|Intensive crop culture for high population is unsustainable|
|Written by Peter Salonius|
|Editor’s note: The following essay by soil scientist Peter Salonius is Part One of his two-part series for Culture Change that bursts the delusion of agriculture’s providing for a large human population long-term. If after reading it you have doubt, read the scientific basis for it: the second part in the series, “Unsustainable soil mining, past, present and future.” (A version of the second part was published in the May/June,2007 issue of The Forestry Chronicle.) The author lives in New Brunswick, and he published in Culture Change in 2003 “Energy tax made easy: Modifying human excess with international non-renewable energy taxation” (see link at bottom). – JL|
I am convinced that we begin unsustainable resource depletion (overshoot) as soon as we use (and become dependent upon) the first unit of any non-renewable resource or renewable resource used unsustainably whose further use becomes essential to the functioning of society, such as:
THE FIRST TONNE OF COAL
THE FIRST LITRE OF OIL
THE FIRST KILOGRAM OF FISSIONABLE URANIUM
THE FIRST BARREL OF FOSSIL WATER FOR IRRIGATION — and
THE FIRST HECTARE OF FORMERLY NUTRIENT CONSERVATIVE NATIVE FOREST or GRASSLAND/PRAIRIE PLOWED
This last category of unsustainable renewable resource depletion (excessive leaching/export of plant nutrients from arable soils associated with most agricultural practice, and more recently also with harvesting of nutrient-rich forest biomass) has been looming over us, unseen, for 10,000 years. We can expect that it will catch up with us shortly because most of us are dependent on foodstuffs produced by unsustainable farming, and fiber produced by unsustainable forestry.
|Unsustainable soil mining: past, present and future|
|Written by Peter Salonius|
|[This is Part Two of Peter Salonius’s two-part series. The first part, “Intensive crop culture for high population is unsustainable”, can be viewed by using the link at bottom.] ABSTRACTHuman settlement has increased food production by progressively converting complex, self-managing natural ecosystems with tight nutrient cycles into simplified, intensively managed agricultural ecosystems that are subject to nutrient leaching. (Most agriculture is unsustainable in the long term.)
Conventional stem wood forest harvesting is now poised to be replaced by intensive harvesting of biomass to substitute for increasingly scarce non-renewable fossil fuels. Removal of nutrient-rich forest biomass (harvesting of slash) can not be sustained in the long term.
[Key Words: soil nutrient depletion, biomass harvesting, site productivity]
A general discussion of the concept of sustainability was presented by Gatto (1995), who suggested that notions of sustainability “reflect different priorities and optimization criteria, which are notoriously subjective”; however, the goal of maintaining soil-productive capacity is not a subjective notion. In this paper I will show that long term sustainable terrestrial carrying capacity depends on the maintenance of self-managing, nutrient-conservative plant communities.
The dynamic cyclical stability of complex ecosystems has been shown, for most animal populations, to depend on the ability of predators to dampen overshoot and runaway consumption dynamics of prey species (Rooney et al, 2006).
Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 4347, Arcata , California 95518 USA, Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax).
Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit organization.