Return to Eden

We could be living in a vertiable Garden of Eden. It's more than a pipe dream. We can get there. All we have to do is engage in 3-dimensional farming and bulldoze a few mountains....

Eric Armstrong

The Garden of Eden is a metaphorical place where living is wonderful. At least, it has always been considered to be a metaphor. But what if we really could return to the Garden of Eden, and dwell there to the end of our days? How might that happen?

Falling from Eden

I've yet to find the perfect place to live. I've lived in most parts of the country by now and, much as I like some things, there are always some aspects of the climate that are distasteful.

In New England, the beautiful fall weather was offset by the horrible humidity towards the end of summer, and long winters. In California, the wonderfully warm, rainy winters produces lush green grass that turns to a dead, dry brown in the summer. Some marketing genius called them "golden hills", but the reality is that the vegetation is starving for water.

The combination of the cold and the scarcity of food most likely accounts for the whole of civilization.

I used to dream of wandering around the wilderness, foraging on food I could find there. If it were possible, it would be a comforting feeling. You'd always know you could survive, no matter what else happened.

But the reality of the matter is that survival is implausible outside the context of civilization. It's not impossible. People do it. But they're rare.

To survive well, we need food and water. And we need to stay warm and dry.

There is generally water to be found (even though it is mostly polluted these days, but that is the subject of the next essay). However, even when water is plentiful, food is not that easy to find, and staying warm can be a real trick. The need to stay dry stems from the difficulty of staying warm. Both concerns motivate a need for shelter. Along with the need for food, the need for shelter tends to force one to make peace with the prospect of living in civilization.

But civilization, despite it's comfort, imposes a lot of stress. We keep designing tools to make ourselves more productive, but since our competition uses them to do more, we wind up working just as hard to compete. Sure, the tools let us get more done, but they don't let us work any less.

And if we're not working, we're not eating. If we're not working for long enough, we don't have any shelter, either. Since we need those things to survive, and since rising prices and taxes make it hard to save enough to feel secure, we are constantly on edge, balancing our ability to work against our prospects for survival.

Viewing Eden

But what would it be like in the Garden of Eden? You can almost imagine it. The air would be warm and fresh, even at night, so you could sleep out in the open without being uncomfortable. Like Hawaii, the light rains would be warm, and followed by warm, dry air. So you wouldn't mind getting wet from time to time.

Even better than money, food would grow on trees. It would grow on the bushes and shrubs around you, as well, and you would harvest a feast as you strolled around. Everything would grow more or less at our fingertips, so it wouldn't be necessary to spend your life plowing and tilling the ground in order to eat.

In such circumstances, our efforts would be primarily aimed at improving life, rather than scrabbling for survival. We might focus on making musical instruments or on playing them, according to our tastes. Or we might focus on art or literature.

That sure would be nice, wouldn't it? The question is, how realistic is it to envision such a scenario, and how close to it could be come, in practice? The answer, I think, is "a lot closer than we might have imagined".

It won't be easy, though. There is a lot of work that will need to be done. The process may well take a couple of centuries. But just imagine the rewards...

Restoring Eden

If we're going to live in Eden, we're going to have to rebuild the place. That's just the way it is. To do that, we're going to need a template for the way things could be, and we're going to need to remove the obstacles that stand in the way.

Fantastic Farming in 3D

At the base of Killimanjaro there is a community of more than 3,000 people. A PBS special took us there, and showed us around. Standing on the foothills and looking out over the community, all you see is trees. You don't see a building or a road, much less any people. Only trees.

Now, that is cool. After a doing a lot of thinking about where I might want to live, I finally defined quality of life as living in a place where, "The trees are bigger than buildings, and they cover at least as many square feet." That Killimanjaro community has "quality of life", alright. They've got it in spades.

Possibly more importantly, they also have the most productive farm land in the world! They have a rainforest ecology, and they do 3-dimensional farming. They have crops that grow at the top of the trees, crops that grow halfway down, and crops that grow near the ground. I'm not an expert on what they grow or how the system works, but that is a system worth emulating.

In cities, you have lots of tall buildings, and quality of life is only found in the parks. In farming areas, you have huge fields that have to be re-plowed every year -- a process which eventually damages the soil, killing the microrganisms that bind the minerals which give fresh produce its fantastic flavor.

But with 3D farming, thereis no degradation of the soil, no degradation of the environment, and no loss of quality of life. If you notice, "3" is just an "E" in disguise. So, "When you're 3D-in', you're livin' in Eden!"

Climate Control in Several Centuries

Of course, climate has a lot to do with the ability to operate a 3-Dimensional farm. For much of the world, such a possibility is simply impractical. Undoubtedly, though, we could undertake more serious investigations of the concept. Perhaps there are methods and techniques we could use, even in northern climates.

Even if such techniques were found, however, the climate in most areas of the world would still be very far from Eden-like. Not that snow and stuff are bad, mind you. It's just that you should be able to choose the amount of you snow you get by how high and how far towards the poles you decide to live -- instead of having it shoved in your face by Mother Nature.

The fact is, the biblical stories of Eden probably reflect a time long ago, before the first comet struck the earth. That would have been in the time of the dinosaurs, or possibly even earlier -- long before man even existed, actually. But the time was real.

Another PBS special described the impact of the Himalayas on the weather. Monsoons, deserts, storms -- most of them originate as a result of the interplay between those humungous mountains and the wind currents that are generated as the oceans are warmed by the sun during the day, and cool off at night.

The bottom line here is that the majority of the intemperate weather we experience has its origins in the Himalayas. Those mountain ranges were probably formed when the first comet struck our single-continent of Pangaeia, driving what is known as India up into its neighboring land mass. The Himalayas rose up as a result, like crinkles in a piece of paper.

Now, while those mountains give Mother Nature her bite, Father Time is slowly trying to pacify things. Little by little, a tiny bit a time, erosion works to lower those mountains and even out the climate.

Basically, the planet is giant sponge ball that got struck eons ago, and it's still reeling from the aftershocks. Earthquakes and volcanoes are two of the ongoing effects. Climate-affecting mountains are another. Given enough time, the effects will all die down. But do we really want to wait?.

Should we decide that we would really like to live in a temparate, even climate, we have two choices. We can either wait a few thousand millenia for the process to happen on it's own. Or we can speed up the process ourselves.

It probably won't even be necessary to level the whole range. Several deep channels through the mountains would probably be sufficient to let the wind and the water it carries "flow around" the obstacle, rather than being completely impeded by it.

Benefits of Climate Control

Such a radical undertaking would have a tremendous number of benefits for humanity:

Counter Arguments to Climate Control

There are many passionate counter arguments to such a radical suggestion, and they are not without merit. Let's look at some of them:

It will cost too much / take too much time
It would definitely cost a lot, and take a very long time. On the other hand, it is happening naturally. The idea is simply to speed the process along. Still, it would be a gigantic undertaking, requiring unprecedented levels of international cooperation. We seem to be getting better at that, though, as experience with the space station shows. So there may be hope for this prospect.
It will eradicate a natural splendor and remove a natural wonder
Yes. One would have to agree that it would. The question is, what price Eden? In other words, what would you be prepared to sacrifice to give future generations a life that is infinitely easier, more comfortable, and richer than anything they can now look forward to? Certainly, tall wonders like K2 and Everest should be left intact. And we can probably get away with cutting a number of channels through the mountain range, so the weather can get through. We'll need to do some calculating and figuring anyway, to minimize the amount of work we do. Minimal work equals maximum preservation, so the better we are figuring out what we need to do, the better off we'll be.
If you do it there, what about the Andes, the Rockies and the Alps?
Undeniably, ranges as tall as those have an impact on the weather. To date, nothing has suggested that the impact is as extreme as that of the Himalayas. But we might want to keep an open mind, and consider it as a future option. A lot will depend on how successful we are at moderating the climate and preserving the mountains in our initial efforts. As we learn more, we may well want to put these options on the table at some future date.
Where do you put all the rock?
That is a seriously good question, and one that needs to be addressed. You can't dump it in the ocean without rasing water levels, and it's not clear where on the continent it could go. Once a place has been found, though, I have no doubt that we can transport the rock. It is amazing to see a highway being constructed these days. They'll take part of a mountain and use it to fill part of a valley, to level out the road. It's awesome, really. That same kind of technology will have to operate over a very long period of time. But it's possible, assuming we can figure out what to do with the rock.
We don't know what we're doing!
This argument rests on the astute observation that when we try to improve on nature, a lot of the time it turns out that we don't have any idea what we're doing, so the end result is not what we wanted. The good news here is that such a change will take centuries. And in the last centruy we have put in place satelittes, measuring equipment, and record-keeping systems that enable us to track the changes over time. We also took nature into our own hands when we began doing agriculture, and when we started breeding plants and animals, . But because the results did not happen overnight, it was possible to monitor our progress and make sure we did the right things.

Managing Mosquitoes and Poison Ivy

These pesky little buggers have no place in my vision of Eden, at least. The mosquitoes will no doubt average out. The places that don't have any will probably get some. The places that have way too many will no doubt lose some. But if we could find a way to eliminate them without harm to the ecology, I'd sure be in favor of it.

Poison ivy needs to go, too, along with poison mushrooms and the like. Goats can eat poison oak and poison ivy without harm. Maybe we can create a breed that eats them non-stop, and only eats other vegetation when nothing else is available.

Ideally, nothing in Eden would be harmful -- you could feast on anything you see, and be assured of a good meal, and have no worries about predators. Of course, you have to draw the line somewhere. For now, we'll stop with climate control. But someday, somehow, it sure would be nice to see those pesky mosquitoes and itchy poison ivy consigned to oblivion!

Ending Pollution

There is one more factor which must be addressed in the quest for Eden -- the matter of pollution. The solution for that problem requires a fair amount of explanation, though, so we'll leave it for the moment and come back to it in the next essay in this series. For now, let's just predicate that if we're living in something approximating Eden, then we're living in a pollution-free, carcingogen-free world.


Eden is part myth and part prospect. It represents easy living in a beautiful world, a state of life that we have longed for since time immemorial, but one which we have only rarely experienced, for short periods of time. Life in Eden would be characterized by abundant food and water, and a warm, temperate climate. It is a lifestyle that we actually can aspire to, with three dimensional farming, mountain-leveling, and pollution-control.

Copyright © 2002 by Eric Armstrong. All rights reserved.
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