a new era in human-environment relations

Wes Jackson


“To help us understand how the world works, we must start with the question of how the world is.”

Wes Jackson, founder and president of The Land Institute, uses agriculture to provide a new perspective on the Anthropocene. Contrary to many histories of the Anthropocene, Jackson discourages us from thinking about the start of the Anthropocene in terms of the Industrial Revolution. Rather, Jackson believes that the human epoch began over 10,000 years ago when agricultural practices were first developed. Jackson encourages a conceptual shift in modern agriculture, one that transitions from the annual crops that have been utilized for thousands of years.Jackson stressed that soil should be viewed as a nonrenewable resource and that agriculture disrupted natural cycles:

“Below ground, perennial root systems have deep root systems, like those of the mixed wild grasses and legumes that carpeted the Midwest and Great Plains before the plow came and turned the prairie upside down.”

Even though these harmful effects were unintentional, he said, humans have been stripping the Earth’s soil of nutrients and resources for thousands of years. He referenced problems including soil erosion, fossil fuel dependency, the application of toxic chemicals, and the use of fertilizer as side effects of prominent agriculture practices and their reliance on annual crops.

Now, recognizing our destructive agricultural practices, Jackson proposes a shift. He says that we need to place more value on ecological capital. Soil is an invaluable resource and as an ecological service, we must assign a higher value to this resource. He wants us to understand the importance of natural systems agriculture and move closer to perennial systems in order to utilize nature’s cycles as a standard of measure. Rather than monoculture and annual crops, we should diversify our plants and move towards perennial species. In an attempt to transition from one practice to the other, Jackson says we should cross annual crops like wheat and sunflowers with wild relatives to create perennial hybrids.