Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The organic and inorganic


Back in the blissful, healthful, snow-and-ice-free tropics, and, as usual, everything artificial, technological, modern and convenient has borne the assault (and salt) of moisture, sun, rust, mildew and termites. It's not as bad as I make it sound, but it remains a fact that technology and the tropics are incompatible.

Only one thing has prospered in our absence: the organic. The sea lettuce, sea grape, love vine, and coco plum have burgeoned, threatening to overwhelm the property.

Jared Diamond, the Durants, Michael Adas, and others have written books trying to explain why technological civilization developed in temperate climates. Well, duh…

They should start with the first, pre-human revolution, one that occurred in the tropics where sunshine is most plentiful. Green plants! Green plants took billions of years to perfect their mastery of solar energy, creeping only reluctantly, one might suppose, north and south into more sun-starved temperate realms.

When the Industrial Revolution occurred in the north, it was powered by all that stored up solar energy –- as coal -– buried in the ground when northern continents were in more clement zones.

Meanwhile, why so little technological innovation in the tropics? Live here and you'll know. Why invent electronics when the humidity and salty air provides built-in obsolescence? Why invent something as simple as a hinge, for God's sake, when it's only going to rust?

Sure, the sunshine, warmth and balmy breezes feel good on my 77-year-old bones, but they don't do much to feed my innovative get-up-and-go. Who needs modern civilization when you're lolling under a shady palm, pace Jared Diamond? But it would be nice to have a cold beer, and right now I'm dealing with a fridge that's on the blink. That may be another reason technological civilization didn't develop in the tropics: Nothing inorganic lasts long enough to make the effort worthwhile.