[permaculture] Is permaculture easy? (was Peak Oil)
lbsaltzman at aol.com
lbsaltzman at aol.com
Mon Jul 23 14:05:06 EDT 2007
I like this thinking, never discount human ingenuity. Here is another example I give at talks on peak oil. People are worried about what happens when cars go away and we don't have ample public transportation. Well the good news is that the U.S. has built an enormous system of highly engineered, well graded beds for train tracks. Even better these beds go everywhere we need a train to go. These beds are the freeway systems of the U.S. If don't drive cars in the frequency that we do now, it will be easy to convert part of freeways to trains by laying the tracks. Tracks are easy when the hard engineering is already done.
I am a great believer in facing the worse that can happen, but once you have faced it, it is time to move on to solutions, which is what I thought Permaculture was supposed to be about.
Much of these same fears existed when the depression set in. The U.S. army was mobilized in Washington to put down veterans demonstrations out of fear of societal collapse. A forgotten bit of depression era history is that even before the New Deal started, people were spontaniously forming collectives to do anything and everything from haircuts to picking fruit. People were figuring out how to survive, and cooperating to do it.
From: Toby Hemenway <toby at patternliteracy.com>
To: permaculture <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Mon, 23 Jul 2007 10:46 am
Subject: Re: [permaculture] Is permaculture easy? (was Peak Oil)
Toby, there many many scenarios going forward where growing you own food, or
most of it (and trading what you can) is the only way you will get to eat.
here are enormous numbers of doom-and-gloom scenarios based on total
ollapse of all current supply systems, and a far larger number of much
ore positive scenarios. I've written extensively about why I'm not a
oomer, so I won't repeat those arguments here. Much.
In Tommy's area, a progressive city like Austin, the amount of
locally grown food is perhaps 3%-5% (I am being generous). The rest comes
from an average of 1200 miles away and is highly dependant on oil -
regardless of conventional or organic farming.
hy do people behave as though the current situation is permanent and
ased on unchanging circumstances? Forty years ago little food in the
eveloped world traveled more than 200 miles, and sixty years ago
griculture was not at all dependent on oil. For 10,000 years before
960, settlements were ringed with farms, so why focus on an anomaly as
hough it's immutable? Tearing up enough asphalt to make a big garden
akes about a day of work (and, yes, I have done that!).
Today, only 12% of the fossil fuels used in the US go to agriculture,
ncluding food shipment. Since nearly 50% of our fossil fuel use is for
ransportation, and most of that is wasted in gas guzzlers whizzing
round unnecessarily, it is certainly not impossible to shift conserved
etroleum into agriculture as oil gets more expensive. Plus, nearly all
uman and animal manures are wasted; conserving those will reduce oil
se in agriculture (I am aware that much of that manure derives from
etroleum-based foods; but the previous sentence accounts for that).
olutions abound. And for every "yes, but . . ." that someone comes up
ith, I bet I can propose a solution. Problem-solving is humanity's
Most cities are surrounded by rich agricultural soils--that's how they
ot there. When expensive petroleum forces the strip malls out of
usiness, we'll tear up the highways and parking lots and plant food
gain. That might take a year or two to enact, but I don't think people
re so stupid that they'll stare blankly at abandoned land and starve.
y town of Portland, for example, is surrounded by the usual malls and
arking lots, and outside of that are ornamental plant nurseries and
urf and mint farms. How quickly will those experienced farmers convert
o food when oil spikes? Will suburbanites idly starve, or will they
ear up abandoned stores and asphalt to grow food?
Researchers at Cornell determined that the basic caloric requirement for
ochester, NY could be grown within16.5 miles (26 km) of the city
imits, and that food would travel an average of 11 miles to be eaten.
he area required would be 90,000 acres (36,000 hectares). Rochester’s
opulation is 225,000, compared to Portland’s 550,000. Thus Portland’s
inimum caloric foodshed would be 220,000 acres (less than 100,000
ectares). We have vastly more farmland available than that.
The US is still a net exporter of food, so it is fairly immaterial that
heap oil has given us the choice of getting food from other countries.
hat 1200 mile number (more like 1500 on average) is at its peak and
ill only shrink as oil prices rise. As I wrote before, the government
ill do everything in its power to keep food on people's tables,
orgoing schools, health care, retail gasoline, and everything else
efore they let the food system fail. Hungry people topple governments.
I don't see any of these problems as insurmountable. The oil spigot is
ot going to be shut off overnight. We're looking, I think, at the
eginning of the change within 5 years, but we'll have oil as a huge
art of our economy for several decades yet. Obviously, oil has allowed
opulation to grow to unsustainable levels, and they will shrink again,
ut if you know population biology, you know that population crashes are
ue mostly to drops in birth rate and not to disastrous starvation.
utting the Earth's population by 2/3 can take about 80 years with no
ie-off simply by reducing birth rates to what Europe's are now. Why is
t that people can see we've tripled population in 80 years by natural
eproduction, but not that we can shrink it just as naturally? Humans
re perhaps the most adaptable species on Earth, and my bets are with
Has anyone seen the latest grain reserves report? Last year we were down to
some 60 days of consumption or something like that.
rain reserves drop to a very low number in early summer and then go up
o a very high number at harvest time. Food in the ground is not
ounted. Being afraid of those numbers is like looking at your paycheck
nd saying, I only made $800 this week; that won't get me through the
ear. Food production is continuous. Since it takes 60-120 days to grow
crop, having enough grain for 60 days seems like the low end of normal
If one looks at any complex adaptive system, be it human or ecosystem,
t's easy to panic at all the possibilities for it to fail. What we
orget is that there are nearly infinite ways for it to succeed. That's
ow it got to be complex.
ermaculture mailing list
ermaculture at lists.ibiblio.org
ubscribe or unsubscribe here:
AOL now offers free email to everyone. Find out more about what's free from AOL at AOL.com.
More information about the permaculture