Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Peak Oil Is Not About The Oil

There is something that is very important for people to get theirheads around. Peak oil is not about the oil, not about gasoline anddiesel and heating oil and jet fuel. It's not about cars, SUVs,vans, trucks, busses, trains, planes or ships.Peak oil is about food and our progressive inability, after we passthe oil peak, to produce enough of it to feed our 6.5 billion globalpopulation. Even now, every day over 40,000 people worldwide die ofstarvation, malnutrition and nutrition related diseases. Each 1%gap between global demand and global supply will increase thosedeaths by 10-25%.Food production in today's world is critically dependent on oil (forpesticides, herbicides, agrichemicals, and agricultural, irrigationand distribution fuels) and natural gas (for artificial fertilizers)and clean water from ever scarcer and shrinking lakes and rivers andever shrinking underground aquifers.A shrinking global food supply is not just a problem for the thirdworld. Everybody has to eat and we in the developed world tend tolike to do that far more than those in the third world.Reversion to organic farming methods not dependent on artificialfertilizers and pesticides will not be as easy as the uninitiatedmay think. Our commercial agricultural land is essentially toxicand sterile through our use of petrochemicals and limited-nutrientartificial fertilizers. Commercial agriculture is essentially anexport business, exporting the nutrients from the soil on which wegrow the crops and never re-importing those nutrients. If theagrichemicals on which commercial agriculture relies were todisappear tomorrow, it is reliably estimated that those samecommercial soils will produce between 5-20% of the crops they dotoday, assuming even then that there is sufficient fresh water toirrigate them. It is estimated that it would take 10-20 years ormore to rebuild the natural fertility of thyose commercial soils.Without those agrichemicals that means a drop of 80-95% in theproductivity of those soils until their natural fertility isrestored.The other key factor, of course, is crop pests. Without oil-derivedpesticides crops will be susceptible to invasion by those pests innumbers possibly never seen before. We have, through our use ofpesticides, helped those pests evolve resistance. Commercialfarmers today use 33 times as much pesticides as just three decadesago and yet lose 25% more of their crop to pests than they didthen. We are already losing the battle against crop pests. Whenthe pesticides are gone we will lose the war. That same use ofpesticides have also prevented our crops from evolving their naturaldefences against pests. Our current crops generally have very lowsurvival potential without those pesticides. All of this, ofcourse, parallels our own weakened immune systems because of theover-use of antibiotics, vaccines and other modern medicines, all ofwhich take over the immune response rather than strengthen theimmune system.In closing, this is the important point. People will notreally "get it" about peak oil until they get their heads away fromworrying about transportation fuels and understand the implicationsfor food in our world of 6.5 billion people.

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