Is "sustainable farming" like a married bachelor?

I came across an interesting view, that sustainable farming is an oxymoron, impossible by definition. Let's look at the argument, here's the relevant portion but you can view the full post here:

My only quibble: "sustainable farming" is as much as buzzword (or phrase) as "organic," "naturally grown," or "pesticide-free." It is absolutely an oxymoron. We're in a trap and we're simply going to have to do our best, knowing that the natural world is going to be sacrificed to domesticate the planet in the service of supporting a growing human population. My journey to this place began by reading Jared Diamond's article "The Worst Mistake in Human History" and Professor Albert Bartlett's work (print and video) on population, growth, and energy.

Farming, agriculture, whatever you want to call it, organic, conventional, agroecological, is unsustainable by definition because it 1. Takes up land (habitat); 2. depletes finite resources (particularly petroleum); 3. releases CO2; and, worse, grows populations. We can lessen impacts, but we will never reach this nirvana of "sustainable farming," but I have a feeling people will continue to use the phrase because it makes them feel good.

What do you think of this argument? If you disagree with the conclusion how would you formulate an objection? 

I have a confession: I know very little about farming, sustainable or otherwise. But that argument has more fundamental problems at the conceptual level, so here's what I think is a decent objection:

1. Sure, farming uses land. But land use, or more generally the use of any resource, doesn't make something unsustainable. Only depletion of a resource does.

2, 3. Depletion of resources and release of greenhouse gasses. Both are currently true but certainly not true "by definition". So all it means is that agriculture is currently unsustainable (which of course we all affirm), not that it is doomed to be so "by definition".

4. Population growth is certainly not a necessary consequence of agriculture.

I also wanted to say more about point 2. The author of the above argument believes that 

the idea that this development [of our civilization] is going to happen independent of the finite resources of Earth is just preposterous.

I think what he may be missing is that matter and energy are recyclable: a complex system can release as much matter and energy into the surroundings as it takes in, and yet be perfectly able to sustain itself and develop. Examples: the Earth itself, an adult person (I can gain knowledge or skills, i.e. develop, without getting fatter :) )

The absolutely critical unrecyclable resource is entropy. An organism, ecosystem etc. needs to continually counteract the entropy production within itself (2nd law of thermodynamics). We do that by taking in energy and matter in low entropy form (sunlight, food, fuel, etc.) and expelling them in high entropy form (the title of a children's book puts this nicely: everybody poops :) ). The Earth obviously has a finite supply of low entropy but we ultimately don't get it from the Earth - that's precisely the role of the Sun!

1 Comments - Go to bottom

  1. The work accomplished in fracturing, beneath shock loading, a specified check specimen in a specified method. FIBER– This term normally refers to skinny fibers of glass that Direct CNC are used to bolster both thermoplastic and thermosetting supplies. One-inch long fibers are often used, but the more commonly used fiber lengths are 1/2″ and 1/4″ or less. So known as because of|as a end result of} in passing by way of the sprue orifice it's cooled under the effective molding temperature. Mao, “Minimization of sink mark depth in injection-molded thermoplastic by way of design of experiments and genetic algorithm,” International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology, vol. Chen, “Application of a capacitive transducer for online half weight prediction and fault detection in injection molding,” Polymer Engineering & Science, vol.


Post a Comment