Arnold Kling  

Environment-friendly Farming?

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Jonathan Rauch says that agriculture tends to abuse the environment.


The trade-offs are fundamental. Organic farming, for example, uses no artificial fertilizer, but it does use a lot of manure, which can pollute water and contaminate food. Traditional farmers may use less herbicide, but they also do more ploughing, with all the ensuing environmental complications. Low-input agriculture uses fewer chemicals but more land. The point is not that farming is an environmental crime—it is not—but that there is no escaping the pressure it puts on the planet.

He argues that genetically modified crops can reduce the environmental costs of farming. However, he cautions that many environmentalists are also hostile to genetic engineering.

For Discussion. Which trends in technology are likely to reduce environmental risks and which trends are likely to increase those risks?


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
David Thomson writes:

“Which trends in technology are likely to reduce environmental risks and which trends are likely to increase those risks?”

A far more important question revolves around how much risk should we embrace. The radical environmentalists argue that just about any new technological advance may bring about Armageddon. Even the slightest risk, therefore, must be categorically rejected. Obviously, such a premise would for all practical purposes send us back to living in caves!

We must devise social policies that prudently decide on the risks we are willing to endure. A risk free society is intrinsically impossible. It’s merely a matter where we wish to draw the line. Those advocating polices premised upon junk science must be marginalized. We should pay serious attention only to adults. 

Matt Young writes:

The best measure for environment damage is price. The greater something costs, the more resources will be used in its production and sale.

Econ 101 should be a required course for environmentalists if it is not already. They will make the claim that even though something costs more, it will reduce environment cost. Not so.

dsquared writes:

Matt: But environmental questions usually suffer from a very serious problem of missing markets. Future generations cannot make contracts with us, so their preferences about the rate of extraction don't figure in the market price.

Eric Krieg writes:

Does anyone think that the precautionary principle is economically, logically, or scientifically valid?

Lawrance George Lux writes:

Organic farming does not fully utilize the land, though technological farming provides overuse of the land. It is the traditional argument of 'less now for more later'. The trouble arises in the fact We cannot accept less now for later. Farming will have to turn Organic without losing Supply needs. The solution sounds horrid in the modern world, but will require the return of Farming to a labor-intensive industry; something on the order of Japanese farming. lgl

Eric Krieg writes:

Whenever I go to Asia, I am amazed at the blatant misuse of land for farming. No joke, within the CITY LIMITS of Seoul, a city of 25 million and one of the most crowded on earth, is land used for farming. When you fly into Nakita airport in Tokyo, you see nothing but farmland and a golf course or two.

Increasing farm productivity through "unsustainable" methods like chemicals and biotechnology is actually more environmentally friendly becuase it frees up land for other uses. In Seoul, I would think that the land could be used to decrease housing density. In America or other rich countries, it can be used for conservation purposes, which is certainly a more ecologically sound use than an organic farm.

dsquared writes:

>>Does anyone think that the precautionary principle is economically, logically, or scientifically valid?

Hippocrates?

Stephen Karlson writes:

Future generations may not be able to make contracts with people currently living, but people currently living can see interest rates and allocate resources accordingly. If the price of a nonrenewable resource is growing at a rate in excess of the interest rate that's a powerful incentive to develop a substitute.

Eric Krieg writes:

>>Hippocrates?

Good answer.

Doctor's don't even take the Hippocratic Oath anymore.

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