Agriculture is not at odds with environmentalism

12 Sep

We try to make the best decisions we can in the moment we are living in, however it generally takes months, years or even decades to be certain that we made the right choice – assuming we can ever know for sure.  I got my confirmation today.

As I have mentioned a few times five years ago I worked at a wildlife rehabilitation center in South Africa.  I always knew the difference between conservation and medicine, but here I could see the distinction clearer than ever before.  Medicine saves individuals and conservation saves species.  Up until this trip I wanted to save individuals.  The close contact with wildlife and the mysteries of the body fascinated me.  But in Africa I suddenly understood how fruitless saving an individual could be if there was no place to put it once it was healed.

It is to be expected that a summer working as a veterinary assistant in South Africa would have a profound impact on the course of my life.  I thought it would strength my resolve to get into and complete veterinary school.  It didn’t.  I never expected to love what I did every day that summer then return home and six months later declare that I was not going to veterinary school after working toward it for the past 13 years.

I had new insight.  I was armed with new ideas and opinions.   When I graduated college I applied for jobs at many environmental non-profits in the greater Washington, DC area.  I ended up working for Green Media Toolshed, where we worked with other environmental non-profits to improve their communication plans.

I became interested in the social media side of my job.  I decided I needed to become more familiar with social media to really help our members.  I picked a topic, sustainable agriculture and started to blog and create a small following on twitter.  My idea is that there is enough land on this earth to sustain the human population and wildlife populations, we just have to figure out how to balance competing needs, or rather make them less at odds with each other.

In order to do this I think we need to apply some of the ideas I learned during my time in South Africa.  First and foremost we need to make wildlife and wildland more valuable.  No one, especially in poorer regions of the world is going to leave the wildlife intact if they can make more money from the land another way. It is unrealistic. Secondly we need to rethink how we grow and transport food today.  These are the main themes covered in this blog.

A year after starting this blog I had over 75 posts and over 1,200 twitter followers and I left my job.  No, this blog does not support me.  I started working for a food and agriculture consulting firm.  They made it very clear that the goal of the firm is not increase sustainable agriculture and that it is possible that I would disagree with our conclusions sometimes.  I didn’t care.  I wanted to learn more about how we grow and market everything from soybeans and pistachios.

In order to find a solution to this problem of a growing human population and finite quantities of land I need to know more about growing and marketing food.  Since working here, I have questioned whether or not I am getting closer to my ultimate goal.  I love my job, but I wondered if it was changing my view point.  That is until today.

Today we met with the Executive Director of a Wood organization about their global programs.  I will spare you all of the boring details.  But at someone toward the end of the meeting he said that promoting wood from any forest in the world is good for US wood exporters and that plantation wood is not better for the environment.  Many environmental groups are against using non-plantation lumber because you are cutting down the forest to obtain the lumber.  However, the people that are logging the forest are doing so for their livelihood and it is in their best interest not to over harvest so that the environment continues to regrow itself and lumber can be removed in future seasons.  Plus most governments heavily regulate what can and cannot be removed.

By boycotting the forest lumber the value of these lands is reduced to zero and the local people must find another way to earn money.  It is common to cut down the forest and plant tree plantations.  In many parts of Southeast Asia the indigenous forests have been replaced with bamboo or palm plantations.

Bamboo wood gets very green reviews because it is fast growing.   But the entire story is lost in this rating process.  First of all, indigenous forests are much better for the ecosystem.  Millions of pieces of plants and animals live among the trees that are harvested for wood, which is not true on plantations.  These plantations are monocultures, which leads me to point number two.  It is general knowledge that there are great problems associated with monoculture.  And have severe long term problems.

I completely agree with his stance.  And it made my day that the head of one of the biggest cooperators in the US agreed with me.  He understands business and he understands the environment.  He is part of big business and his goals are not to destroy the world.  Logging on his grandmother’s land paid for his college education and he has an vested interest in not only taking from the land but making sure to preserve the land so that he can continue to earn his livelihood from it.

Being an idealist is wonderful, but sometimes a practical business approach solves more problems.

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Posted by on September 12, 2011 in sustainability, wildlife


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