CHAMPAIGN — A leader in the sustainable agriculture movement warned University of Illinois students Thursday of the dangers of "technological fundamentalism" — thinking that society can solve all its problems through technology.
Wes Jackson, the 77-year-old founder of the Land Institute, said society needs to replace "the industrial mind" with an "ecological state of mind."
Speaking at the UI College of Law, Jackson said people haven't appreciated or understood the way natural ecosystems work.
"The genius of the place here was the prairie, which was designed to receive precipitation, and we plowed it under," he said.
Similarly in the tropics, there were ecosystems designed to get rid of water fast.
But "Homo the Homogenizer" ended up planting soybeans in both Illinois and Brazil, Jackson said.
He lamented the industrial revolution and the carbon-based culture it spawned, with ever-increasing use of coal, natural gas and other natural resources.
He compared the advent of the industrial revolution to the departure of the prodigal son — but unlike the prodigal, who returned, the industrial revolution was "a one-way trip away" from nature's balance.
Jackson said people need to consider how their needs can be met "without dependence on an extractive, growth economy."
A plant geneticist, Jackson served as chairman of an environmental studies program at California State University at Sacramento. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1994.
His nonprofit group — The Land Institute, based in Salina, Kan. — emphasizes natural ecosystems and advocates the use of perennial crops and polycultures.
Perennial crops are crops that live for more than one year, and polycultures involve multiple types of plants growing together.
Jackson's lecture, which included many philosophical, historical and literary references, was sponsored by the Environmental Law Society and the college's Program in Law and Philosophy.