Green 101: Intro to Sustainability Week 6 – Agriculture & Water

This week’s focus on water and agriculture piqued my interest in the class once again. While I already had a basic understanding of how much excess farmland is used solely to grow crops for feeding livestock, I hadn’t actually given much thought to how that would affect food prices (spoiler alert: they go up!). Another lecture focused on how the Green Revolution resulted in increases in fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide use, irrigation and monoculture. Despite the detriments to the environment, all of the above increased yield (a good thing, considering how much the population has grown). Unfortunately, at this point we have become so dependent on Green Revolution techniques that we cannot go back to the “old ways” and continue to feed everyone at the current population rate (and with that numbers constantly rising….).

In fact farmers will have to us 45% more water in 2030, which we’re unlikely to have on hand (based on current availability and increased threat of drought due to climate change). There’s always the possibility of improvements in technology that will continue to increase our yield, despite using the same (or less than the current) amount of land and water – these technological advances are what have helped us in the past. Of course, these advances cost money, which will again cause food prices to go up. So, no matter what happens, food will continue to get more expensive (and may lean more and more towards the GMO-variety). All the more reason to grow your own!

An especially interesting concept in week 6 was the idea of embedded, or virtual, water.

Virtual water is the hidden water that is inherent in every object in human use. For example, ask someone how much water they use with a single cup of coffee and they may answer “8 ounces.” However, you have to take into account the amount of water used in growing the coffee beans, the water used in the production of the coffee maker (not to mention the electricity), the mug, the coffee filter, the spoon, and any transportation used to get those items to you. I had prior knowledge of this concept, but more in terms of energy use. In the end, both water and energy are similar, possibly finite, resources!

The idea isn’t to scare people out of purchasing anything new, just to give a little thought to the question of “what is necessary?” If you’re thinking of replacing that leaky faucet in the name of “saving water,” see if you can first fix it before buying a brand new one. Purchase a fancy, fuel-efficient new car not just so you can brag about your superior environmental consciousness on your blog, but because the old one is not worth the costs (money-wise and water-wise) of repair.

I think a lot of people (including me) are limited in their knowledge of water, watersheds, and issues like pollution and water levels. Some may have heard that hydrofracking contaminates groundwater – but might think only of the mysterious chemicals as the contaminates, not the salt water that is known to be used in the fracking process. A lack of understanding about natural (and governmental) systems may also result in fingers being pointed in the wrong direction, which solves nothing. I was working the TILT booth at the Nature Center’s Autumn Fest this past weekend. An obviously disgruntled woman came over and started grilling me about why “you” don’t do something about fixing the dropping water levels in the St. Lawrence and stopping Montreal from using their dams to affect those levels. At first I thought she might have mistaken me for one of the Save the River girls (since we were sharing a tent) and that she was specifically asking about Plan Bv7, so I identified myself as representing TILT. Without skipping a beat she growled “Well I think it’s something you should do something about. The water levels at my dock are so low and Montreal plans to drop the water by another 6 inches this week, etc etc.” I tried to explain that TILT is a land conservation group (and that the drought this summer played a large part in the current levels), but she would have none of it. Her dock water was low (forget about the rest of the River) and goddammit SOMEONE was gonna fix it for her! I finally just smiled at her and said “oookkkkaaayyyy” in a way that really said “there’s really nothing I can say that will appease you, is there?” Surprisingly, she got the message and slunk off, probably to go peer pressure the little old ladies at the Redwood food pantry booth to plan a midnight stealth attack on the dams in Montreal.

Knowledge is power. The more you arm yourself with, the more informed decisions you can make. Not to mention, the more others will listen to you and pay attention to your cause. If you know what you’re talking about, it shows. The more I muscle through this difficult class (only 2 weeks to go!), the more empowered I feel. I don’t plan on changing the world, just my small corner of it.



Painting is The Corn Harvest by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (one of my favorite artists)


One thought on “Green 101: Intro to Sustainability Week 6 – Agriculture & Water

  1. I had never heard the term “Green Revolution” before and read about it on Wikipedia. Now, I too, am more knowledgeable. Thanks!

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