The Austerity Conundrum

| 5/27/2009 1:19:02 PM

Tags: sustainable human future, conservation, industrial agriculture, agriculture, human population,

You’ll read here and there these days that industrial agriculture is more environmentally friendly than organic agriculture or traditional, diverse farming practices.

The writer is, almost without exception, someone who makes a living, directly or indirectly, from industrial agriculture. That doesn’t change the fact that they are, in their reasoning, perfectly correct. Industrial agriculture pollutes in ways organic and traditional growers do not, but its efficiency also creates environmental benefits.

As humanity’s population grows and we sprawl across the planet’s empty spaces, the efficiency of our food production becomes more and more important. As much as I believe in organics and grass-feeding, I don’t believe that I can produce 100 calories of soybeans or a pound of hamburger in a smaller space than the industrial farmer. I need more room, and generally more time, to do what I do.

If I have a hungry world to feed and I feel a sense of urgency, then it’s time to cultivate, irrigate and spray. It’s time for genetic engineering, herbicides and artificial fertilizers. That’s the way to produce the maximum amount of food using the minimum time and space.

I’m not talking about sustainability. I’m talking about efficiency.

Our toughest philosophical problem these days is what I call the Austerity Conundrum. A lot of people believe in human dominion and unfettered expansion. That leads us to a world in which we will, eventually, have minimal resources available to each person. We can’t expand production forever, so if we continue expanding demand we end up stretching our resources thin. It’s a grim certainty.

David Grubba
12/9/2009 10:10:38 PM

The thing about arguing over damage to the environment is that there are a lot of different things that constitute the environment. The usual definition I have heard is "anything that is not built by humans". That is a lot of things. That's everything. Surely actions that damage parts of the environment may not affect others. It is time to stop thinking of about "the environment". There is the earth, and there are her numerous systems.

Bob R
9/11/2009 8:51:57 AM

P.S. I got the name of the river wrong, but the basic point is the same. Population growth, while necessary to sustain our current economic systems, is damaging our environment.

Bob R
7/7/2009 6:15:32 PM

Okay, I may have gotten carried away, inferring things about others because they do not agree with me. Please let me give a real instance where population control might be part of the solution. Some readers are probably familiar with the water war going on between Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Georgia gets first shot at the waters of the Ochloconee River. With water rationing every summer in recent memory, Georgia wants to be allowed to take more water from the river. This water is important to Florida and Alabama, too, so they have gone to court to try to prevent Georgia from taking any more of the water. Now, given the perennial water shortage, is it good planning, or good stewardship of resources, for Atlanta to approve more housing developments or encourage people to relocate there? The increased building and other business generated is nice, but what about the water situation? The current lack of fresh water from this river,combined with increasing pollution, is decimating the Gulf coast fisheries. So it is not just a matter of providing water for humans.

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