Monday, November 26, 2007

What will we eat when the oil runs out?

What will we eat when the oil runs out? That was the question posed by Richard Heinberg at the Soil Association Lady Eve Balfour Memorial lecture held at Westminster Central Hall on Thursday night. Marm' and I decided to chew it over.

Richard Heinberg set out 4 simultaneous dilemmas that we face:
1. higher oil prices with knock-on effect on input and output transport of foodstuffs;
2. increasing demand for bio-fuels thus replacing food for fuel production;
3. extreme climate change events;
4. degredation of natural resources, of top soil and water.

All the above exacerbated by increasing population.

Calculations demonstrate that more food will need to be produced in the next 50 years than in last 1000 years combined. Post WW2, the introduction of herbicides, petro-chemical pesticides brought better living conditions through chemistry - but at a high environmental cost that was only appparent later. Ironically, this era of food expansion was called the Green Revolution. But it was, as we now know a double edged sword. A tripling of food production increased the human carrying capacity, and so we go forth and multiply ever more.

Now we are facing increasing food prices and urban poor will be impacted the most by our modern day dilemmas. Modern agriculture is highly centralised and therefore more vulnerable to disruption. Quite literally, the seams are fit to burst.

Dramatic economic transformation is needed, so says Heinberg. Transition is needed at forced pace with a dramatic increase in local food sufficiency. The government must support return to agricultural life and land reform - look to Cuba: active lobbying of agronomist was crucial.
The primary solution Heinberg proposes is a planned rapid reduction of fossil fuel used for the production of food and the organic movement to provide the necessary framework to guide and lead.

We need to introduce draft animals, oxen are an ideal choice - they do not compete with humans. Not so far fetched: some french towns are introducing horsepower again for local deliveries

Richard Heinberg puts peak oil supply crunch at 2012, with global coal peaking at 2017 - 2020. David Rutledge of Caltech suggests a similar timescale. These two are the best of the American thinkers on the subject - what they say is worthwhile considering seriously. Heinberg is an optimist: we can do it if we start now and we have to start with the organic movement. Time to start growing our own veg.

Richard Heinberg
Podcast: Lady Eve Lecture
For Dave Rutledge's most recent talk on why energy efficiency is not the answer, but reduction of fossil fuels is see: Hubbert's Peak, The Coal Question and Climate Change

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