No really, it was. But lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about enclosed ecosystems as a potential cure for certain problems we face today. Hear me out on this, it might take a little while to loop around and come back home.
In his book Green Metropolis, David Owen suggests that one of the greatest environmentalist bastions ever created is, in fact, the "big city". Of course, big cities typically look dirty when compared to the pristine lawns of suburbia and the open skies of the country, but consider what both of those "cleaner" places require.
- Because of their vast horizontal scale, it takes time to get anywhere worth going. And when it takes time to get somewhere, what do people use? Cars.
- This is exaccerbated by the fact that in suburbia, most people have cars. Many people have multiple cars, and mass transit might not be an option.
- With horizontal space comes things that we like to do to that space. For instance: build a big house, have a big lawn, etc.
- Odds are, we don't use all the space in our house. Speaking personally, my apartment is a "mere" 800 square feet, and I don't use all of the space. I have a second freaking bedroom I never go into, except to iron my shirts and bemoan my "green room" idea. (But that's another story).
- If we do buy a house/apartment bigger than we need, guess what we typically do? Fill it up with stuff! All sorts of cool shit we didn't know we wanted until we saw it- and included with this stuff is the environmental cost of production (for both the product and its packaging, because plastic apparently has to be fucking bulletproof these days) and the cost of transporting it to market.
- If you have a lawn, guess what you probably use? Fertilizer! Weed killer! Gas-powered lawn mowers! Now multiply that by however many millions of suburban lawns there are.
- And of course, if we want to use that horizontal space to build our homes in, we have to clear whatever was there beforehand. This might mean draining a swamp, cutting down trees, etc.
- And remember- individual, free-standing houses have to be individually heated and cooled. That costs money and energy.
So what does all this city-slicker environmentalism have to do with enclosed ecosystems?
Well, one of the unavoidable things we need the wide-open spaces of the country for is food production. To produce enough food for everyone*, you need the sort of acreage that you see in the midwest.
Or- do you?
What I've been wondering is whether or not we could start supplimenting our diets with food grown in enclosed areas in the cities.
You'd start by selecting a set of plants and animals that play well together. Simplistically, think of it like this- start with "The people want fish", so, we put fish in an artificial river. Some of these fish are harvested, others are left to mature, and still others are used as fertilizer for a collection of plants. Some of these plants filter the water, and some of them act as food for our fish. Rinse, repeat.
Clearly, the implimentation is far more complex, but this is what I've been thinking about. Obviously we couldn't replace all of our intake in this manner- you simply can't feed 300,000,000+ people by farming vertically- but think of the benefits.
People in a city could come and see exactly where their food is coming from. The food would be as fresh as it gets, and because it's from an enclosed system, we wouldn't need any nasty pesticides or what have you. You wouldn't have to worry about frost or flooding. Because the plants and animals would be selected in such a way that there is both a market demand for them AND a synergy between them, you could save a fortune on expensive filtering systems. And I'd bet there's a way to subsidize these places, city by city, such that the money it costs to maintain the joint is more than offset by the amount of money you'd save in medical costs stemming from shitty nutrition down the road.
You could sell the food right downstairs, or in a farmer's market wherever. You could rent plots of land to people who want to raise these crops or these animals. Have schools come in, tour the place, and let people reconnect with their food sources. And shit, toss some wind turbines and solar pannels on the roof to make it all as green as possible.
You'd even save money not having to transport this food over the river and through the woods. Lower food costs mean people can spend money elsewhere.
And again, this is all dreaming. But I can't get the thought out of my head that there may be a market here.