MAY VEGETABLES GROW WITH ELECTRICITY
MAY VEGETABLES GROW WITH ELECTRICITY is a sound essay and series of performances that question our relationship to technological progress in the current ecological and climate crisis. Mixing improvised and composed music, excerpts from articles, adverts, interviews and conferences, the work tests the essayistic possibilities of sound and non-narrative voice. Instead, meaning comes from the juxtaposition or superposition of disparate elements already in media circulation.
The essay can also be actualized into a performance, expanding aspects of the work, playing with its form and intelligibility.
On this page you can find the sound essay, the full text and its sources.
Part one: A bright future ?
"These prophecies will seem strange, almost impossible. Yet they have come from the most learned and conservative minds in America. To the wisest and most careful men in our greatest institutions of science and learning I have gone, asking each in his turn to forecast for me what, in his opinion, will have been wrought in his own field of investigation before the dawn of 2001 - a century from now."
"The american will be taller by from one to two inches. His increase of stature will result from better health, due to vast reforms in medicine, sanitation, food and athletics. He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present -for he will reside in the suburbs. The city house will practically be no more. Building in blocks will be illegal."
"Wireless telephon and telegraph circuit will span the world. We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn."
"Coal will not be used for heating or cooking. It will be scarce but not entirely exhausted. Man Will have found electricity manufactured by water-power to be much cheaper. Every river or creek with any suitable fall will be quipped with water-motors, turning dynamos, making electricity. Along the seacoast will be numerous reservoirs continually filled by waves and tides washing in. Out of these the water will be constantly falling over revolving wheels. All our restless waters fresh and salt, will thus be harnessed to do the work which Niagara is doing to-day: making electricity for heat light and fuel."
"Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. By an automatic signal they will connect with any circuit in their locality without the intervention of a « hello girl. »"
"A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in Chicago."
"Ready-cooked meals will be bought from establishments similar to our bakeries of to-day. They will purchase materials in tremendous wholesale quantities and sell the cooked foods at a price much lower the the cost of individual cooking. Food will be served hot or cold to private houses in pneumatic tubes or automobile wagons. The meal being over, the dishes used will be packed and returned to the cooking establishments where the will be washed. Such wholesale cookery will be done in electrical laboratories rather than in kitchens."
"Strawberries as large as apple will be eaten by our great-great-grandchildren for their Christmas dinners."
"Insect screen will be unnecessary. Mosquitoes, house-flies and roaches will have been practically exterminated. Boards of health will have destroyed all mosquito haunts and breeding-grounds, drained all stagnant pools, filled in all swamp-lands and chemically treated all still-water streams."
"These laboratories will be equipped with electric stoves, and all sorts of electric devices such as coffee-grinders, egg-beaters, stirrers, shakers, parers, meat-choppers, meat-saws, potato-mashers, lemon-squeezers, dish-washers, dish-dryers and the like. All such utensils will be washed in chemicals fatal to disease microbes. Having one’s own cook and purchasing one’s own food will be an extravagance."
"There will be no wild animals except in menageries. Rats and mice will have been exterminated. The horse will have become practically extinct. A few of high breed will be kept by the rich for racing, hunting and exercice. Food animals will be bred to expend practically all of their life energy in producing meat, milk, wool and other by-products. Horns, bones, muscles and lungs will have been neglected."
"The extermination of horses will reduce house-flies."
"And because today’s real life so resembles day-before-yesterday’s fantasy, the old-time fans are restless. Deep within, whether they admit it or not, is a feeling of disappointment and even outrage that the outer world has invaded their private domain. They feel the loss of a 'sense of wonder' because what was once truly confined to 'wonder' has now become prosaic and mundane." Isaac Asimov
"Giant guns will shoot twenty-five miles or more, and will hurl anywhere within such a radius shells exploding and destroying whole cities."
"But space is there. And we’re going to climb it. And the moon and planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. and therefore, as we set sail, …"John Kennedy
"There will be air-ships, but they will not successfully compete with surface cars and water vessels for passenger or freight traffic. They will be maintained as deadly war-vessels by all military nations."
"Winter will be turned into summer and night into day by the farmer. In cold weather he will place heat-conducting electric wires under the soil of his garden and thus warm his growing plants. He will also grow large gardens under glass. St night his vegetables will be bathed in powerful electric light, serving, like sunlight, to hasten their growth. Electric currents applied to the soil will make valuable plants grow larger and faster, and will kill troublesome weeds. Ray of colored light will hasten the growth of many plants. Electricity applied to garden seeds will make them sprout and develop unusually early."
"Without chemicals, life would be impossible. Chemicals help you eat better. Chemical weed-killers have dramatically increased the supply and availability of our food. But no chemical is totally safe, all the time, everywhere. In nature or the laboratory. The real challenge is to use chemicals properly. To help make life a lot more livable" Monsanto's advert
"One cantaloup will supply an entire family. Melons cherries, grapes, plums, apples, pears, peached and all berries will be seedless. Figs will be cultivated over the entire United States."
"I hope we are out there on Mars, and maybe beyond Mars, the moons of Jupiter. I hope we’re travelling frequently throughout the solar system, perhaps preparing for mission to near-by star systems. I think all of this is possible within 50 years." Elon Musk
"in terms of consequences that we can have in this rapidly moving world, it’s going to be a mixture of decreasing agriculture, dying ecosystem, changing diseases - we don’t know exactly how - increasing extremes, rising oceans, increasingly acid oceans, …" Jean-Marc Jancovici
"one foot by two you could stand us all on the six hundred forty square mile surface of the island of Zanzibar. ToDAY third MAY twenty-TEN come aGAIN!" John Brunner, stand on Zanzibar
"It’s going to be very tempting to use AI as a weapons. Very tempting. In fact, it will be used as weapons" Elon Musk
"When you warm the earth by 5° in 5 thousands years, that’s the result you get. Now just picture, we perform the same increase in one or two centuries. What we will get is not the occasion to put on our swimming suit 15 days earlier or one month earlier. We’ll basically get war everywhere. That’s basically what we get, war everywhere." Jean-Marc jancovici
"They live their habitat behind on Mars, each time you do this you add another habitat to the base. And before you know, you have got the beginning of the first human settlement on a new World. there is nothing which is fundamentally beyond our technology." Mars Society
"So, it’s not going to be smooth and nice, it’s going to be something brutal" Jean-Marc Jancovici
"We are not going to avert systemic collapse if we understand systemic collapse in the way of collapse of the global population and the global productive system." Jean-Marc Jancovici
"The scenario of a global shooting collapse as you rightly say, has been reviewed by independent experts to see where we are and regrettably we’re tracking that scenario pretty accurately" United Nations
Part two: A growing Decay
"The norwegian and groenland carried on for nearly 500 years, so we shouldn’t write them off as a failure because they drive for longer than as european societies in north America. but eventually sometimes around the years 1440, they ended up all dead." Jared Diamond
"We will tend to provide a commercial 0 emission aircraft within 15 years from now." Airbus press conference
"Why ? why did they collapse?" Jared Diamond
"My guess is in probably 10 years, it will be very unusual for cars to be not fully autonomous" Elon Musk
"Wich means than in a single liter of gasoline, you have the same ability to transform the environnement that you have in 10 or a hundred days of hard human labour" Jean-Marc Jancovici
"The Mars society is an international organisation present in about 40 countries, devoted to furthering the exploration and ultimately settlement of Mars" Mars society
"Well, before 2099 just about all the physical things we need will be information files. Already I can email you a book or a movie or a sound recording. I can actually email you today a violin or a guitar and you can print it out on a 3 dimensional printer." Ray Kurzweil
"And as the cities grow, we will have to develop more infrastructures and services for them" Cheong Koon Hean
"At the same time it’s not enough to look at successes and failures in the past, because today, modern societies are facing other problem that these past societies faced. Today we are still facing problem of water and top soil and fish and wood, plus today we are facing new problems such as problem of energy and toxic chemicals." Jared Diamond
" 90% of our homes have broadband and we’re gonna bring fiber to every home" Cheong Koon Hean
"I think you will be walking into a virtual store and most products will be virtual even food and clothing. Everything we need will be virtual. The era of 3 dimensional printing is already coming." Ray Kurzweil
"fiber to every home"
"We now see fusion start-ups, with people… You know previously we thought that only governments or even all governments of the world combined could develop fusion power. Now we’ve seen fusion start-ups funded with 50 millions dollars, 100 millions dollars , 200 millions dollars. I think it’s these guys who will develop fusion power." Mars Society
"And with climate change, we have to encourage people to use less energy so that we reduce carbon emission" Cheong Koon Hean
"If you are all in this room with the time to listen to me instead of growing potatoes, it’s precisely because for the last 2 centuries we haven’t saved energy" Jean-Marc Jancovici
"when somebody says that you consume energy, is that you use a machine that converts energy. That’s what you do. So using more and more energy, you must remove that expression from your head and think using more and more machines" Jean-Marx Jancovici
"Everything is going virtual" Ray Kurzweil
"The report that says that today the global digital system emitted 4% of the world emission. And it’s growing by 10% per year, so you have nothing less sustainable than the digital economy" Jean-Marc Jancovici
"And Singapour has one of the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world" Cheong Koon Hean
"But our belief in what hydrogen represents is most pivotal. It is one of the most promising technology vector to allow mobility to continue fulfilling the basic human need for mobility in better harmony with our environnement driving social and economic progress so to enable future generation to enjoy flying just as mush as we do" Airbus' press conference
"We have put a lot of solar panels on hundreds of buildings on hdb blocks. You may not see because you did not climb up to the roof. Now we’re putting sensor to all of the solar panels and we track the energy that’s collected and we know immediately when a panel is not working because it would not be collecting energy and we can fix it." Cheong Koon Hean
"Now unfortunately neither the political class nor the NASA bureaucracy has the will but Elon Musk Does" Mars Society
"And Space X is about becoming multi-planetary and continue the dream of Apollo" Elon Musk
"Decentralised energy is coming. Solar power is doubling every 2 years, it’s already over 1% of energy. … They’re ignoring the exponential growth. 1% is only 7 doubling from a 100% and it’s doubling every 2 years" Ray Kurzweil
"The carbon footprint of the IT system, the global digital system, was 2.5% of the world emission a couple of years ago, which is the equivalent of the air fleet emission, of the world aviation. Today it’s equivalent to the truck fleet in the world, 4%, and in a couple of year, in a business as usual, it will be the equivalent to the car fleet in the world." Jean-Marc Jancovici
"20 years from now we will get all of our energy from very low-cost renewable sources and they will be decentralized. Water will be decentralized, food will be created in decentralized vertical agriculture automated facilities." Ray Kurzweil
"Concrete example of a society that collapsed is one of the most instructive cases, the collapse of the Polynesian society of Easter Island" Jared Diamond
"Do you know that today in the world, half of the population of the world actually lives in cities?" Cheong Koon Hean
"Easter, the most remote capable scrap of land in the world. It turns out that when Easter was first settled by polynesian about a thousand years ago, the island was not the treeless wasteland that we see today but was instead covered with a large subtropical forest of several dozen tree species, including the world’s biggest palm tree. And the islanders began to chop down trees for the same reason that all of us chop down trees, namely to clear land for gardens and agriculture, and to have wood for construction and for heating and for cooking. And to have a wood and make ropes to transport and erect the statues and also to carve canoes with which to go out to see on the open ocean and harpoon tuna and dolphins." Jared Diamond
"You know, in 5 years it’s gonna be, you know, a dozen space x around the world. A european Space X, a russian space X, maybe a Ukrainian Space X, and Australian and Japanese, and Indian and Chinese, maybe Bresilian… Anywhere there is a concentration of capital and aerospace talent this thing can be launched. And they will compete with each other and they will radically drive down the cost of space launch and space travel." Mars Society
"The islanders continued to chop down trees until sometimes around the year 1680 they chopped down the last tree on the island. At which point they could no longer transport or erect statues. But they had bigger problems. Without any tree, there is no longer a source of green fertilizer to fertilize the fields. Also without a forest cover the soil will be subject to wind and water erosion. And Easter Island society collapsed in an epidemical civil war as the 12 rival clans fought each other." Jared Diamond
"The sun is free, oil is free, coal is free, gas is free. The genetic code of wood, any type of wood, is free. Actually all natural ressources are free. By convention in the economic system, the things without which we wouldn’t be on this earth are free by convention. It’s a major flaw." Jan-Marc Jancovici
"What do you think the person who chopped down the last tree on Easter Island said as he or she was chopping down that tree?" Jared Diamond
"I mean we depend on a stock that has no price" Jean-Marc Jancovici
"Probably the person who chopped down that last tree shouted out: Never fear, technology will solve our problem by discovering a substitute for wood" Jared Diamond
"But the technology to make them usable are growing exponentially" Ray Kurzweil
"If you do that on a private company, I can tell you you go bankrupt. It’s exactly what’s happening to us at a planetary scale. We are kind of going bankrupts." Jean-Marc Jancovici
"‘Cause they are ignoring the emerging decentralized solutions that are ultimately going to be very low-cost. And they’re based on information technology. Solar power is being promoted by nano-technology which is a form of information technology, and the costs are coming down dramatically and the amount is going up exponentially. It’s really this exponentially growing decentralized technology that will solve the major challenge of humanity" Ray Kurzweil
"Those climate changes interact with the effect of human environnemental impact so that the people that are hammering away in the environment may get away with it as long as the climate is in their favor. And then when the climate gets cold or dry, or too wet or too hot, the combination of climate change and human environmental impact pushes the society over the brink. That has happened to the Anasazi and the Maya" Jared Diamond
"Of course a number of people think that we are going to replace all this by new renewable, again keeping the standard of living and the low price of energy that we have today… I doubt." Jean-Marc Jancovici
"But do you know that such data collectors can do many things ? It can even tell you the weather condition. For example, if many of our solar panels are not collecting a lot of energy, it might mean that over that town it’s cloudy or it’s actually rainy." Cheong Koon Hean
"All society requires some natural ressources: water, top soil, wood, fish, etc… And it’s difficult to manage natural ressources, so society often inadvertently over exploit the ressources on which they depend, and they grive themselves to collapse by overexploiting a central ressource and commit ecological suicide." Jared Diamond
"So we’re on the journey" Cheong Koon Hean
"I remind you that 65% of electricity produced on earth comes from coal and gas" Jean-Marc Jancovici
"The space revolution we’re seeing now and it begins at the beginning, the breakthrough to orbit. What these reusable launch vehicles imply and that include point to point intercontinental travel on earth anywhere to anywhere in less than an hour" Mars Society
"On the horizontal axis you have energy, which is actually the number of machine that we use. And on the vertical axis you have the economic counterpart of the physical flow that we have created with these machines, namely, added values piled up on top of the other, that is the GDP" Jean-Marc Jancovici
"I was five when Spoutnik flew and while the adults may been terrified I was exhilarated because that meant that Science-fiction stories that I was already reading were gonna be true" Mars Society
"At the time we are speaking right now, the install power of all machines on earth, from boats to elevator and vacuum cleaners to stoves, is a couple hundred times the muscular power of humanity. What we do when we use energy is that we add to our body an exo-skeleton which is a couple hundred times more powerful." Jean-Marc Jancovici
"I mean the first controlled powered flight was 1903 with the Wright brothers. And then 66 years later we put the first people on the moon" Elon Musk
"The day we stop emissions, one century after, a little half of the CO2 surplus will still be over our heads. A thousand years after, 20% of that CO2 surplus will still be in the air. That means that there are no such things as a reset button regarding climate change. There is absolutely no possibility to put things back in place" Jean-Marc Jancovici
"… British demographer Thomas Malthus who warned us that human population problem will get solved one way or another. Either in pleasant way of our choice, or in unpleasant way that we don’t chose." Jared Diamond
Part three: And now ?
When I was a child in the 90’s, my grandfather told me about the Swiss metro project. The idea was to build a high-speed underground network to connect our cities and be able to travel from Geneva to Zurich in 25 minutes using magnetic trains. To the ears of a child it sounded magical and wonderful. The project was too expensive though and has never been developed.
Elon Musk has a similar project with the hyper loop. Though, Elon Musk scares me.
Did I just get old ?
I was 6 when I first heard about the internet. My mother told me that she was able to send instant e-mail to her friend who was living and working in Cambodia. We were able to see him only once a year and I found the idea of being able to communicate with him despite the distance amazing.
Actually I still find it amazing.
2035. We were supposed to go to mars in 2035.
I don’t think that we will go to the planet Mars. I mean, I do think that a few people might go there, as some people went to the Moon But I don’t think that we will settle onto another planet in the next century. Or in any other century.
And I must admit that it makes me sad.
The french philosopher Jean-Claude Michea once said that it was easier to picture the end of the world than the end of capitalism.
I would say that it’s even more difficult to imagine the end of productivism. The idea of producing more, using more energy, machine, the old myth of the horn of plenty. Without a limit.
Technological progress for now has been linked to productivism.
In many people’s mind a technological dystopia is more desirable than a slow world.
Maybe we should just slow down. Take a deep breath. A take 5 to think about it.