A Chesapeake Ethic: Sustainability with Technology

Both Wendell Berry in “Renewing Husbandry” and Peter Singer in “A Utilitarian Defense of Animal Liberation” argue that the world needs to completely change the farming industry.  It is argued that animals should be given equal consideration as humans on the farm (Singer) and that farmers need to work with responsible stewardship and move away from the modern methods of maximizing production by returning to the ways of pre-industrial farming (Berry).  The farming process before the industrial revolution was much better for the environment and for the healthiness of the food production process as a whole.  Both Berry and Singer argue that farmers should put for aesthetic value in their food production instead of their current focus on producing faster, fatter, bigger, and cheaper products.  I agree with the notion that this would greatly help the environment as industry has significantly hurt the environment, an example being phosphorous pollution from the increased chicken production (Hardesty), as well as help purify the food industry and make it healthier.  However, I disagree with the idea that farmers should revert to their pre-industrial ways and give equal consideration to animals as humans.  It is unreasonable to expect farmers to not use the vast amount of technology now available today to them to make their jobs easier and maximize their crop and monetary yield.  If we are to fix the vast array of problems associated with the Chesapeake Bay, we need to have a more profound respect for the bay but also for the people.  We need to find a way to build a sustainable farming process while still incorporating the remarkable technology available to everyone today.

As 4th generation Maryland Eastern Shore chicken farmer Jennifer Rhodes said, “If you expect us to give up the technology we use to produce these chickens, you first give up your cell phone” (personal communication, December 3rd, 2015).  The technology available to everyone today allows people to operate at levels never before seen in this world and very few people would voluntarily give that up.  It would be unethical to expect this sort of drastic reform from farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  If we are to save the bay, the conservationist who wants to protect the Chesapeake Bay from pollutants and other environmental issues and the farmer who needs to produce to feed his family need to work together.  Asking farmers to give up their technology and limiting their production and ability to make money creates animosity that cannot exist if we hope to create the desired environment of compromise to fix the bay.  I agree that we need to find a more sustainable method of farming, but reverting back to pre-industrial ways is not the answer.  While farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed should have an ethical responsibility to protect the environment, they should also have an ethical responsibility to feed the meteorically rising population.  To do this, they need to maximize their production capacity and this involves using as much technology as possible.  The world today has a vast array of knowledge and technology that we have never been able to work with before.  Using this, we have the capability to come up with a sustainable and revolutionary solution that incorporates this extraordinary technology.

Reverting back to the preindustrial way of farming and incorporating a method of farming that emphasizes care of the animal and other products would be a fantastic way of improving the environment.  However, there needs to be harmony in society as well as the natural environment to truly create the Chesapeake Bay we all want and forcing farmers to abandon farming methods while limiting their production capacity would threaten this.  An ethical view of the unfortunate situation regarding the Chesapeake Bay that I have developed and we all should consider is that while we need to do everything we can to help return the estuary to its healthy form that provided all animals important ecosystem services, we cannot do so while sacrificing the livelihoods of the people.  We cannot expect farmers to completely change their ways and abandon technology that helps them produce enough to not only feed their family but the seven billion people around the world.  Instead, we can incorporate this technology and use it to create a sustainable ecosystem that helps the species of the bay as well as the people who make a living there.

Works Cited

Berry, W. (2005). “Renewing Husbandry.” Orion Magazine.

Hardesty, M. (2015). Eutrophication [Powerpoint Slides].

Singer, P. (2001). “A Utilitarian Defense of Animal Liberation.” Environmental Ethics.