A Thanksgiving message from The Digest 

November 23, 2016 |

thanksgiving-brownscombeIn the autumn of 1621, after an alliance with a friendly native tribe led a bountiful harvest, following a terrible winter of ignorance and sickness and death —  a group of surviving colonists known ultimately as the Pilgrims held with and for their tribal friends a feast which is recorded as the first Thanksgiving.

Across the United States on November 24th, families will re-enact the tradition and give thanks for the blessings of the year, for family, and for the many blessings of Providence upon the Republic.

All of them, the Pilgrims, were illegal immigrants — as were the founding colonists of Jamestown in Virginia and the Massachusetts Bay Colony a few years later. Driven by the lure of opportunity and relief from persecution, they arrived without visas, and commenced farming and industry on lands that belonged to them only under the rights afforded by conquest or occupation.

They prospered, and the colonies ultimately became states, and the states transferred some limited authority to a federal government. The United States continues to be, now as then, a noisy and sometimes peculiar democracy whose roots go back to the Jeffersonian small landowning farmers that form the base for the advanced bioeconomy today.

The Pilgrims didn’t have fossil fuels. They grew all their own food, fuel, fiber and herbs and plants for their medicines. Well into the 20th century, farmers preserved long traditions of self-reliance, and land stewardship. It was not uncommon even a generation or two ago for a farmer to build his home with his own hands, and for many years the average farmer generated his own electricity or powered his water pump with wind power. Even the combine harvesters that transformed agricultural productivity were first drawn by animal power.

In the past 150 years, the arrival of oil transformed cities and farms all over the world — people live longer and better than 150 years ago. In turn, the era of fossil fuels will give way to a new one that relies, as in the past, on renewable energy. The transition back to renewables will not come because the world ran out of fossil energy — any more than the Bronze Age ended because the world ran out of bronze, or the Petroleum Age arrived because the world ran out of wood, sunshine or wind.

Rather, the transition will come because the new technologies will be more sustainable — economically, socially, and environmentally. The exact timing, the state of technological advancement, and the mix of the various renewables is up for question. But the general direction is clear. There are simply more technological advances being made, and faster, in biology and electricity, than in the mining and extractive industries.

Already we see the evidence. OPEC has had to catastrophically drop the price of fossil energy in order to maintain its market share. That is the result of industrial progress in extraction technology, and also because of the rise of renewables. The market shares of renewables are low today, and will continue to be low so long as OPEC can continue to sustainably drop the price of fossil energy. But already there are signs that the societies based on oil economics are struggling with the impacts of collapsed energy prices. The ruined economy of Venezuela is one example. Ultimately, when OPEC’s grab for market share causes too much social unrest for the member countries, the new technology will have broken the back of the energy cartels.

For that reason, we might give thanks, just now, for the march of innovation and progress, and the liberation it brings.

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants,” wrote Thomas Jefferson more than two centuries ago. But he missed the mark. It is not only blood that secured the Pilgrims, or the Patriots — though bloodshed there was.

It was and remains technology and innovation that ultimately liberated the Pilgrims, that unshackled the farm, that built the Industrial Age, that provided more food, fuel and trade goods for all of us. And there is no place on earth right now where the pace of innovation, nor its spectacular promise, runs faster or deeper than in the advanced bioeconomy.

The United States is not a nation of a particular people. It is a nation of ideas and ideals. Let us give thanks for innovation, and for innovators, who so often suffer unjustly from misunderstanding, opposition from entrenched interests, and calls to inaction in the short term — but from whom our future blessings will flow.

May God bless each one of you with innovative ideas this Thanksgiving Day — wherever you call home — and all of you who labor valiantly in the advanced bioeconomy to transform our world. At our table we give thanks for each of you, and for the freedom to operate that has been won for you, and preserved for you, across the many generations since the tired, poor, huddled Pilgrims first found these shores, yearning to breathe free.

Let freedom ring.

Jim Lane is editor & publisher of The Digest, the world’s most widely-read bioeconomy daily.

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