SUSTAINABILITY: the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance*

The concept of sustainability revolves around the idea that elements of our environment and our attempt to live in a healthy way in this environment require an understanding of depletion and restoration.   If those elements, including food, are to be available to this and future generations care must be taken to avoid depleting the supply of them and restoring that which has already been consumed.   This is particularly important when it comes to the matter of food.

For more than a century now we have been conscious about the vulnerability of trees as industries removed them to create farms, industrial areas, housing and recreational areas for a surging population.  Intentional initiatives on the part of industry, government, and a variety of agencies and environmental organizations allowed for  measured foresting and replanting.  It has resulted in a commendable turnabout in the forests of this nation.  But in other locations around the world there continues to be a wasting of forest lands, not only depleting the lumber supply, but increasing the pollution of the environment as trees removed re-define the scientific recycling of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

In more recent years we have become alerted to the diminishing supplies of food and food products, particularly in the fishing industry.  Increased technology has meant the ability to remove increasingly larger quantities of fish and shellfish from the oceans, at times reducing the supply of some species to dangerously low levels of sustainability.   In the past few months there have been alarms sounded in the fishing territories off the eastern coast of the United States and Canada as varieties of fish are removed in quantities that have signaled near-extinction.   The demand for fish has energized the commercial fishing industry, but the response of the industry has also signaled dangerously low populations of desired fish populations.

The conflict between the industry and the government has correctly focused upon economics, employment, and the sustainability of the fishing industry.  But at the same time environmental agencies have identified the depleted populations of the fish and called for cutbacks in the types of fishing undertaken and the quantities allowed to be removed from specific locations.   The need for periods of regeneration of fish populations calls for a resting of the fishing activity.  Unfortunately, that results in reduced income for those who spend their lives on the waters to provide adequate income to sustain their families.  It is not a hypothetical or intellectual conflict; it is real and visceral.

Americans and Canadians have instituted sustainability initiatives within human populations, calling for moderation in consumption and initiatives in a variety of food type production.   Home gardening, community gardening and whole food production and consumption patterns have ceased to be simply  lifestyle choices of “whole earth” individuals.   Whole communities and cities have embraced sustainability as a pattern of life and choices.  Changing patterns of food consumption, including the moving away from dependence upon meat and a transition to a healthier diet impact purchasing patterns which have a residual economic impact. The benefits of such programming and lifestyle plans receive high grades, while, at the same time, their impact upon commercial and industrial economics cannot be ignored.   It is a conflict which will take years to balance out.    Legislative impact cannot be denied, either, as government subsidies of farming come under scrutiny.

A society that embraces “greening” must at the same time embrace economic impacts made significant by that choice.

Photo Credit: Corey Arnold

*Dictionary Credit: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sustainability>.

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