Monday, October 23, 2006

Plants With Stomachs - Peak Oil Implications

Feedback that got on a recent presentation of mine has, most unfortuntely, reminded me that the average person does not even a basic understanding of natural plant nutrition. Nor do they understand what soil fertility is, or what affects soil ferility. Most importantly, and this is where it is unfortunate, people generally do not understand the dire implications for our future global food security if we pass peak oil and head down the downslope of oil depletion without first taking strong remedial action to restore soil fertility, most particularly on those soils that have been used for commercial agriculture over this past half century.
How do plants get their nutrition and what nutrition do they need? I am guilty of having thought that was a simple question to which most people would instinctively know the answer. I was so very wrong.
Plants, of course, get their air from the same place we do.... from the atmosphere. But they, of course, do not breath air to get oxygen. They are after the carbon dioxide and after they are finished with they "exhale" oxygen, the direct opposite of ourselves. Does the destruction of the Amazon rain forest affect our global air quality? You bet your ass it does. Does it affect the build-up of greehouse gasses that is contributing so heavilly to global warming? Absolutely. Does it affect the nutritional quality of those plants we grow for food? Most people do not seem to realize that it does. The more carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere the more plants will grow. To so many that is a good thing. The unfortunate reality is that the nutritional content by volume that results from that extra growth is going down steadilly. The other little understood reality is that, just as pure oxygen is toxic to our systems, the higher the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the more injurious it is to many plant species. They have, after all, evolved in an environment with a very tight range of CO2 concentration in the air they breath. When the concentration is outside those limits they can't cope with it any more than we can.
Plants, for the most part, get their water from the soil in which they grow. One of the key properties of naturally fertile soil is its ability to hold water which is then available to the plants growing in it. That water retention facility is a result of organic matter and humus in the soil. It is also a function of size of soil particles and the population of micro-organisms in the soil. Soil depleted of its organic matter and humus, soil where critical micro-organisms have been killed by pesticides and other petrochemicals, loses its ability to retain water. We compensate by irrigating those crops. This further exacerbates the problem by leaching critical nutrients, most particularly minerals, down into the sub-soil, and by building up toxic salts in the top soil that are injurious to both the micro-organisms in the soil but also to the plants grown in it. Those plants, for example, that extract nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil are seriously affected by these toxic salts. The bacteria responsible for building the nodules on the roots of these plants wherein the nitrogen is held are very adversely affected and killed by the build-up of soil salts. No problem. We simply add nitrogenous fertilizer to the soil to make up for the inability of these soil organisms to fix nitrogen from the air. These heavy concentrations of inorganic nitrogen, however, simply make the problem worse over time because neither the soil organisms or the plants can cope with the overload.
Some of the most interesting feedback and discussion I received following my presentationwas about my point that, unlike ourselves and other animals, the mouth, stomach and digestive system of plants is not inside the plant but is, in fact, in the soil in which the plant grows. We eat whole foods which are broken down into discrete nutrients by the bacteria, enzymes, and other micro-organisms contained within our stomach and other parts of our digestive tract. Nutrients enter our bloodstream in pure form after being broken down. For plants all of that activity takes place in the soil. In healthy soil there are millions of these "digestive" micro-organisms for ever cubic inch of soil. A majority of them, in fact, live in a narrow zone surrounding the roots of the plants, and nowhere else. They break down and convert the organic and mineral nutrients in the soil into a form that the the plants can utilize. Pouring on chemical fertilizers is an extremely inefficient way of trying to feed plants. It still requires enzymes and bacteria in the soil to transform the nutrients into a bio-available form and make it available to the plant's roots. A great deal of the fertilizer introduced synthetically never gets taken up by plants. It either builds up to toxic levels in the soil or gets washed away into our rivers and lakes to pollute them. We continue to use more and more artificial fertilizer on commercial agricultural soil every year and yet our crop yields continue to decline. I have seen figures, and I can't validate them, that we are using 33 times as much fertilizer per acre today than just 35 years ago and yet are faced with crop yields of 20% less or worse.
The point in this rant is this. The green revolution championed by Doctor Norman Borlaug, which is based on the use of petrochemicals, irrigation, and high-yield hybridized anf GMO seeds, allowed us to head off a serious human calamity being brought about by overpopulation last century. Through the green revolution global food grain production more than doubled over this past half century. The problem is that the global population increased in the same time by an even greater percentage. Once we pass peak oil and agrcultural petrochemicals become, at first, increasingly expensive and then increaingly unavailable, the artificial fertilty that our use of petrochemicals has allowed will be lost and we will have to return to a dependence on natural soil fertility. The problem then is that the natural soil fertility on which we will then rely does not exist. We have destroyed it over this past half century. It will take at least two decades to restore that natural soil fertility no matter what method we use. With our artificial soil fertility gone and our natural soil fertility decades away, global food production capacity will fall to dramtically low levels. Naturally fertile soil, properly managed, can produce significantly higher polyculture crop yields than chemically dependent monoculture. The only problem is there is so little naturally fertile soil left on which to do it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Presentation at Oct 11 peak oil forum in London On


That's a damn fool thing to say.
Of course peak oil is about the OIL!
But it is about so much more.
The real importance of peak oil, to me, is not about the gasoline to run your car, SUV, van or pick-up, your motor-home, motorcycle, moped, lawn mower, or your power boat, houseboat, ATV, snowmobile, sea-doo or skidoo.
And it's not about fuel for ships, planes, jets, tanks, trains, tractor trailers or heavy equipment.
Despite the fact that it is the highest single usage, our production of the gasoline that runs our cars is only about 40% of our overall oil usage, or about 10% of our overall energy usage.
If we eliminated all personal vehicles and the gasoline to power them, still 20% of America's remaining oil usage (America consumes 25% of all oil used in the world) would have to be satisfied from crude oil imports.
If we replaced every car on the road with an electric car, and limited future production to electric cars, our overall percentage of energy usage for personal transport would increase, not decrease.
Electricity production would have to more than double to power a fleet of electric vehicles equivalent to gasoline powered vehicles on the road today.

If Peak Oil is not about the oil, What is it About?
Suppose you woke up tomorrow morning, picked up the morning newspaper and found yourself staring at a big, bold, red headline which said;
I'm not suggesting there is even a remote possibility of that but.... What would be the biggest impact?
Not being able to get any gas for your car?
Having to forget about that Carribean vacation this winter?
Being twenty blocks from the nearest mall?
That there will be no more HD TVs and you didn't buy one yet?
The biggest single impact of that reality would be F O O D ! !
Think about it;
* No more pesticides to keep insects from destroying our crops,
* No more herbicides to keep aggressive weeds from overrunning our fields and gardens,
* No more fuel for irrigation pumps to water crops to keep them from shrivelling up with the advance of global warming,
* No more fuel to run the tractors and equipment that farmers need to; till the soil; plant crops; weed crops; harvest crops;
* No more fuel to; deliver the crop to the co-op; deliver it from there to a processing plant; process the crop into "food"; refrigerate the food in storage; deliver the food to a distributor; refrigerate it at the distributor; deliver the food in refrigerated containers to your local food store; keep the food refrigerated at your local supermarket; run your car for the trip to the supermarket to buy food; refrigerate that food fresh when you get it home; power your stove and oven to cook that food.

We can ultimately do without cars, without HD TVs, DVD players, CD players, computers, electric woks, microwave ovens, electric fry pans, power lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers, power tools, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
Many people will be convinced that they cannot but eventually, of course, they will have no choice.
B U T . . . . . . . .
You absolutely cannot do without food, without water, without breathable air, and without some protection from the elements.
Those are the basic necessities of life.
The ultimate impact of peak oil is this.
We have, in the last two centuries, made the availability of these essentials of life dependent upon oil and the energy that we derive from it and other fossil fuels.
And upon a global, perpetual growth economic system that is itself dependent upon cheap and plentiful oil and other fossil-fuel-derived energy.
Our food is totally dependent on oil and other fossil fuels from the time the ground is plowed to receive the seed to the cooking of that food in our homes.

The Misplaced Focus of the Peak Oil Debate
It is very difficult to get people's heads out of the gas tank when we talk about peak oil.
If we do not, however, we will not understand the real seriousness that peak oil represents for global human society.
Yes, peak oil will seriously affect the amount of fuel and energy available to run our society.
But let's accept that as a given, move on to the more serious issues.
The continued obsessive focus in the peak oil discussion/debate on the energy aspects of oil is like a drug addict going into a methadone treatment program.
It keeps us focussed on the energy addiction rather than changing our focus to planning and building for a life beyond that addiction.
Methadone is an alternative drug plan for the addict.
In order to continue to feed our oil addiction, or the energy/fuel underpinnings of that addiction, we continue to thrash around for alternative fuels through which we can continue to support our addiction "when the good shit is all gone"!
Because that is what oil is, the most flexible energy-dense fuel we have ever discovered.
Energy being the central focus of the peak oil discussion, in my opinion, turns the average person off hearing or listening to the peak oil message.
In so doing, it keeps them ignorant of the most serious consequences of peak oil and the decline in global oil supply to follow.

More important, keeping the peak oil debate focussed on energy keeps the rules of that debate stacked in favour of the economists and "energy experts" who argue;
* that peak oil forecasts have no validity,
* that peak oil forecasters are a bunch of wing-nuts,
* that we have enough oil left to last for centuries.
Just recently the head of Saudi Aramco claimed that there is enough oil left in the world to last another 140 years. The ex head of Exxon/Mobile recently claimed there is oil enough left to last several centuries.
Perception is reality.
In the mind of John Q. Public, the CEO of Exxon or the head of the USGS or the head of Saudi Aramco or Daniel Yergin of CERA or George W. Bush and Dick Cheney themselves are all considered to be THE Energy Experts,
not Colin Campbell or Ken Deffeyes or Kjiel Aliklett or Jean Lahererre or Jeremy Leggett or Senator Udall or Richard Heinberg, and certainly not me.
There are only a few voices from inside the oil industry that are speaking out honestly about peak oil, people like Matthew Simmons and Ali Samsam Baktiari.
If we keep the peak oil debate focussed on the energy component of oil and other fossil fuels we place ourselves squarely in the position of having to attempt to discredit the cornucopean and socially acceptable opinions of all of these recognized experts in the eyes of the public.
That's not going to happen!
The nucleus of the peak oil debate always has been and always will be, until after it has become reality, on the timing of peak oil.
When will the peak be?
The answer to that question has always been, nobody knows!
We won't know global production has peaked until some time after it happens, and it will still be debated for some time after that.
In 1971 "energy experts" crowed that Hubbert's Peak Oil forecasts were rubbish because America was producing more oil than they ever had before.
And, they would soon find, more than they would ever produce again!
The problem with the timing of peak oil and our response to it, as was clearly outlined in the Hirsch Report that was commissioned by, delivered to and shelved by the U.S. Government, is that it will take us decades to prepare the infrastructure needed for a viable and sustainable post-fossil-fuel society.
It will also take most of the energy available in the remaining global fossil fuel reserves to effect those changes in infrastructure.
If we wait until peak oil is upon is - there are many who argue that it already is - to begin to make these changes and if we attempt to maintain business as usual right to the bitter end, it will indeed be the bitter end.
If the preparation of the infrastructure needed for that future supportable/sustainable society has to compete for energy and other oil-derived materials with a still "driven" global growth economy, there simply will not be enough left to get the job done.
Nor will there be the social, political, business and industrial motivation to concede the need for infrastructure change and divert the fuels needed to sustain that growth economy into projects that are a clear concession that global economic growth is on its last legs.

Carrying Capacity: Global Food is Dependent on Oil
Peak oil is about 6.75 billion human beings dependent for their food and survival on a petrochemical created and supported artificial carrying capacity, about petrochemical dependent global agriculture, about a petrochemical dependent global food distribution system.
Peak Oil is about our ability to feed ourselves.
It is about an estimated non-fossil-fuel-supported "real" global carrying capacity of 1-2 billion people.
It is about how we move food around the world to feed those 6.75 billion people. On any given day there are millions of tons of food products on the move around the world.
It is about grapes and tomatoes in January, ice-cream in July, Canadian bacon and pancakes and maple syrup in New Zealand and New Zealand spring lamb, kiwi fruit, tamarillos and macadamia nuts in Toronto and London, and about the energy use that makes all that happen.
There are no nuclear-powered, solar-powered, wind-powered or hydrogen-powered refrigerated food ships on the high seas.
There are no nuclear-powered or hydrogen-powered 747s flying tomatoes up from Chile in February.
The Oshawa Food Terminal in Toronto doesn't have its own nuclear power plant.

Whether we like it or not, our food production, processing and distribution system is global and it runs on oil, not just for transport but for planting, harvesting, storage and processing.
Our food, the most critical essential of all human life on earth, is dependent on a single finite commodity that is about to become more scarce with every passing year, a resource that will run out some time during the lifespan of our grandchildren or great grandchildren.
Or maybe within the lifespan of our own children.
That the global supply of oil will eventually run out if we continue to consume it is an absolute certainty.
That we will have to learn to live without oil and the other fossil fuels is an absolute certainty.
That the social infrastructure around us will have to change before we run out is an absolute certainty IF we are to mitigate the worst of the impact.
As the old Fram oil filter commercial said, "you can pay me now or you can pay me later but it'll be a lot more expensive later".

Decline in Global Food Production
Peak oil is about a continuing diminishment in our global food production capability and global food security while our population continues to grow.
Over the past ten years there has been a net reduction in the global food grain production.
The global food grain crop has gone down in each of the last three years and will continue to decline because of;
* grain-crop land now being increasingly converted to the more profitable production of ethanol crops,
* grain production increasingly diverted to the feeding of meat animals as global meat consumption per capita increases,
* continuing decrease in available grain-crop land as large tracts of that land are taken out of production due to soil loss, rising soil toxicity, growing salination due to over-irrigation,
* continuing degradation of natural soil fertility due to the overuse of chemical pesticides and herbicides.
According to the UN, over the past several years the global emergency food grain reserves have diminished from a marginal 119 day supply to a sub-critical 57 day supply, and continues to decline because we have produced less grain over the past decade than is being consumed.
With the bulk of the world's grains for export being grown in the northern hemisphere, the bulk of the world's arable land being in the northern hemisphere, the bulk of the global desertification being along the equatorial boundary, and the bulk of the world's grain importing nations being along the equatorial boundary or in the southern hemisphere, when the global grain reserve dips below the critical level of sixty days it is no longer a question of total annual grain production against demand.
The timing of that production and the timing of the demand becomes a critical factor.
Too much of the global demand occurs during the months in which the northern hemisphere is not producing new grains to replace that being consumed.
Already there is a risk, at certain times of the year, that freshly harvested grains combined with grain reserves cannot meet the constant demand
The further the reserve level drops the greater the number of people placed at risk of starvation.
Sufficient global food production will be the most critical and urgent global geopolitical problem over these coming decades.
Food will increasingly become a weapon of war.
Food will increasingly be the biggest lever used in the negotiation of trade agreements between countries and regions.
One of the first changes made in Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion was to flood the country with patented seeds from companies like Monsanto and Cargill and bring in laws under the newly-elected puppet government against the millenia-old practice of seed saving.
The idealist in me believes that control of field crops and the seeds that grow them should not be placed in the hands of multinational corporations,
that the simple change or insertion of some obscure, recessive gene into the genome of a plant should not allow right of access to that plant or seed to be "owned" under patent by any organization.
The idealist in me believes that the right to grow food must remain a universal human right not to be usurped by corporations.
That right will become ever more critical as we pass global peak oil.

Unsupportable/Unsustainable Global Urbanization
Peak oil is about 6.75 billion people increasingly concentrated into severely fossil-fuel dependent, ever-growing, concrete-and-steel urban/suburban enclaves,
each a high-tech, virtual world cut off by concrete, steel and asphalt from the natural world that sustains it,
a world in which the majority of people have never seen the food that they eat growing in the garden or the field.
200 years ago, as we began our move fully into the fossil-fuel age, less than 10% of the human population, or about 75-100 million people, lived in cities, less than a handful of which exceeded 1 million population.
In the last decade we have surpassed 50% urbanization globally or about 3.5 billion.
While our global population has risen about 7 times during these ten generations of the fossil-fuel age our urban concentration has increased forty fold!
At the beginning of the fossil fuel age there were just a few cities over 1 million population. Now there are hundreds, and several over 20 million.
The Golden Horseshoe, a continuous expanse of urbanization stretching around the west end of Lake Ontario from Oshawa to Niagara, is home to nearly eight million people.
There is more concrete and asphalt in the golden horseshoe than in the rest of the province combined.
Imagine, if you will, how a city the size of London will function without oil and other fossil fuels like natural gas and coal......
In my book "Oilephant Down" I included a small segment called "every day" in which I tried to detail the amount of oil-dependent activity that takes place in a city of a million people in a single day.
Most of the feedback I have had on the book mentions that segment and how disturbing it is (most readers being city dwellers) to think of that and the impact on all of that activity as the global oil supply diminishes.
The simple reality is that large cities are neither supportable nor sustainable without oil.
They would not be even with the type of community infrastructure characteristic of pre-industrial society.
Before the fossil fuel age there were, in all of history, fewer cities of one million population than there are in Canada today.
Those cities depended upon large amounts of energy in the form of slave labour, complex irrigation systems, complex road and water transportation arteries, and the growing and organized storage of extensive food crops within the city itself.
There is one other very important difference between large cities before the industrial revolution and those today.
Those cities occupied and grew within horizontal space, usually with integrated food production space growing right along with them.
Our cities today are stacked vertically, concentrated in a density never approached by those ancient cities.
Our open ground between structures has been covered over with concrete or asphalt or converted into manicured lawns.
This adds a level of energy dependence (vertical) that those cities in historical times never had to contend with.

About Soil Fertility
Over the past two centuries we have all but abandoned the discipline of soil science in favour of artificial chemical soil productivity.
We no longer concern ourselves with the biological complexity of soil.
If we want to produce and retain more crop we just dump on more natural-gas-derived artificial fertilizer,
spray the crop with more oil-derived herbicides to keep down the competition from weeds,
spray the crop with more oil-derived pesticides to keep the bugs and other insects away,
and irrigate the crop, using fossil-fuel derived energy, to make up for the lost moisture-holding ability of the sterile soil on which we grow the crops.
For all practical purposes our commercial agricultural soils serve no more purpose than to hold the roots of the plant in place.
I spoke before about estimates that the earth's true carrying capacity without fossil fuel support is 1-2 billion people. Those are not my estimates nor do I particularly agree with them.
On a global basis, as a result of the Green Revolution, the global crop yield has been increased dramatically over this past half century.
Unfortunately, in the same time, the global population has more than doubled.
Yet there are countless examples around the world where crop yields on small plots, without the aid of artificial chemical inputs, have been dramatically higher than those achieved in large scale, chemically-assisted monoculture.
Properly managed with natural organic methods with absolutely no artificial inputs there are many examples where a family of four can produce enough food to support themselves on as little as an acre.
Properly managed and supported the soil has tremendous natural fertility that today's methods of commercial agriculture cannot come near duplicating.
The problem is this.
Our commercial agricultural soil, at least in North America and Europe but probably throughout the world, has been raped of its natural fertility.
If we take away the artificial life-support system that we have those soils on, the patient will die. Those soils have no fertility left.
To understand why, one must understand what natural soil fertility is and how it works. Then one can see how our modern farming methods have destroyed it.
Plants, like ourselves, to survive need clean air to breath, clean water to drink, food to eat, and protection from climatic extremes.
The air they get from the same place as us. One big difference, though.
We animals breath air for the oxygen and then we exhale carbon dioxide.
They breath air for carbon dioxide and then exhale oxygen.
A very nice symbiotic relationship.
The water plants need they get primarilly from the soil in which they grow with some water absorption through the leaves.
That brings us to the food plants need.
Where does that come from? A bag of 23-10-5 (or whatever the numbers are) NPK fertilizer?
Plants get the bulk of their nutrition from the soil. But how?
Do they have little mouths under the ground and physically eat the dirt?
Well, surprisingly, the answer to that is sort of..... yes!
Plants receive their food, and most of their water, through their roots, just like we do through our mouths. There is one major difference, however.
We eat whole foods. Then bacteria, enzymes and other micro- organisms digest and break down those whole foods in our stomach into their component parts of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, starches and sugars, then pass the waste parts through our digestive tract and.... well, never mind the rest.
Plants don't have stomachs, at least not in the same sense as we do, in which to "digest" their food, nor bowels and bladders for disposal of wastes.
In a large sense the plant's stomach is the soil.
The micro-organisms that break down the soil into nutrients in the form the plant can use exist outside the plant, in the soil, many on the outside surfaces of the plant's own roots.
The microorganisms convert, for example, raw minerals in the soil into a bio-available oxide form that plants can utilize. They then make them available to the roots of the plant.
The waste products of that process are expelled by those micro- organism back into the soil.
What nutrients do plants receive from the soil?
Primarilly minerals.
The cells of plants, like all living organisms, are made up of a full spectrum of minerals and other basic elements like hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and so on.
The most important mineral for plants, as for ourselves, is carbon - the basis of life on earth - but most minerals are required, the majority in minute trace amounts.

How have we destroyed soil fertility?
How is natural soil fertility destroyed by modern farming methods?
* First, and most important, critical soil microorganisms are destroyed by pesticides.
* The organic content of the soil, necessary for retaining moisture and for supplying carbon to the plants, is not replaced in the soil with the application of organic matter in the form of manure and compost.
* Vast amounts of living top soil are lost every year through wind erosion and water erosion.
* Tilling and harvesting with heavy equipment form an impermeable hard-pan 6-8 inches below the surface of the soil that blocks the ability of the soil organisms and plant roots to reach nutrients deeper in the soil.
* This hard pan prevents soil organisms from migrating below the frost line for the winter.
* Irrigation leaches critical mineral nutrients out of the top soil down through the hard pan where they are no longer available to plant roots.
* The top soil becomes increasingly toxic with the build up of salts from over irrigation. Each year thousands of acres of farmland in North America are taken out of production because the soil is too toxic to produce crops.
* Constant turning of the shallow top soil destroys the soil humus which binds the soil together, and kills many anaerobic soil microorganisms by exposing them to the air.
* Nutrients extracted from the soil in crop harvesting are exported from the farm and are not replaced except for the NPK in commercial fertilizers.
* Fall tillage brings microorganisms from deeper in the soil up to the surface where they may be killed with the onset of winter.

Rebuilding natural soil fertility
Rebuilding natural soil fertility will require redressing injustices that we heap on the soil, particularly the life-supporting top soil, for that soil to become productive again after we are forced to abandon modern farming practices on the downslope of Hubbert's Peak.
That effort could take several decades.
If we wait until we are forced into it with the decline of our ubiquitous agricultural chemicals we will face a period where the productivity of our soil drops well below both the current level allowed by those agrichemicals and the level of the natural soil fertility that we will have to achieve.
In other words, unfortunately, the longer we wait to start moving toward natural rather than artificial fertility, the greater the risk that the carrying capacity will temporarilly drop below the sustainable level.
Briefly, we need to;
* Repopulate agricultural soils with critical soil microorganisms,
* Break up the impermeable hard-pan below those soils,
* Restore a full-spectrum mineral balance to food producing soils,
* Restrengthen topsoil with adequate organic matter and humus,
* Adopt agricultural practices supporting good soil management,
* Move away from broad-acre monoculture farming practices,
* Implement alternatives to soil-compacting heavy equipment,
* Develop non-chemical methods of pest and weed control,
* Develop aggressive composting schemes to return organic matter to the land from which crops are harvested,
* Revitalize the use of manures and compost to restore fertility and soil organic content,
* Rebuild moisture-holding capability of soil instead of irrigation.

Global Food Distribution: Isolation from Source of Food
Peak oil is about the ever-increasing miles of separation between 6.75 billion human beings and the food upon which they depend for survival.
200 years ago, at the start of the fossil fuel age, people grew the majority of their own food.
What they didn't grow was acquired within five miles of home and was produced by someone they knew by name.
Today, the food on your table has travelled an average of 2500 miles, has been through dozens or perhaps hundreds of pairs of strangers' hands.
You probably do not even know the grocer from whom you buy your food.
Any food produced in an area will only be consumed in that area by chance, and will have travelled at least hundreds of miles from farm to co-op to processor to distribution centre to the local supermarket before it arrives back on local tables.
A critical requirement following peak oil, ideally beginning now, is the relocalization of the food supply.
The food eaten locally should be grown and processed locally.
That's a simple statement but a tremendous geo-political and economic hot potato.
Grocery stores and supermarkets do not acquire their food from local growers and producers.
In fact stores of food chains are generally contractually obligated to NOT acquire their product locally.
And that situation will continue until either public pressure or legislation forces it to change.
And it's not just a local problem. The local municipal government cannot, on its own, take control of and change that situation. They cannot bring in local legislation requiring food stores within their jurisdiction to acquire their product locally. That's not where the control rests.
Much of the control and legislation impacting the ability to relocalize the food supply exists at the provincial level, some at the federal level.
Food is required, generally under provincial legislation, to be channeled through co-ops, inspection agencies and marketing boards.
Even the control of what a farmer can produce is controlled at the provincial level.
It is provincial legislation and regulation that prevents that local farmer from selling his produce locally.
So the process of relocalization of the food supply is going to require an unprecedented degree of cooperation between different levels of government.
That's going to take time, commitment, and a tremendous amount of effort. It's also going to require the visible and vocal public demand for and support of these changes.

Consumerism and Finite Resource Depletion
Peak oil is about a global "consumer" society created by and still extremely dependent upon cheap, energy-intensive fossil fuels.
We have over 300,000 products in our daily lives made from oil or oil derivatives, all of which have travelled an average of 5-6,000 miles before arriving in our homes.
The parts that make up that new Japanese car you buy may have collectively travelled more miles before being assembled than that car will ever travel after you buy it.
We each throw away or discard more reusable materials in a single year than any one of our grandparents would have used in a lifetime.
The products we buy today are a product of "planned onsolescence" designed to be used and usable only until the next model comes out and then to be thrown away and replaced.
That's what consumerism is.
We no longer "use" this planet's vital non-renewable resources.
We "consume" them, use them and throw them away.

Unsustainable Global Growth Economy
Peak oil is about a global economy totally dependent on perpetual growth which is in turn totally dependent on the energy derived from cheap and abundant fossil fuels.
They are no longer cheap or abundant and never will be again.
What multinationals do not achieve in real growth they gain through virtual or apparent growth,
through movement of inventories and capital (for many poor nations over 60% of their foreign trade is inventory transfer out of the country) amongst globally dispersed operations (much of it for tax avoidance),
and through the aquisition of smaller, weaker competitors (very often for the simple purpose of eliminating competition by shutting them down).
Most multinationals are so highly debt-leveraged to support competitive acquisition and merger that they need a minimum of 2% "real" annual sales growth just to service their debt.
Sales gained through acquisition come at the cost of even more debt.
Acquisition is for the appearance of growth for the corporation to be able to attract continued investor cash injection.

National Sovereignty over internal resources
Last, and certaily not least, peak oil is about the ability of a people or a nation to exercise sovereignty over the remainder of its energy and other resources in order to manage and control them in a future of diminishing and eventually depleted energy resources.
We no longer do.
Canada is the only country under the current NAFTA agreement that has abandoned its sovereignty over its own energy resources.
Mexico didn't and the US sure didn't.
And, because of the probable carryover, Canada may be the only country that would do so under the proposed, but fortunately embattled and delayed, FTAA.
Hugo Chavez in Venezuela sure as hell won't, nor Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil nor, probably any other South American or Carribean country.
Paul Celucci, the former US ambassador to Canada has even recently suggested that access to our fresh water resources should be written into the NAFTA agreement.
Peak oil is not about the oil. It is about;
* peak food,
* peak carrying capacity,
* peak technology,
* peak manufacturing,
* peak mobility,
* peak population,
* peak globalization,
* peak water,
* peak civilization,
* peak pollution,
* peak species extinction.
Through the use of the energy density of oil and other fossil fuels we have taken more out of this planet than we ever should have been able to achieve.
Now it is time to see if we can live and survive with the results of our ingenuity.
The issue is not the oil!
The issue is the impact of what we have done with it...... and what we will do without it.
May God be with us. We are going to need all the help we can get.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Peak Oil and Overpasses

I know it is a dangerous game to link every piece of news to peak oil. You will have to forgive me for stepping into this one. Over this past weekend there was a collapse of an overpass in Laval Quebec, a suburb north of Montreal. Two cars were flattened by the collapse killing five people. I was not surprised, have been expecting this sort of event to start occuring on a regular basis. And I expect it to be more so as we pass peak oil and start on the downslope on the other side of Hubbert's Peak.

People often point to the economic collapse of the Great Depression and say we got through that one and we'll get through the next one. Society didn't fall apart. The ubiquitous overpass is one very major difference between now and then. In this past half century the overpass has become as common as overflowing refuse containers on city streets. They are everywhere. I will be journeying to London Ontario in a week and a half and I will be driving under at least a hundred overpasses on that trip.

Canadian highway infrastructure, especially those bridges and overpasses, will be severely tested on the other side of peak oil. And the reasons are fairly simple.

* It is probable that highway maintenance will decline for lack of funds, or privatized off to the lowest bidder.
* Our weather extremes take a tremendous toll on highway infrastructure, that being one of the major reasons for our high maintenance costs. Extremes of temperature constantly expand and contract the bridge structure causing stress fractures in the concrete and even in the rebar.
* Our obsessive overuse of corroding salt on our highways takes a heavy toll, especially on bridges, overpasses, and elevated sections of highways.

If one looks at the chain of events in the Laval overpass collapse you can see these future problems dramatically. Over an hour before the collapse the roads department was called by citizens reporting chunks of concrete falling from the overpass on to the roadway. A roads crew showed up at the site, picked up the chunks of fallen concrete and left (they have since claimed that they were going to request an inspection later). An hour after the picked up those fallen pieces the whole one side of the overpass collapsed. That overpass was only 36 years old and was designed to last for sixty. And this was the second overpass collapse in the same area.

Welcome to peak oil highways.