If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, the story of Christian ethicist and professor Tom Killian and his presidential meeting to decide the fate of Moonbase Asimov, read it first and then come back to this post.
So, what did Tom Killian tell the president’s advisory committee? As a Christian, his worldview gave him a good reply. You may have your own ideas, but I’ll tell you what I think his reply would have been.
Clearly, the economics involved in maintaining the moonbase made for problems, the biggest of which was that the moonbase could not sustain itself without a series of expensive transports routinely bringing in food. The price spike in food that resulted led to rioting at the moonbase that had to be quelled through military intervention.
From a strictly rational viewpoint, sustainability is the 800-lb. gorilla in the room. In truth, sustainability is ALWAYS a primary consideration for any human endeavor. Want to climb Mount Everest? You can’t do it dressed for the beach, with only a handful of granola bars in your pocket. Want to have a moonbase that houses multiple thousands of people? Then you must find a way to address the very simple requirements of food and water. If you can’t, then you either watch the denizens of the moonbase die or you keep shoveling good money after bad to support an enterprise that has no future.
Many spiritually sensitive people would employ the tactic of Dahlia Winters, the leader of the Phos cult. While it is a laudable idea to minister to the needs of the people at the moonbase, adding more people only decreases sustainability further. Such thinking runs counter to common sense, only accelerating the moonbase’s problems.
Sending counselors to the moonbase is especially ill advised when other options exist. Evacuating large portions of the moonbase’s population until it reaches some level of sustainability makes the most sense. If at that point a religious group should desire to minister to the remnant, then fine. The religious group would have just as many options to minister to the evacuees, too. Better to meet their needs in a sustainable environment than in a nonviable one.
Does this make sense? It should. Yet many Christian leaders aren’t tracking with that kind of sense.
Moonbase Asimov is not that far-fetched actually. In many ways, we on planet Earth have our own unsustainable “moonbases.” We call them cities. And some well-known Christian leaders are telling us we can’t be good Christians unless we consider the plight of the city.
In truth, they are absolutely correct. We must consider the plight of our cities. And we should have a Christian response to that plight. Unfortunately, the most Christian response bears little resemblance to the one being advocated by those Christian leaders.
Our cities today are like Moonbase Asimov because they cannot sustain themselves. They are bastions of consumption that fail to produce the most basic element necessary for human survival: food. Is it any surprise then that major cities across the world are seeing riots over the unavailability of food? You can’t bring millions of people into an area and eliminate all its food-producing acreage then expect people to have access to food. That’s insanity. Yet that is what we have done in large cities around the globe.
Our entire world is changing. No longer will people be able to afford food trucked into a region from vast distances. Prices of food are skyrocketing. Much of that skyrocketing comes from our dependence on factory farms displaced into regions far outside population centers. Those industrialized farms rely on massive amounts of costly energy to raise their crops and even more to ship them to distant cities.
While some would claim this to have been a successful model for years (though I would argue against that notion), we cannot sustain that model. The model of the modern city is failing and its failure will be epic.
To send Christians into the heart of an unsustainable model is akin to asking them to board a sinking ship, comfort the occupants, and then go down with the ship. Only a madman would endorse such a plan.
The wiser plan of action would see the Christians board the foundering vessel and get as many people off that ship as possible before it sinks beneath the waves. During the rescue and its aftermath, they can still provide succor, but the end goal is different because it is sustainable. Thousands of survivors beats thousand of people serving as chum for sharks.
One reality we must all face is that our food must be locally grown. In an age of skyrocketing energy costs, we can no longer afford to truck in our food. It must come from nearby sources. Unfortunately, the modern city has all but destroyed farming within or near its borders.
In Bible times and for long afterwards, civilization’s answer was to build walled cities for protection while ensuring the area immediately outside the wall stayed farmland. That made sieges hell as you were cut off from your food supply, but in normal times the food was right outside the wall. A farmer might live inside the city during the perilous nighttimes when robbers and raiders were about, but he could still walk outside the gate of the city and step onto his pasture land. While that kind of city was not perfect, it could still function.
However, today’s cities have no nearby ring of farmland and none inside its incorporation zones. Productive acreage has largely been relegated to far-off outposts hundreds or thousands of miles away from the cities. You simply can’t walk to the gate of the city and step outside it into farmland. And that’s a serious problem. A Moonbase Asimov kind of problem.
I firmly believe the answer to the unsustainability of the modern city is for us to rethink the small family farm. I also think that rather than sending Christians into the city to live, Christians should be helping city-dwellers get out of our unsustainable cities. It only makes for further stress on the system if Christians add to the unsustainability of the city model by moving into it rather than living elsewhere and helping others get out of the cities.
Helping people transition out of our cities rather than moving Christians into them has no negative effect on our ability as Christians to minister to those people’s souls and to share the Gospel with them. If anything, it helps: We show the foresight and desire to “rescue those being led away to death” by offering a radical response to a very real and quite terrifying problem. As many people ministering to those in the city know, city-dwellers are facing enormous pressure on their incomes when it comes to food. Again, riots are breaking out in major cities all over the globe due to this issue. And the problem of food prices and availability will get far worse before it gets better (and that’s IF it gets better).
I believe it is possible to find ways to improve the sustainability of cities, but the entire concept of the city and how it is laid-out for food production will have to be rethought. And that will take decades, time many in the city may not have if the course of our world continues as it is. Sadly, wise urban planners of the past who attempted to build-in food production greenspace were often shouted-down. In this case, though, no one wins when those insightful planners are vindicated.
One famous Christian leader (who shares his initials with Tom Killian) has repeatedly bashed those who believe that a return to agrarianism is our best solution. I would contend that it’s not only our best solution, it may be our only solution in short order. In fact, it’s the only solution that epitomizes the Gospel’s desire to lift people up out of their dilemma into a life of abundance.
Because it’s very hard to be spiritually-minded when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.
17 thoughts on “The Rescue of Moonbase Asimov – The Real Story”
That is NOT where I thought this was going, but once again thank you for some out-of-the-box thinking. You almost always give me something to ponder.
I try to keep people guessing. Makes for a more fun blog.
I’m all for teaching people to be more self-sufficient and to reduce the stress of the city structure by moving people out, but I also have real trouble seeing how this can be done under today’s population conditions. Where would we put all the city people, and how can they be sustained for the long run?
People moved to the cities when the small farm could no longer provide a living (housing, heating, clothing, health insurance, etc.) They went to where the factories were. Living in a city near reliable work sources made it possible for them to afford the necessities (and more) even with having to buy food they no longer raised at home.
We could bring people out of the city now, but is there enough fertile land to give everyone a 2-acre farm on which to have a garden that produces enough food to see them through the year as well as a plot to raise chickens, a dairy cow or goat, and a feeder calf or pig to butcher each year?
Then where do they work to get the money for everything including health insurance, electricity, heating fuel, clothing, etc? I live on 2 acres and have to drive 13 miles to work in a small town that has very few reliable jobs. Most people I know drive at least 8 miles to work and many, like my neighbor, even drive out of state to work during the week and come home on weekends. The jobs (factories, large retail, corporate offices, health care facilities, etc.) are in the big cities.
I’ve been reading material from 2 different Christian men about how they have returned their families to living “greener” or closer to nature. It is good stuff, but both of these men are speakers and writers who sustain the family income with a home-based job. Not every man or woman can do that, so it is hard to relate to these men’s situations or see how everyone else can follow in their shoes when we others commute to work for at least an hour a day, work in a business for 8 or more hours, and have only a few short hours in the evening at home to be with our families, cook meals, wash clothes, etc. To add on the care of a small farm is mind boggling to most people (especially to those who are single, without a helpmate).
First step, of course, would be to convince people that they should leave the “ship.” No easy job when they learn that they’d have to work and sweat to feed themselves. They might even miss a TV show in the process.
I’m all for calling people out of the city, but can they realistically be sustained in the rural communities or would they end up still dieing from lack of things like heating fuel and medical care?
Thanks for the challenging thoughts. I do want to believe there is hope for an answer to our “moonbase” problems, and I want to help, if I can.
We have a very serious problem, don’t we? Just like the moonbase in many ways.
Our infrastructure is part of the problem. Europe built around small towns that were self-contained. America built around railroads, canals, and highways. Now we may pay the price for that type of building plan.
More than anything else, we need to restore local economies. It may be the only way we survive in he long run. Our model is defective and has been since the beginning of the industrial revolution. We may have to undo that revolution with another one.
I often enjoy reading your posts, but I beg to differ with the emphasis of your post, with the “rural is good, urban is bad” dichotomy. The fact is that sustainability is affected by a variety of factors, so it makes a difference to know which cities you have in mind when speaking about sustainability, as well as which rural areas, because some rural areas have larger numbers of self-sufficient farm folk than others. As someone who lives right outside one of a major city, I find your notion simplistic, unnecessarily divisive, and thus unhelpful. (I also live down the road from two farms which are CSAs, one of which grows food for a local food bank as well.)
More to the point, a couple of times Organic Gardening magazine had articles detailing that while all farmers have a hard life, at least small farmers living in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, who live within 200 or so miles of their customers, often thrive, as they often sell their produce and other goods to their urban neighbors. This is definitely the case in the Washington, DC area, as there is a farmer’s market held in DC itself (as well as close-in suburbs) practically every day of the week in the spring, summer, and fall. There’s even an Amish market that’s expanding, coming closer to my neighborhood!
The sustainability situation is not so rosy in either cities or rural areas lacking public transportation, particularly in the south or west. You may have seen the recent NY Times article about how high gas prices are hitting people living the rural south particularly hard, because rural southerners must drive everywhere, and drive long distances to work, shopping, etc. How sustainable is that lifestyle?
We have some powerful Christian leaders who are saying rural is bad, urban is good. They are the ones to whom I’ve aimed this Moonbase story. We can’t play those stupid games, no can we?
The truth is that urban is no longer sustainable as it stands. We can no longer ignore that fact. It may be possible to revamp our cities to make them more hospitable to food production, but that would require an enormous amount of work to retool entire cities. Even then, the city is not sustainable for all people, only those who can produce their own food. Everyone else is forced to become a consumer. And that has ruined our country by making us all dependent on others to feed, water, and shelter us.
When I hear Christians saying that they are homeschooling their kids like they did in the Bible, I ask, “So are you teaching them knowledge of crops and animal husbandry?” When they tell me no, I have to ask them how well their kids’ knowledge of Latin is going to help them if they can’t raise their own food to eat. Food, water, and shelter are the basics. Everything else is gravy. Most Americans can’t provide their own food, water, and shelter. How then will they live when those things become precious commodities? Heck, if you can’t see that happening right now in the news, I don’t know what to tell you!
Our problem is serious. I’m appalled that no leaders in the Church in America are taking these issues seriously.
“”So are you teaching them knowledge of crops and animal husbandry?
Dan, that’s an astute question to ask homeschoolers.
I bet your son knows how to grow tomatoes? I grew some when I was a teen but got killed by white tiny bugs! I had better luck with chilies but they grew small because I didn’t use fertilizer maybe?
Some interesting ideas and feedback –and as another commented, not where I thought this was initially going.
Just this weekend I spent several hot (make that absurdly hot) hours working the local suburban garden of a friend just north of Washington DC. It was not only an opportunity to teach my young teen sons the value of hard, less then thrilling labor, but help them learn the patience of delayed gratification –as we will reap a share in the harvest. These secondary benefits aside, the chief goal was, frankly, to help offset the skyrocketing cost of produce in our area.
More to my point, being a complete newbie to this and learning from my seasoned friend, I marveled at how simple (note simple does not equate to easy) it was to create a small, 1/4 acre suburban garden and I pondered aloud why everybody isn’t doing this. My bud had a simple answer: this takes hard work, persistence and time –not what upper middle class DC suburbanites are about around here. He’s convinced an entire generation simply no longer thinks along these lines and the idea of any food self-sustenance is beyond their realm of comprehension.
We’ve only started and hope to have varied range of summer/fall veggies on hard starting as early as late July (so I gather). I guess this post is to highlight a very real, albeit limited, test of the general principle Dan seems to be positing. I’m not sure we could live off this little plot of produce, but it will (hopefully) negate virtually any produce shopping for several months this year (not to mention my exploring canning for winter use as well).
In any case, living in an economically well to do suburb outside of DC, it seems that some of what Dan is suggesting is plausible at least on some levels?
The book Deep Economy listed under my “Godly Reads” tab up top is a book everyone should read. It predicted the very problems we are seeing and offers good starting points for fixing them.
One way you can help? Become a locavore. Believe or not, that was Webster’s word of the year last year. A good one to know.
Yes, I’ve noted this book a few times in my digital travels – it’s been on a virtual pending pile for a while now. Thanks for the reminder Dan.
The moonbase’s failure can be blamed largely on poor government planning. Big surprise there. Current food shortages are tied largely to ethanol and farm subsidies. We drove up grain prices and depressed foreign food markets by dumping U.S. crops in the Third World. The outrageous price of oil and gasoline can be blamed squarely on the refusal of Congress to let industry exploit our resources.
Many Christians love cities because you can preach on the streets to passersby. In the suburbs, people drive cars. Sidewalks are mostly empty. Joggers will not give you the time of day. You cannot preach in stores. But most Americans live in the suburbs. When disaster strikes anywhere in America, though, ministries gear up to send food, water, shelter, and the Gospel.
Moving out of cities may make living more sustainable, but don’t kid yourself. It won’t make face-to-face ministry easier. It may make it harder.
“It may make it harder”
I disagree. You only have to be more creative.
Some ideas? Offer people to clean their toilets, bake cookies for them, etc, to kick things off. I think people in America’s suburbs or farms would be more willing to take you into their houses if you start that way unlike people in cities who tend to be, in my opinion, more suspicious about strangers.
Or you could try something a friend of mine told me his small group once did. They went around the neighborhood in co-ed groups of two or three, knocked on people’s doors and asked them if they have any prayer requests. Several opened and welcomed them. That can provide an opportunity to share the hope we have in Christ.
I’ve enjoyed reading your posts for the last couple days but I’d like to direct you to this counterpoint article I read a couple weeks ago about the major problems with small format gardening as it’s being currently practiced and promoted…namely the lack of grains.
Article is: It Will Take a Lot More Than Gardening to Fix Our Food System
by Stan Cox
Here’s one of the more poigniant sections: he edible-landscaping trend is catching on across the country, and with food prices rising, it has taking sadly predictable turns. A Boulder, Colo. entrepreneur, for example, has tilled up his and several of his neighbors’ yards and started an erosion-prone, for-profit vegetable-farming operation. It will supplement his income, but it won’t make a nick in the food crisis.
That’s because the mainstays of home gardening — vegetables and fruits — are not the foundation of the human diet or of world agriculture. Each of those two food types occupies only about 4 percent of global agricultural land (and a smaller percentage in this country), compared with 75 percent of world cropland devoted to grains and oilseeds. Their respective portions of the human diet are similar.fdfs
That’s an interesting observation.
Down here in Peru, we eat a lot of rice but I can’t picture myself growing rice in my backyard! It’d be a swamp and affect the foundations of the house. Nor can I picture barley, wheat or anything like that.
The local media has touted switching our consumption of wheat-based bread to potato-based bread. But, can you grow potatoes in the backyard? I don’t know. What I’m sure is that my grandma who lives in her little farm in the highlands doesn’t have rice, nor wheat-based bread for her regular food but boiled potatoes with dairy products and meat. But this is not the diet people in the cities would picture for their daily living.
Maybe is time to switch diets? I noticed this is what Adoniram Judson and his family had to do when they arrive to Burma to preach the gospel. And they didn’t get sick for adapting themselves to this new lifestyle.
Maybe being missional will have to involve switching diets too.
I shared this story with a friend. Here are his comments:
On the moonbase issue, this answer is the only logical one. Those people are there with no ability to rescue themselves nor the ability to provide for themselves. And, there is no reasonable expectation that the base has any viability in the immediate future. Not to mention that the organizations represented in that room were responsible for “selling” those people to go to that base. This is a case of the king not counting the costs and stopping half way through building the tower. All who see will ridicule. But, better to be ridiculed and live than to save face and die (oh, and then be ridiculed anyway).
Making the jump from that to the intended parable is a little weak though. People in cities do have the ability to “rescue” themselves (and many are doing just that today). Not to mention that the organization we Christians represent (the Kingdom of God) was not the ones who told them to go there. Besides the great commission did NOT say go into any part of the world where your presence does not cause a greater hardship on the area’s ability to produce sustenance for the local population.
Choosing not to minister to the spiritual needs because the physical needs are unable to be ministered to is no better than ministering to the spiritual without ministering to the physical.
Just adding to the discussion is all.
As a sci-fi fan and an Asimov buff, I’m LOVING this series. Say, I’m trying to reach you via email about something, but email@example.com is bouncing back. Would you mind contacting me?