To provide a central point for discussion of the various issues surrounding Climate Change
December 15, 2012 at 12:07 pm #174777
Rethink sustainability in context of 2012 drought, ‘500-year flood’
By Fred Kirschenmann
The drought of 2012, on the heels of a “500-year flood” just a few years ago, may be one of a number of changes taking place that should urge us to rethink the concept of sustainability.
Ever since the notion of sustainability found its way into our lexicon several decades ago, it has focused our attention on how to make agriculture a little less bad — how to reduce soil erosion, how to mitigate the effects of toxic chemicals, how to improve our water quality, etc.
While these efforts produced some important results, this perspective presumed the way we were doing agriculture was expedient; we just needed to improve it a bit.
It assumed that our system of agriculture was stable; we just had some problems we needed to address.
It is a concept of sustainability Joseph Fiksel at Ohio State University calls “steady state sustainability.”
MORE RECENTLY, resilience thinkers have urged us to rethink the concept of sustainability.
They suggest that “steady state sustainability” is, in fact, an oxymoron.
December 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm #174781
Superstorms, Extreme Weather, and the Future of Our Food Systems
Fred Kirschenmann, a distinguished fellow with the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, asks us to rethink the concept of sustainability. In an article for the Iowa Farmer Today this October, he posits that the relatively stable climate and resource abundance of recent memory may be coming to an end.
“The drought of 2012, in other words, is probably not going to be an isolated phenomenon which has deeply affected agriculture, it is rather likely to be part of a new world that will require us to radically rethink how we do agriculture—how we produce food.”
The agricultural system that we enjoy today is a product of the industrial revolution, during which industry invented easy, simple solutions to minimize the inherently volatile nature of farming. For millennia, farming had been a highly insecure endeavor with seeds and crops susceptible to everything from weather to pests, weeds, and poor soil fertility. During the last century or so, we entered into an era where industrial solutions and government subsidies have made farming a much more reliable enterprise—one that we largely take for granted in America.
December 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm #174779
More Commentary from Mother Jones blogger Tom Philpott:
Can Farms Bounce Back from Superstorms Like Sandy?
—By Tom Philpott
Farmers have always lived with what the novelist Henry James called the “imagination of disaster”—the keen sense that there’s always something, anything, that can go wrong. In that long interval between sowing tiny seeds and reaping valuable crops, droughts, floods, plagues of pests, tumbling trees, ravaging beasts—all threaten your livelihood and haunt your dreams. But the last seven years have been ridiculous.
In 2005, the sixth-most powerful hurricane ever recorded blitzed into the Mississippi River Delta region, flattening $900 million worth of crops. Just two years after Katrina, a “500-year flood” visited the Midwestern corn belt—which, as the US Geological Survey pointed out at the time, marked the second “500-year flood” in 15 years. In 2011, Texas suffered the most severe 12-month drought in its recorded history, resulting in a stunning $5.2 billion in crop and livestock losses, eclipsing the state’s previous record high in crop losses set just five years earlier. Then came last August’s Hurricane Irene, which deluged farmlands and destroyed crops from Puerto Rico to Canada, taking a particular toll on farmers in Vermont and New York State. This summer, farmers in the Midwest suffered the worst drought in a generation—which cut into crop yields and sparked yet another global hunger crisis. And now comes unprecedented “superstorm” Sandy.
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