Tuesday, May 31, 2005

agricultural world

Will the word return to its agrarian roots once we've tapped down our pools of oil? In the purest sense, there wouldn't be much choice. People will find ways to eat. Probably more concerning is how such a transition might take place.

Conditioned by disaster movies, it's easy to think first of a sudden calamity that severs our links to oil and technology followed by a grim scenario of death and destruction. But oil supplies will dwindle. It may happen faster or slower but oil will play out gradually over years.

Eating depends on a food supply and eating is central to staying alive. With oil supplies gradually drawing down, the strain on the food supply chain from farm to fork also will increase. Modern commercial agriculture is petroleum dependent and as oil gets more expensive, the system gets more expensive, too.

There certainly is the potential for people, a lot of people, to grow their own food. My small suburban yard could produce a bunch of food if the time was spent to grow, harvest and store crops. We'd be spending our time growing food instead of commuting to jobs that may not be there in the post oil glut age.

There's a Rolling Stone magazine article by James Howard Kunstler called The Long Emergency. If we can set aside some of the obvious doomsday stuff, we should all see the potential.

Still it's the social aspect that has me concerned. Can our social system adjust with out killing each other? If the oil supply dwindles gradually, I'm optimistic enough to think we can make the needed changes. If the oil supply plays out more quickly, a transition is going to be more painful.

I've listened to interviews with Jon Thompson, former president of Exxonmobil. Thompson always stressed energy efficiency and encouraged a national energy policy based on it. Thompson, I thought, was always pretty blunt about oil supplies while managing to stick to the soothing reassurances required of an oil executive.

Leadership is needed badly. And I don't mean someone who thinks they have all the answers. I'm talking about the kind of leadership that can draw together people from the oil company board room to the most strident environmentalists. Leadership would demand dialog and then develop a whole menu of programs to attack energy and food production all across the range of diversity.

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