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Sustainable income, sustainable planet -- are we working at cross purposes?  RSS feed

 
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I clipped these two quotes from two different threads, both several years old.

David Williams wrote:when the world as we know it ends, 2 people left alive, 1 with $1, the other with a pumpkin seed, who is the richer man ?


rose macaskie wrote:marina jade. You talk of not growing saffron because it doesn't have any calories, i can't remember what they are but it has qualities that reduce illness, i think cancer. The more people produce azafran the lower the price of this healthy product.



What is the connection between these disparate quotes? As I see it, both touch upon the sustainability of the earth. The answer to David's rhetorical question may not be that rhetorical. Are these two survivors in a location where the soil and climate are capable of sustaining a pumpkin plant? If not, the man with the pumpkin seed has nothing. And perhaps the man with $1 also has some survival knowledge in his head that the other does not. In that case, dollar and pumpkin seed are equally irrelevant in determining who is the richer man.

I had a lot of respect for Rose's posts in the thread on Sepp Holzer, which is where the other quote came from. And I chose this one because I have long had a concern with current ideas of "sustainable" development. My schooling is in ecology and environmental studies. Of course, I am aware of shade grown coffee and shade grown cacao as a means of conserving tropical rain forests. Just one problem: those are drug crops, not food crops. People drink coffee for the caffeine, not for nutrition. Cacao produces a delightful confection, and, yes, dark chocolate has healthy antioxidants, but it is a cash crop for the farmers who grow it, not something they can live on when the market is down. Carnauba wax depends on buyers owning fancy cars to polish. And so it goes -- most crops I am aware of for rain forest conservation are luxury items for export to rich nations, not means to local food security for the campesinos who most need it.

Calories are necessary. The anticarcinogenic properties of saffron, the antioxidants in dark chocolate or green tea -- none of these will sustain life unless the person first gets enough basic calories. Rain forest conservation is one of my passions, but I am so far disappointed in the "sustainable development" approach, since it seeks its solutions mainly in the global marketplace rather than in the local community. More recently, I have heard of what are known as silvo-pastoral systems, in which cattle are grazed in a landscape of trees and shrubs instead of open grassland. I would love to learn more about how this compares to shade grown coffee from a biodiversity standpoint. Of course, none of these systems compares with intact rain forest. It may be we are simply fooling ourselves with "sustainable development" notions -- creating systems that look pretty, but in the end are no better than slash and burn.

Anyone have thoughts about this? Can sustainable income and a sustainable planet coexist?
 
master pollinator
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To answer the question directly, no, not at all, unless we're really doing something wrong.

Shade-grown coffee and cacao are good examples of an incomplete effort at sustainability. It makes good sense for the only places in the world that can grow coffee to do so to sate export demand. But it would make even more sense if the crop plant were offered supportive companion plants to bolster the health of the system as a whole, and thereby, the crop in question.

I think that the current model, to address your concerns, needs to include guild members that provide calories or other substantial nutrition, as well as specific system functions like nitrogen fixation.

I think, as with so many other issues, the problem is too narrow a focus on the scale or scope of the system. If the scope of the system is increased to include such things as soil-building, feeding and providing natural medicine to the workers and local populace, and providing redundancies for existant biological players, like an extra, mulch-giving nitrogen fixer, for instance, or fruit plants that not only provide food for people, but whose flowering times feed and support pollinators, then the system becomes resilient, rather than just surviving.

I think that if a system doesn't double down on the mechanisms that perpetuate it, making it resilient, then sustainability is a just-net-positive system that only barely generates enough of its own inputs to maintain function. We don't want "sustainable" systems that are a drought away from grinding to a halt. We want resilient systems that will keep people and things alive in a bad year, and keep trees that won't bear that year due to whatever environmental stresses alive and healthy enough to weather adversity.

In my opinion, sustainability misses the point. Resiliency is what is required, and it requires us to go, and think, a bit further for it to be achieved.

-CK
 
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Jason Hernandez wrote:What is the connection between these disparate quotes?



Just for reference, but it'd be helpful to link the original topics you got the quotes from, as I had to reread your post a few times to get the tone of their context in relation to what you posted.

---

Jason Hernandez wrote:Can sustainable income and a sustainable planet coexist?



Many permies and gerts who have ventured into the world of permaculture or homesteading have done this on an individual-scale. Others have even done so on the community-scale. The biggest point of conflict in your statement, is what is the definition of "sustainable income", and if we are talking on a community-scale or regional-scale.

---

If you don't mind, by condensing your paragraphs into rough statements:

1. Local people are relying on luxury crops to maintain local economies


One has to ask, why they need to resort to this in the first place. The next point will delve into why that is.

2. Local people need to get their calories from somewhere


Because of global economics, typically the surplus products imported from another country out-competes what could be grown locally, so this wipes out the local production. To give you an example: in Sask our primary exports of crops are lentils/peas, wheat/durum and canola. Cargill and Viterra are the marketers who buy the grains from the farmers, and through the magic of exchange in currencies, those Sask products out-compete anything that the local people could economically grow, in say, much of the EU. Or maybe a simpler example: Chinese garlic is like $0.15 a bulb here, so no one locally can realistically compete with that price, even if garlic is easily to grow in Canada. This applies to a lot of produce, including the ones with a lot of calories.

This actually brings us right back to point 1, where the local people don't have a choice now except to sell their "exotic" items, whether it be maple syrup, saffron or cacao, to maintain their way of life. At this point, their local economies are now dependent on the selling of those products, and there isn't any reason to develop food-systems because of cheap imports. The people are already being fed, it's just not in a sustainable way that is resilient to change on a global-scale.

The spoiler is that only once oil isn't cheap anymore, or when the weather is so sporadic that global surplus resources are a 1/10th of what they are now, you'll then see "sustainable" economies aimed at local food security begin to rapidly form.  

---

I'll add this last bit in as you mostly are focusing on the Rain Forest ecosystems, but the people in south america have a lot going against them. They've got big Ag in their backyard planting 1000's of hectares of soybeans, which is destroying their arable land. Bill Mollison mentioned about how there are old colonial laws which basically give free land to immigrant settlers, though not sure if those are still in effect, but I guess a lot of land is locked up with people who don't really care about local development. One law that is in effect though, is enfiteuse.

I can assure you, that if the local people had full access to develop their own systems, they'd aim towards a resilient/sustainable local economy much like the old civilizations before them did for 100's of years. Right now though, there is very little immediate incentive/payoff to do so, at least in the minds of many.

Judging from what my friends in Argentina are telling me, that's one country that might well be the first to change down there, as the people are not happy with the current state of affairs.

 
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Just to clarify, there are many of the "specialty products" growers who are providing most of their own food as well, just on different plots of land. So the statement

Calories are necessary. The anticarcinogenic properties of saffron, the antioxidants in dark chocolate or green tea -- none of these will sustain life unless the person first gets enough basic calories.

is answered for those growers. This is a country by country thing it seems to me and we should also recognize that there needs to be a reduction in human population for the survival of the planet, so maybe it's ok for those folks to end up however they end up.

Antioxidants are good, whether or not they provide many calories, the human body needs the immune system reinforcement to remain healthy. If you aren't healthy, you aren't going to be able to grow much of your own food either.

Since you state that you are an ecologist with a passion of preserving rain forest. Would it not make sense for you to try to change the minds or improve the thinking of those growers of "Luxury" products?

In the Amazon basin there are many people involved in the new plantings of canopy trees, they have gotten the children involved and every year there are more hectares being brought back to forest, it just takes many years to undo what can be done in hours or days.

I believe that both sustainable income and sustainable planet can be achieved but it will take time, because human nature is to resist change both in methods and in thinking.
There are places right now that you can see those who used to destroy nature, now working to rebuild it because they have found that westerners will pay them to come and see the wildlife in it's natural habitat and that provides these previous destroyers with better income than their old ways.
It will be a long, hard road to walk but we can do this, as long as we don't get discouraged or quit.

Redhawk
 
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I'm a bit confused.

If an income is based on a finite resource, than it's not sustainable.

It seems to me that the only way to create a sustainable income is to base it on a sustainable ecology.  

Or maybe the definition of 'sustainable' changes depending on context?  
 
Chris Kott
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If the resource is finite, then the system accounting is too focused.

The planet is a finite resource if we narrow our foci that far. For some purposes, we need to, as we aren't currently solving our energy and industrial needs from off-planet, but that's the limitation of that kind of thinking.

-CK
 
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Jason Hernandez wrote:Anyone have thoughts about this? Can sustainable income and a sustainable planet coexist?



As far as I am concerned, the answer is a resounding and emphatic, "YES!" We have plenty of examples that we can look to for guidance in this area. We have the wonderful work of the following people, just to name a few, to look at: (also, for reference, Geoff Lawton made a good article about profitable permaculture farms)

Sepp Holzer at the the following locations:
-Krameterhof
-Holzerhof
-Tamera Peace Research Centre
-Friedrich Lehmann's site in Spain, which he appears to have made great success with and started a business called Lehmann Natur
*I'm currently reading Desert or Paradise, and these are a couple of the examples from the book.

Geoff Lawton at the following locations:
-Zaytuna Farm (tour video from 2016)
-Jordan, Greening the Desert Site

Bullock Brothers Farm

Eric Toenmeister

Ben Falk

Mark Shepard and his S.T.U.N. technique
 
Jason Hernandez
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:
There are places right now that you can see those who used to destroy nature, now working to rebuild it because they have found that westerners will pay them to come and see the wildlife in it's natural habitat and that provides these previous destroyers with better income than their old ways.
It will be a long, hard road to walk but we can do this, as long as we don't get discouraged or quit.

Redhawk



Ecotourism is a good short-term solution (by the way I define short-term). But air travel is resource intensive -- processing the aluminum for the aircraft hulls, as well as the jet fuel. So for ecotourism to be sustainable, there need to be a lot of advances in renewability in the airline industry. I see some of those advances forming, but there is still a long way to go.

Plus, ecotourism is, in a sense, another luxury export crop. It has many of the same advantages and disadvantages of the others being discussed.
 
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