Monday, November 12, 2007

Diversity, Habitat Mimicry Key to Permaculture

A seeming contradiction for me is that industrial monoculture agriculture, focused on higher and higher profits from greater and greater yields, gives considerably less yields and requires more energy (effort) than biodiverse permaculture. From Biomimicry of native prairie yields more bioenergy than corn ethanol - December 7, 2006 we find that:

Diverse mixtures of plants that mimic the native prairie ecosystem are a better source of biofuels than corn grain ethanol or soybean biodiesel according to a new paper published in the Dec. 8 issue of the journal Science.


... the study "shows that degraded agricultural land planted with highly diverse mixtures of prairie grasses and other flowering plants produces 238 percent more bioenergy on average, than the same land planted with various single prairie plant species, including monocultures of switchgrass." The researchers estimate that the prairie would yield 51 percent more energy per acre than ethanol from corn grown on more fertile land and would require far less energy to grow.


"Fuels made from prairie biomass are 'carbon negative,' which means that producing and using them actually reduces the amount of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere. This is because prairie plants store more carbon in their roots and soil than is released by the fossil fuels needed to grow and convert them into biofuels," explains the University of Minnesota news release. "Using prairie biomass to make fuel would lead to the long-term removal and storage of from 1.2 to 1.8 U.S. tons of carbon dioxide per acre per year. This net removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide could continue for about 100 years, the researchers estimate. In contrast, corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel are 'carbon positive,' meaning they add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, although less than fossil fuels."

Is the problem that we're stuck on always doing things the old way because it "works"? Is it because biodiverse permaculture is not particularly suited to machine harvesting? Is it because current farming is too invested monetarily? We clearly know the consequences of factory monoculture agriculture -- loss of nutrients through topsoil erosion, nutrient "poisoning" of downstream (pun intended) systems, excessive use of petroleum byproducts, and a substantial negative input-to-output energy balance (10 calories of petroleum inputs result in 1 calorie of food energy).

Competition, only the strongest survive might work for capitalism but doesn't work in nature. Cooperation and diversity seems to be a key feature in all abundant, resilient systems.


John Q Public said...

i don't think what you're describing is competition: ADM is not competing with other farms when it lobbies for gubmint subsidies. competition is exactly what works in nature: that's how organisms co-evolve and become stronger, requiring diversity for improvement. calling nature cooperative is something of a misnomer. just as species are interdependent on each other for nourishment, humans also depend on each other in a civil society for their needs.

Dale Asberry said...

It's not a misnomer. Systems where one or more species competes for the same resources (water, trace minerals, etc.) resulted in all species faring worse. In fact, the species that compete the most effectively (such as kudzu) are incredibly invasive and kill off all other species leaving the system essentially barren -- nutrients leaching away in less than a year forcing the competitive species to spread to other areas. Other studies have shown that large overstory trees will take-up water and nutrients in periods of abundance and release them back to the surrounding system in periods of stress! This is achieved by it's neighbors "communicating" through hormones. The point here is that recent scientific advances have proven that "survival of the fittest" within a species might apply, but between species is blatantly incorrect. Survival of the cooperative is far more successful by allowing individual members to conserve and prevent nutrients from leaching.

The side point this blog entry is making is that people will make poor decisions using erroneous beliefs regardless of the obvious proof staring them in the face.

John Q Public said...

kudzu, as an invasive species, has no competition. i would argue that's the problem.

survival of the cooperative (a good phrase to re-use) has been proven time and again among species. cooperation is achieved when species can reward each other for cooperating, creating a symbiotic relationship. trees don't give up water because they're nice. they do it because they either get a benefit from it or they're tricked into it by some slick evolutionary mechanism. when it comes to effecting change, i think we should find a way to make sure we all benefit without ADM-kudzu coming to rule the world.

i think we're agreeing on the the bad, but not on the semantics.