A Four-Method Analysis of the Final Period of the Great Renaissance Era
The Great Renaissance is generally divided into four periods: The Early Period, the Changing Century, the Late Period, and the Final Period. These periods are separated by key events. Here is a short timeline:
- 1200 AD -- Denaturalists found the University of Moscow.
- 1200 AD through 1250 AD -- The Early Renaissance Period
- 1253 AD -- Lord Riv contracts tuberculosis, marking the beginning of the epidemic.
- 1250 AD through 1350 AD -- The Changing Century
- 1350 AD -- Lenin exiles the liberal leadership.
- 1351 AD through 1478 AD -- The Late Renaissance Period
- 1478 AD through 1481 AD -- The Russo-Spanish War (Now called the Three Year War.)
- 1481 AD through 1581 AD -- The Final Renaissance Period
- 1582 AD -- Russangxi Nationalists dismantle the Russian Civil Service.
Part 1: An Ecological Analysis of the Final Renaissance Period
by Peter Witosslav
In theory, the environment is not a political entity. It is a resource, an untapped and dynamic pool from which we draw our energy and materials. Its care and maintenance should be rational, not emotional or, as some would have it, religious. People should recognize the importance of sustaining a diverse and efficient ecology, for natural disasters are catastrophic and sudden, and if we weaken our environment, it may become inhospitable in a flash. We need to be both users and caretakers.
Unfortunately, the long-term interests of the human race directly contradict our short-term goals. A philosopher once said, "Where there are three men, two will work together to exploit the third." Humans are selfish and divisive: ideally, everyone works together to extract a modest but endless bounty from the environment; but in reality, an individual ignores the common interest and destroys the environment in order to reap a one-time reward. In fact, he'd be a fool not to ignore the common interest; if he doesn't reap the one-time reward, someone else will. He cannot trust his own kind.
The legendary hunters and fishermen of yesteryear no longer exist, not because we're a enlightened society that bans environmental exploitation, but because there is nothing left to hunt or fish. Moscovians on the western border of the megalopolis might glance out a window at the empty grasslands and think that they're looking back into a pastoral prehistory; but in truth, they're looking at the graveyard ecology of a vanished savannah. If it weren't for half-forgotten Renaissance biology texts, nobody would know what our ancestors stole from the future.
A View of Spain, Circa 1500 AD
In the early spring, you wake up an hour and a half before dawn and ride your horse out of Barcelona on Doñana Forest Road, a dirt path carved through the old growth conifers by fishermen, game-hunters, and fowlers.
While passing through a stand of douglas-firs, you hear the pre-dawn twitters of warblers fussing over territory in the lower branches. Moths and other nocturnal breeding insects are landing after moonset, and the insectivorous birds are fighting to eat as many of the exhausted arthropods as possible. The distinctive call of the blackcap warbler rivals the cacophony of all the other warblers. Unlike their finicky cousins, these hardy birds are willing to eat berries if insects are scarce, and though the douglas-firs are fruitless, the squat junipers which surround the grove are richly fruiting. In recent years, the increased rainfall has energized the junipers, and in turn the junipers have given the flexible blackcaps a seemingly unlimited food supply. The blackcap's population boom is kept in check, however, by the ever-vigilant sparrowhawks, who perch in the upper branches of the hedge-like junipers and wait for a chance to crush and eat a sluggish or inattentive warbler.
The road takes a short drop as you leave the iron-rich clay platter which supports Barcelona and descend a couple of meters into the river's lower floodplain. The soil is softer here, and rich with loam and silt. You can see a few places where farmers have literally cut away blocks of soil to use as fertilizer, and in one of the fresher holes, you see a red-tailed fox digging for worms. You might expect her to run at the sound of your horse, but she ignores you--there are thousands of foxes in this forest, and fox pelts aren't in demand. To the vixen, humans and horses are just another kind of animal in this busy ecology.
You take a left turn off the road and make straight for the Moskva river. The conifers thin out and the ground becomes soft and marshy. Your horse pauses occassionaly to taste the rices that grow in the marshlands. You reach out and pluck a seed pod from a passing cattail and use it to urge your horse onward. You want to reach the river before dawn. The grasses thicken, and your horse's steps disturb the field mice and voles who've come out to eat rice at night. Their movements draw the attention of owls, coyotes, and hawks, and a train of predators assembles behind you. You don't feel bad for the rodents--there are too many in these grasslands, and if it weren't for the predators, the mice would eat the grass to the ground.
Finally, you approach the river. The ground is becoming too soft for your horse, so you tie it to a low yew growing in a mound of dirt, and step off into the marsh. You peel off your leather boots and put on marsh-soles--wooden sandals tied to your feet with four loops of cotton string. With your feet prepared, you wade out into the thick water and pass into a sea of feathers.
As far as you can see in the dark, the river's surface is covered with geese. A few of the birds sense your movements and konk at you, but none of them take flight. You aren't moving fast enough to frighten them. You slough forward through the ill-defined river-banks, and geese lazily paddle aside to let you pass. The water is still icy from the moment it melted in the hills of Novgorod. Since you're going to be here for a while, you find a floating stand of dead rices and push yourself up onto the grass to find a seat.
It's peaceful here. The fowlers and the fishermen are hunting further south at the end of the road, where the river is shallower and the current is sluggish enough for a horse to ford. You rub your thighs to keep warm. You wait alone.
Long before the east glows, the birds begin to stir. At first it's just preening and paddling, and a few soft konks in the dark; amongst these hundreds of thousands of birds, this season's mating pairs are attempting to meet up and collect their goslings. Then, after their feathers are sorted and oiled, they start to paddle out into the river or into the marsh. Those paddling into the marsh are nibbling on the grasses and wild rice. Those paddling into the river are eating the niblets of vegetation that float just below the surface. These floating niblets are a new phenomenon, but the geese can't and wouldn't care to grasp the complex sociopolitical forces that ultimately generate this new source of food. The geese simply pluck what they can from the water and enjoy the prosperity while it lasts. You are also unaware of the significance of this, but you aren't an ecologist, and it isn't your job to know.
Finally, you can see the first light of the sun. The pre-dawn colors invigorate the geese. Some of the waterfowl flee from you, while others paddle past you without notice, and one fat female brings her goslings to your rice pad and starts to pick at the detritus along the edge. You wait until one of the runtier goslings hops up onto the pad to feed, and you grab it with both hands. It pinches you with its tiny bill, but you don't let go. The mother goose punches you, but you just lunge towards her, and she flaps away in panic, konking madly. Some of the other geese pick up on her alarm, and in a few seconds, the river is alive with the screams of excited geese. Some of the birds think that this is a mating frenzy and attempt to mount one another.
You wade away from their deafening cries. As you rise out of the river, you look back. In the orange light of the sunrise, you see over a million geese packing the river from horizon to horizon. You wonder how much money you could make if you came back with a fowling-gun and bagged a few hundred of these birds for the market. It never occurs to you that there is a limited supply of geese, because it never occurs to you to think about supplies--for you, the environment is an unchanging, infinitely exploitable thing to be used in any manner you see fit. For now, however, you've got another gosling to fatten up. You've caught about twelve this week. You need to capture or buy about a hundred more goslings before the geese migrate south for the summer.
Why? Because you're a specialist. While there are geese, you make pâté for the rich.
How The Russians Lost Paradise I: Blast Fishing
Prior to the end of the Russo-Spanish War, Spain had barred German fishermen from docking along the North Coast; Egypt had barred trade along the upper Moskva River; and the overland route to Spain through Crimea had been a treacherous march through vast tracts of relatively barren and unexplored deciduous forest. For all these reasons, the Spanish laborers and peasants had been isolated for over a thousand years, and they had remained technologically backwards hunters and fishermen. Recent centuries of progress had encouraged the adoption of foreign techniques, but for all their enthusiasm, the Spaniards had been ignorant. Ironically, it was the ecologically-minded Russian scholars' that finally taught them how to efficiently exploit the land.
But first, we need a little background. In the late 1490s, the Russian inventor Cai Lun developed a chemical process for preparing nitric and sulfuric acids in industrial quantities. These processes were immediately utilized to increase the production of the otherwise prohibitively expensive nitroglycerin. Nitro, the popular name for the chemical, was an extremely effective but also extremely unsafe explosive--one harsh tap to the mixing chamber could set off an entire batch with devastating results. Fortunately for the consumers of nitro, an ingenious Chinaman had discovered a storage method almost a century earlier. Nitro could be mixed with diatomaceous earth--a soft, highly adsorbent sedimentary stone--and this mix could be poured into tubes and safely stored for up to a decade. Russangxi speakers called this explosive mix dynamite, which meant "power-rock."
Dynamite, like gunpowder, did not require oxygen to burn. Unlike gunpowder, however, dynamite could also explode underwater--you just needed a source of flame. Cai Lun solved that problem with the "sheath-fuse", a thick fire-rope wrapped in a snug copper tube. Once the fuse was lit, its combustion propelled gas out of the tube, preventing water from flowing in to douse the fuse. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the fuse burned into the dry core of the dynamite, and the stick exploded.
During his earliest tests, Cai Lun discovered the potential for dynamite as a fishing tool. An underwater explosion shocked hundreds of fish into fainting or dying. The fish would then float to the surface, where they could be easily collected with a net. Seeing the efficiency of this method, Russian fishermen adopted it to double or triple their hauls. Moscovite scholars were also interested in Cai Lun's discovery, but for a different reason. By detonating a small explosive in the Moskva River, they could quickly isolate and study a sample population of fish.
After the end of the Russo-Spanish War, Russian scholars swarmed into the North Moskva River Basin. They were interested in catalouging the rich flora and fauna of this colossal ecological border zone. Almost immediately, they blasted for samples of fish on Moskva River. For the scholars, this produced a floating catalogue; but for the Spanish peasants, this produced cheap meat.
In less than a year, Spain became the second largest consumer of Russian dynamite after the Indian strip miners--and every ounce of it was blowing up in the river. Horrified by the overnight proliferation of blast fishing, a few of the ecologically-minded sholars tried to punish the Spanish fishermen, but the lucrative benefits of a single fish-harvest outweighed the meager fines for illegally blast fishing, and the practice continued unabated. The same scholars attempted to step up the restrictions in order to prevent a drastic reduction in the local fish population, but ultimately, there was too much money to be made. The governors refused to stop the importation of dynamite from the Empire, and the fishermen refused to stop living off the sale of cheap fish. By the late 1530s, a full generation later, the fish population finally crashed during a drought, and the market for blast fishing died. No lesson was learned, though, because the mercantile class of Spain had already moved onto exploiting other forms of capital, and nobody alive really remembered the former bounty of the river. The one-time reward had been taken.
How the Russians Lost Paradise II: Fowlers
It is hard to say whether or not political pressure could have saved the fish of the North Moskva, but we can say for certain that political pressure failed to save the Moskva Goose.
Blast fishing broke up the colonies of freshwater kelp that grew in the deep center of the river, where the swift currents swept away all but the heaviest, richest silts. The kelp colonies were both food and shelter for the zoo of local fishes, and when these broke apart, many species of bottom feeder were exposed to direct sunlight and the predation of fisher-birds. With the fish removed from the food chain, herbivorous worms and insects spread unchecked throughout the kelps' muck. Eventually, the combination of explosions and uncontrolled aquatic insects overwhelmed the kelp colonies, and they died. Their broad leaves came loose and floated to the surface, where geese scavenged the rich vegetation and grew fat.
In the same manner that blast fishing could not feed men for more than a few decades, kelp-scavening could not permanently feed the geese. At the height of blast-fishing in the North Moskva, the goose population tripled in size, likely because of the kelp supply. In one year, a fowler recorded an average birthrate of up to four times as many goslings as normal.
Scholars rightfully feared the booming goose population. As the amount of blasting and free-floating kelp declined, the geese could no longer rely on the river for a reliable meal. They spread out and blanketed the grasslands, where population pressures and starvation drove the desperate birds to eat vegetation that they regularly ignored. In the summer of 1537, they ate the marshland outside of Barcelona. The governor of Barcelona wrote, "The geese are a plague. They swallowed the rice paddies and crapped out a tepid, lifeless flat. I know the peasants dislike the taste of the greasy bird, but if we kill some hundreds of thousands, maybe we can save the marshlands and provide the destitute with a free meal."
This well-meaning prescription for population control resulted in a kopek-reward for each goosehead brought to the tax-colleector. Initially, most peasants ignored the offer because blast-fishing was still slightly more profitable, but during the 1538 drought that lowered the river and killed off the deepwater fish, blast fishing became extremely ineffective. Instead of one blast providing a hundred fish, men were quoted as saying that it took a hundred blasts to find one fish. Many of the peasants were living on the edge of starvation, and encouraged by hunger, they diversified into new fields of ecological exploitation. Notably, fox-furs and raptor-feathers were quickly added to the list of luxury items harvested from the wild. But most importantly, goose-meat was added to the common diet. The first shotgun, a musket variant designed but never built by Luis Isaac, was found to be the most effective fowling weapon. Clever capitalists invested in the production of scattershot cartridges, and instead of dynamite, the Spanish peasantry consumed gunpowder and lead.
For a time, this second wave of exploitation was beneficial. If not for the rapid depopulation of the geese, the marshlands would have been catastrophically wasted in a fatal feeding frenzy. But there were economic and political forces that grew during the slaughter, and these ultimately required the Spanish to continue the extermination of the wild goose to the very end.
First, the proliferation of goose-hunting lowered the price of goose-meat to pounds per kopek and put it on every table. Despite the corresponding widespread demand for the meat, so many geese were slaughtered and put to market that there was no money to be made in goose-hunting. The wild goose should have been spared when the fowlers fled the market for more profitable exploitations. Unfortunately, the governor of Barcelona caved to financial pressure from the Russian merchants, who currently benefitted from the sale of scattershot in Spain. The governor maintained the kopek-reward per goose head long after the ecological need for goose hunting had passed, in order to keep as many fowlers in the field as possible--fowlers who bought scattershot by the crates. Because these fowlers continued to hunt, the price of meat remained extremely low even as the wild goose rapidly approached annihilation. Entrepreneurs attempted to make up for the inevitable decline in goose-hunting by breeding domesticated geese in large farms, but the goose-farmers could never keep up with the demand. As the supply finally declined, the price of goose-meat finally recovered and stabilized--but at this point, the wild goose was nearly extinct. Ironically, the rising price encouraged the last of the fowlers to zealously hunt the remaining wild Moskva Geese in order to make a quick buck, and in 1573, the last known wild Moskva Goose was shot along the North Coast and sold to the governor of Cordoba for the bird's weight in gold. This specimen, a runty female, was stuffed by a taxidermist and kept in a private collection until 1942, when it was moved to the University of Moscow's archives and almost totally forgotten.
How the Russians Lost Paradise III: Paper
In 1568, Russangxi merchants invested in the production of the Doñana Paper Mill. This mill was a third generation design, which utilized a dam and a long series of watermills to drive combined grinders and pulpers with three or more paddles. These mills didn't have to be shut down if a bevel gear failed, since one gear or paddle could be replaced while the others continued to run.
As fowling declined in efficacy, the dedicated labor-class that had formed throughout the last half-century sought to fill any odd jobs that the effluent merchant class needed. With the production of the Doñana Paper Mill, a twenty year trend finally reached Barcelona. Unskilled laborers were sent to work long hours harvesting wood for the mills. Doñana Forest was chosen for a mill because the coniferous plants were extremely fibrous and easily bleached. In a location like Doñana, the merchants could produce tough, white sheets at an extremely low price. As the Industrial Period approached, Doñana Forest began to disappear to the beat of whistling axes.
Little else needs to be said. If you go to Barcelona tomorrow and ask for directions to Doñana Forest, the natives will laugh and tell you where to find the Doñana Rustbelt.
A View of Spain, Circa 1580 AD
Your father sometimes tells you secondhand tales about your grandfather, the hunter that gorged wild geese and ground their livers into paste. You believe him out of respect, but you find his stories hard to imagine.
Your job at the paper mill finishes at sunset. You've been at work for twelve hours, and for the first time since sunrise, you're allowed to eat and shit. You squat down behind a pile of rotting logs, shove a hard roll in your mouth, and defecate in the hole you dug last Sunday after church. After you've done your business, you pull up your pants and continue to eat your snack. Soon after, the insects literally dig into the warm meal you've left them.
A couple of your friends have gone on ahead of you. You'll meet them for a drink, if you can. Foremost in your mind, you want to make it home in time to fuck your wife and hide your day's pay.
You walk briskly with the orange glow of the sun to your left. This far from the mill, the Moskva River is quiet. You can hear a couple of frogs and cicadas crying, "Wake up! Wake up!" but there aren't any other noises. There are no birds, no kingfishers, no fish picking at the insects dawdling on the water's algae-painted surface. There isn't even much grass, since the loam is dry and well-packed, and there aren't any rices for twenty miles in either direction. As you approach the dusty gully that rises up onto the Barcelona clay, you can make out the silhouettes of coniferous trees. They're pretty small at this distance, though, maybe only as tall as a kopek. You've heard that the loggers are cutting down about twenty feet of those trees every day. If you could do the math, you'd know that there is only about seventy miles between the edge of the forest and the logging line, leaving only fifty-four years of steady exploitation before Doñana Forest has vanished altogether.
Even if you knew, you wouldn't really care. You're just glad that you know enough machinery to work inside the mill instead of on the forest. Loggers lead tough lives, and many of them die. You couldn't stand the risk. You wouldn't want your wife to live alone.
You see a fox cross your path, and you wish you'd brought a gun. A fox-pelt is worth an easy three rubles. Oh well, you couldn't have caught it in this light without a hunting dog. You decide to come back on Sunday and search this area with your shotgun. Maybe you'll get lucky.
If someone else doesn't kill it first, you think. For a moment, your intuition latches onto another possiblity: that nobody will kill it, not until it has littered and produced more foxes to hunt next year. But before this can become a conscious thought, you realize the futility of the notion. All you sense is urgency. At a visceral level, you know that you have to hurry or you won't have the chance. You want to kill the fox now.
No More Yangtse, No More TB
In the late 15th century, Chinese tuberculosis epidemics coincided with the flow and ebb of the monkey and possum populations in the Yangtse Jungle. Unfortunately for the jungle, the epidemiological cause of the disease was completely unknown and wouldn't be discovered for centuries. The interim solution was ultimately more effective than antibiotics, but it cost the human race an unbearably large quantity of unique tropical habitats. We lost what was potentially our greatest source of natural chemical engineering.
Prior to the Final Renaissance period, local Chinese superstitions held that TB epidemics were nature's vengeance. Whenever the locals would chop down regions of the forest in order to make farmland or build hamlets, the local monkey and possum populations would be driven out of the trees and into the garbage heaps of the local peasants. These monkeys and possums were both vectors for the TB mycobacterium, and in close quarters, these animals deposited TB bacilli all over the human inhabitants. The possums would sometimes venture into homes in order to steal rice; while the monkeys provided a nuisance to field workers attempting to harvest crops. In both cases, working men were infested with latent forms of the disease, which eventually became active as the victim's age and a failing immune system brought the bacterium out of hiding.
The active form of the disease was considered a blood curse, and any family which suffered from TB was isolated from the community and left to die. Generally, the father of the household would grow sick (because had been working near the vector animals), and then he would spread the curse to his wife and his children (because of close quarters contact.) After the disease ran its course, any survivors were required to burn down the home with all the bodies inside, thereby sacrificing the dead and appeasing the forest. If nobody survived, the village priest, generally a Buddhist Tourist, would burn the house. If the village priest fell ill, the hamlet, farm, or village was almost always burned wholesale, and the peasants would move to a new location with friendlier spirits.
After the Russo-Chinese War, Denaturalists had settled throughout the Chinese provinces. With their comparitively deep pockets, they bought and held positions of economic power, and as the Russangxi language spread, they eventually became the cultural and religious leaders of the Chinese as well. One thing the Denaturalists abhorred was animism, as it was considered the cultural brand of the uneducated and barbaric. They actively discouraged religious interpretations for TB, and explained the disease in alchemical terms--cutting down the forest killed trees and released great quantities of the Earth humours, which damaged the lungs of the unlucky afflicted and eventually led to their death.
One of the Denaturalist solutions was to lock up the Earth humors in the quasi-elemental Ash, which was the mixture of Earth and Fire elements. Though this explanation was soon supplanted by actual chemical discoveries, the technique seemed to work. If the jungle was properly burned for a long time, it seemed that fewer people would catch tuberculosis. Of course, instead of locking up the Earth humors in ash, they had simply driven away the monkeys and possums with wildfires--but that explanation wouldn't exist until the 20th century.
After the Russo-Spanish War, Russangxi nationalism lead to the first of the Cultural Revolutions, the most important of which led to the "modernization" of the Chinese provinces. Unlike the Russian and Indian provinces, the Chinese provinces had been slow to adopt the sprawled township model that generated such incredible trade and growth in the south. Denaturalist planners leveraged their money against the Russian Civil Service in order to divert money away from the highly developed older provinces and into the comparitively underdeveloped Chinese north. This influx of wealth sparked a construction boom which clear-cut tens of millions of square miles of the Yangtse Jungle for wood and land. In order to avoid the massive TB backlash which the populace anticipated, the Denaturalists implemented history's only continental-scale fire campaign. According to tree-ring samples and ice cores taken from the snowpacks near Bangalore, the atmosphere filled with ash, and the Earth's temperature actually dropped an average of two degrees for three years in a row. The pall of smoke was even described by Steel Buddhist refugees in Salamanca half a world away: "We've tied up the boats until a storm settles this dry fog. I cannot identify the source of the air's corruption, but I believe it is ash. Every morning, a little more grey dust stains my drying shirts, and I hear children and old women cough like they've been breathing through a pipe."
Thousands of peasants died from lung conditions, construction accidents, or the fires themselves, but the Russangxi Denaturalists considered these to be acceptable losses. Modern epidemiologists call this fire campaign an incredible success, since the rate of TB infection hardly increased after the clearcutting was over.
Understand this: the clearcutting method only worked because the sustained fires provided an impenetrable barrier to the wild vectors and drove them into shrinking habitats. Eventually, starvation and close competition drove many of the latent animal carriers to develop active versions of the disease, leading to a single massive wildlife infection that "burned out" the TB disease for almost two decades. Many species of Yangtse primates went from populous to endangered in one fell swoop, and excluding a handful of quickly-reproducing generalist species, most of these primate populations have never recovered.
Worst of all, it is hard to say that these were unjustified losses. Anyone with a grasp of sociology or economics realizes the utter truth: if the Russangxi hadn't of burnt the Yangtse, then their rapid urbanization in the Final Renaissance would have failed thanks to the spread of TB, and today, hundreds of millions of Russangxi citizens would live in worse conditions, much like the modern Spaniards do. In effect, we burned the Yangtse to kill TB.
But there is another possibility. If people had worked together for the greater good, and if they had planned their infrastructure and construction with timetables stretching into the centuries, they might have developed a modern society without losing the treasure of the world's greatest jungle.
A Final Analysis of Russian Agriculture: Destructive and Healthy
Basically, I built commerce cities in China. How do you do this?
1. You set aside 2 or 3 tiles for the production of hammers. If you don't produce some hammers, then it'll take forever to make buildings in all your commerce cities.
2. You build a handful of irrigated farms or prepare a few food resource tiles. This way you can eventually grow a population of 20 plus.
3. You build a cottage on every grassland you can, including grassland-hills if you like. You also build a cottage on every plains tile you can. If you have a hill that isn't grassland, you build a windmill. If you have a desert tile on a river that isn't a flood plain, then you build a watermill. Whatever you do, you try to maximize your commerce on each tile while getting just enough hammers and food to make the city extra-efficient.
I did this to every city in China. I even produced an extra five workers for this purpose. The faster that I prepare my cities, the faster they grow and profit.
No study of the Final Renaissance would be complete without a look at the greatest paradox of the pre-Industrial ecologies. People living in the Southern Moskva River Basin often lived six to twelve years longer than the average, and an estimated sixty percent more of the aging Moscovites continued to work until death, unlike the peasants in any other region--this is a sign that the Moscovites were extremely healthy by comparison to their contemporaries.
To answer this question, we have to look back before the birth of Russia, past the branching of the various language families, back into a time when the first members of Homo Sapiens Sapiens returned from the Tethys Sea and sailed up the Moskva River. One thing is immediately apparent from the scant evidence we have concerning these early settlers--they ate a little of everything. Some of the things they ate could not handle the ecological pressure, since they had never faced a predator of this caliber in their evolutionary history; for example, most of the megafauna died shortly after humans arrived on the continent. But otherwise, the continental ecology rebounded from the human impact, and primitives from Spain to Novgorod ate whatever they could hunt or gather.
If we analyze the trash piles and hearths of the proto-Chinese or proto-Germans, however, a different story emerges. Those nomadic tribes which spread latitudinally overland rather than up or down the river adopted single-diet lifestyles suited to a constant march along a single climate band. The proto-Germans, for example, cultivated horses for both riding and eating, and displayed only a small selection of other foods in their diet. Until about 6000 BC, they never spread their culture more than seventeen degrees north or south on the continent, implying that they could not spread--their primary food supply, horses, wouldn't naturally flourish in the disease-rich tropics or the dry southern deserts.
This difference in culture established two divergent trends: in the eastern and western cultures, staple foods were chosen and singularly cultivated. While this method was efficient, it was always less healthy than the alternative. People who eat only one thing often lack sufficient quantities of vital nutrition. The Germans, to continue the example, ate mostly fish, and they suffered from scurvy and a lack of vitamin C well into the twelfth century AD.
By comparison, in the central cultures of Spain and Russia--both cultures with the Moskva River driving through their cultural hearths--the concept of a staple food was abhorred. Even after the adoption of agriculture, it was still considered traditional to eat a different food on each day of the week. This was terribly inefficient in the beginning, but in the long run, the practice produced a healthier populace. Malnutrition issues were the monopoly of the destitute, and otherwise, both the poor and rich alike were well fed.
In the Final Renaissance, this desire for variety lead to the destruction of the Golden Plains' savannah ecology. As the Russian empire grew, Russian scholars collected samples of a wide selection of hearty crops, some of which were superior to the local Russian breeds. In particular, several kinds of wheat were imported from Egypt and China, and they were cultivated in the farms along the floodplains.
Introducing a plant to a new ecology is a dangerous thing no matter what, but these foreign plants often concealed more dangerous threats. Five major factors were introduced, all of which lead to the natural collapse of the local ecosystem.
1. The Chinese rye was a resistant carrier of a rust mold. Once the open grasslands were exposed to spores of the fungal disease, approximately half of the native grasses were eliminated. The surviving grasses were mostly waxy breeds, terrible for all but a handful of grazers, such as the Moskva Cattle, which as a species found themselves suddenly uncontested for control of the grasslands.
2. After hiding in a potted plant, Egyptian cutting ants finally managed to establish themselves on the east side of the Gold Spike Desert. The scrub-trees, having been symbiotically associated with the ants almost 500,000 years ago, quickly adapted to the leaf-harvesters. The various other insects, small mammals and reptiles which relied on the trees for shade and food were not as compatible.
3. Human herders that tracked the booming wild cattle population became worried by the increasing number of lions, panthers, wolves, badgers, and coyotes. Though there was no official extermination campaign, the herders were ruthless businessmen, and killing all of the predators improved their bottom line.
4. Egyptian soy needed the siltier black soil of the Middle Moskva to grow. In an attempt to adopt this pulse as a crop in the South Moskva River Basin, the Russians "fertilized" thousands of acres by burning the grasslands and sowing the beans in the ashes.
5. The Russians flooded dry fields with river water in order to irrigate them. Though this worked well for improving the Russian diet and supporting the burgeoning population of Moscow, it killed basically every ground mammal in the area, including hundreds of different species of moles, voles, mice, rats, and groundhogs.
For now, the damaged ecology functions. It feeds Moscow. But in an aesthetic sense, it is missing all the elements of diversity that made the region so beautiful to the old poets like Proso or Davydov.
Finally, Peter's Expansive leader trait comes to benefit my nation. Moscow is currently 22 population and growing because of all the flood plains, food resources, and grasslands within its fat cross. At this stage in the game, 22 health is almost impossible to reach, even with a full range of health-inducing buildings and resources. Since Moscow sits on all those flood plains, contains a forge, and has almost no forests, I also get extra unhealthiness from my buildings and geography.
For every point of unhealthiness, your nation has to spend some food growing back replacement population. In game terms, this means that your city just eats up more food because it has less healthiness than unhealthiness. The more unhealthy a city becomes, the more food it requires to grow and sustain its population.
A size 22 city in the 16th century is a very rare thing. In fact, with many nations, I simply couldn't reach that size. The unhealthiness would overwhelm the food benefits of the commerce-heavy floodplains, and my city would slow or stop growing around 18 or 19 points of population.
Fortunately, Peter is Expansive. This gives him a natural +3 health in every city, which severely reduces the amount of food I currently need in Moscow. In fact, many of my new Chinese cities would be unhealthy if it weren't for the Expansive trait, and some of my old Indian cities would be hitting a growth cap.
To put it bluntly, Expansive will net you a few population points in the midgame and give you a fairly substantial boost when it comes to building industry, since the unhealthiness of factories and power plants are reversed by the Expansive bonus. When other Civs start to choke on their own industry, yours will purr along pretty smoothly. There are stronger traits for a leader, of course, especially since later technologies will help other Civilizations match your advantage, but Expansive is not a shitty trait by any measure.
I've wandered a bit. The original point is that nature should not be a political entity. If it must be an economic entity, then we should work together to use the environment as a common renewable resource--one that can be used forever, instead of once. But most importantly, as in the case of Moscow, we must ask ourselves: are the minor benefits worth the great losses? Moscow, for example, is only one drought away from collapse. The drought-resistant native grasses died out almost a century ago, so if the ecosystem fails, nothing will replace it. Our ancestors exchanged an eternity of environmental resilience in exchange for a few extra years of life. Now Moscow lives on an empty eggshell waiting to crack.
I understand that it is hard to blame our ancestors for their exploitation. They were only human, and in every case, they acted naturally.
Maybe though, there is another element which might convince you that ecological maintenance is the proper path. If you can, find a video of the German Preserve. Maybe you'll see the birds flapping through the ruins of Berlin, or the growth of the kudzu on the Pyramids. There are those who want to colonize that restored wilderness. If you meet one of these people, tell him why you think that we should maintain the Preserve, rather than exploit it.
Tell him that unspoiled nature is beautiful. Show him this article, or show him the video. Maybe he'll understand, and in understanding, maybe he'll sow the seeds of an environmentally-minded community. That may be our only hope for a sustainable future.
There will be three more parts to this format. Next one, who knows? It'll probably be the sociological analysis. I'm working on it!