Sustainability Plus

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More and more this word is popping up in public discourse. It was used frequently in state-of-the-state addresses earlier this year as governors from one end of this country to the other bleakly laid out the choices that must be made to balance seriously strained budgets.

No longer is the word applied only to the environment. Governors now speak of sustainability to underscore in these lean times how effective stewardship must encompass all facets of how we live and work.

All of us are being called to follow through with the environmental, economic and lifestyle changes that these lean times require — to live and work in ways that address present-day needs without eroding the ability of future generations to meeting their needs.

The challenges are daunting and the stakes are high.

Cooperative Extension professionals are already intimately involved in efforts to help America meet these challenges.

We are helping farmers adopt new technologies that will equip them to feed an estimated 9 billion people by mid-century with less cropland and in the midst of spiking fuel and fertilizer costs, even as they are being pressed to develop production systems that are safer, greener and that emphasize organically- and locally-grown foods.

Tightening budgetary constraints on the U.S. healthcare system will force even greater emphasis on preventive health maintenance. We are working with the growing number of obese Americans to provide ways to manage this condition as well as to safeguard against the chronic diseases that typically accompany obesity: hypertension and type-2 diabetes.

Meanwhile, we are working with communities struggling to develop sustainable growth strategies for housing, transportation, emissions control and energy efficiency.

Yet, in the midst of this crisis, Extension is dealing with one of its own.

A Full Year Continuing Resolution on the House floor this week would cut $217 million (16 percent) in critical food, agriculture and natural resources research, extension, and educational programs and operating budgets during the remaining 7 months of the 2011 fiscal year — more than 1.5 times greater than the 10.3 percent cut proposed in overall non-defense discretionary spending.

The programs singled out for the deepest cuts relate directly to Cooperative Extension.

The Smith-Lever program, which supports nationwide Extension efforts, would be cut by almost $30 million — a reduction that would seriously undercut efforts to transform the American agricultural sector in this critical time in history and to ensure that more Americans eat healthy, nutritious foods.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Food and Food Research Initiative would be cut by almost $45 million, which would drastically scale back the competitive grants that support critical research efforts aimed at securing healthier, more sustainable food production systems.

Ironically, as government searches for cost-effective solutions, these reductions pose a dire threat to our ongoing efforts to show Americans how to meet some of the most critical challenges in our history.

These lean times are calling on new domestic policy approaches. In a sharp departure from previous decades, all levels of government are challenging Americans to address change directly rather than waiting for things to happen — self-empowerment by any other name.

Extension is uniquely equipped with the skill set to meet these new policy requirements, to provide Americans with critical tools for self-empowerment.

We have a charge to keep in this age of austerity, not only in demonstrating the value of recycling and adopting greener production systems but also in showing how sustainable principles relate to every aspect of our lives.

Extension people are passionate about our critical role in helping Americans through these lean times.

If you agree that sustaining Extension's ability to help you and your neighbors is important, contact your congressional member and ask him or her to restore this critical funding.