Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sustainability Simplified | Pete and his Apple Tree

SUSTAINABILITY is to seafood what derivatives are to finance ... a confusing, mystical notion that is supposed to be good but not truly understood at any level by the vast majority.

With the aid of seafood buyers, NGO's (non government organizations), media, social networks and just about ever seafood participant in the supply chain, the misinformation surrounding this elusive topic has literally left a word that has lost all meaning. Humans have a tendency to continue to throw information into a pot in the hopes that in the end it will create something clear and faultless that everyone has a "ah hah" moment to when the end result appears. Ever noticed how this never really seems to happen? With sustainability, this is clearly not the case. In the last 5 years, sustainability has gone from a relatively unknown word, to a deal breaker. Literally every large scale organization out there is clamoring to become, "sustainable" or "green". I need to digress here as I am about to shut my computer down as the silliness of the issue at hand dumbfounds me on every level.

To start ....

What is sustainability?

I am not going to give the UN or FAO description of the typical NGO definition that sounds all great and sophisticated that in the end actually further confuses you to the point you simply believe the little logo represents it, I mean if the clever person says so, it must be right ... right?

No ... The buck stops here!

Sustainability, simply put is making sure that the demand today does not outstrip supply so that our children can also consume the good in question. It is not rocket science. Here is an example on how simple this topic is:

Sustainability Simplified take 1

Pete and his Apple tree

Pete lives on an island with an apple tree that produces 30 apples per month he needs to eat 1 apple a day to survive. At this point you are thinking great (Equilibrium: Supply = Demand), Pete can survive no problem by doing nothing but limiting himself to 1 apple per day.

Suddenly Mary is marooned on the island which throws Pete's plans of a perfect existence into disarray. Naturally Pete is upset, but having company is better than sitting alone so he decides that sharing the apples is the right thing to do. BUT a decision is required, what should Mary and Pete do:

1. Eat apples as if nothing has changed and figure it out by day 15?

2. Realize that they will not be enough apples to eat by day fifteen thereby start rationing the apples?

3. After eating the first apple, plant the seeds and grow additional apple trees to continue producing apples so that they may survive and provide for their future children? (That is of course if Mary fancies Pete)

Initially you are thinking, c'mon two people on an island with 1 apple tree ... apple trees don't grow in coastal areas especially on islands. Well here we will evoke an economists favorite two words, Ceteris Paribus, which is the lazy way of saying, "Holding everything else constant". This means only the island, Mary, Pete and the apple tree currently exist, the future is the only unknown here.

You see as much as people don't want to accept it, we are living in a society that is dominated by individuals that adopt option 1 above, as sad as this is, it is the truth. We would rather trawl out every fish we can until we get to day 15, and then "figure it out". To me, the year 2007 was day 15. It was this year that all of a sudden every buyer, NGO, educated derelict came out of the wood work and proposed the planting of another apple tree! All of a sudden, as if they had all received a cold hard slap across the face, they all wanted to become more sustainable ... preserve those things we call natural resources ... apples!

I could go on and on about this, but I am guessing I am losing your attention right about now, so I will end this blog with this .... It is imperative that one looks far beyond the pretty colored lists and the well designed logos and realize that if we are all to survive on this island (Earth), it is not enough to wait for someone else to plant that elusive apple tree. Look at the facts, don't get confused by the misinformation and realize that NGO's really don't have all the answers. For the most part, we are told that in order to feed the worlds population we should continue taking as much as we can from the current stock of apples and hope that the tree produces enough to sustain the growth in the islands population ... I mean we all know how bad farming is right, gosh!

To put things into perspective, on our island (planet Earth) there are around 353,015 Mary's arriving every day (global birth rate) ... that's around 245 Mary's every single second. In a nut shell, the islands (earth) population is growing at a pretty alarming rate. We either create an environment that can sustain such growth or ... well there really is no 'or' now is there! Now go plant an apple tree.


  1. Great post, Jethro. It is so sad that people always seem to wait until it is too late, or close to too late to try to do anything. We are a very shortsighted species. I, myself, am just beginning to understand what is going on in our oceans, and what I can do to do help. I hope it's not too late.

  2. Thanks Charles, yes it is a shame. At least there are people out there that have started to change the way we utilize our natural resources. The problem is that a vast number of these are again using this platform for their own gain, herein is the problem we are seeing the ecolabeling by NGO's and the like etc.

    Anyway, thanks for reading my writeup and posting!

  3. Melissa CarrasquilloAugust 12, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    Great post Jethro! I appreciate your fantastic illustration of how simple the problem truly is and that sustainability is simply a term for resource management. Sustainable seafood is simply one part of the overall problem. The human population is doubling at an alarming rate (353,015 Marys a day? Pete's a lucky guy!), and if we don't figure out how better manage our most crucial resources for survival: food, water, land, energy, transportation, etc; the problem is going to be much bigger than people not being able to enjoy Bluefin on sushi night.