Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food, and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture Paperback – Oct 1 2006
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The miracle of the Green Revolution was made possible by cheap fossil fuels to supply crops with artificial fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation. Estimates of the net energy balance of agriculture in the US show that ten calories of hydrocarbon energy are required to produce one calorie of food. Such an imbalance cannot continue in a world of diminishing hydrocarbon resources.
Eating Fossil Fuels examines the interlinked crises of energy and agriculture and highlights some startling findings:
- The world-wide expansion of agriculture has appropriated fully 40% of the photosynthetic capability of this planet.
- The Green Revolution provided abundant food sources for many, resulting in a population explosion well in excess of the planet's carrying capacity.
- Studies suggest that without fossil fuel based agriculture, the US could only sustain about two thirds of its present population. For the planet as a whole, the sustainable number is estimated to be about two billion.
Concluding that the effect of energy depletion will be disastrous without a transition to a sustainable, relocalized agriculture, the book draws on the experiences of North Korea and Cuba to demonstrate stories of failure and success in the transition to non-hydrocarbon-based agriculture. It urges strong grassroots activism for sustainable, localized agriculture and a natural shrinking of the world's population.(2006-05-01)
About the Author
Dale Allen Pfeiffer is a novelist, freelance journalist and geologist who has been writing about energy depletion for a decade. The author of The End of the Oil Age, he is also widely known for his web project: survivingpeakoil.com.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Do we have time to correct this, as a move to a sustainable food production system would allow? Pfeiffer writes to this question to some length, the jury is still out on it. He does write that most oil experts expect about a two percent decline per year of oil after peak oil hits, that would allow a transition, however rough, to a more energy efficient food production infrastructure. Pfeiffer gives the example of North Korea, where many have starved after their oil supply was mostly cut off after the Soviet Union collapsed, very poor planning there, then gives the example of Cuba, which also lost most of it's supply of Soviet oil, and how they successfully overcame that and converted to a sustainable agriculture system. North Korea and Cuba remain exceptions, Pfeiffer writes, as they abruptly lost most of their oil stream. The rest of the world will face a more gradual decline (my guess, sometime between now and 2025 peak oil will hit). Anyway, Pfeiffer writes that production and consumption need to be closer to each other, with local communities and individuals participating in food production. This is obviously a large and difficult problem to solve. There is also discussion in the book about corporations with their special interests which could be a problem to overcome. In the last chapter Pfeiffer describes twelve 'fun' activities if you want to become an activist. Farmers' markets, for example, are a good way to sell local produce to local people, eliminating the middleman, and overall more energy efficient than buying food shipped thousands of miles, Pfeiffer writes. But in reality the marketplace will determine the real winners and losers here, with convenience and quality also considerations, none of this is stressed in the book. Overall, though, Pfeiffer gives readers a great introduction to a subject that will probably get much more attention in the future.
For anyone who reads much about "peak oil" or modern agricultural policy, this will come as no surprise. Pfeiffer's book shines, though, in his discussions of the examples of South Korea and Cuba. It is fascinating to consider the different paths taken by each of these countries during their politically-imposed sudden drop in oil availability.
Pfeiffer goes finishes with a discussion of sustainable agriculture and some ideas for what a concerned activist might do.
On the whole, I learned much from the short, well-written book about an important topic.
Most people think that technology will remedy the situation, but if you read more about energy you will realize the future's precarious situation. Governments in the world need to put an eye on it and start doing energy projects, particularly Nuclear. India must control its population growth also. I have my opinion on Cuba but considering all this is a very informative book.
Spade up those (organic) Victory Gardens, folks, and learn how to provide and preserve at least some of your own food. Support your local food producers. This year. You'll be glad you did.
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