The morality behind sustainability


The concepts of sustainable agriculture, organic agriculture, regenerative agriculture, and alternative agriculture are receiving increasing attention in the academic and popular literature on present trends and future directions of agriculture. Whatever the reasons for this interest, there nevertheless remain differences of opinion concerning what counts as a sustainable agriculture. One of the reasons for these differences is that the moral underpinnings of a policy of sustainability are not clear. By understanding the moral obligatoriness of sustainability, we can come to understand precisely what must be sustained, and by implication, how. This article discusses the arguments that can be advanced for sustaining anything and initially concludes that our obligations to future generations entail sustaining more than just sufficient food production or an adequate resource base. Indeed, a tradition of care and community must underlie whatever agricultural and resource strategies we are to develop under the rubric of sustainability. A consideration of the larger social and environmental system in which agriculture operates and the constraints this system places on agriculture forces us to recognize that sustainability has to do with larger institutional issues, including our ability to incorporate our common morality democratically into our institutions, practices, and technologies.

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