The fossil fuels will run out.
"Fossil fuels" are literally fossil remnants of ancient plants. The solar energy that vegetation captured by photosynthesis was slowly transformed by geological processes into coal, oil, and natural gas. The world's fossil fuel supply accumulated over vast eons. After we use up this nonrenewable energy source, it's gone until natural processes create moreover a few hundred million more years. Occasionally, during human history, somebody, someplace on the planet, discovered an outcrop of coal or a pool of tar and also figured out a use for the stuff. This usually involved burning it. Mostly, the fossil fuels were untouched until 1200 AD. Then, the people who lived in Europe's vast, dense forests had a wood-based civilization, but extensive cutting had caused trees to become scarcer, and some folks began to burn coal for fuel.
In the 1500's, Europeans developed a proto-industrial civilization using renewable energies: wind power to operate windmills and sailing ships, and power from flowing river water to operate mills that ground grain into flour. In 1790, a method that had been devised to extract gas from coal was put to practical use; in England, the first gas lights flared to life.
1800's--Back then, all farming was "organic." Generations of experience, a work ethic, locally adapted domesticated plants and animals, and highly developed production technologies made farming, gardening, orcharding, and livestock care maximally efficient. By 1820, farmers were feeding a world population that had grown to one billion. In 1880, 70 percent of the U.S. population was rural. Rural Americans almost all gardened and kept poultry; many also farmed for a living.
In 1859, in the United States, the world's first commercial oil well was drilled. (The nature of an oil well is that it first gushes, then flows, then trickles, and finally stops producing.) Through the remaining 1800's and the early 1900's, most people's needs were still met by pre-petroleum technologies. In 1861, a German, Nikolaus Otto, invented the first gasoline-burning engine. In 1882, Carl Benz invented the automobile, but horses still ruled the roads. Draft horses, mules, and oxen pulled farm equipment and heavy wagons; saddle horses provided quick, individual transport. In 1900, in Britain, the total horse population was still 35 million. In the U.S., a fourth of the nation's cropland was used to grow feed for horses.
1900's--By the 1930's, however, cars had become the favorite travel mode of Americans. Airplanes were on the wayin 1920, the first regular airplane passenger service was scheduledbut on land, the auto ruled. In 1955, 50 million cars were registered; by 1975, over 100 million. New York City was redesigned to accommodate them, wiping out entire neighborhoods. From then on, new urban areas all over the U.S. were laid out by zealous planning and zoning officials who assumed that petro-fueled transportation would always be affordable and available. They made sure that business, industrial, and housing areas were well separatedno problem for a car-loving society driving on cheap fuel.
Oil was easily extracted and easily shipped. It was energy-dense and could be refined into a variety of fuels (kerosene, gasoline, diesel) with a variety of uses (heating, transport, lighting). Or it could be used to make thousands of marketable chemicals and other products such as fabrics, rugs, paint, linoleum, roads, plastics. Oil soon became the preferred fossil fuel over coal and natural gas. We pumped about five percent more oil every year; we used it as fast as it was pumped. Even in the 1920's, some geologists had warned that the fossil fuel deposits would soon be used up. They were ignored, criticized, or denied.
Hubbert's Peak--M. King Hubbert was an oil scientist with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago who taught seven years at Columbia University, then researched twenty-five years for Shell Oil, then years more for the United States Geological Service. Hubbert repeatedly warned that the fossil fuel era would soon be over and urged us to prepare for that inevitable transition. He was ignored, criticized, or denied. In 1956, the United States was the world's largest oil producer, supplying its own and half the world's oil. General Motors was the largest U.S. company, paying high and increasing wages. That year, Congress authorized building an Interstate Highway System. That year, Hubbert predicted (despite efforts by Shell brass to shut him up) that the rate of U.S. oil production in the lower 48 states would eventually look like a bell-shaped curve, and that it would reach its maximum, topmost peak of that curve between 1965 and 1972, thereafter to inexorably drop, year after year. He was ignored, criticized, or deniedbut he was right. In 1970, crude oil production in the lower 48 states peaked at 9 million barrels a day. Since then production has gradually dropped.
Defining "Progress"--The use of fossil fuels transformed American social and economic structure. Change accelerated as Americans increasingly worshipped "progress"intuitively defined as any product or behavior derived from fossil fuel. Since progress began, there has never been a shortage of oil in the U.S. (except for a temporary, artificial shortage created when OPEC, founded in 1960, first flexed its collective muscle in 1973 and stopped exports to us in a quarrel over Israel). We named that energy-lavish economy and its derived technologies "industrialization."
America's political decision-making power once rested in the hands of a multitude of hard-working, independent-minded small farmers, local businessmen, and workers. In the early 1900's, as tractors gradually replaced oxen and draft horses, larger farms became practical. By 1910, so many farmers had sold out and moved to town that only 54 percent of Americans still farmed. Cities grew. By the 1950's, "consumer society" was booming in the U.S. with advertising, brand names, credit, cars (sold on credit, by advertising), packaged/processed foods, and ever more plastic products. Big houses (bought on credit) with big lawns (no garden, no livestock) became desirable. Waterborne sewage management was the new rule; outhouses became disgusting. For most people, life was now unimaginable without progress. Evidence of success, even respectability, was now achieved by displays of lavish fossil fuel consumption.
Green Revolution--In the 1960's,the "green revolution" arrivedincreased agricultural production by means of motorized farm equipment, artificial fertilizer (made from natural gas), and petro-derived herbicides and pesticidesplus grains genetically selected or modified to be resistant to the pesticides and herbicides and responsive to the artificial fertilizers. Before fossil-fuel derived ammonia production, it was some 100 genera of microscopic lifeforms that annually unlocked the elements of a previous generation of plants to make food for the next one. Artificial fertilizer killed all that soil life in its first application, but that didn't matter because there was plenty more nitrogen fertilizer to apply the next year. The ammonia is produced using extreme heat (as much as 600 degrees Celsius), plus great pressure (equal to submersion under 6,000 feet of water), an energy-intensive process. The worldwide green revolution enabled food production to nearly keep pace with world population growth through the 1990's and early 2000's. International development agencies spread and accelerated the green revolution worldwide. Small agricultural nations became "banana republics." In 2000, 85 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer (manufactured from half a billion barrels of crude) were spread on this planet's fields. The average food thus produced yielded one kilocalorie of human nourishment for every ten kilocalories of petro-energy spent in producing it, a totally unnatural and non-sustainable equation. For example, a half-gallon of oil is used to produce every bushel of U.S. corn. In addition, our food typically is flown or trucked 1,500 to 2,500 miles from farm to plate.
By 2004, a handful of enormous, vertically-integrated corporations wielded vast global political power and controlled the origin and disposition of much of the world's food. Millions of former "subsistence" farmers in "developing" (developing dependence on fossil fuel) nations, displaced by deforestation or agribusiness, moved to shanty towns on the edges of exploding urban centers, looking for work in the new progress economy. Urban life-styles, cultures, and values reigned in a world economy globalized by cheap, convenient fossil-fueled international transport of goods. Jobs went where labor was cheapest "outsourcing."
Pollution and Global Warming--Progress has brought blessings and also problems. Global pollution: The world now uses five billion pounds of petro-derived pesticides per year, half of that applied in the U.S. Global warming: Burning of fossil fuels is causing warmer weather as carbon dioxide locked into plant tissue eons ago is released back into the atmosphere. In 1892, Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist, figured out that burning fossil fuels would cause global warming. He published a description of this greenhouse effect in 1896. Until recently, his work was ignored, criticized, or denied. (Even if we stop burning fossil fuels worldwide today, our planet's climate will continue to warm significantly for the next decades and, to a lesser extent, over the next century because the time delay in that atmospheric feedback loop is so long.) Global warming could eventually result in global cooling. Ocean circulation helps regulate the planet's climate. Meltwaters from Greenland's glaciers and polar ice could cause a sideways and southward push on the Gulf Stream which could put a big chill on the climate of Europe, perhaps in the central and northern U.S. and Canada, too.
Dependence on Fossil Fuels--Ever since that first oil well punched into the earth in 1859, demand for crude oil has equalled supply. The more oil that was pumped worldwide (an average 2-5% more each year), the more got used. The oil-using life-style made consumers feel richer and more comfortablemore pharmaceuticals, more plastics, more transportation, more heat, more cooling, more entertainment. Most of the planet's current population of 6 billion people prefer the industrialized life-style. Also, most are now dependent on fossil-fueled agriculture to eat.
Of all the problems generated by fossil fuel use, the most challenging will be surviving the withdrawal from that use, after worldwide oil production peaks and begins to decline. The oil crisis will begin when demand for oil consistently begins to exceed supply. In speeches and published papers, Hubbert insisted that crisis would begin right after the peak of world production is reachednot when the last drop of oil is pumped. After the peak, demand and supply can no longer match. The long-term trend of rising demand will collide with a perpetually shrinking supply. The transition from petro-technology back to non-petro technology, and its accompanying labor-intensive, materially-poor life, will begin after world oil production peaks.
Petroleum Production--The U.S. is still the world's second-largest producer of oil, although we now must import about a third of our supply. The transition to use of ever-increasing amounts of imported oil was so smooth that few persons noticed our growing dependence on foreign petroleum. In 2001, the U.S. imported 6 million barrels of oil per day, about half the total amount we usedan average 3 gallons per person per day, (Worldwide, 25 billion barrels of oil were burned in 2001.) So far, the supply of importable oil has remained equal to demand. The Middle East has the largest remaining deposits of oil on the planet, two-thirds of the supply. Venezuela ranks second. Saudi Arabia is the Middle Eastern country with the most unpumped crude and currently the biggest producer. (In 1945, FDR agreed to support the Saudi royal family in exchange for secure oil exports from the kingdom to the U.S., an arrangement which remains to the present day.) Iraq and Kuwait vie for second place in size of unpumped deposits. When the rest of the world runs out of crude, the Middle East will still be pumpingfor a while.
Each country has its own year of peak oil production, after which it must begin to import oil, more oil every year. World oil production outside the Middle East peaked in 1997 and has been in decline ever since, but some countries outside the Middle East have not yet peaked. Mexico's oil production is expected to peak in 2005; Canada's and Algeria's in 2006; Nigeria's in 2007. In the Middle East, Iran's oil production peaked in 1976, but Iraq's and the United Arab Emirates' are predicted to peak in 2009, Kuwait's in 2010, and Saudi Arabia's in 2017. [Statistics from Heinberg, The Party's Over, pp. 103-104, cited from Duncan's World Oil Forecast #5].
Hubbert's Peak, Worldwide--After Hubbert's prediction came true in 1970, heand an increasing number of other oil scientists, as time went onstrove to predict the year when the world's oil supply would peak. That number would be the big enchilada. Then, half of the world's oil supply will have been used up. The other half will still be in the ground, but every year it will become more difficult to find and extract as much oil as was pumped the year before. Some of the statistical methods they used resembled Hubbert's; some were different. Hubbert had already pointed out two significant bell-shaped curves in the oil industry, similar in curve, but separated in time by several decades. The first was the curve of oil field discoveries. Several decades after discovery of an oil field, it would be pumped, and then pumped dry. Thus, the curve of well production (and depletion) tended to mirror the curve of well discovery, but several decades later. The rate of oil field discovery worldwide peaked in 1964. In 1999, oil geologists estimated that ninety percent of global oil deposits had been located. In 2003, there were no new oil field discoveries. Years ago, based on the oil field discovery curve, Hubbert predicted that world oil production would peak after the turn of the century.
In 1995, Petroconsultants, a Swiss company that publishes an annual report on the world's oil supply (costs $35,000 per year; CIA subscribes), predicted that global oil production would peak between 2000 and 2010. In 1997, L. F. Ivanhoe, who founded the M. King Hubbert Center for Petroleum Supply Studies at the Colorado School of Mines, also predicted the worldwide peak between 2000 and 2010. In 1999 Campbell, author of The Coming Oil Crisis, predicted that world oil production would peak by 2005.
In 2000, the per barrel price of crude oil rose from $10 in February to $35 in September, triggering worldwide recessionbecause the whole economy of every industrialized country now depends on the continuing availability and affordability of petroleum. That year, Henry Grope (a prestigious Houston oil consultant) suggested that 2000 might be the year of global peak production. In fact, production in both 2001 and 2002 fell short of the 2000 record. At the time, other experts pointed out that there was always a certain amount of jiggle in the statistics, and so 2003 production might be higher. In fact, world oil consumption did rise in 2003, by 1.4 million barrels per day. (Asian countries bought 81% of that increase. China's production peaked in 2003 and is expected to be virtually gone by 2020. Like the U.S., China used to be an oil exporter of oil. Now China must import 60 percent of its oil, more all the time. China's oil consumption is growing seven times faster than that of the U.S.)
All experts agree that world oil production will peak before the year 2015. What happens then?
Future Shortages--Rising worldwide demand for oil will collide with falling availability. Governments, corporations, and individuals will compete for that shrinking supply. The oil industry directly controls a sixth of the world's economy. More than 25 percent of ship traffic on the world's oceans is carrying oil; thousands of huge tankers churn through the waters night and day. Diesel-burning trucks carry 70 percent of U.S. products. Petro-burning planes, trains, and ships carry the rest. So prices of just about everything will rise, because just about everything has a fossil fuel energy component in its pricing. And, since petroleum energy is used to produce oil, whenever the selling price of oil rises, the cost of producing oil will also rise, possibly triggering another rise in the selling price of oil.
The assumption that we will simply pay more for the same amount of fuel is naive. Year after year, once this process starts, more and more people must manage with less and less fossil energy for heating, cooking, driving, and generating electricity. Most fossil fuel supply experts project a future in which world crude oil supply drops two to five percent per year, starting the year after Hubbert's worldwide peak. Here are some wild guesses as to the timing and amount of future shortages. If it happens in 2005: in 2015, the world's economy must get along on 20% less oil; by 2025, they must use 33% less; by 2035, they make do with 50% less; by 2045, 75% less; by 2060, 99% less. If the peak happens in 2015: by 2030, people must manage on 33% less oil; in 2045, they have 50% less; in 2060, they have 75% less.
There is one potential delayer for this grim depletion chronology afflicting conventional oil deposits: oil sand. There are huge deposts of tar-sands oil in Alberta, Canada, and in the Orinoco belt of Venzuela The oil potential in tar-sand is said to equal more than the entire world's original supply of regular crude. Facing the coming shortage, Shell, Chevron, and companies from China, Israel, Japan, and Korea are investing in extracting oil from tar sands. This type of oil is very difficult to extract, requiring natural gas and other oil-derived stuff to get the stuff and to process it into anything more sophisticated than asphalt. A new type of refinery is necessary; for $2.5 billion such a refinery is being built in Alberta. Although getting oil from tar sands consumes two-thirds of the energy those sands ultimately yield, requires and then pollutes huge amounts of fresh water, and releases six times as much carbon dioxide into the air as the refining of conventional oil, the industry is turning in this direction. There is enough oil in tar sands to extract for as long as centuries more, but experts suggest that the rate of production cannot equal the present use of conventionally-extracted crude. We can be sure that the price of fossil fuels will rise as more challenging types of deposits are mined, at ever greater costs. The huge deposits of "oil shale in Colorado are probably not going to help. The rock called "oil shale" by promoters is not a real shale. It is organic marlstone. There is no oil in it. It does contain a solid organic substance named kerogen. The production of oil from kerogen currently requires mining, transport, heating to 900 F., adding hydrogen, and disposing of waste. It takes huge amounts of pure water, a substance scarcer in Colorado right now than oil. All extraction and "refining" attempts so far, including recent efforts by Chevron, Exxon, Occidental Petroleum, and Unocal, have failed.
We, or some generation or other of our descendants, will have to face weaning from fossil fuels. Whenever it happens, who will do without fossil fuelits energy and its products? What form will that competition take? President Bush has said our "life-style is nonnegotiable." China is now the world's second-largest customer for fossil fuel, after the U.S. China's own crude oil production has already peaked and there are shortages in sight for its coal production. China is building a huge freeway system and aspires to have its population driving as many cars as Americans. (Japan is third in usage.)
In the best case scenario, there will be a worldwide shift from fossil fuel technologies to a combination of pre-petroleum and post-petroleum renewable energy technologies (we have the advantage of a century of rapid scientific discovery)and we do this before our planet's climate and environment are irreparably damaged. To help us adapt to the coming cutbacks, we can learn from persons who have expertise in pre-petroleum technologies: use of draft animals, natural gardening, cottage industries, as well as renewable energy experts. The bad news is that even the best of combined pre-petroleum and renewable energy technologies cannot produce the lavish amounts of energy we're accustomed to using.
Here is what I think the future may bring to the U.S. after Hubbert's worldwide peak arrives:
Natural Gas: Americans will run out of natural gas first. Europeans will still have it (piped from Middle Eastern fields), but the end will come for their supply, too. And for everybody else's. Deffeyes says the U.S.'s supply will last less than 10 years at current rates of usage. He bases that time line for gas depletion on the facts that U.S. and Mexican natural gas productions have both already peaked, and Canadian gas production is headed that way. Overseas gas is much harder to import than crude oil. Liquefied gas requires specially equipped ports on each end, which we don't have, and special transport tankers. Japan, Korea, and Taiwan have already contracted use of all the existing gas tankers for the foreseeable future. Natural gas has already started to drop in availability in the U.S., and prices are rising. Deffeyes predicts that severer U.S. shortages of natural gas will develop relatively suddenly. This could impact food production because the current most popular method of making ammonia requires natural gas. Fertilizer could be imported from other parts of the world until they, too, get short of gas. In the meantime, companies are racing to build plants that can liquify natural gas and to develop ways to ship the stuff.
There is also research being done on mining gas from methane hydrates. The polar oceans have huge deposits of this form of natural gas that seeped up from sea floor cracks and, affected by the cold and high-pressure of deep ocean, turned into yellow icelike compounds. Methane hydrates are not stable. Small or large deposits can explode if the waters above them get too warm, causing tidal waves. Friction from a drill bit can cause an underwater explosion. When methane hydrate is raised toward the surface, the lessening pressure makes the hydrate fizz into a vapor which can cause a ship floating above to sink in the bubbly foam. Methane that gets loosed into the atmosphere has a greenhouse effect 23 times more powerful than that of carbon dioxide. In the natural gas industry, a leakage rate of three percent is considered normal. Such leakage of methane could have a huge impact on climate. A warming climate could trigger the natural release of additional huge quantities of methane from undersea deposits, warming the climate yet more, releasing yet more methane...
The U.S. Department of Energy expects methane hydrates to be the source of natural gas for U.S. consumers by 2015. If methane mining is achieved despite its difficulties, the planet will warm MUCH faster. If it is not done, home and business owners who have been burning gas must eventually find other ways to heat water, buildings, and food. By 2030, or later, only persons with a carefully insulated home, a private wood lot, and /or a private renewable energy system will be comfortably warm in winter and cook conveniently.
Electricity: In 2004, about fifty percent of U.S. electricity was generated by burning coal. For a while, electric companies can and probably will burn more coal (causing more global warming and even more extreme weather). Then, coal production also will peak and decline. Deffeyes reports "a study by Gever, et al, that coal may cease to serve as a useful energy source in only two to three decades" (Deffeyes, pp. 130-131). Although the planet has huge coal deposits, miners dig more easily mined deposits first. As time goes on, the remaining coal will be more difficultand more expensive (because of the coming fuel shortage)to mine. China had the world's largest coal deposits. In 2000, 5 million Chinese miners worked in 75,000 coal mines. Coal burning provided about 70 percent of that country's energy needs. At this rapid rate of use even China's huge reserves are rapidly dwindling. (In the meantime, China ranks as the world's No. 2 greenhouse gas producer.) By 2030, natural gas will be gone, and coal will be costly and hard to get.
In 2004, nuclear power plants produced about twenty percent of U.S. electricity. There will also be a Hubbert's peak for uranium ore, another nonrenewable energy source. At current rate of uranium use, by 2045, U.S. sources of fuel for traditional nuclear reactors will be running out. Deffeyes estimates a 100-year worldwide supply of uranium. (There are other problems with nuclear power. The fuel and the reactor waste are horrific polluters. Inhaling just one molecule of plutonium is fatal.)
Farsighted folks are already installing private wind-, water-, or solar-generating systems. A farsighted U.S. government would be building 30,000 large wind generators a year. Mining and manufacturing silicon for solar panels and aluminum for windmills takes energy. That energy will be easier to get now than later. Eventually, brownouts will happen in the region served by some fossil-fueled generating plants, then days without power, then total shutdown of a regional electric grid. By 2060, with a few exceptions, only hydroelectric, solar, and wind generating systems still operate. Old laws that interfered with installation of renewable energy systems have disappeared. There is much interest in building public and private renewable energy systems, but now it's hard to find the money. People talk sorrowfully of the selfishness and shortsightedness of previous generations who neglected to use part of their energy wealth to bequeath renewable energy systems to their descendants. Instead, they left a huge burden of national debt.
Manufacturing and Business: In 2004, 92% of the materials used for U.S. products and production processes were nonrenewable‹fossil fuel or metal derived. After the peak, less stuff is manufactured every year: less clothing, shoes, housing, vehicles. But more wind and solar-power systems are being produced, and there is much demand for persons who can install these renewable energy systems for homes and businesses! As shipping becomes more expensive, the trend is now to buy from local sources rather than foreign ones; localization is replacing globalization. Since the U.S., years ago, trashed its manufacturing base, we lack knowledgeable people and suitable machines to reinstate local manufacturing. Increasingly, Americans must simply do without.
By 2030, hand tools are replacing power tools‹except for those fortunate persons who own renewable energy generators to power relics of the fossil fuel age. The remnants of industry are moving where raw materials and renewable energy systems are located close together. After petroleum-derived fibers become unavailable, natural fiber productionfrom rabbit, goat, dog, sheep, alpaca, cotton, hemp, linen, etc.booms. The local manufacture of that fiber into cloth, blankets, sails, and ropes, is also a money maker. Persons can grow fiber crops, as well as those who can card, spin, weave, knit, felt, and sew are in demand to perform these skills and teach them to others. Other good investments for this era are wood lot, organic farming, seed growing, chick hatching, and sale of farm animals for meat or breeding. People who sell or repair hydrogen or battery-operated vehicles, bicycles, pedicabs, and equipment for draft animals are thriving. Restaurants now operate near a farmer's market, or function in cooperation with one or more local food growers with surplus production. By 2060, the making of baskets, pots, buttons, carts, and harness is good business.
Housing: Persons who were in debt when the peak happened are now struggling to make their payments. Taking on debt assumes you will have stable or increasing income. Now there is never-ending world recession: ever-rising costs, ever-shrinking wages. Unemployment, shortages, and mortgage foreclosures are common. People who owned their home free-and-clear at Hubbert's worldwide peak are counting their blessings.
Companies that own urban and crowded suburban properties are going bankrupt because the market for their properties is disappearing. By 2030, the concrete / asphalt desert of inner cities is being abandoned. You can't grow food on pavement; the huge buildings cannot be heated or cooled without cheap fossil fuel energy; and urban dwelling and working places are too far to walk or bicycle to a farmer's market.
By 2060, some urban areas have lost electric power and so their municipal water systems no longer functions. Many geological deposits of ground water have been pumped dry. Most desert cities are now ghost towns. Even where there is adequate rainfall, 70% of former city dwellers have dispersed into the countryside, moving where they can garden. Homes without enough ground to grow a basic garden and keep rabbits and a flock of chickens sit empty except where nearby open ground permits food growing. Labor supply and fertile land cannot be far apart in this bicycle- or foot-transported society. Instead of the 2004 rate of 90% urban (50% inner city), the overall distribution of U.S. population now resembles the 1800 ratio: 20% urban, 80% rural.
The most desirable home now comes with about 12 acres, plus water for gardening and fertile soil. It is made of a locally available natural material: sod, wood, mud, bamboo / thatch, or stone. The skilled artisans who can assemble such homes are fully employed. The ideal home now collects and stores rainwater (and has a storage tank to contain it), is well-insulated and small, and has grey-water recycling. It has human and animal manure collection and composting systems. There is a large garden, greenhouse, pasture, orchard, and wood lot. There are outbuildings suitable for poultry and home dairying. There is a solar, wind, or hydroelectric generating system. The people and animals are housed near the gardens and fields for convenient transport of manure to the plants and of harvested food back to the animals and people.
Transportation: As fossil fuel gets more scarce and expensive, the tourist industry withers. Companies in the jet transport industry struggle to avoid bankruptcy. After natural gas disappears, the artificial fertilizer that once provided chemical feed to grow millions of acres of corn becomes unavailable. No more ethanol. (It always used more energy to produce ethanol than the energy it yielded for transport, but making it kept the corn lobby happy.) By 2030, owners of homes or companies with renewable energy systems use surplus electricity to produce pure hydrogen to power a hydrogen vehicle or to charge batteries for use in an electric vehicle. But their travel is limited. It takes about four city blocks covered with solar panels to make available the same transportation energy as an average corner gas station did in the easy-energy petroleum years.
Agriculture: In the U.S., in 2004, commercial farming accounted for 12% of our annual energy use, most of that being drawdown on natural gas used to make artificial fertilizer. After gas shortages develop, the artificial fertilizer plants shut down, or price their product so high that most farmers can't afford it. Herbicides and pesticides, also fossil fuel products, have become scarce. Fuel is no longer available for farm equipment. Agribusiness farmers are desperately trying to switch from seasonal mono-cropping on huge company properties to organic growing with mixed crops and extended-season techniques. Agribusiness meat and egg producers are trying to switch from electric- and grain-dependent factory farm operations to pasture-based meat production. These abrupt changes in agricultural technology does not go smoothly. Even organic growers are struggling as problems develop with use of their motorized equipment, automated watering systems, and distribution systems. Agribusiness managers replace tractors with draft animals when they can get them, and with human labor when that is the only option. The human laborers are abundant, but have neither a work ethic nor experience. Corporate use of convicts, including those obtained after re-institution of incarceration for debt, doesn't help much.
In America's cities, fast food chains are shutting down because they can't get food from their agribusiness suppliers. Grocery store shelves are looking emptier. By 2015, Americans are lean, sometimes hungry. Undocumented workers go home, where there is more food than in the U.S. For example, when Hubbert's peak happened, 546 million of India's one billion population was still employed in agriculture, and they remember how to farm without fossil fuel and chemicals. Although China has 1.3 billion people, it, also, is not as hungry as America; 854 million Chinese were still farming at Hubbert's peak, and millions were able to move back to the countryside and return to farming in traditional ways. Nor do Asians have America's prejudice against recycling humanure. Before progress, growing food was everybody's job. After progress, growing food was usually somebody else's job; food simply appeared in supermarketsor the food bank. Actually, six million Americans were farming when Hubbert's peak happenedbut most of those were in petro-agriculture, not organic. The rest of Americans had a deep faith that somebody else would always feed them and a strong notion that their rights included the right to avoid hard labor. Americans find it difficult to believe that, in this new era, everybody must work to grow food. They keep hoping that a miracle technology will emerge and bring back the easy life.
Few U.S. families grew a garden in 2005. Fewer yet fertilized that garden with recycled local plant waste and animal manure. Even fewer kept livestock. Most animal keepers had no idea how to grow feed for their livestock. (This knowledge became important after feed stores no longer could offer agribusiness products.) A fortunate few farsighted folks, who called themselves "homesteaders," moved out of town before Hubbert's peak onto fertile, irrigable land. They generally started out inexperienced, so growing food wasn't easy. They tilled soil, planted seeds, hauled water, dug weeds, and generally sweated to make that ground produce food to sustain their family and livestock (that provide dairy products, eggs, and meatsurplus males and aging or infertile females). The homesteaders will preserve surplus food from harvest and ration it to family members and livestock to survive the hungry months until their ground can produce again. Before the fossil fuel shortages hit, their organic garden and animals provide pure food, protecting the family's health. Their fortunate children were raised knowing how to grow food and often inherited acres of fertile ground.
By 2030, more and more people are spading up lawns and parks to plant gardens, orchards, and grow animal feed. Old timers teach and encourage new gardeners. Laws that prevented people from gardening instead of growing lawns, or that forbade collecting rainwater and recycling grey water were trashed as soon as people got hungry. The livestock that the homesteaders struggle to feed and to protect from predators will, when appropriate, provide fiber crops, carry pack loads, be ridden, or used to pull a plow or wagon. Having no garden catalogs, they encourage plants to reseed or propagate themselves; or they carefully select the best plants and save their seed for the next planting. They hope to grow a surplus that can be sold on market day at a nice profit to the hungry town folks.
By 2060, Congress has rejected the promises and bribes of agribusiness corporations and handed the nation's future to those homesteader and recognized that, historically, the most food-productive land use pattern was intensive family farming on small, privately-owned parcels of land. The government has nationalized all multinational corporate and foreign-owned agricultural landas well as most former national forests, grasslands, and deserts. That land was divided into small acreages and offered to those persons who would live on a piece and grow food there. This gave each homesteading family a chance to survive by farming and to feed the remnant city population with their surplus. In a non-petroleum economy, these modern homesteaders live as gently on the land as the wolves and grizzly bears.
In America's cities, fast food chains are shutting down because they can't get food from their agribusiness suppliers. Grocery store shelves are looking emptier. By 2015, Americans are lean, sometimes hungry. Undocumented workers go home, where there is more food than in the U.S. For example, when Hubbert's peak happened, 546 million of India's one billion population was still employed in agriculture, and they remember how to farm without fossil fuel and chemicals. Although China has 1.3 billion people, it, also, is not as hungry as America; 854 million Chinese were still farming at Hubbert's peak, and millions were able to move back to the countryside and return to farming in traditional ways. Nor do Asians have America's prejudice against recycling humanure.
After the famine years, attitudes toward dry management of human waste (versus the waterborne system which had polluted ground water, rivers, and oceans, was expensive, and wasted valuable plant fertilizer) have changed. Grade school children recite: "The urine and humanure produced by one human being each day contains enough plant nutrients to grow enough food to feed one person one day." They also know that three full years of rotting ("composting") eliminates any health threat from humanure. Those persons who dwell on edges of the old cities now have the choice to sell their nightsoil each morning to the humanure dealer; most gladly do so. The dealer, in turn, sells that precious mix of solid and liquid plant foods to the farmers who live in an outer ring surrounding the city (far enough out to have plenty of tillable soil, close enough to transport and sell their vegetables and meat at the weekly market).
The fortunate few farsighted folks, who call themselves "homesteaders," moved out of town before depletion began, seeking to possess a piece of fertile, irrigable land. They practiced growing a garden on that land to feed themselves, plus livestock. Since they generally started out inexperienced, growing food wasn't easy for this new generation of pioneers. Before the fossil fuel shortages hit, their organic garden and animals provide pure food, protecting the family's health. Their fortunate children were taught how to care for livestock (rabbits, poultry, goats) and a garden. Even more fortunate are those children whose parents bequeathed to them some acres of fertile ground equipped with a renewable energy system.
After Hubbert's peak, they tear up old lawns to plant gardens, orchards, and to grow feed for their animals. (Archaic laws that prevented people from gardening instead of growing lawns, or that forbade collecting rainwater and recycling grey water were trashed by consensus as soon as people got hungry.) Their numbers steadily increase; old timers teach and encourage newcomers to the movement. They till soil, plant seeds, haul water, dig out weeds, and generally sweat to make that ground produce food enough to sustain their family and their family's livestock year round. They nourish the plants with any available plant or animal / human waste from kitchen, garden, or orchard. They hope to grow a surplus that can be sold on market day at a nice profit to the hungry town folks.
The livestock that the homesteaders struggle to feed and to protect from predators will supplement their diet with protein from dairy (milk) and poultry (eggs) as well as with the meat from surplus males. Those animals also provide fiber to make clothing and for sale. When appropriate, they carry pack loads, are ridden, or used to pull a plow or wagon. The homesteaders will preserve surplus food in harvest time and ration that food out to family members and livestock to survive the hungry months until their ground can produce again. Having no garden catalogs, they encourage their plants to reseed or propagate themselves; or they carefully select the best plants and save their seed for the next year's planting.
Historically, the most food-productive land use pattern was intensive family farming on privately-owned small pieces of land. Congress eventually rejected the promises and bribes of agribusiness corporations and handed the nation's future to those homesteaders. The government nationalized all multinational corporate and foreign-owned agricultural landas well as most former national forests, grasslands, and deserts. The land was then divided into small acreages and offered to those persons who would live on a piece and grow food there. This gave each homesteading family a chance to survive by farming, and to help the remnant city population survive by their surplus. In a non-petroleum economy, these modern homesteaders lived as gently on the land as the wolves and grizzly bears.
Carla Emery is a specialist in non-petroleum family food production technologies, a speaker, and an author, including of The Encyclopedia of Country Living; www.carlaemery.com; 520-845-2288, cell 520-678-2271; PO Box 133, San Simon, AZ 85632.
Believing Cassandra: An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World. Alan AtKisson. 1999. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, P.O. Box 428, White River Junction, Vermont 05001, 800-639-4099. ISBN 1-890132-16-0. $16.95.
The Coming Oil Crisis. C. J. Campbell. 1997. Multi-Science Publishing Company. Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage. Revised and Updated Paperback Edition with a new preface by the author, Kenneth S. Deffeyes. 2001. Sixth printing, and first paperback printing, with a new preface, 2003. Paperback ISBN 0-691-11625-3. Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540. In the United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, 3 Market Place, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1SY.
Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil, David Goodstein, 2004, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10110, www.wwnorton.com, Castle House, 75/76 Wells Street, London W1T 3QT. Hardcover. ISBN 0-393-05857 -3. U.S. $21.95.
The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies. Richard Heinberg. 2003. New Society Publishers, P.O. Box 189, Gabriola Island, BC V0R 1X0, Canada, 1-800-567-6772. Paperback ISBN: 0-86571-482-7. www.newsociety.com. U.S. $17.95
Crude: The Story of Oil. Sonia Shah. 2004. Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 1013. www.sevenstories.com. $23.95.
Your Personal Plan to Cope with Petroleum Depletion
1. Be frugal. Choose thrift over waste, spiritual over material. Get out of debt. Sell your mortgaged home. Use the equity to buy housing that you can own free-and-clear, "be it ever so humble."
2. Be healthy. Grow as much of your food as possible with no herbicides, no pesticides, and no artificial fertilizers. Every year, try to make your garden bigger and more productive than the year before. Sell your surplus food production. Drink pure water (filter if needed).
3. Choose sustainability. Install renewable energy substitutes for all propane-using appliances. If you burn wood, grow a woodlot. Learn solar cooking and get a solar cooker. Install a rainwater collection system with storage tank. Install a compost toilet. Use all the homestead-produced humanure and manure to enrich your soil. Save seeds or let selected plants self-seed. Reject embalming and choose a "green burial."
4. Be self-reliant. Store food. Feed your livestock homegrown food (vegetables, grass, hay) as much as possible. Ride a bicycle. Or horse. Or drive a motorcycle, or hybrid, or electric vehicle (batteries charged by surplus power from your private renewable energy system)! Learn to use hand tools (versus power tools).
5. Be networked. Practice lifelong learning. Get to know your neighbors and make yourself helpful to them. Lobby for enlightened local zoning. Encourage development of renewable power in your community.
Carla Emery P.O. Box 133 San Simon, AZ 85632
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Copyright 2004 by Carla Emery. All rights reserved.