Monday, June 4, 2012
HOW MUCH MORE CAN WE TAKE?
Since the loss of our dog Brie, we have had a bit of emptiness around our place. So, we decided to introduce a bit of chaos back into our lives in the form of two puppies. Whew, what a hand full. We have concluded it is much easier to house break one pup, and not so easy to train two at the same time.
Every day, when I scan through multiple news sites and commentaries I am again impressed with our capacity to endure an every increasing amount of problems that keep arising. Chief among these problems is the energy supply in the form of hydrocarbons.
Even though I talk of it frequently, I still, at times, feel that I do not have a real handle on the energy problems and their full implication. It sure enough appears to me that most of the easily accessible hydrocarbons have been extracted. While improved technology has so far supported more expensive extraction processes, there will still be a limit. There is always a limit. Exactly where that limit will be and it’s impact is under intense debate. The abiotic oil folks are adamant about limitless oil availability and yet are not able to answer what appears to me as crucial questions concerning its extraction if abiotic production is indeed a fact, which appears to me to be a tenuous platform to begin with. I read that there is limitless oil being produced all the time from deep in the core of the earth. If this is true, then how come the earth is not covered with oil at its surface? After all, this process has been going on for how long? After millions of years, it would sure seem to me that all that migrating oil toward the surface should be really the dominating liquid of the planet and that is obviously not true. So, even if abiotic oil is a fact, it also appears to me that it also has a limit and its replenishment rate is rather slow, like millennium slow. So, they talk about drilling 5-10-15 miles beneath the surface to tap those pools. That is a very expensive endeavor and despite advancing technology for well drilling, will increase the cost of extraction.
The folks ginning up the oil sands and oil shale extraction don’t seem to recognize that there is an energy-in energy-out ratio that is nearly at par. Even with advances of the technical problems with this extraction, we would have to make some pretty wild leaps in technology to make it economically viable. Without government subsidization of the energy sector, sand and shale extraction is a totally losing endeavor from an economic standpoint. The same can be said about off shore drilling. This of course does not include the extreme environmental degradation from these sources.
It sure appears to me that the data indicates that conventional production of oil is declining. Drilling more holes and extracting more liquid crude has just about had its day. Those big pools of oil are becoming less productive year over year, indicating that the pools are running dry, or at least of low enough extraction as to be non profitable.
If my assertions are any where near reality, our society is living in an extreme position of denial. Somewhere down the time road, total energy extraction will become untenable, costing more in energy extraction than can be realized in benefit.
The implications of this, I think, are enormous. Food production is the final setting for oil depletion. We have numerous examples of attempts at reducing the use of hydrocarbons in producing food. I recently had an interesting web site sent to me.
This 40 minute film is an British farmer’s explorations into the use of hydrocarbons to produce food from a permaculture standpoint. Toward the end of the film, they briefly explore what food production would look like without the use of hydrocarbons. That is, back to pre 1900’s farming. It is labor intensive to say the least and the film points out that the farming community is ill prepared to go back to animal power to produce food. And this does not even touch on how to put up a distribution system for the food produced with no, or very limited, hydrocarbons. The film asserts that with very different concepts of farming, that it is possible to feed 10 people per acre. That means that for the population of the US, it would take 35 million acres of this methodology to feed the present population if we all went primarily to vegetarianism and very little meat products. Here is some interesting data http://www.westernwatersheds.org/watmess/watmess_2002/2002html_summer/article6.htm
This site asserts that there is only 349 million acres that is planted in crops and most of that is to produce feed for meat production.
The next question I ask is how much of that land could produce food with vastly reduced use of hydrocarbons? Actually, very little of it. Most of the land used for agriculture has been literally killed for biodiversity and non-hydrocarbon farming and this is the result of factory farming and monoculture farming, GMO crops along with government subsidies. And this does not even start to address the quality of food produced by these methods. It also does not address the irrigation aspect and how water is also becoming a big problem. Along with climate changes and some real dire predictions on how that is going to change food production we have a very serious problem that is not being addressed.
In other words, we have a food crisis staring us in the face somewhere down the road. And this is just our country and the crisis is even worse for other countries that are being drastically affected by climate changes. It appears to me that the production of food to feed populations might possibly become a very real problem before long. It already is showing some cracks and I expect them to get worse.
Of course, we can expect that the solutions that will be advanced will be more of the same practices but on an even larger scale, which appear to me to be self-defeating and will end badly. That is, large population die-off simply due to non-availability of food, and/or food that is so adulterated as to cause premature deaths of much of our population.
I would suppose that with enough time, humans might very well be able to physiologically adapt to this food adulteration, but I suspect there won’t be enough time for that to happen. That kind of adaptability takes rather long lengths of time to accomplish. Even if we had a national policy to begin change over to a more sustainable method of food production right now, the amount of time it would take to make the land viable again would be measured in decades, not even multiple years. A great deal of our farmland has literally been poisoned to death by modern agricultural practices and it will take considerable time to reverse that. I do not see any national inclination to even begin to talk about it. The political hold that big agricultural concerns have on the government is an iron fist at this time.
I expect to see a push to put even more land into factory production of food to be initiated, thus destroying even more whole ecosystems. Even reinstitution of a victory garden on a mass scale is not going to solve this problem. During WWII the victory garden is credited with nearly 40% of the food supply. It would not be enough today if you could sell the concept on a social wide basis. All of the experimenting with organic/alternative/permaculture will not work without a national policy and support, and is not going to make a dent in this problem, and even if it was tried, the fight with big ag businesses would be fierce and protracted. From my perspective and information, any change should have been started many years ago and I don’t see it taking place in any near future.
On a personal basis, the backyard/frontyard production of food is about our only alternative and that has a whole host of problems in and of itself, Zoning laws, being only one obstacle. Land use descriptions are another.
In our area, I have frequently made descriptions concerning the problem with home based food production; quality of land for growing and climate being the big ones. Another problem that is showing up right now is land contamination with herbicide use. One of our local big time self-sufficiency gardeners has suddenly run up on this big time. Our soil has to have soil amendments, and the most economically means of doing this is animal manure. Herbicides have shown up in her garden and she is strictly an organic gardener. Now our area has a lot of horse folks so there is lots of horse manure available. Problem is, to be able to take your horses to other areas, you have to have certification that your animals are fed weed free hay. In order to have weed free hay, you have to buy or produce hay that is heavily contaminated with herbicides, principally for our area, is Milestone, made by Dow chemical Co. The aminopyrolids (one of the chemicals in the herbicides) taken in by the animal, among other consequences, is excreted in the manure. If that manure is used for soil amendments, it kills broadleaf garden plants, which comprise most of the edible food produced in a garden. Its life span under ideal situations is about 5 years in the soil. Testing for and removal is quite expensive. Soil tests for it run about $250 bucks a whack, although, if you want to take the time and effort, you can determine it for yourself. Plant some seeds in a cup with the suspected soil. When the seeds sprout, and grows above the soil, if the leaves curl up and in, it is probably contaminated with aminopyrolids or even some other chemical soup. The curling of the leaves is the result of interruption of normal hormonal metabolism of the plant, how most of the herbicides work.
All of this does not address the contamination of soil and surface water with aluminum particulates from aerial spraying, that is still being denied by the government and a large amount of the general population as being conspiracy theory. Interesting how Monsanto is applying for GM seed release that is supposedly impervious to aluminum contamination.
I have to conclude that food is going to be the next really big emergency, and probably in our lifetimes. I wish I had some hard answers to this problem but I don’t and the permaculture advocates are only a partial answer and I doubt that we will have enough time to solve this problem before the crisis is upon us anyway. It takes a lot of effort and time to grow your own food needs. Most folks are simply unwilling to go to that amount of effort. We work at it, but we still have to supplement our food from the store. City folks are in a real bind and suburban folks are hindered by regulations. In the more rural areas, land use laws can be a very real impediment. We have them here too. Homeowners associations are also a biggie for stopping individual food production. It is such a complex problem with no real governmental will to alleviate these problems that I become despairing of it being solved. Maybe the reason there is no effort to solve these problems is because there is an agenda to not do so. By appearance alone, I can subscribe to that conspiracy.
All we can do is continue to do the best we can.