The “Agricultural Revolution” is lauded as one of the greatest achievements in the history of the human race, proof positive of “Progress” and of our own exalted status “a little lower than angels.” Doubtless, it is among the most momentous changes that our species has experienced, on par with the utilization of fire, the development of language and the splitting of the atom. However, a closer look, based on research and scholarship, reveals that the adoption of farming led to declines in human health, caused sharp social inequities, started a war on the environment, and put us on a road that’s headed towards extinction.
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Like most people I once viewed dead trees as an indicator of some presumed problem in the forest—that a ‘healthy” forest was one with a minimum of dead trees and largely free of wildfire, insects, and disease. Oh yes, I knew that a few snags were good for woodpeckers, and as a fly fisherman I understood that trout tended to be found hiding behind logs in the stream. I suffered from the same cultural bias as most people and thought that large numbers of dead trees meant that the forest was “out of balance” or “sick.” But the more I studied ecology, the more I questioned these assumptions.