Kianna Marquez: It’s time for sustainable agriculture

Thursday, October 17, 2019 - 9:39am

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Following the recent climate strike that took place on campus last month, I have been thinking a lot about how I show my concern for the future of our environment. I was proud of myself for participating in an event that only resembled a microcosm of a greater movement and a period in our lives that will become a distinguished part of our history. Even through that sense of pride, I realized that this one event doesn’t represent my entire lifestyle. I should be creating more habits to cultivate my own consciousness about the quality of our environment. How can I truly care about our future when I continue to practice a lifestyle that is leading to its destruction? With that being said, I think it’s time that all of us — myself included — begin to uphold an environmentally-conscious mindset that starts with sustainable agriculture.

Among the many aspects of our daily habits that contribute to climate change, our nutrition and appetite are major ones. While admittedly a habitual and unconscious decision, the simple choice of consuming meat or not consuming meat has become one of the most important debates influencing the future of the food industry today. Not only has the food industry been where this matter becomes important, but it has expanded to the public health sector, the environmental sector and the agricultural sector. Donald Scavia, University of Michigan professor emeritus of environment and sustainability, reflected in a recent article on the way many of our current diets contribute to the gradual destruction of our surrounding environment. 

For instance, it’s logical to connect the increase in algal blooms in Michigan and throughout the country with the strain our diets put on agriculture. As we contribute to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases, we also contribute to these destructive algal blooms by allowing surface runoff to contain contaminants such as fertilizers and pesticides. Surface runoff poses a threat because an increase in the amount of nutrients present in a body of water, coupled with the increasing temperatures of those waters, festers large amounts of algal growth. Thus, it appears that the quality of our water resources has been hindered both by our demand for mass agriculture and by our other actions heating our planet, which are aspects of our lives that we can control.

In an unintentional and almost oblivious way, our agricultural practices are leading to the destruction of the resource that best serves them and are jeopardizing the functionality of the industry as a result. At this point, it’s imperative to speculate how we can allow the agriculture industry to sustain itself and realize that it’s going to require drastic measures of change for self-sustained, deferential agriculture to be possible. Despite the challenges that will surface in this effort, we should be aiming to continue our mentality of being able to provide for ourselves as a civilization through agriculture, but only if we make the alterations necessary to make it a sustainable and conscious process.

In an effort to promote the action of government and businesses to make agriculture sustainable, Scavia comments on reducing several components of the food industry system and implementing other techniques that reduce the effects of contaminants in our natural settings. For one, reducing the necessity for industrial-scale corn production would eliminate the extent that corn production contributes to nutrient pollution. In addition, reducing meat consumption would reduce the demand for corn production, again limiting the effects our actions have on the environment by controlling sources of nutrient pollution. Similarly, implementing a two-stage drainage ditch in the topography of agricultural areas would allow for the shape of the land to naturally capture nutrients without dispensing them into the groundwater during heavy rainfall periods. Thus, we should expect that the quality of our water resources can be salvaged in part by altering the demand for several types of infrastructure and all aspects of our lives and our society that we are able to influence and control. 

As Scavia concludes, it’s more surprising that little to no action has taken place to mitigate industry’s negative impacts on our environment than the fact that our environment is suffering as a result. Perhaps we aren’t able to contribute immediate change to the policies and laws we live by, but we have to realize that our social lives and habits today have been sculpted by the reaches of corporate influences since the beginning of the Industrial Age. We have the opportunity to influence the companies and the products that serve us. Therefore, to show them that we are truly concerned about sustainable practices, it’s crucial that we support shifting toward agricultural sustainability by reducing our interest in degrading processes and demand corporations become the primary proponents in creating institutional change.

 

Kianna Marquez can be reached at kmarquez@umich.edu.