests, when the soil was exhausted, and the yields grew smaller and smaller, they abandoned the field and cleared a new one. With knowledge of natural history, a more sustainable form of agriculture could be achieved, but “I found everywhere the wisdom and goodness of the Great Creator, but too much knowledge and understanding was lacking to properly evaluate and make use of it.”*

So how do we use this information to undo centuries of abuse and revert our way of thinking to that of protecological positivity in order for future generations to grasp the importance of salvaging our remaining resources for the betterment of humanity? Teach our children with the strength and conviction that our survival demands.

In the grand context of nature, “He who holds the chain of things, looks with grace upon each link.”
*Per Kalm was a follower of Carl von Linné (18th century botanist and founder of the modern binomial classification system for plants and animals)
Gretchen Morfogen is a St. Louis-based, freelance culinary writer and regular contributor to The Healthy Planet magazine.

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