Although Berry specifically targets the scientific establishment in “Life is a Miracle,” he does not claim that science created the social problems he identifies in it, and by no means does he think that society’s problems are consigned to that sphere. Berry also takes to task the literary establishment for buying into similar myths that parallel the myth of self-directing scientific progress. Artists and authors often describe art as a means to uncover all the dirty little secrets of the human condition. Books that touch on some new, edgy subject are often considered milestones. As a result, the ability of authors to “unmask” what real individuals would otherwise keep private is highly revered in Western literary culture. The problem with this steamy, iconoclastic project is that it leads to a crass reductionism whereby characters, and by implication actual individuals, become mines from which authors extract precious resources. Berry points out that this attitude is incredibly myopic- we don’t love characters or other individuals because we want to distill a special characteristic from them. We love people and characters because of the experiences we share with them, and the personhood we see in them. Good art, art that promotes human understanding and solidarity, cannot rest on reductionism.
When the concept that the lawn was essential to residential landscaping first gained traction in the U.S., synthetic fertilizers didn’t exist. Lawns were a mix of various “meadow grasses” and white clover, weeds were ignored or pulled by hand, and lawn mowers were powered by human muscle. In 1844, A. J. Downing, who did as much to popularize the lawn as anyone, recommended that lawns be top-dressed in early spring with compost “of any decayed vegetable or animal matter.” In 1900, such authorities as the Columbus [Ohio] Horticultural Society recommended spring fertilization, saying that the new chemical fertilizers could be used, but that fine ground bone meal and cottonseed meal would work as well at lower cost. That year, total synthetic fertilizer use in the US totaled 2.2 million pounds.
In the familiar hockey stick pattern of other, related, increases such as CO2 parts per million, resource use, and population, total synthetic fertilizer use went up, slowly at first, to about 8.2 million tons in 1940. After World War II, marketing forces that shaped cultural norms combined with the “Green Revolution” to drive sharp increases in the U.S. Recommendations for lawns increased from one to four applications over the growing season. In 1981, when the Talking Heads often performed their song in concert, total synthetic fertilizer use was up to 54 million tons. But lawns rapidly gained market share: According to the EPA approximately 13.5 million tons of synthetic fertilizer were spread over American farmland in 2005 and 2006, covering about one-eighth of the continental land mass. Yet in 2004, about 70 million tons of fertilizer were used on U.S. lawns. And while agricultural use has declined somewhat, lawn use continues to increase: lawn acreage continues to expand, and there is more input per acre than on agricultural land.
Below the densely forested slopes of southern West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains is a layer cake of thin coal seams. To uncover this coal profitably, mining companies engineer large—sometimes very large—surface mines. This pair of images shows the growth of one of the largest surface mines in West Virginia during the past 25 years. READ MORE ...