On his blog What Would Jesus Eat, Lucas recently made the very interesting observation that humans have only been engaged in agriculture for about 5% of the time our species has existed.
Contemplating the brevity of our time on earth in relation to the rest of life is a mind-blowing exercise. The first life appeared on earth about 3 1/2 billion years ago, with complex animals appearing about 550 million years ago. Mammals have been around for about 200 million years. The first humans appeared a mere 200,000 years ago. During 99.999945% of the time there has been life on earth, there were no humans. We’re new kids on this block.
But even within our relatively short time here, what we now know as our “civilized” state is just a small fraction of that time. As Lucas points out, humans only started practicing agriculture about 10,000 years ago. For 95% of time humans have existed on the planet, we were hunter-gatherers.
Thinking in these terms makes the era of chemical-based industrial agriculture (the last 60 or so years) seem brief indeed. In fact, it helps put in perspective a great many things about the natural world and the human relation to it.