The world is not going to suddenly run out of oil, but after the inevitable production peak is reached and the decline in production begins, we will no longer have the cheap, plentiful and reliable supplies on which our modern food production and distribution infrastructure depends. We will then be in a time of resource conflicts when demand is so much higher then supply that prices will be many times more than now and when any oil shock such as middle east war or terrorist attacks on oil installations would cause the diesel tanks to run dry on many farms.
We will then have to realise the true value of the energy in a barrel of oil. Around 50 litres of refined diesel fuel costing about £20 today will do all the cultivation, fertiliser and pesticide application, harvesting, transport and handling on 1 acre of arable land. A few years ago it would have only cost about £5, but is still a bargain for the amount of energy involved. We are, in fact, still in the cheap oil era, but it cannot last forever. Oil is finite and natural depletion of reserves or geo-political events will at some time push us in to the post cheap oil era.
This is bound to be a time of massive disruption unless we prepare in advance. We now use about 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food energy. When the availability of fossil fuel energy per person declines, then so must the availability of food per person if we have no substitute.
In the past, the energy needs of farming and transport were met by using around 25% of the available land to grow food for the horses that provided the power. It has been suggested that we will have to go back to that system, but it would take many years to breed the millions of horses needed and train millions of men to handle them, nor can we afford to lose the amount of land needed to feed them.
But farm machines can run on bio diesel made from crops such as oilseed rape. One acre of rapeseed will yield about 450 litre of bio diesel which is roughly enough to provide fuel for 10 acres. This is much more efficient than feeding horses, but in addition, the seed residue after removing the oil can be used for animal feed and the straw can be burnt to produce electricity .
We would also need to go back to sensible crop rotation with legumes to fix nitrogen as supplies of natural gas based supplies dry up. Careful recycling of other plant nutrients would also be needed.
If we do not start planning for the post cheap oil era now, we have no chance of feeding the 8 billion population expected by 2025 especially as we will also be coping with more droughts and floods caused by global warming.
Yesterday the Goole Times printed an interview with John Gossop, author of www.peakfood.co.uk and Famine in the West.
This is the full article:
Farmer becomes famine author
A farmer from Swinefleet Common has called upon his literary skills to help him in a bid to warn the public that the West could face a famine as a secure future for food provision looks uncertain.
John Gossop (62) is normally known for selling potatoes, carrots and onions by the bag, but recently turned his hand to writing by penning the book Famine in the West, after fears that there could soon be food shortages.
John said: “My book describes how farming became dependent on oil and gas, gives more detail on the many threats to security, and lists the actions I feel need to be taken immediately.
“Lots of people have noticed food prices are rising, but this is nothing compared to what lies ahead.”
According to John, if next year’s harvests are poor (perhaps because of severe drought or other extreme weather) prices are going to rise further, perhaps leading to food shortages even in the West.
“This is because world carry-over stocks are dangerously low and world population is rocketing at a time when oil and gas reserves are falling,” added John.
“Basically we are going to have less energy to make food, but more people to feed.”
John added that most of the land that is suitable is already used for crops of some kind. We are losing 25 million acres of agricultural land each year through the building of new cities, roads and industrial infrastructure, and through desertification and soil erosion.
Many more millions of acres of land that was previously used to grow food is now used to produce renewable fuels such as ethanol or bio diesel.
To order your copy of Famine in the West, priced at £6.49 + £1.49 postage and packing contact 01430 410521. The first two Goole Times readers to quote “Goole Times” when ordering a copy can collect a free four-stone bag of mixed potatoes, carrots and onions from John’s farm and will not pay for the book’s postage.
The killing of Benazir Bhutto should remind us of just how insecure our food supplies are. Our farming systems in the West are dependent on sufficient supplies of oil and gas to power our farm machinery and to make the nitrogen fertiliser and pesticides that give us such high yields. Transport and processing of food is just as dependent on these finite fuels.
Unfortunately, most of the remaining oil is in the middle east and any cut-off of supplies from that region would be a disaster for the west and especially for its food supply system. The US has been trying for years to bring stability to the middle east to ensure that the oil keeps flowing, but the killing of Bhutto makes an insecure future much more likely.
That scenario is that after months or years of turmoil in Pakistan, an anti-west Islamist group, backed by Al-Queda takes control. They would then have nuclear weapons and even the US would not dare to intervene. With this power the Islamists would be in a position to bring about their ambition to establish a Caliphate throughout the middle east and deny the hated Infidels of oil. The resulting chaos would cause a collapse of western economies and of the food supply system.
Speaking in Berlin on Wedensday, Josette Sheeran, head of the UN World food programme, said that rising food prices, a shortfall of stock and the effects of climate change pose a serious triple threat to the world’s poor.
She explained that the price the agency had to pay for its food procurement had shot up in the last 5 years, especially in the last 8 months. She said, “It affects us and our ability to reach people at the same time that the world’s most vulnerable, those making a- dollar- a-day or less, are being priced out of the food market.”
A very important part of her speech was when she said, “We need new strategies to deal with problems that… as of a year ago were not really predicted to be long-term trends, such as the rise in food prices. We now know that experts predict this to be a long-term trend.”
As climate change is one of the main reasons that peak food is imminent, it is disappointing that so many people are still climate change sceptics in spite of overwhelming evidence that warming is happening and is mainly the result of increased concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere due to human activity.
In many cases, people prefer not to know. The consequences of continuing to increase emissions are - for some people - too horrible to contemplate. Becausepossible solutions are difficult to implement, they convince themselves there is no problem.
Most people have gradually become aware of the serious nature of global warming over the past few years, but they have not taken the time to look at the evidence that would convince them completely.