You can stop driving.....

Discussion in 'The big picture' started by Ojo, Oct 2, 2007.

  1. Ojo

    Ojo Junior Member

    Sep 6, 2007
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    but when the eating and drinking stops, things start dying.
    Peak Food is the moment in time when per capita availability of food in the world reaches a maximum and then begins to decline. As world reserve food stocks have now fallen to dangerous levels, and increased prices have failed to push up food production, it seems that Peak Food is here. When reserve stocks disappear, panic and hoarding will clear the shelves, adding to the problem.

    "Then the wells started to slow and before long, they'd nearly gone dry. Abbott had to start hauling water and wound up selling his horses. He worries now about selling so many new homes without assurances that the water will hold out.

    "'When I see my wells going dry, when I see my horse trough going dry, I don't go out and buy more horses,' he said."

    It's a lovely situation, isn't it?

    * Wells going dry
    * The Arizona Department of Water cannot certify there is enough water.
    * Some people in the county already have to pay to have water hauled in.
    * 130,000 homes are approved; water or not, here they come.
    * All officials worry about is losing revenue if growth slows.
    * They are depleting the aquifer day by day and the native plants are dying.

    Peak Water: The Southwest today, the rest of the US tomorrow?
  2. Jim Bob

    Jim Bob Junior Member

    Feb 18, 2006
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    If you have energy, you can get water. If you have fossil fuels, you can boost food production. So talk of peak food means talk of peak gas, oil and coal.

    Peak food will occur about the time peak gas does (not peak oil), but does not need to mean that anyone at all goes hungry. If we stop driving, then we'll stop using biofuels, and so we'll be able to eat.

    Looking at the FAO's food outlook report, we see that

    "World cereal production in 2007 is forecast to reach 2125 million tonnes, up 6 percent from the reduced level in 2006. [...] As a result, world cereal stocks are likely to rise by 10 million tonnes to 413 million tonnes, still a very low level. World trade in cereals in 2007/08 is forecast at 247 million tonnes, down slightly from 2006/07. While the prospect of a strong recovery in global cereal production in 2007 is a positive development for the 2007/08 marketing season, total supplies in the new season would still be barely adequate to meet an anticipated rising demand, not only from the traditional food and feed sectors but in particular from the fast-growing biofuels industry."

    World stocks are rising slightly, not declining; but this rise is under threat because of biofuels production. From 2005 to 2007, diversion of grains to "other use" (mostly biofuels) was 299.8, then 325.4, and is expected to be 358.2 million tonnes this year. So, 16.9% of grain will ths year be diverted to biofuels, which is 54kg per person on the planet, or an amount sufficient to feed 1,900 million people. The threat to food security is at present not fossil fuel depletion, or climate change, but quite simply our Western desire to keep driving our cars. Without the 358.2 million tonnes demand for biofuels, our current world grain stocks of of 403 million tonnes would almost double this year to 761.2 million tonnes.

    That is, world stocks would be at about 1/3 annual production. That's like having four months' income saved up, not bad. You can't have much more than 12 months' supply of grain stored because it does go bad. Absent biofuels, we could build up to 12 months' supply of grain stocks in five years or so.

    The build-up of stocks would be even quicker if we reduced meat consumption. That's even bigger than biofuels, and as China and India become wealthier, just as they want more oil and coal and gas, they want more meat. That's hitting into world grain supplies.

    As I discuss in detail here, absent fossil fuels we can expect to see a 20% decline in world grain production. This 20% decline is only slightly more than the amount we currently divert to biofuels, and far less than that which we divert to livestock.

    So if we reach "peak grain", all we need do is stop producing biofuels, reduce slightly our meat consumption, and no-one will even one gramme less grain to eat. Of course, most likely is that the wealthy West will take up more and more of the grain, so that in the end Bangladeshis suffering flood or Iraqis suffering conflict starve so that we can keep driving our SUVs with biofuels, or the West plus India and China can keep munching on our burgers.

    But it doesn't have to be that way.
  3. Ojo

    Ojo Junior Member

    Sep 6, 2007
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    Worldwide, in six of the past seven years, we consumed more grain than farmers produced. We ve cut supplies in half over that seven-year period, reducing our grain-on-hand from a 115-day supply to a 57-day supply.

    World grain supplies have now fallen to levels not seen since 1973. The problem isn t merely that supplies have returned to record lows, but rather that there is every indication that they will continue falling. The steep, consistent, and unprecedented decline evident over the past seven years indicates not just the vagaries of weather or production cycles, but rather a systemic problem at the core of our food system that, left unchecked, will lead to significant shortages. These shortages have already begun to manifest themselves; they will intensify over the next two to five years.

    GRAIN SUPPLIES HAVE fallen back to 1973 levels; but 2007 is not 1973. In 1973, nearly half of western Canadian cropland was fallow left un-seeded every second year. Now, we seed and harvest nearly every acre every year. In 1973, farmers were using relatively modest amounts of fertilizer and pesticides. Today, farmers around the world are using high-tech seeds, a long menu of pesticides, and mega-tonnes of fertilizer. Since 1973, worldwide use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer has risen dramatically. According to University of Manitoba professor Dr. Vaclav Smil, humans are now producing so much fertilizer that the amount of nitrogen cycling in the biosphere is double pre-industrial levels. Nitrogen fertilizer is made directly from natural gas. In a very real sense, we re turning fossil fuels into food.

    In 1973, we had excess capacity in our food production system. Between 1973 and 1986, we used that capacity to ramp up production (see graph). Today, we have little excess capacity to fall back on. Further, the 1973 grain supply trough was created partly through government policy efforts to curb production, including a paid land set-aside program in Western Canada Operation LIFT. In contrast, our current shortfall comes amid efforts to maximize production.

    In 1973, most countries had yet to encounter water supply limits, and global climate change lay far in our future. Today, both water scarcity and climate change threaten food production.

    In 1973, there were abundant stocks of cod off Canada s Grand Banks, the world s oceans were teaming with fish, and catches were rising. Today, nearly one-third of ocean fisheries have collapsed (declined to less than ten percent of their original yield). That figure is projected to reach two-thirds in just 20 years (see Nature, May 15, 2003). That grim outlook is corroborated by a recent study that projects the collapse of all fish stocks by 2048 (see Science, November 3, 2006) Wild-caught fish tonnage has been declining since the late-1980s; the slack has been taken up by often environmentally damaging fish farming. We re past peak fish.

    In spite of unprecedented and unsustainable efforts to maximize food production through industrial means, we are not keeping up with current levels of consumption. And we have not even begun to take seriously the implications of climate change or energy and water scarcity. On the production side, our current model is in deep trouble.

    A growing population and a static land base

    GLOBAL POPULATION IS INCREASING by 73 million people per year. That s the equivalent of adding the population of North America to the planet every six years. According to UN estimates, we re on track to add six or seven of those North-American-population-equivalents before numbers level off.

    Despite claims of vast uncultivated land in Brazil and elsewhere, cropland additions (often gained at the expense of rainforests, savannahs, and wildlife habitat) are only just keeping up with losses (to erosion, salinization, urbanization, etc.). UN data shows that global arable (cultivated) land area has remained relatively stable over the past decade at 3.46 billion acres. Further, the data shows a slow but consistent decrease in arable acreage since 2001. After centuries of expansion, our cropland base has reached its limit.

    In per-capita terms, however, our land base is quickly shrinking. In part because of rapid population growth, the amount of cropland per person has been falling for decades. In both absolute and per-capita terms, we re past peak land.

    It is critical that we understand the implications of this: for decades we ve skirted the problem of declining per-capita cropland area by injecting increasing amounts of fossil-fuel-derived nitrogen into our soil, making one acre produce as two. Energy depletion and the need to deal with climate change, however, will soon rein in our use of fossil-fuel-derived nitrogen. The magnitude of the challenge this will create cannot be overstated.

    What about prices?

    BEFORE WE TAKE A MORE COMPLEX look at population growth and food consumption, let s look briefly at grain prices and the plight of family farms.

    According to supply and demand theory, when demand exceeds supply, prices should rise. But despite grain demand outstripping supply, prices remain near record lows. When adjusted for inflation, grain prices are at levels comparable to the 1930s.

    In the 52 years between 1933 and 1985, the inflation-adjusted price of wheat never once dipped below seven dollars per bushel. In the 21 years since 1985, however ,the inflation-adjusted price has remained below the seven-dollar mark every year but one. Today, wheat sells for four dollars per bushel; the inflation-adjusted price of wheat in 1973 topped $21 per bushel.

    Similarly, prices for barley, corn, canola, and other grains and oilseeds are half to one-third the normal values of the 1933 to 1985 period.

    Current grain prices don t reflect supply and demand; they reflect, rather, a dramatic power imbalance in the marketplace. Our agri-food chain stretches from oil wells at one end to drive-through restaurants at the other. Every link of that chain is controlled by a few corporate giants; the only exception is the family farm link. Further, every link is characterized by record or near-record profits; the only exception, again, is the family farm link, where farmers are shouldering near-record losses. Market power, not supply and demand, determines prices and profits within the global food chain. For that reason, record low supplies can coexist with record low prices.

    Population and consumption: a more complex picture emerges

    FOOD SUPPLIES ARE SHRINKING AND population is increasing. When thinking about global population, however, the dangerous notion that people in the developing world are becoming too numerous and eating up all our food which will likely gain currency as this problem intensifies must be challenged, for it is both infantile in its oversimplication and inherently racist in its conception. Rather than blame others, we North Americans must look at our own food overconsumption and its significant role in fueling global food insecurity.

    In North America, we grow a lot of corn and soybeans. We consume little of this corn directly. Instead, much of it is fractionated split into starches, oils, and sweeteners. We use those corn sweeteners to produce colas and doughnuts and other food-value-reduced snack foods. Even as we subtract food value by processing, we increase calorie intake. Corn-fed North Americans are ballooning as obesity rates rise. World-wide, the number of overweight people now rivals the number of mal-nourished people.

    The balance of the North American corn crop is fed to pigs and cattle. Estimates vary, but our feedlot-finishing system for beef requires approximately 4.8 kgs of grain protein to produce a kilogram of beef protein. It s not that beef production is inherently bad humans have raised cattle for millennia because grazing cattle can convert grasses and shrubs into human food. The problem with North American cattle production, rather, is our choice to maximize production by feeding grain to cattle rather than letting them graze.

    Pig production is even more inefficient. Because we raise hogs in confined barns, the hogs never graze. It takes approximately 6.9 kgs of high-quality grain protein to produce one kilogram of pork protein.

    Much of the North American barley crop is also fed to animals, as is a significant part of the wheat crop. Nearly half the soybean crop is fed to animals (mostly to chickens), and much of the rest is turned into oils to deep-fry fast foods.

    To this overconsumption, over-processing, and inefficient livestock feeding, we North America are now introducing yet another way to consume the world s food supplies: ethanol and biodiesel. What we can t eat or feed to livestock, we ll pour into our SUVs. Before we point fingers at population growth elsewhere, we should acknowledge that we re consuming food as if we each had three stomachs.

    Towards some solutions

    OVERLY SIMPLISTIC ANALYSES OF THE looming food shortage can lead to wrong-headed, even dangerous, ideas for what to do about it. Our governments and their corporate partners already committed to high-tech, high-input, high-energy-use production systems will be inclined to use any talk of food shortages as a pretext to further rev-up production in developed countries, to use more inputs and fossil energy, to push industrial agriculture to produce still more, and to dump more export grain onto world markets. This approach is not only not a solution it s a giant step in the wrong direction.

    The solution, rather, is to strengthen local food production systems around the world to foster a diversity of food production models, each one tailored to its landscape and region and, for that reason, input and energy efficient. If we are to add an additional three billion people to the global population, as UN estimates suggest we will, then continued production in North America and other developed nations will, of course, be needed. But we must stop forcing this production onto other nations in the name of free trade ; our current export-maximization model only destabilizes and undermines production in other nations.

    As we approach ecological and energy-supply limits, we must concede that our high-input, high-energy-use food production systems are the least efficient in the world. Food can be grown with less energy and fewer greenhouse gas emissions in developing nations using labour- and skill-intensive traditional methods. And local food takes far less energy to transport, refrigerate, distribute, and retail than imported or processed food. With ecological and energy limits now pressing down on us, it would be a disaster to make the world even more dependant on globally transported maximum-energy-use food supplies.

    We also must concede that high-tech, high-input, high-energy-use industrialized agriculture is the least profitable production system in the world. In nearly every country where farmers produce in this way the US, EU, Canada, etc. multi-billion-dollar subsidies are needed to keep farmers on the land. Canadian and US farm subsidies total $50 to $100 per acre. Our input-overdependant farmers are losing money. On the other hand, most peasant farmers, using hoes or draft animals, saving seeds, and using natural fertility processes, are making positive returns. We must stop allowing export production from our money-losing, inefficient food production systems to flood into other nations and critically injure their own highly efficient and profitable production systems.

    Diversity, resilience, energy-efficiency, local self-reliance, justice, and food sovereignty: these are the principles that must guide us as we grapple with multiple food system pathologies. The rapid drawdown of food and energy supplies currently underway mean we must act quickly. ... 05pe02.htm

    and yes it takes energy to produce food, it also takes water.

    Water scarcity already affects every continent and more than 40 percent of the people on our planet. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions. ... index.html

    WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared every Kentucky county a natural disaster area due to the extreme drought, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday.

    The Rural Doctors Association of Australia president, Peter Rischbieth, says as the number of families suffering from the drought rises, the stresses of rural parents are being transferred to their children. ... 048514.htm

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