It is common to describe our relationships with society, the world, and the biosphere with metaphors from economics, which has specific understandings of value. With regard to the biosphere, today’s prevailing economics conventions are unable to recognize intrinsic value to the ecosystems on which all life depends. In cultures overdetermined by concepts from economics, we are left without adequate discursive instruments to socially or politically address the importance of the work of the biosphere.
The Life Support System experiment consists of 1 square meter of wheat, cultivated artificially in a closed environment. All inputs such as water, light, heat, and nutrients are measured, monitored and displayed for the public. This one square meter unit of Life Support System is capable of furnishing 1 day’s worth of necessary caloric nutrition for one human adult every 4 months. To feed a single human adult all year would require approximately 100 such units running concurrently. This procedure makes palpable the orders of magnitude, of material and energy flows, that are required to reproduce human nutritional requirements in closed or artificial environments, in contrast to outdoor agriculture on arable land. This indoor farm experiment is a counter-example which points to the vastness of the ecosystem contributions involved in conventional agriculture, that defy conventional economic reductionism.
By attempting to grow, in a closed environment, a staple food like wheat, which has historically provided the greatest proportion of necessary caloric intake for humans in Europe, this experiment provides a sense of scale of ecosystem contributions that are poorly acknowledged under the current economic conventions. The empirical “true-cost estimates” obtained through this indoor experiment are about 200€ per kilogram of wheat, an extravagant cost compared to the 15 cent per kilogram current market price. Though Hydroponics can be used for certain plants, for necessary caloric nutrition there is as yet no economically justifiable replacement for conventional agriculture embedded radically and immanently in the biosphere.