Chapter 9                       Dance With The Devil         By Gunther Schwab                   Written in 1963.

 

 

WHEN THEY ENTERED THE BOSS'S OFFICE, THEY FOUND HE was not alone.

Seated near him was a rather fat man, who gave the impression of being an easy-going person,

with something of a provincial air.

The two rose as the guests entered and the Devil's assistant, for such he obviously was,

smiled all over his fat face.

"You've heard the report of Klikprap," said the Boss, "and as you know,

his ultimate aim is the starvation of mankind. He's a very efficient fellow,

but his work was getting on top of him, so I had to split up his Department and create a special section

for the destruction of the soil.

Pulvero, here, is the head of it. His number is 301."

 

The Boss turned to his assistant. "Well, Pulvero, have you got good news?"

"Good news, Boss."

"I never expected anything else from you."

"My last report was thirty years ago."

The Devil nodded. "I've forgotten it, with all the work I have.

But what is the exact position about the feeding of man­kind."

"It would be better to talk of the hunger of mankind."

"I should be only too delighted if you proved to be right."

Pulvero said, "Since 1937 the number of starving people in the whole world has risen from 39 to 60 per cent.

That is, we are already past the half-way mark."

"Excellent, excellent!"

Pulvero turned to the guests.

 

He looked at Rolande; he obviously liked the girl. "The earth is at present carrying 2,770

million people; only a fifth of these regularly get enough to eat; two-fifths are always tottering

on the edge of catastrophe."

The Devil said: "That's what Nature intended, so you can hardly claim credit for it."

"A further two-fifths are undernourished and there's no pos­sibility of providing them with enough to eat.

Of the 60 millions who die every year, 35 millions die of under-nourishment;

100,000 people die every day of sheer hunger."

"Admirable! "

Pulvero now began to get into his stride.

"Mankind increases at the rate of 90 a minute; 5,400 an hour; 130,000 a day and 17 millions a year.

Since every human being requires at least 2 ˝  acres in order to support life, mankind should be concerned

to ensure that the existing food-bearing acreage is increased daily by 330,000 acres.

Thanks to the destruction of the soil, However, man is actually losing cultivable land in various parts

of the world at the rate of 500,000 acres a day.

 

Mankind is, therefore, faced by the fact of a daily deficit of 830,000 acres.

In Europe there is less than a third of the necessary cultivable land per head of the population,

and even that has usually been spoiled and weakened; mankind is on the increase while the acreage

which it needs grows ever smaller and less fertile."

"Splendid," said the Boss, "if it's true.

But what we'd really like to know is how you got these results."

"I begin my report with the destruction of the countryside by building,

although this is not the most important reason why cultivable land is disappearing.

The ulcer of the towns, and the industrial desert, is always taking up more and more of the countryside

as Nature designed it and so killing it. Building is mi the increase; in many parts of the world

the countryside is like a Chicago, with a few farms sandwiched into the middle of it.

The whole of England has become a single great suburb —"

Satan smiled. "Very good indeed; very well put.

 

They have houses and factories but no bread.

They'll have to eat asphalt and concrete."

"The loss of farmland because of the building of garages, airports, barracks,

and the reservation of training areas all over the world, is steadily rising."

Groot: "Still, I'm sure there are reserves in many parts of the world on which man can fall back.

Siberia, for instance."

Pulvero: "Expectations haven't been fulfilled in that quarter.

Huge sums of money have been spent in Central Asia and Eastern Siberia in an attempt to make

some 70 million acres of virgin soil fit for cultivation,

but it has so far proved impossible because of lack of rain."

Groot: "All the same, I don't quite see how you can blame man.

What he does is to use the surface of the earth to satisfy the most urgent needs of the hour,

and that's all there is to it."

 

The Devil: "You must distinguish between the claims of bare life and those of the so-called

standard of living. If you deduct those natural resources which are used to satisfy

an artificially enhanced demand, a demand for satisfying man's desire for self-indulgence,

you would find that the position was not nearly so bad.

But a man uses up ten times as much of the gifts of Nature as he really needs, for a full life.

We have managed to make the soil into an article of commerce.

And the high rate of interest which capital demands is what today directs its use."

Pulvero continued with his report.

"And yet, large surfaces of land are still left which might serve the purpose of feeding man,

but here I have to examine the actual degree of fertility with which they are endowed.

The life of man will always depend on what plants produce out of earth, water, air and light.

 

Every slice of bread, every potato, every morsel of meat must be provided by a little piece of earth.

The soil is a highly complex and dynamic entity composed of minerals,

inorganic and organic combinations, living creatures, air and water.

It is a creature of a very high order, created by nature over thousands of years out of living substances

and with the help of living things. It is permeated by an infinite fullness of life;

a gramme of sand contains 200,000 bacteria, but a gramme of humus contains 100 million bacteria.

In a handful of garden soil there are more living things than there are human beings in the world;

without them there can be no growth, no fertility, no human existence; thus,

my task is clearly defined, it is to destroy the life of the soil.

 

The soil of the earth which is animated by bacteria is known as humus;

it has a depth of between 25 to 100 inches; all life on earth depends on these few crumbs of soil;

it is absolutely irreplaceable. Nature requires between 300 and 1,000 years in order to develop a single inch

 of such soil. The mysterious combinations that give life to the earth are unknown by man and are still

as much a riddle to him as life itself. I have made use of this fact, and thanks to the world-wide activity

of my department, I have induced man in the last hundred years to destroy the legacy

that has been left to him over millions of years."

 

The Devil asked: "What means have you used to destroy the life of the soil?"

Pulvero: "Man himself developed them under my guidance, thanks to the pressure of population,

of economic nihilism and of the so-called rising standard of life. They are three: mono-Culture,

violation of the soil and artificial fertilizer.

"When man takes living substances from the soil without replacing them,

as he does when he continues always to grow the same crops on one piece of ground,

the productivity of that soil becomes increasingly restricted to the point of ultimate complete destruction.

A healthy soil is firm, both in a biological and a mechanical sense.

It withstands the attacks of wind and water. Sick soil changes its structure and loses its cohesion;

it thus tends to disappear and the door is opened to erosion."

Groot: "What farmer could be so stupid as to expose himself to such a disaster?"

 

The Devil: "Tell us something of what's actually happened."

"Let's take the prairies of North America. They've been grassland from the very beginning of the world.

Their roots held the soil firm up to a depth of 25 feet; before the coming of the white man,

40 million buffaloes grazed here, as did many other animals.

The scum of Europe that came to the New World shot the herds to pieces;

in the end they did it just for the sake of the tongues, the corpses being left to putrefy.

The wild life was ultimately replaced by herds of cattle, much too large for the soil.

Their numbers destroyed the grass and deprived the soil of its protection,

so that it could be washed away by the rain, dried up by the sun and carried away by the wind.

 

After the First World War, this grazing land was transformed into wheat land;

the area under wheat was increased five-fold; thus, for the sake of a quick 100 per cent profit,

the prairie was com­pletely ruined. Year after year, without regard for the need of proper crop rotation,

they planted wheat, wheat and yet more wheat. Business food.

The low-priced wheat flooded the world and ruined countless farmers,

but Nature repaid the injury done with terrible interest."

Pulvero got up from his chair and went to the switchboard; he turned some knobs and they began

to hear the noise of thunder. Then the empty space of the four walls was filled with black smoke.

"Fire?" asked Rolande.

"No, wind. It's the 11th May, 1934, a storm of hurricane force is blowing over the Middle West.

Such hurricane-like winds have only occurred there since de-forestation took place."

The picture changed; they saw what appeared to be smoulder­ing acres, but the smoke was fertile earth.

An eddy of wind lifted it 3,000 feet into the sky and the storm blew it away.

When the humus had been carried away, sand came to replace it;

the pale coarse-grained stuff remained where it fell.

 

They saw farms in the midst of this hell of dust which were buried up to their roofs in it;

the insane force of the storm broke trees by their thousands, carried roofs, windows,

and whole walls of houses away. Streets and railways were covered up to a height of several feet;

desperate, men and women reeled past, wading up to their knees in dust.

The storm shut their mouths, made them blind and Furled them down. After a little,

Pulvero silenced the roar of the elements by turning a knob.

"What you see being carried away are the wheat factories of the proud farmers;

the fat, prairie soil that once covered the ground. In that first dust storm 300 million tons of fertile humus

were carried 2,000 miles away into the Atlantic; all parts of the country suffered under the rain of dust.

Well over a 100 million acres of arable land, an area ten times as large as that of Switzerland,

were utterly destroyed. An even greater number of acres was severely damaged.

 

There followed a number of similar disasters on a slightly smaller scale; indeed, these disasters

have never really ceased and, all in all, arable land covering an area the size of France

has been definitely destroyed. The fabulously rich farmers grew poor and were submerged

 into the proletariat of the cities. And where for millennia there had been rich prairie land and,

somewhat later, waving fields of wheat, was nothing but desert. Now let me deal with yet another means,

to which I have already referred, of setting the soil in motion – chemical fertilizer."

"Without chemical fertilizer, mankind would have died of starvation long ago," said Groot.

"You're right, and no doubt we'll talk about that a bit later. All I'm concerned with here is that alien

chemical substances destroy the basic plankton of the soil, kill the bacteria,

the worms and other forms of animal life. They damage the deposit of humus and if used continually,

prevent the formation of any further humus. This leads to a steady diminution of the fertility of the soil

and also to the alteration of the actual structure thereof, so that it is no longer firmly held to the ground.

 

Now, let's examine this business of chemical fertilizer a little more closely.

I've already said that the substances which are removed from the soil, together with the harvest,

must be replaced. This process is called manuring."

"You talk to us as though we were little children," said Groot.

"I've grown to be very careful. People who come from the cities are generally extraordinarily ignorant

in just those pro­vinces of knowledge that most greatly affect real life.

This does not mean that they do not have a great deal of knowledge about less important things.

Now, manure can only have a fertilizing effect if all the other elements that are essential for growth,

both within and outside the soil – that is to say, water, light, air and so on

– are present in an harmonious relationship with one another.

 

Even the best manure will remain ineffective if the soil is too dry, the air is poisoned,

or the sunlight is unable to reach the ground because of clouds of dust – in fact,

if there is a deficiency of any one single substance that's necessary for life."

Groot: "You mustn't underestimate us. We know very well that chemical analysis of the soil

can exactly determine what mineral substances are missing.

These can then be returned to the soil and everything is in order."

Pulvero: "Certainly, Mr. Groot, everything is in order – at any rate, in our sense of the word.

Since man will never know all the different elements that go to make up the life of the soil,

he is quite unable to say what exactly is missing and what is not;

and if he doesn't know what is missing, he can't replace it.

 

When man gathers the harvest he takes living substance from the soil, doesn't he?

Plants, and fruit and seed. And when he feeds back artificial manure, he feeds back something dead.

Humus is a living substance. Life can't be analysed or produced in chemical factories,

or packaged or despatched or sold at so much a pound, and what we are concerned with here

is the destruction of life.

Haven't you grasped that yet?"

 

"But surely," said Rolande, "that's the marvellous thing about plants, t

hat they can convert matter into living."

"And since Liebig," said Groot, "the genius to whom millions of human beings owe their food

and their very lives, we know that every deficiency in the soil can be made good by chemical means."

Pulvero replied: "Both those ideas are superficial and mis­leading, my friends.

The ordinary view about the efficacy of artificial manure rests on the false doctrine that plants

can be nourished with inorganic matter; plants need living substance,

which can only be found in humus, not lifeless substance such as chemical manure."

"But isn't it a fact," said Rolande, "that besides artificial manure, natural manure is also used."

Pulvero said, "Modern agriculture is continually destroying vast quantities of waste from plants,

animals and man, or using it on a quite insufficient scale.

 

What man could be returning to the soil, he discharges into the river,

 in quantities that amount to billions of tons, as municipal sewage.

The excrement that each man produces during the course of his life would,

if properly treated, give us in every year a cubic metre of humus.

But man doesn't think that this is necessary."

"No doubt there wouldn't be opportunities for good business if we acted differently," said Sten.

Rolande was not altogether happy. "I must confess that I'm not quite clear why artificial manure

destroys the fertility of the soil," she said.

"Nature mobilizes certain groups of bacteria in order to con­vert the chemical manure,

which is really foreign matter as far as the soil is concerned,

and to reorganize it in organic combina­tions which can be absorbed by the plant.

Now, these bacteria increase beyond the natural limits and start eating up other forms of organism

in the soil which the humus urgently requires if it is to convert organic matter.

If the soil lacks a sufficiency of bacteria of this kind, it will be unable to produce the nourish­ment

required for the next period of growth in harmonious combination.

 

Further, a great part of chemical manure is highly soluble.

The plant roots swim in the superfluity offered to them;

the effect of this is the same as that on a human being who is compelled to go on eating

after he had long been satisfied. Other forms of artificial manure are not soluble at all,

and have a whole host of different solvents added to them, which the soil doesn't require;

these can't be absorbed by the plants and in the course of years collect in the soil and interfere

with the bacterial life, and so prevent the soil from regaining its health.

"In conclusion, I may surely say that I have achieved some gratifying and remarkable successes.

 

The greater part of the world today suffers from soil exhaustion. After being active in my service

for a century and a half, my noble pioneers in the United States for instance can draw up

the following imposing balance: 40 per cent of fertile soil in the United States has been ruined.

Thanks to monocultures, nearly 400 million acres of the best agricultural land have been totally destroyed;

a further billion acres are rapidly approaching desert conditions. In the United States, year after year,

5 billion tons of soil are either blown away by the wind or washed away by water."

"Hee, hee ! " laughed the Boss. "My American friends must always be in the lead, mustn't they?"

Groot argued, "Yet, despite all you say, U.S.A., Canada, Australia and South Africa are exporting cereals

to all the world. How could they do that if they'd all ruined their soil as you say they have?"

"Because of the enormous size of these continents and the low density of their population.

 

Nevertheless, within a few years, Australia and South Africa will be only too glad

If they can just about cover their own demand for bread cereals.

North America, too, will soon cease to be an exporter of wheat; and then it will be Europe's turn to worry

about getting enough food to eat."

"And what will happen if it can't?" asked the girl.

The Devil said, "What, indeed? Man will reap what he's sown.

I shall press on with these lop-sided experiments which cause industry to expand

at the expense of agriculture.

The erosion of the soil leads increasingly to the erosion of the human soul.

Those blind to the truth think that the function of politics is simply to order the collective life of man;

it never enters their minds that politics has also a duty to secure the foundations of a good life

for future generations. The vital problems of maintaining the health of humanity's living spaces

are not on man's political agenda."

 

 

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