Sustainability

17 08 2010

I received two comments from a recent post about the David Suzuki show The Bottom Line. The comments weren’t about the content for that post but the two posts I linked to, about Food Inc, and other rants about agriculture and our factory farm practices. You can check out the comments and my reply’s by following these links to Seriously Now and A Way Forward.

I think comments are great, I really appreciate them. These ones had  me thinking about how and what we think ‘sustainable’ is. The commentor says “What is sustainable? Are they what actually works, or only ‘sustainable’ if they fit into someone’s preconceived ideas. If the current form of agriculture in the U.S. will feed the most people why is it not sustainable?” Great question! This is the essence of Michael Pollan’s, Joe Salatin’s and others argument, and what David Suzuki is exploring in his series on Soil (have you listened to the podcasts?).

I am reading the book The End of the Long Summer by Dianne Dumanoski. If you are interested in the environment, our species and what the future requires to survive our misguided choices, read this book. If you are interested in thinking of the greater systems at play that need to interact in order to prepare us and our future generations for the world we can no longer predict, read this book. If you want to understand how we got here, to this day in 2010 and have the problems we are facing like global warming, increased populations of starving people and increasing violence and discontent, read this book. If you want to learn how we can face it and prepare and succeed, read this book. Here is an excerpt on how we can think differently about ‘sustainable’.

“Without the torrent of energy, for example, the world’s population could never have expanded fourfold in the twentieth century. The amount of land devoted to agriculture grew by only one third during this period, yet the global harvest multiplied sixfold, mainly because of a breathtaking eightyfold increase in the use of energy to produce food. New crop varieties that fuelled the Green Revolution required more synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, irrigation to deliver their impressive yields, and all of this demanded far more energy. ‘Industrial man no longer eats potatoes made from solar energy,’ as the celebrated ecologist Howard T. Odum put it. ‘Now he eats potatoes partly made of oil.’ Today the U.S. food system uses ten kilocalories of fossil energy to deliver a single kilocalorie of food energy to the supermarket. American farmers who produce this food expend three kilocalories of fossil energy for every kilocalorie of harvest.”

If you are still reading this, that’s great, this is important. Now I am sure putting food on the tables of American, Canadian and others (growing) population is sustainable to most people. I’d argue that we are currently tipping the scales into a great period of duress with our current practices. I am not an expert but the evidence is mounting. Dianne Dumanoski, James Lovelock, Paul Hawken and others like them are making this point very clear.

On CBC today there was an interesting episode of In the Field that explored a ‘slow money’ movement. Similar and supportive of the ‘slow food’ movement, it is a way that economists and agriculture are integrating their thinking to solve current issues created by factory and big agriculture. The small, sustainable farms (aka the Joe Salatin’s of the world) can not raise capital without hitting up regular venture capitalists. The venture capitalists want 20% returns on their investment. We have come to ‘expect’ these returns as one broker says on the show. If we slow down, fit with the times and except a 5-6% return, we can shift our investments to companies that are not large public corporations but small operations attempting to build sustainable practices. Frankly, these are the people who will help us figure out what to do in the future as we split at the seams. However, the ‘market’ doesn’t make these investments easy to do, the market system at play doesn’t support a new way of investing.

Doomsday, no, a realistic rant. I offer a different view. We have been partying it up, taking the earth for granted and building more wealth and and even more poverty (the largest irony going, how did we get so technologically advanced and rich and starve millions of people?). Something is out of balance, i’d rather be on the team that is thinking about this then believing it is ‘sustainable’.

Be well, eat well,

Nat

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