Saturday, July 11, 2009

What is sustainable anyway?

Monsanto as a player in the sustainable agriculture world is still bouncing around in my head. It boggles the mind to think that anyone could take that seriously. And yet, I know quite a few people who have a very different view of sustainability than I do. For some more sustainable means less harm is done. Much of large scale organic farming falls into this category. It uses less of certain things "damaging products and techniques". I had a discussion about no-till farming a while back and the farmer was touting the use of Roundup Ready seed (and the Roundup spray that goes with them) as being the key to his no-till, sustainable approach to farming. He said it was better for the environment because he used less fuel on weed control, and damaged the soil less by not plowing. (He did say he would have to disk in some of last years corn stubble because it hadn't broken down. Guess there wasn't enough life left in the soil to break down organic matter.) He was adamant about this making his farm more sustainable.

One of the problems is in the definition of the word. Making a business more sustainable means it will be able to continue to operate into the foreseeable future. It has nothing to do with the environmental costs. As far as I can tell there are no businesses (including any of the current agricultural models) that are built on an ecological sustainability model. By ecological sustainability I mean it operates by the same rules that a natural system (free from humans mucking about) operates. It is a closed resource loop. Everything that lives in the range of that eco system is part of and is dependant on the resource pool available in that place. Everything is returned to that pool to continue the cycle. All the populations in that place are limited by the resource pool. This kind of system is sustainable indefinitely. When we talk about, and work toward sustainable models of living and of production that is the only model that works. Monsanto's definition of sustainable doesn't come close.
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