Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Organic =/= Sustainable

I cringe every time I read someone call organic cotton sustainable.  It uses so much more land and water.  Natural dyes can double the amount of land required to produce fabric.

I know that I can never convert the die-hard purists, but they are probably not reading this blog anyway.

Technology Review (MIT's Alumni magazine) sums up the current state of our knowledge, Sorry—organic farming is actually worse for climate change.
Organic practices can reduce climate pollution produced directly from farming – which would be fantastic if they didn’t also require more land to produce the same amount of food.

Clearing additional grasslands or forests to grow enough food to make up for that difference would release far more greenhouse gas than the practices initially reduce, a new study in Nature Communications finds.
I've written ad nauseum about how organic cotton uses more water, which is scarce in many of the arid regions where the highest quality cotton is grown, like in my home region of the US Southwest.  Irrigation with groundwater has left the soil so salty that crops can not grow. 

(Alfalfa is grown in the desert because it will tolerate salty soil and water.)

Genetically modified cotton grows with half the water as organic cotton, and it can tolerate salty soil.  You can use the organic practices of crop rotation, cover crops and compost/manure and combine it with technology in a responsible way. 

For instance, GMO Bt cotton manufactures its own protection against cotton borers and bollworms.  In fact, the higher the salt content of the soil, the more pesticides the plant produces.  Bt cotton is sold with and without resistance to Round-up.  Most of the seeds are sold with resistance to both, but that doesn't mean farmers are spraying Round-up willy nilly.

Most farmers are smart enough not to spray chemicals that they don't need.  If weeds are not a problem in that field in that year, then they won't spray.

Small-scale organic farm are laboratories where farmers can test novel ways to grow crops.  Scientists in labs can also develop and test new crops. Then we can combine the best of both approaches.

I read that only 1% of US-grown cotton is organic, while 15-16% (and climbing) are grown from GMO seeds and unsprayed.  It's sometimes sold as "clean cotton" or "better cotton" and purchased by IKEA and Uniqlo.

I read laments by younger sewists on blogs and Instagram that they are sorry they can't afford to sew with organic fabrics.  That saddens me.  We don't have enough planets for everyone to go fully organic.  But we can blend the best of organic practices with technology for a sustainable future for everyone--not just the rich.

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