Monday, March 1, 2010

Specialization can be bad: A crappy example

© 2010 Joshua Stark

The Washington Post has an interesting article out about manure being the next big pollutant. In response, expect animal rights' groups to argue that this is because we are meat eaters and dairy eaters, and if we'd only wean ourselves from these practices, we'd not pollute so much.
But the problem isn't our carnivory, nor is it the poop, per se. The problem is our over-compartmentalization in agriculture.

As many farmers know, animals belong on farms. Pest reduction, soil movement, fertilization, and more are provided by animals, and in return, the land feeds and waters the animals. Humans add to the equation by providing protection and shelter for both, and by mimicking processes that most effectively provide, and in return, animals and plants produce more, and humans take the extra.

When we decided to separate the diverse systems into compartments, we temporarily increased our efficiencies. However, we quickly ran up against a problem: The effects of multiple components in a system provided for the needs of each particular component. Plants converted nitrogen, for example, from the manure provided by the local animals. In the new system, however, no nitrogen was being returned to the soil in the barren lands with one type of plant.

The solution was to engineer nitrogen from petroleum and subsidize it - the Green Revolution. Satisfied that we'd overcome the problem of compartmentalization, we pumped a tremendous amount of "new" nitrogen into the system.

Now, of course, we understand that nitrogen is a pollutant, too.

At the same time, other insidious consequences came with compartmentalization: Most humans were removed from the food production cycle; inhumane conditions were created for animals in the name of profit and a false economy; and an illusion was created that separated systems were cleaner and healthier than incorporated ones.

The first and second consequences above created the animal-rights movement; the first and third helped to create our obsession with "sterilized" environments, warping it with an unnatural environmental outlook.

Now, we are compartmentalized. By removing anything living from our sight and responsibility, by removing ourselves from working relationships with other living things, we have become hyper-sensitive to the "chaos" inherent in organic systems and we have anthropomorphized other creatures, instead of knowing and appreciating them as they are. We have also become addicted to the prices of our subsidized and unsustainable, compartmentalization of agriculture.

Feeding into this compartmentalized system is Monsanto, hoping to get its RoundUp Ready alfalfa approved for use in the U.S. (This is an alfalfa that has been genetically modified to not die when sprayed with RoundUp). Healthy grasslands don't consist of just one type of plant, and our current alfalfa-growing practices are used to support CAFO's. If you get a chance, head over and comment (by Wednesday!) that you don't want this alfalfa in our system. And, if anybody at the federal government is reading this, the comment system online is a hassle, and needs to be simplified.

Compartmentalizing the land is no way to maintain healthy food systems or ecosystems.


Tovar Cerulli said...

BINGO. Great post. Compartmentalizing parts of nature (including ourselves) never seems to work out so well, does it?

Josh said...

Thanks, Tovar. I agree about including ourselves.