Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Community of Interest › Public Policy/Political Activism › What is "sustainable"?
- November 19, 2012 at 6:49 pm #44241
In another thread I noted I had engaged the vegan activists and while their position and arguments are pretty weak and shallow, they argue that animal production is unsustainable (thinking in global terms). In addition, I saw an article in Drover’s (cattle magazine) called “Seeking Sustainability” in which they promote having a standardized definition of “sustainably produced” ….. like organic.
So I’m asking for some thoughts on how others understand and perhaps define sustainability. Something to think about while doing chores.November 19, 2012 at 9:47 pm #75840fogishParticipant
Easiest way for me to start would be the ocean or a lake and resources there. The largest part we have to worry about in that area is how much we remove, if we take more in a year than is added it is not able to sustain that harvest rate. We have pollution to worry about and other factors that go into the environment that enables the yearly addition to stocks, balancing those so that we don’t harvest more than is added or taking a break for a year to let it recover allows it to sustain it’s production capability.
As far as livestock it is more complex. We are in control of the entire “ocean” environment, we manage the waste, the population density, types of animals, feed used, quality of water, natural resources consumed in raising the livestock. So if we use more water than goes back into the aquifers it’s probably not sustainable (more than livestock and their food use water though). So much feed for animals there is not enough for people – one of the two populations has to drop, both are not sustainable. So to me a “pure” definition of sustainable would be: Can the existing input rate (Z) of available resources maintain the output rate (Y) of livestock (X). X doesn’t have to be livestock, it can be water or grain or whatever.
What does Z have to be to get Y of X? I don’t think it’s sustainable if you want 7 billion people eating 3lbs. of beef and 3lbs. of chicken a day. But I don’t think raising animals for meat production is unsustainable.November 20, 2012 at 2:49 am #75836LongViewFarmParticipant
I struggle every day to teach this concept to high school students. From the very beginning I work to instill in them an understanding of the concepts of Economics, Environment, and Equity. These are the “3 Es” as I learned them at Antioch. In class we approach every contemporary environmental issue through these lenses. Only when a solution to a problem balances the needs of all three “Es” is it considered sustainable. Here’s a Venn digram:
My big question is how do we approach the apathy and ignorance seen not only in the current teenage generation, but their parents too? (and school staff of course)November 20, 2012 at 3:32 am #75816Mark CowdreyParticipant
Skirting the current topic while addressing it obliquely, for a pretty comprehensive look at veganism & what it would take to make it sustainable (or the practical impossibility thereof) see “Meat, a benign extravagance” by Simon FairleeNovember 20, 2012 at 6:07 am #75821
Mark – thanks for the suggestion. I looked at an excerpt and liked this quote right off:
“Farmers have lived and worked like this with plants and animals for centuries, and it is arguable that advocates of permaculture would have had to coin a new name only because industrial farmers have brought the term agriculture into disrepute.”November 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm #75817J-LParticipant
Is anything we do (modern society) sustainable?
If we cut back to a sustainable society, we better cut back on population. Who wants to volunteer?
I do like the thought of being more of an agrarian society, but deep down I really think it’s a pipe dream. Just go watch a modern farmer cover the amount of ground he does with a single person, all his equipment, and fossil fuel. It is efficient. He produces a LOT of food by himself and feeds many, many people. How will we replace that and feed 7 billion people? I believe it’s a similar situation with the animal side of things.
To me the real question should be, “Is our population level sustainable?”.November 20, 2012 at 7:03 pm #75822
I think that is the point – do we look at sustainability from a local perspective or a global one? BTW – I ran across a site where there might be some “volunteers” —-caled the “Voluntary Human Extinction Program (or Project)” The internet truly has everything!!November 20, 2012 at 8:15 pm #75828Robert MoonShadowParticipant
I choose (and it really is just a personal choice, methinks) to define sustainability on a local/personal/individual farm level. I measure myself/my farm each year on a level of self-sufficiency I strive for, for that year. How much off-farm input am I aiming to overcome, reduce or eliminate? I’m not going to grow cotton, work it up into thread & make myself some jeans. But if I can grow enough crop(s) to feed my critters from on-farm production and reduce my level of off-farm purchases to reduce it to a level that I’m no longer dependent on the feed store, and reduce that level say 10% each year [aiming for a 75% total reduction], that, to me, is a fair goal to strive for – for me. My ultimate goal is to have the farm set so that me & mine can survive a Great Depression/Recession & a level of self-sufficiency that I’m not at the mercy of petroleum & chemical/pharmaceutical companies or countries that really don’t have my best interests in mind…or even like me.November 20, 2012 at 11:19 pm #75837Kevin CunninghamParticipant
I have been thinking a lot about this the last few days. Yesterday we finished processing our round of Thanksgiving turkeys. This was our first year with it so we just did a small round of regular old broad breasted white turkeys (sustainable?), twenty some odd birds. Our birds got first rate care; organic feed, plenty of green grass, fresh air, and bugs. By far better than anything else in the store. They are not heirlooms or anything but still a thanksgiving turkey you can be proud of. But in our small county with a population of 128,000 how many thousands of turkeys are being served this Thursday. It took our crew of 5 most of the day to process and bag the birds for sale. We take one and the rest are pre sold. After truly knowing what it takes to bring that bird to the table I stagger at the thought of how much work it would take, just to supply turkeys for one day of the year, in one small county in, in one state of the union. Some one once said that we would approach sustainability at a a rate of 10% of the population farming. Think about how radical that is. Right now it is 1% or less in some areas. In our county that would mean 12,800 people actively engaged in farming, that is the entire population of the nearest town! Now, if all of those farmers raise 20 turkeys then we are on to something. The greatest thing about this concept of 10% is that means 90% of the population are not farmers and can support the 10%. Now this little thought exercise doesn’t take into account land base, water, infrastructure or any other variables that sustainability needs to consider, but I still think we need more farmers.November 20, 2012 at 11:43 pm #75818J-LParticipant
I like your approach Robert. That may be where it all begins.
Too bad you weren’t closer Kevin, your turkeys sound good. Your thoughts kind of mirror mine.
Geoff, it never ceases to amaze me the kind of people that inhabit this earth.November 21, 2012 at 12:07 am #75823
“Geoff, it never ceases to amaze me the kind of people that inhabit this earth.”
But aren’t the surprises fun?November 21, 2012 at 1:24 am #75830blue80Participant
I’ve been cold calling a lot, and visiting a few, dude ranches that promote “sustainability” and “environmental responsiblity” and “our western heritage” on their websites.
My pitch has been that these enterprises would be a fantastic medium to promote and return a functional family farm. A family, on 80-160 acres, could run a few beef, sheep, 300 pastured poultry a month, a little veggie, and a milk cow or two, some eggs, and pull some logs for the campfires. All farm production would be utilised to feed the visiting dudes, while educating them a little on draft powered healthy farming options. It more easily would fly under the USDA radar because it is produced and eaten on the farm….
To date the limit of these dude ranches’ “sustainability” rubber hitting the road seems to be limited to accessing grants to rehabilitate the trout streams for improved fishing….November 21, 2012 at 11:18 am #75810Carl RussellModerator
I think we have to be mature enough to accept that “Sustainable” is an amorphous concept. After all, the purest example of “Sustainable” would presumably be Earth, where every ecosystem, every species, reaches limits, and either ceases to function, or changes into something slightly different.
So to come up with a list of criteria, or a schematic diagram for a “Sustainable” operation would be a futile exercise, in my mind. I personally don’t accept that financial economic sustainability is a reasonable component of the equation. Financial economics is an entirely human concept, and we have created artificial fiat so that we can readjust the baseline to fit the outcome, justifying any system that touts “Efficiency” as if that is the closest we can humanly get to sustainable.
I choose (like Robert) to look at sustainability in ecological terms. Realistically there is a component of economics here, but it has to do with energy and resources, not money. I think of myself, and our current human population, as a successional stage of ecological evolution. I/we have the same choice as a plant would have. Do I consume as much as I can from my site until I cannot sustain myself? However being human I can actually observe the plant, and make another choice. How can I live within the ecological parameters of this site to sustain myself as long as possible?
For my entire life I have seen gaping holes in our human cultural attempt to live on this planet. With all of our intellect, and observational skills, we have made choices that make a plant withering in a drought look like a genius. I cannot argue with a Vegan about the unsustainability of modern meat production, especially since most of them cannot believe that there are people who actually raise animals on grass, with dignity, and reverence for the life that sustains them….. However, the argument I got was that we just need to stop growing plants to feed to animals, and start growing plants to feed to humans……. So what changes in that equation to make modern Ag any more sustainable? Not much to my eye….
I think sustainable ag as GMC teaches, for example, has to do primarily with a concept of growing food and resources, working on a landscape with limited inputs, reducing financial burdens, protecting productive resources, and limiting output to sustain the reserves. As Jason Rutledge says, “You can’t sustain a decline”….. It by no means is the ultimate sustainability equation, but it incorporates basic ecological principles that, if practiced on a broad scale, at least won’t drive us into resource debt we are in now.
CarlNovember 21, 2012 at 2:07 pm #75835bdcastoParticipant
@Carl Russell 37686 wrote:
However, the argument I got was that we just need to stop growing plants to feed to animals, and start growing plants to feed to humans……. So what changes in that equation to make modern Ag any more sustainable? Not much to my eye….
I’ve encountered this same vegan argument and have wondered how do you keep raising crops for people without fertilizing the ground from which that crop came? Many of the people who make this vegan argument are also opposed to petroleum based fertilizers so what are the recommendations for returning to the soil the nutrients lost with every crop harvested?
New Carlisle, OHNovember 21, 2012 at 2:52 pm #75838AnonymousInactive
I start my sustainable ag course I teach by allowing the students to define sustainability and then we use their definition as a guide to decision making. Most people come up with the same conclusion as Carl did above, but the exercise of defining the terms that we put so much weight on is helpfull on a personal level. As for the vegan land use argument I suggest reading the book titled “meat” is it loaded with facts from both sides. It’s a dense read but very intersting.
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.