Since the Peak Oil people have managed to scare the begeezus out of the whole world. I though that it was time to engage in a meditation on the Relationship between Food and Energy. Having sat through similar meditations on Religion and Energy Conservation (18 posts) and Energy Policy and the Presidential Candidates (17 posts) I can assure you this will not take more than 3 or 4 posts and will probably include Weird Bird Friday.
But let’s start with Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Delimma and a film, King Corn, by Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, to take an initial pass at the problem.
But before we do let’s do a little thought experiment because King Corn and the Omnivore’s Dilemma both ultimately fail in what they hope to accomplish. In fact, I think that the high price of oil right now is being manipulated by the producers, the futures market and the refiners and it will come down. But as I have said to the Peak Oil people all along, we are maybe at the “oil Plateau”, but we are not at the “decline” part of the curve. It WILL COME. Thus, it is good to think about the situation to see what may happen.
As an aside here for another second. I have actually thought about farming for alot of my life because I believe that the world is warming because of our release of greenhouse gases, and that warming will destabalize our weather. That in effect would disrupt the farmers and thus the food supply. Under the “Peak Oil” senario what would happen is that all of the energy inputs into our industrial linear monocultural food chain would be withdrawn. This means no fertilizers, and no transportation for the food grown. Or maybe foods that can travel less distances. But eventually this would leaves us with no fuel to drive the tractors to plant the seeds and a loss of refrigeration. Or at least the type of refrigeration we are used to. If you believe their worst case senarios this could happen rather quickly. Think, as one of their leading bloggers recently said, about the impact of gasoline that costs 100$$ a gallon. I live about 6 or 7 miles from Springfield and I can tell you I would be walking to town at that point.
Still would we all die? If you mean ALL as Humanity, yes many of us would die if the worldwide food chain were disrupted. But think about it in another way, food would become trapped in the producing and exporting nations. So those countries would be awash in the foods that they produce. As we have seen in this last round of oil price increases the poorer countries of the world would face food riots, mass starvation, disease and death. In a moral cataclysm, the question for the 3rd world would be what to do with the bodies. Burying them would be dumb, burning them even worse…but should we recycle dead humans? Maybe we need to think about that.
In much of the world and even in parts of the third world what would happen is that we all would have to become hunters and gathers again. I am not saying that lives would not be lost, and that tremendous tumult would not result but at least initially we all would have to become small plot croppers like we did during WWII. When I mention Victory Gardens to the PO (peak oil) folks they go ballistic. They jump up and down and shout, “It’s the population stupid.”
So if the ALL in We Are All Going To Die is we folks in the US of A then let’s look at it. In 1940 there were 133 million people in the US, now there are roughly 280 million people. So a simple analysis could say that 150 million people here would die. That is to die back to the point where Victory Gardens were effective. But I have my doubts about that. Looking at the worst disaster to hit this country, the Flu Pandemic of 1918 the US suffered a net loss of population of 60 thousand people. That was .06% of the population.
I also am intellectually opposed to “science fiction” posturings where the rich rule the world and the poor eat Solent Green. Nonetheless I am not naïve enough to assume that millions won’t die here. The Pandemic actually wiped out a birth rate producing 1.5 million people a year before it “went negative”. Would we survive as a capitalist democracy? That is a much bigger question. It would be imperative in that first farming year that fuel prices spiked that every scrap of food grown is preserved. Capitalists might not be willing to pay the cost of that. Would many of us end up eating field corn or something made out of it. Heck yes. Would our livestock have to get by on grass? Oh yah. Would the megacities empty. I don’t know, but again the problem is corporate land ownership. That land would have to be expropriated to put small producers on it. Is democracy up for the test? It may have no choice.
Would I survive as a country boy living in the middle of Illinois? Yes, I believe I would. Country Boys Will Survive. God, I have always wanted to say that.