[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.

-----Original Message-----
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)

Marjory wrote:
 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 
ignature trait.
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 
hat quality.
 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 
o me.
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.
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