"Well, this has sure opened a can of worms.
"Perhaps clarifying my terms better would help those who like to pick
apart statements based on their own interpretation of words, rather than
seeing the big picture. (Symptomatic of Reductionist thinking.)
"Sustainable- This is a concept, not a technique. To be sustainable, a
system has to be flexible and have the ability to try new things while
retaining some sense of history, tradition... Myself, I prefer the term
"Complimentary Agriculture"- observing the processes in nature and
attempting to work with them, not trying to force our will on them."
Sorry Alex, but I really do think this is putting the worms right back in a
very small box on the wrong side of the paddock. Free the worms Alex!
The issue is not in the use of names, but in whether everyday issues, on the
farm, off the farm, are addressed for their long term sustainability. I have
cut and pasted an excerpt from a local TV program Sunday, as story which
illustrates the point very well, in terms of the wider web beyond the farm
that is involved. We are lost if we confine the issues to a 'complementary'
box or if we confine it to the farm; we are accepting parameters that
severely limit outcomes. A major economic policy issue is clearly whether
profit measurement, taxation assessment and the like can focus on cycles of
ecological significance rather than annual or shorter cycles. I presume this
is what Dale refers to as 'inserting externalities into the market'. Though
I would prefer to think in terms of requiring the market to live on the
The nuclear power industry was brought under a degree of control in the
United States (we have no such industry in Australia, we burn coal, now also
the subject of more control, hopefully) by requiring an acceptable waste
disposal scheme to be in place before licensing of plants. How interesting
it would be to impose such a concept on, for example, the installation of a
flush toilet. Well yes, of course, it has to be done according to the rules
now - the question is whether rules impose sustainability criteria.
So I don't think it's really a matter of injecting externalities so much as
altering the rules that are already there. If you got the food consumer to
take responsibility (or indeed the food manufacturer to certify!) that the
post-digestive outputs of the product were covered by an acceptable waste
I think that land degradation and declining food production and food
nutritional value will impose some thinking in these directions at some
future time - and again see the room for individual initiative in the story
below, the poor farmer being zonked not by the market but by the
externalities too. The issue is how to get the focus turned the right way -
we have an overburden of externalities, but not all relevant. Compost the
The answer is not to say that "sustainable is a concept not a technique" -
it has to become a rule.
Laughable? How recently would anyone have been laughed at for suggesting
that governments would sue tobacco companies for health costs?
Undefinable? Definitely not - if economists can find some other perspective
than pure competition, some longer cycle of understanding of the way the
world is. They give the occasional nod to longer business cycles; they need
to slide away from the language of endogeny and exogeny, to a broader focus
which does not give primacy of language to narrow and inadequate economic
Economists occupy positions as advisors to princes (of government and
business and individuals) as bishops once did. They have power, beyond the
secular, a belief in their 'truth'. It is up to them whether they will get
us out of the present overconsuming mess, comparable to the
indulgence-financed extravagances of the renaissance church, or whether they
will stay on the binge and in time be rolled by a disillusioned polity and
an exhausted planet. We have to have global perspectives. Australians are as
guilty as Americans (well maybe almost as guilty) of having small minded
attitudes. Go back and read the preface to Sinclair Lewis's 'Main Street'
and see the persistent political problem in your country or mine. [For
convenience, I've put a bit of it at the end, below.]
Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Landline program summary
July 11, 1999
Reporter: Steve Letts
Up in the granitic central Victorian Hills near Kyneton one of the nationís
most innovative waste recycling processes has quietly been developed.
Fifteen years ago Brian Barrett realised his farm was sick. His pastures
were increasingly sparse, fewer calves were being born and his soil was
turning to sand.