The Problem with Sustaining Sustainability

The world today is rife with complex issues surrounding sustainability. Few are as complex as the effect of food and related production on our environment. 5% of our world’s landmass is dedicated to food production, with another potential 5% used for biofuel if all present oil supplies were to be replaced.

And the basis of these figures? Corporate agribusiness.

A large portion of corporate agribusiness entails planting monocrops on vast tracks of land that are maintainable only by artificially manipulating the environment through the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. This practice is devastating to biodiversity and drains the land of the much-needed nutrients that would allow reversion to a natural environment. Furthermore, by defoliating much of our most productive oxygen-rich lands and replacing them with crops that create far less oxygen in favour of food related energy, we not only risk increasing global warming, we do it.

Combined with all these factors is the process of relocating the nutrients found in vast, unpopulated lands to densely populated areas where they are either trapped or released into different ecosystems. Often the high levels of soil nitrates and other nutrients overwhelm these ecosystems. The result is sometimes a hyperactive biological hotspot that rapidly burns through one or more of the system’s resources to leave it the equivalent of an ocean’s dead zone.

The apparent alternative to this aggressive agriculture would be the inability to feed our rapidly growing population.

The needs of sustainable biofuels used to replace fossil fuels are growing swiftly in direct conflict with the environment, as is the carbon footprint of new ‘green’ products. Biodegradable utensils, whether they are made from corn or potato, are energy intensive and require vast portions of land for their production. Nitrate runoff enters the watershed and eventually the oceans. They are only biodegradable in compost plans. If they enter our landfills, they may as well be made from traditional fossil fuels.

Frequently and unfortunately, there are no real answers to these dilemmas, and a lack of definitive answers threatens the perceived need to continue developing these technologies. Critics often have solids grounds on which to stand and loudly question many currently purported environmentally friendly concepts. Current development of much-needed knowledge could be halted entirely in order to address the complex problem that we have created for ourselves. Choosing one type of sustainability often comes into conflict with another. Palm oil, for example, is relatively low in production costs, is a healthy replacement for trans fats, but is also responsible for a fraction of our deforested rainforests.

At present, there remains a sizable problem with biofuels as used as replacements for fossil fuels. While they are more efficient and cause fewer greenhouse gases, they are still carbon-based and therefore won’t eliminate the problem of global warming. Many fear the focus on biofuels will usurp funding for solar, wind, and hydroelectric energies, as well as decrease focus on effective city planning and conservation, all of which could truly address the issue. Specifically in relation to food, this means how food is transported from producer to consumer, often with at least one reseller as middleman.

We strive to not only present these issues but to reveal their true depth and all the complications therein, so we as food consumers are better equipped to make our own choices, using our own judgment.

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