[permaculture] Global Food Supply Near the Breaking Point

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Thu May 18 11:11:31 EDT 2006

Sean has caught the paradox of food neatly. The huge spike in population of
the last half-century is due in large part to the massive inputs of
petroleum into food production (with subsidiary roles played by medicine and
sanitation). Without the injection of oil into food, Earth's population
would have peaked at 2 or 3 billion and then declined as agriculture
continued to exhaust arable land as it inexorably does. Instead we've grown
another 3 billion people with another 3 billion or so on the way. The
"surplus" of food that is not being equally distributed is all due to oil.

It's a dilemma: if we try to "feed the world," by releasing all that grain,
population will simply increase further, followed in a couple of decades by
a colossal die-off of billions when the oil runs out. If we withhold that
oil-based food now, hundreds of millions or more will starve sooner. The
"logical" thing to do is to let the smaller number starve now and avoid a
much more massive humanitarian and ecological (as we pillage the earth in
desperation) disaster in the future. But the moral choice is to keep people
alive: oil-based life support for a terminal population.

Sadly, it's all going to sort itself out as we soon will no longer be able
to use oil to grow food. The choice will be made for us because we have
avoided making it for so long.


On 5/18/06 6:53 AM, "Sean Maley" <semaley at yahoo.com> wrote:

> --- Ethan X <livetrii at yahoo.com> wrote:
>> Global Food Supply Near the Breaking Point
>> Wednesday, May 17 2006 @
>> 10:35 AM PDT
>> Contributed by: arch_stanton
> Neat trick being chicken little and the ostrich at the same time.
> 1st side of coin:  Too many people
> 2nd side of coin:  Not enough food
> 3rd side:
> http://www.ishmael.com/Education/Writings/kentstate.shtml
> There is too much food, which is why there are too many people (Malthus).  The
> poor go hungry
> because the food is locked up (Quinn), unless they have a buddy with the keys
> or are willing to
> toil away in the metaphorical fields for 60hr/week/person (George).  I'm sure
> the first
> agriculturalists toiled away so hard in their fields that they must of felt
> like they "owned" it.
> With the surplus finally achieved, they must have felt strongly about
> protecting it.  As the soil
> quality declined, they must have felt compelled to find more land to meet the
> demands of their
> growing population.
> So here we are, no more good land to swipe from the natives.  Now that's a
> fine mess we got
> ourselves into.  Oh yeah, the person holding the key (government) to the food
> storage must have an
> unfair advantage in this economics game that leaves the rest of us toiling
> away in the fields.
> Then again, the people who own the fields must have it good, too, albeit in a
> relative sense. 
> However, Hamiltonian economic policy left us with large corporations owning
> the government
> ("Arator" by John Taylor), which was also a neat trick.
> -Sean.
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