Consider, for example, as Prince Charles now does in the context of modern agriculture, the legacy of Justus von Liebig who grew up in Germany in the early years of the 19th century. As a chemist, and would-be "father of the fertilizer industry" he set out to define what makes plants grow. He took crops, set fire to them in his laboratory, and studied the ash that was left behind to identify the minerals that provide plants with their necessary nourishment. His analysis revealed three: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. They are the three basic materials every farmer and gardener knows today as NPK. He also, in fact, helped to establish the notion in early agricultural chemistry that a plant is little more than a chemical processing factory, turning this vital combination of minerals into energy. Furthermore, by mixing these elements into a solution, Liebig also demonstrated that plants can grow perfectly well without soil. It set agricultural chemistry on the course we have today, that led to an industrialized approach to farming.

A century after Liebig conducted his pioneering research, Rudolph Steiner, whom we met in Chapter 9, was asked to deliver what became a famous set of lectures (9) on the emerging crisis in agriculture. He described Liebig's approach as taking agriculture out of the realm of life and putting it into the realm of death. Only in the realm of death, Steiner said, does his theory work. For his part, Liebig in later life seems to have seen the error of his ways, but by then he could not defeat the monster he had helped to create and today we live with the legacy of his pioneering work, whereby the vast majority of food we eat is produced by a method of farming that has become alarmingly disconnected from the Earth. Despite Steiner's warning a century ago, together with two world wars and a dramatic acceleration in the world's population throughout the 20th century, pressure has mounted on agriculture to adopt the clinical efficiency of the factory production process. To meet this demand a new approach was devised in the USA, then rolled out to the rest of the world, in countries like India in the 1960s, known as the "Green Revolution". The yield for every unity of fertilizer applied in those parts of India where the Green Revolution was imposed most vigorously decreased by two-thirds during the early stage of rollout. This has indeed worsened since, which is very worrying, given that the process is promoted ever more around the world.

Overall then, for Prince Charles, we would need to value nature's capacity to self-order her complexity; to recognize nature as our guide, rather than seeing her as a machine that we can abuse to breaking point. Starting off with land and agriculture, it is quite bizarre, he says, how we continue to put our faith in the very substances that are destroying the harmonic cycle which produces our food. It is quite genuinely a form of hubris. We now turn from agriculture and the built environment to health and well-being.


For an organism to be healthy, Prince Charles emphasizes, it must be in harmony. The converse is that a body is dis-eased if it does not enjoy an equilibrium. So, although we cannot see it, our health depends on harmony and that extends to the impact of those external things, like fast food as we shall see, that influence and shape our experience of and response to the world. Human beings are among the most complex of all life forms, and yet it seems that we sometimes regard our collective and individual well-being as something equivalent to looking after a car. We mend the parts as they fail rather than seeking out and securing the causes of health, which tend to include wholesome food, rest, relaxation, exercise, a sense of community, enhanced by the quality of surroundings, relationships and contact with natural spaces.

At the same time, our digestive system, our body temperature, our kidney and liver activity, lungs, heart and gall bladder, all work according to rhythms (10), making our bodies like nature, self-regulating. All of this reflects the way nature works, and it was these characteristics, and in particular the powers of self-healing, that were once at the heart of medical philosophy. Hippocrates, the figure often recognized as the father of "Western" medicine, pioneered an approach based on the systematic restoration of balance to the body's equilibrium by enabling the body to benefit from its natural powers of recuperation and recovery. Eating well, exercise, massage and relaxation were at the heart of these treatments and today we know from modern science that he was very much on the right track. From agriculture and health, we now turn to technology and engineering.

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