Okay, I need help here. My country (the UK) is said to be among the most nature depleted countries on the planet, owing partly to industrialised farming, through use of pesticides. I would ideally like this to change, but at the same time I realise that with the earth’s growing population, it may be ‘necessary’ to maximise crop yields through use of pesticides in order to prevent a food crisis. How do we balance our duties to nature with our duties to humanity?
I grew up on a farm, and pesticides were used in abundance as I grew up. Now I try to only use those considered organic or with minimal impact, but the reality is that without some pesticides there would not be much produce in the grocery store, and what would be there would be wormy and expensive. For example, I have several peach trees. I sprayed most of them early this spring with a “natural” pyrethrin based insecticide, and those trees produced beautiful peaches with only minimal flaws ( though I had to fight racoons, birds, and a grey fox for the fruit) while a tree I never got around to spraying has 3/4 of the fruit deeply scarred by insects. It would never sale in a store, though is edible with trimming.
I think that consumer demand has improved practices in commercial farms, but is still a problem.
It is interesting that the UK is stated to be nature depleted, as most vacationers seem to be enchanted with the green spaces and fields there. No doubt the population density and development has caused a great deal of the damage. My impression is that farming is more eco-friendly there than the USA.
I’m so confused about this article. Maybe others can comment who have more insight. The problem appears to be that organic farming ties up more land
It’s no wonder you’re confused … I don’t think it’s a well-written article. It attempts to lead you in one direction and doesn’t get around to mentioning the disadvantage until in its last few paragraphs … and that is this: It’s a no-brainer that if you’re going to do better farming (i.e. with less or no non-organic fertilizers or pesticides) then of course you’re going to have to work harder or use more land to get the same results! But the “fine print” that comes with the whole green revolution thing is that we’re still depleting land and losing topsoil for our farming practices.
It’s like this: you’re offered one job that pays you $200,000 a year! You immediately take it of course and are able not only to generously support your own family but even help out a lot of others all around you (the farmer feeding the world, so-to-speak). You had been offered another job at $50,000 per year, but you passed that up without much thought because you already had the $200k in your sights. Then you notice the fine print. The more lucrative job is only going to last 3 years and then it goes away. Dries up. Nothing. Nada. Whereas the $50,000 job is guaranteed to stay for life - but is now no longer available because you jumped at the immediately more attractive option. In retrospect we realize that the less lucrative one would have been the more attractive choice given all the considerations we should have had in view.
I think our highly oil-dependent mechanized / fertilized farming is like that $200,000 job. And it’s spoiled us into thinking we need flawless looking fruit in the grocery aisles … any season we want it … in or out. So when I see roadside billboards here in Kansas bragging that one farmer feeds 101 people (or something like that) … I feel the urge to correct that with: no! It’s one farmer plus a whole lot of blood-purchased oil plus a whole lot of lost topsoil + a world-wrecking carbon footprint … that brought that food to our 101 plates. [Note - I’m not saying this is all the farmer’s fault - we’re all wanting and getting that food after all!]
Can anybody tell I’ve read a few Wendell Berry books? The Land-Institute in Salina, Kansas continues to research perennial [no-till] grain crops with an eye to trying to compete with normal farming practices but without wrecking the topsoil and the planet. That’s a tall order - candy always looks better in the short term than the more wholesome choices.
Perhaps the answer is eating less food. (a mammoth undertaking for yours truly)
You are probably correct (about farming and population density). You can find wildlife in the UK if you look hard enough (I recommend anyone who visits the UK visit Minsmere in Suffolk), and the UK does have internationally important colonies of seabirds such as Gannets, as well as Seals, but unfortunately, it is a shadow of it’s former self. The UK lost much of it’s keystone species such as Wolves, Beavers and Wild Boar early, owing largely to population density combined with geography, though the latter two have made a comeback in recent years.
Are you involved in this sort of project at all?
(Interesting ad before the 2nd one, by the way)
Not involved personally (though I am a member of the RSPB), but am a big fan of rewildng, and have read Monbiot’s book as well as othe books linked to rewildng.
Neat! I was interested in the assertion by the wildlife conservator in the BBC note that rewilding would cause runoff and erosion. From my understanding, that doesn’t really work that way–trees are usually terrific soil conservators. Below is a post that regards the Midwest of the US, generally where I live.
I think your instinct is correct there. Both plant and tree species that are native or that thrive in place help protect the soil from exposure to wind and sun. It’s the annual turning soil over (plowing) for fresh exposure that makes soil more vulnerable to erosion.
Mammoth undertaking? I like your choice of words there! Seriously, though, while we obviously can’t choose not to eat, we can still choose what we eat. And choosing less meat is a no-brainer for most of us in affluent society, actually Improving our diets in the process (since we aren’t exactly in want of calories or protein) as well as then having a less burdensome carbon-footprint. So change that “Eat Beef” bumper sticker over to “Eat Beans”. And nor does it need to mean all-or-nothing or that there aren’t distinctions to be made among meats (even among beef) that can help mitigate some of the footprint.
The world population is now at over 7.5 billion people, and we are heading toward a projected 10 billion or so by 2050 – just 31 years away. We are already stretched very thin on our food resources even using industrialized methods, and climate change threatens to undermine our previous gains. So the answer is that we will very likely not be able to back off the use of pesticides in the short run. What we should consider, instead, is to eat less meat (so I agree with the above). We should especially eat less meat from cattle, which are very high maintenance and belch methane. Eating more vegetarian diets will stretch land resources and help deal with climate change. I should also note that since certain areas of land are only suited to raising cattle or sheep, we don’t need to eliminate meat from our diets altogether. That would be counterproductive in stretching our resources.
Is the decimation of bird populations then going to have to be a price we’re going to have to pay?
Can nonlethal alternatives be developed?
The same family of pesticides called neonicotinoids which apparently have damaged bee populations are also linked to the deaths of great numbers of birds, as you say. If we had an administration responsive to environmental issues, they would likely be banned already in the U.S. as they are in Europe. Other pesticides can be used instead.
Can’t find it now but someone mentioned that organic and less chemical dependent farming requires more land. I think that’s right and if we wish to support wildlife which can actually help to eliminate the need for more chemicals that would require even more land. Seeing that movie The Biggest Little Farm which @Christy posted a thread about really leads one to think that to farm only for humans really is quite destructive. Sorry I’m on a bike at the Y so hard to spell this out better now.
Recently I saw somebody pause as they saw the 7 billion figure and muttered something about that being disputable. I hadn’t encountered this before and wondered if this is a thing now. Are there some conservatives who are choosing to operate by “different math” in this arena as well? Or is there some legitimate question over the current world population or how big the associated error bars are with the estimates? Because I got the distinct feeling they were still back on the 5 or 6 billion figure and suspecting that extra billions were getting added on by all those with liberal agendas. (You know … how counting and sums work differently when you’re a liberal…)
Since I’m too
lazy [busy] at the moment to delve into the “World Population” wikipedia entry (currenly at 7.7 billion, btw), I’ll just put this out here to see if anybody knows how wild or loose our extrapolations and estimates are.
Good point. Citing alternate facts seems more and more common and doing so seems to elicit little shame. Sometimes it seems people are unaware of best practices for determining the best current thinking on a matter and resentful of those better informed. Somehow “elites” has become a bad word instead of a positive descriptor.
Are they just as effective?
Question: If we switch to beans from beef, will the lowering of bovine methane be replaced by methane expelled by humans? (you don’t have to answer, just thinking)
Good question. It seems like there’s always some trade-off or other. I tried to Google a few answers, but only found a rather muddled assortment of highly specific studies – nothing general enough for my interest in the topic. Let me know if you find anything helpful.
“Flatulence is often blamed as a significant source of greenhouse gases, owing to the erroneous belief that the methane released by livestock is in the flatus. While livestock account for around 20% of global methane emissions, 90–95% of that is released by exhaling or burping. In cows, gas and burps are produced by methane-generating microbes called methanogens, that live inside the cow’s digestive system. Proposals for reducing methane production in cows include the feeding of supplements such as oregano and seaweed, and the genetic engineering of gut biome microbes to produce less methane.”
From the Wikipedia entry on Flatulence