The Missing Virtue — Sustainability

Sustainability is a word that should be on everyone’s tongue these days, because it’s a virtue that we really, really, really need to cultivate if we’re going to survive as a nation, or as a species, or possibly as a planet.

Tom Philpott writes about the way maximum agriculture on the Great Plains is draining the region’s aquifer. I’ve read about this elsewhere, and it’s very, very frightening. And it’s not just the Great Plains; major aquifers in North America are being drained faster than they can re-fill.

… they’re on the verge of essentially sucking dry a large swath of the High Plains Aquifer, one of the United States’ greatest water resources. The researchers found that 30 percent of the region’s groundwater has been tapped out, and if present trends continue, another 39 percent will be gone within 50 years. As the water stock dwindles, of course, pumping what’s left gets more and more expensive—and farming becomes less profitable and ultimately uneconomical. But all isn’t necessarily lost. The authors calculate that if the region’s farmers can act collectively and cut their water use 20 percent now, their farms would produce less and generate lower profits in the short term, but could sustain corn and beef farming in the area into the next century.

Philpott points out that another part of the problem is that much of this agricultural effort is being put into raising corn and only corn, because that’s in demand. And most of this corn gets fed to cattle. See also “Wells Dry, Fertile Plains Turn to Dust.”

So we’ve got unsustainable agriculture, an unsustainable economy, unsustainable politics, and unsustainable energy sources on our increasingly unsustainable planet. Something’s got to stop.

7 thoughts on “The Missing Virtue — Sustainability

  1. Yes, corm requires a lot of water, and the majority of the corn grown here is fed to cattle and pigs.
    But a lot of corn is also used to make ethanol to be added to gasoline – better and cheaper forms of which can be made using a variety of other natural and “greener” sources. Hemp, being one of them.

    Also, fracking is using up more and more local water supplies. And one of the results in that the local aquifers instead of being replenished with new, fresh, water, the run-off from the fracking leeches back into the existing groundwater, polluting what remains there in the aquifer.

    On top of that, there’s more and more evidence that fracking causes earthquakes:
    The above link isn’t from some Commie rag, but from BusinessWeek.

    Sadly, “none of the above” does not appear to be an option, – at least not right now.
    So, here are what seem to be the choices we’re going to leave for future generations:
    Would you prefer to die of hunger and/or thirst and/or storms, from climate change, or would you prefer being shaken to death while we continue to search for fossil fuels which increase the warming that’s changing the planet’s climate?

  2. Interestingly, this morning at James Fallows’ site, there is an interesting analysis of the situation in Syria, which includes the background of a drought there in 2006-2011, leading to depletion of local aquifers and the collapse of agriculture in the country. Thinking about the whole ‘civil war’ and what it would take to bring peace to Syria takes on a whole new dimension when you consider it may be related to climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices.

  3. Well, as long as Halliburton’s stock keeps going up, I’m sure we’ll all do just fine. (Please read with manimum sarcasm intonation and a supercilious expression while delilvering double manual FU to Dick Cheney.)

  4. Sustainability is a truly conservative value. The people that currently call themselves conservative are really just corporate dupes.

  5. In a different lifetime, I raised hogs. They go through prodigious amounts of corn.

    So, your bacon & ribs & ham cost a lot of water & corn. Where I was farming, Mercer Co., Ohio, the farmers used Ma Natures supply of water (rain). We never irrigated. But at the price of corn today, I’m sure with irrigation the yield must be pushing 250 bu/acre.

  6. When it comes to ecology and our economy, I think the real question is “slow landing or hard.” People are either going to adapt after some scares and alerts to deal with the future and create a more sustainable one, or there will be a case of running into en ecological/economic brick wall requiring sudden adaption and a lot of pain. I remain partially optimistic, but at least some people (such as those towns in Texas) already have hard landings.

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