not-so-speculative fiction

The idea that 80% of the population will live in urban centers surrounded by skyscrapers draped in greenery by 2050 is becoming less and less speculative.

Even though this is the backdrop of the world in The Blind Pig, it is still hard for me to imagine, especially sitting here at my desk, just 30 miles outside of Boston, surrounded by trees and trails. But then, I bet Anthony Bourdain never imagined himself skiing indoors in Dubai, a megalopolis that just 20 years ago was a desert and is now a model for urban growth.

And vertical farms — as described in The Vertical Farm, by Dickson Despommier, professor of microbiology at Columbia University — are now being called one of the next “big ideas.” It’s a big idea because, according to Despommier, we’re facing an “impending disaster.” By 2050, the earth will be home to 3 billion more people than today, and we won’t have enough farmland to feed everyone. Vertical farming may be the solution.

The real question is what we will grow in these buildings. Late last year, the US government passed a massive food safety bill that gives more power to the FDA to control what we eat in the name of improved safety. How soon before we begin crafting crops that flourish indoors and have added nutritional benefits?

It’s hard to argue against a safer food supply, but not everyone has the same definition of safe. I for one am willing to sacrifice a little safety for a nice wedge of stinky cheese and a hunk of bread made by hand.

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