For example, one cannot be doing something sustainable when there is no
viable alternative at that time other than depending on non-renewable
resources. Soil, fossil fuel, biodiversity all are being steadily reduced.
Consumptive use of one or more of these are the resource of all (to my
knowledge) present agricultural systems, so none are sustainable. They
only differ in matters of degree in the rates of decline they perpetuate in
these nonrenewable resources.
It's not a matter of being organic, or slash-and-burn, or Green Revolution
production, since in some way all depend on nonrenewable resources. Only
the recipes of ingredients and activities differ. We have NEVER had a
"system" of sustainable agriculture, and today none could rightfully claim
that it would last indefinitely. There are multiple constraints. For many
reasons today they all are unwitting executioners of the future. None can
turn the ship, for reasons ranging from the pervasive influences of money
to the immense pressure reducing the carrying capacity of the planet as the
demand increases. We must invent the way to become sustainable, if we wish
to give a legacy of choices to those that follow us. Sustainable means
that you (us, we, society, humankind) make choices that lead to conditions
where there are multiple choices. "Sustainability" is not a "state" but a
process that can perpetuate itself indefinitely.
To avoid the confusion, we need to remember that good decisions require
ways of telling how we are increasing options that increase options, etc.,
and allow us to correct what we're doing in time to avoid diaster (which is
a condition without options, the crash). What most of us associate with
"sustainable" are, indeed, steps in some way that seem to be in the "right"
direction. But, for example, recall that there were ONLY organic farmers
before this century, and civilizations fell anyway. There must be more to
"sustainable" than this! The eco-, socio-, atmo-, and geo-spheres all are
interconnected, and have important functions that we are disrupting so that
options are declining. In general, it sometimes seems that we are still
racing madly to the crash, and need to expand our navigation to more
holistic criteria while we get clear on where it is that we want to go.
If you CAN, in principle, answer the question, then the question is not
about sustainability. Don't we really want to know about the way decisions
are being made, and what their consequences will be? Robert Rodale said
sustainability was a question, and I agree.
R. H. (Dick) Richardson Office: 512-471-4128
Zoology Dept. Home: 512-476-5131
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Austin, TX 78712