How the Energy Crisis Will Help My Diet

[editor's note, by Prof. Goose] This is a guest post from seismobob.

Like many Americans I am a bit overweight and this is true even after living a year in China eating indigenous food and shedding 15% of my body mass. Coming back to the fattest city in the land of the big helping, I am concerned about regaining that weight given the fact that Americans eat 920 kg of food annually (3,800 kcal per person per day). But never fear, the energy crisis will eventually help me maintain my desired weight. Many are going to wonder what does the energy crisis have to do with being fat. Well, the modern agricultural system is nothing but a system which turns petroleum and natural gas into food. Thirteen kilocalories of energy is used to produce each kilocalorie of food we eat (p. 20).

When energy becomes scarce, the quantity of food will decline.

The first place to look at this is in fertilizer. Nitrogen fertilizers are made using lots of energy. In the US it is natural gas which is used but in China it is coal. The manufacture of nitrogen fertilizer uses 1% of the world's energy supply. And this one percent feeds us. There is a direct correlation between fertilizer price and natural gas price in the US.

Here is the natural gas price on the same time period (blue curve) with the pink dots being the corn price per bushel. The thing to note here is that the corn price is not following the natural gas curve, so when the natural gas price rises and the corresponding increase in price of fertilizer occurs, the farmer must make a choice as to how to balance the budget. The decision often includes using less fertilizer to cut costs.

At $5.00 per mmbtu ammonia costs $200 per ton, but at $19 per mmbtu, the price rises to $650 per ton. Clearly one can see that as energy prices rise, fertilizer prices will rise followed by two things, a rise in the price of food and a reduction in the use of fertilizer as farmers try to cut costs. Farming has narrow margins. Is there any evidence of a drop in usage of fertilizer? Yes. Since natural gas prices began rising in 2000-2001, sixteen fertilizer factories have been shut permanently and five more suspended operations. There was a slight dip in reported fertilizer use during the 2001 spike in fertilizer price. Corn went from 136 lb per acre to 133 with a 2% drop in treated acres. With soybeans the pounds per acre remained the same but there was a 7% drop in treated acres and with cotton there was a 7% drop in treated acres and a 7 lb/acre reduction in usage. Here is the historical use of nitrogen fertilizer use on corn in 1000 nutrient tons. Note the dip in use in 2001 when the gas price spiked:


By the end of this century there will be no commercial quantities of oil, natural gas and coal with which to make fertilizer. So, what is the effect of a lessening of fertilizer use? Lower crop yields. Below is a chart of crop yields vs. fertilizer application in China. There is a direct correlation between fertilizer and crop yield.

(from Wang, Q. et al, 1995)

Smith et al.(1990) studied the impact of fertilizer on crop yields. They concluded that over a 71 year period fertilizer was responsible for 40% of the wheat crop; over a 45 year period fertilizer was responsible for 57 percent of the corn yield.

So, one can easily understand what will happen if fertilizer use drops. There is a modern example of the impact; it is seen in the starvation which is taking place in North Korea. They underwent a power shortage. which affected lighting, industrial production and agriculture. The effect was a precipitous drop in fertilizer production with the resultant drop in crop yields followed by starvation. One of the chief aid requests from the North Koreans is fertilizer. picture here.

Is there an organic way to avoid this problem? Some authors are writing that we can use animal manure to fertilize the farm fields. A paper (Pimental et al 2005) last year in Bioscience took such an approach and concluded that animal manure could replace fertilizer with no loss of productivity. They used 5.6 metric tons two years out of five, so that averages out to 2.24 tons per year. So, how many cows are needed?

A dairy cow can produce 120 pounds of fresh manure per day. But that has a water content of 88% meaning one cow can produce about 1.8 tons of dry manure per year. Thus it takes more than one cow to produce the fertilizer Pimental et al require. Other rules of thumb I have found say that one cow can fertilize 1.5 acres. But if, without fertilizer, it takes 10 acres to run a cow, then that cow can not provide enough for self-fertilization of his own fields, much less for other fields.

And there is another issue, something forgotten by Americans because this knowledge is from the lives of our great-grand parents. If one does not have energy to the point of needing heat, then cow manure won't be available for fertilization. It will be burned for cooking and heating purposes. Two months ago, I went to Tibet on business. I visited a farm and went to areas where nomads live. I saw manure-as-fuel in action. On the farm they mixed yak dung with straw, patted it into potato-sized balls and then stored it on the exterior walls of their houses (what a fun job that must be). This helps insulate the house but is also a convenient way to grab some fuel quickly.

But this use of manure means that it won't be available for fertilizer if by the end of this century we have no other source of energy.

We now examine whether ethanol can fuel the required fertilizer. Using 2.5 gallons per bushel for the ethanol and the record corn crop of 136 bushels per acre we find that an acre produces 340 gallons. The US uses 146 billion gallons per year of gasoline today, but because ethanol has only 70% of the energy content of gasoline we would require 1.4 times more or 2.08 billion gallons of ethanol to maintain our lifestyle.

How many acres will this require? Well, today the US uses 491 million acres under cultivation and my math says we need 691 million acres to manufacture enough ethanol to manufacture both the fertilizer and enough other ethanol to fuel transportation. The US has on 945 million acres devoted to agriculture. Clearly there is a problem. Without the fertilizer the US would need 3.6 billion acres of corn to make the ethanol, clearly an impossibility. Another way to look at it is if we and the cows all stop eating corn and use the present corn acreage (80 million acres) all for ethanol, we could produce 27 billion gallons per year, or about 13 percent of what is needed for transportation and fertilizer combined.

To close, a reduction in the available energy will help our weight loss. As one Pfeiffer observed, to achieve a sustainable US, we must reduce our population by around one third. I think he is an optimist.


David Pimental, et al, "Environmental, Energetic, and Economic Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Farming Systems," Bioscience, 55(2005):7:574

Smith, E.G., R.D. Knutson, C.R. Taylor, J.B. Penson. 1990. Impact of chemical use reduction on crop yields and costs. Texas A&M Univ., Dep. of Agric. Economics, Agric. and Food Policy Center, College Station.

Wang, Q. / Halbrendt, C. / Johnson, S.R. (1995): Grain Production and Environmental Management in China's Fertilizer Economy. In: Journal of Environmental Management, Vol. 47, 283-296. And: China Statistical Yearbook, 1998. State Statistical Bureau, People's Republic of China, Beijing. p.393

Of course, going down the food chain--corn + beans instead of meat--will help.

In any case, I recommend that everyone assume:  (1)  a 50% cut in your income and (2)  at least a 100% increase in food and energy prices.  I also strongly recommend that everyone look into working for, or becoming, a provider of essential goods and services.

One thing that will help is to increase the number of livestock being raised on pasture grass instead of grain fed feedlots.
This would give a much healthier meat and supply meat with a much lower (oil) energy input.
Part of the problem with this is that there are almost no fences left in farm country. Next time you drive around farm country watch carefully for how many fields have fences. And fences are an expensive 50 year investment. Farmers aren't going to make that investment until they are sure it is going to pay off. Further, financing the 50 year investment in fences is somewhat of a problem in that you have a very high initial investment that will not return any profit for 5+ years. (time required to put up fence, renovate pasture grasses and start breeding up a cattle herd).
We would get more from government farm programs if they would initiate some type of finance plan to cover this type of time lagged investment on the farm. But as it doesn't benefit the large factory farming businesses I doubt you will see anything like it until the oil crisis/depression hits.
Meat could get very expensive during the transion from feedlot farming to pasture farming.
I would expect that a lot of cities are going to have to modify their "no livestock in the city" provisions to permit chickens (no roosters! <BG>), rabbits, etc... so that people can raise some of their own meat and eggs even in the city (using a lot of their waste food products)
The development of the miniature breeds of both dairy and beef cattle should even make it possible for people with only a large lot to raise their own beef. Miniature cattle are generally 36 to 42 inches high at the sholders and cows go about 650 pounds and bulls/steers about 800 pounds. Steaks, roasts and other cuts are more family size instead of the giant cuts from a full size steer. One miniature steer provides about the right amount of beef for one family for 1 year and they get all the different cuts from the carcass instead of only some from a 1/4 or 1/2 of a full size steer. Minaiture Jerseys give about 1 gallon of milk a day - just about right for a family with any excess going to raise a steer for beef.
Fences can be grown as well as built. This is a technique typically used in most developing countries. Only a rich westerner would consider building a fence around a large piece of property. Pick a non edible tree/bush that grows in your climate, plant a hedge, and wait 3 years. This may be difficult in a very cold climate unless you can find a non edible evergreen that can grow in a hedge, but there are many places in the U.S. where a living fence would be a very reasonable solution.
I love the idea of natural fences - both to keep in the critters and keep out the Riff-Raff (e.g. graffiti 'artists') even in Urban areas:

"Trials in the designing out of graffiti and flyposting have been carried out in areas where large expanses of wall/fence attract vandals. This involved the use ... planting of natural screening i.e. thorn bushes or fast growing large shrubs. The scheme is to expand during 2003 to minimise the potential for large-scale graffiti and vandalism."

I understand the comment about roosters - they crow! But how do these people obtain replacement chickens - shipped from a commercial hatchery somewhere? (That's why I have 6 roosters...)
I keep my rooster in a box in the cellar at night and let him out at 9 am every morning--hoping to avoid the wrath of the neighbors.  He services 3 mature hens and two pullets are growing.  
What do you mean "no livestock" in cities? I live currently in an apartment where I'm one of 3 tenants with no livestock. The rest have head of livestock known as dogs. Carnivorous, they are very inefficient at converting waste food to meat, hence deterring their use as livestock per se.

While not useful as food, dogs, at least huskies, can be used as draft animals. With a suitable harness on the Siberian Husky and its user, the user wearing Rollerblades suddenly becomes one efficient animal-drawn vehicle with most of the mass being payload and "engine". This method of transportation is PERFECT if you work in a really pet friendly workplace. Use a backpack to haul small amounts of freight.

Several dog breeds are quite useful as draft animals. St Bernards and Newfoundlands both can outpull a Husky. Saints regularly pull 10-12 times their own weight in pulling contests. This is around a ton of concrete blocks on a sled on dirt with no wheels! What's more they love to do it. Bernese and Greater Swiss are also traditionally used as draft animals.
So, a St. Bernard is the dog to use as a draft animal. I suppose you could cut the dog's hair to compensate for summer heat. (any breed) In Illinois animal-propelled vehicles are legal without a license due to a small number of Amish types.

You'd still need a pet friendly workplace to "park" your dog by your desk. It sure wouldn't be nice if the workplace merely had a kennel as a "stable" as you work.

I have four huskies that pull a racing sled in the winter, which is a little like vehicle racing with the accelerator nailed to the floor. I wouldn't dream of using one to pull me on rollerblades in other seasons as that would be a recipe for broken bones, especially in the city. Using a scooter with one dog is much safer as the rider can jump off if necessary (by which I mean plant their feet on terra firma while still holding on to the scooter and attached dog). I wouldn't do it in a built-up area though - there are too many distractions that could cause a husky to shift direction abruptly. Training helps obviously, but even well-trained huskies have a mind of their own.

Huskies were bred for food-efficient pulling power and so could be very useful for getting around in winter if the roads were no longer plowed. (The inevitable falls hurt much less if one is landing on snow.) For summer pulling on rollerblades I'd recommend a breed which is more likely to have the word 'stop' in its mental vocabulary. Also, choosing a breed less likely to overheat in summer would be advisable. Huskies spend most of their time sleeping when it's hot.  

Since coyotes are a problem in my area, my chickens(20 hens in addition to the 6 roosters) are closed up in a very secure shed at night with metal skirting and hardee borad on the interior walls and floor. This enables me to keep down the noise until I let them out in the morning, but I do that around 7 AM. Where I live was all farmland when I moved here hence my agricultural zoning. However all the farms around me have sprouted MacMansions and there is no other livestock for miles....
Being a cook is an excellent career path.

Cooks understand food.

Cooks know where to get food, how to judge its quality, what it is worth and how to make a feast for a few dollars.

I began my study of cookery at age three and one half, as a sort of informal apprentice to the Great Chef, Cecil Laventhol. Were I to get any encouragement whatsoever, I will post a poem on this experience that was so important to making me who I am.

BTW, Cecil's grandchildren are alive and well and run the best family Jewish deli west of Chicago, namely, Cecil's in St. Paul, near the campus of St. Catherine's College. Some of the recipes are identical to those my father taught Cecil (and that he, in turn, learned from his mother and grandmother) back in the 1940s. Cecil's has changed almost not at all since 1949, and you still have to go through the kitchen to get to the restrooms. And why not? It's all family there . . . though now the "family" includes people of all ethnicities and colors.

Those trying to lose weight should not visit Cecil's. I once took a slender woman friend there: She thought she had died and gone to heaven . . . weight up several pounds now;-)

Please do post the poem.  I for one, would like to read it.  I am pretty passionate about food, and cook part time in a restaurant.  I also have become a "master gardener", as designated by the state of vermont.  Many states have similar programs.  I've been experimenting in the kitchen using only ingredients I can grow and buy locally (excepting salt and pepper).  Seems like a practical use of time at this point...
There's a great new book about local, seasonal cuisine by a chef who knows about Peak Oil.  

Try Jessica Prentice's "Full Moon Feast."  

Beautifully written and full of good advice and seasonal recipies for North America.

last revised 3 April 2003

     Cecil's Kitchen

When I was a kid my favorite hangout
was Cecil's kitchen at the Commodore
Hotel which Dad managed and owned
Therefore I was a privileged child.

Cecil was fun to watch and Minnie too
They worked hard and long hours
Cecil never sat down and often
Worked from sunup to past my bedtime
When hundreds came for a banquet.

I loved banquets because there were
Always leftovers of yummy things
And if I'd been good and quiet and
No trouble at all, then I'd get some.

It was hard not to ask questions
Especially when three or four
Years old and there are so many
fascinating things and activities.

If there was a time when the kitchen
Was quiet--early morning was best
I'd ask something that I had to know
Such as, "Cecil, how do you know
When a knife is sharp enough?"

Cecil spend a lot of time sharpening
and honing his knives and cleaver
But he'd sharpen the same knife
Several times a day and I wondered
How sharp is sharp enough.

I have been wondering about
Deep Questions for a long time
And this was an Important Question
To which Cecil had the answer:

"The knife is sharp enough when
You can do this," he said as he
Plucked a hair from my head and
Barely touched it to the blade
An inch of hair floats to the floor.


Cecil enjoyed his work Because
He was absolute master in his
Kitchen and Because everybody knew
He was one of the best chefs
In St. Paul and some thought the
Very best.

Sometimes customers asked Cecil
To come out of the kitchen
And go to their table so they could
Thank him and give compliments.

He would tell the waiter
To say he was too busy
But that he appreciated
the compliment and if the waiter
came back a second time with
The message that the customer
Insisted on seeing Cecil, then he would straighten his hat
And go out to talk with the customers
He liked that.

Nobody dissed Cecil
Because he was the best
He would examine a delivery
Of food to be Sure it was the Best.

Woe struck anybody who did
Not give him the Best whether
It was vegetables or Hard Work
In his kitchen


He had a temper and you did
Not want to see him angry

Once I saw him throw an old
Cleaver to stick deep in a breadboard or something
That was nailed up to the wall way
Across the kitchen Because
Something not perfect made him so
Angry he had to cleave the board instead of the one who let him down.


But usually
If anything was not right
Then Cecil would call for Dad
Who listened to every word
And then did whatever Cecil wanted
Right away.

My father made the Commodore
After many losing years.

I knew Cecil was the key person
Who brought regular customers who
Also told their friends about the
Great Food which I knew was great.

The aromas were delicious and
From my little nook--sort of a
Top shelf with rarely used supplies
Under my short feet that dangled
A foot above the floor.

I watched and watched and listened
And enjoyed the smells the scrumptious
Odors and also the beautiful plates of food
Just before the waiters took them out.

I learned a lot
Because I'm a good
Listener and also Observant
But mostly because
I Pondered for hours on end as to
What things mean and which
Questions were intelligent enough to ask when Cecil was not very busy

Cecil was God in His kitchen

He liked me.

That was fun.
Thank you.
I Second westtex's recommendations - especially finding a niche in essential goods and services.  Slowly adapting to a lower consumption-based lifestyle now and talking classes on essentials (like alternative energies) will help ease your family's personal transition when the Serial Depressions begin.  

AND you will gain Great Good Will in your community by helping neighbors who are not nearly as prepared for the changes Peak Energy and Matter will force us.

i'm dabbling in a little bit of hand powered wood working.
probibly not the best but it's fun.
I applaud the timely post form westexas a couple of days ago, to the effect that all TODers should "get into the non-discretionary ecxonomy as soon as possible".  Prices of dicretionary items could soon be unaffordable - people selling them will have no buyers.  Non-discretionary goods will go up to, but at least people will have no choice about whether to buy them.  Think: selling near to source; low energy goods; things people need every day; organic foods.  

Also on the health front, people will HAVE to eat healthier food as expensive pharmaceuticals and interventions to treat heat disease, diabeties, etc., will decline in availability.  As mentioned here before, the "die-off" in developed countries will come from the chronically ill and those prone to such illness, who can no longer be kept alive by state-funded interventions.  In UK at least, this is de facto the case to a small extent now, as many people die on waiting lists for chronic illness treatment.  After around 2010, expect it to be widespread.

Thinking about other essential jobs; tho' they may be particularly for the 'transitional' period out of oil..

Teachers, both for the 'basics' and the 'back to basics' courses.

Mechanics.. still and always a lot of machinery to keep running.  The local welder and (smith?) will be especially in demand when you can less afford to 'toss and replace' everything cheaply..

Plumbers and Electricians.  Particularly in installing solar water heating and PV and Wind power.. (Emergency Generators with switchovers for a while yet.)

(Keeping what wheels we've got rolling is going to be critical, particularly for food production and transp)

Law enforcement - tho' we might see a resurgence of 'Civil Defense' activities, too.

Skilled Laborers-  Trades  (From assembly work, food service to computer repair/IT)

"Teachers, both for the 'basics' and the 'back to basics' courses."  Funny you should say that, jokuhl.  I am a "teacher" at a university, but I think a lot of the courses at mine won't long survive.  I don't think there will be too much demand for courses in "event lighting", sociology, sports studies, etc.  However, I've been thinking of doing what you suggest, elsewhere.
There will be demand for Poly Sci teachers as long as we have government of the lawyers, by the lawyers and for the lawyers.

There will be some demand for humanities and easy social sciences such as sociology so long as there is any aristocracy of wealth--mostly at hyper-expensive private schools, however.

I taught a course in cowboy action shooting once. So much fun! So practical--almost as useful as my Personal Finance course;-)

Gristmill made a great catch, a paper on the total energy impacts of bicycling for transportation.  The punchline is that we bicyclists use less oil for transportation but: (1) eat more, and (2) live longer ;-)  Those two factors might offset the gasoline savings.

A good, funny, paper.  One tidbit:

Sedentary individuals are likely to have higher levels of body fat than fit individuals. When a sedentary person engages in cycling and reduces fat stores, there will be a one-time recovery of the energy value of the fat (Higgins and Higgins, 2005).
And another thing about cyclists: The extra food used comes at the price of 10 calories of oil to the calorie of edible petroleum product aka food. Consider this fact. Walking 1 mile (or running it) burns 100 Calories. A gallon of gas has 30,000 (very inedible) Calories. A pedestrian gets the equivalent of 300mpg. BUT when you take into account the 10-1 Calorie ratio between oil and food, the pedestrian suddenly gets 30mpg - barely better than my Kia Rio's 25mpg! (that's real-life mpg, not EPA mpg)

Permaculture farming can sure improve the "mpg" of walking or cycling of course. As an aside, guess how schoolkids in Kenya commute to school. They run the whole way and back! They are too poor to buy a bike let alone have a mon use an SUV. That is why so many marathoners are from Kenya. It's their equivalent to the Sunday drive! Alas, commuting by running will impose a LOT of wear and tear on knees and hip joints as you pile up the miles. The knee replacement costs would be horrific! (and knee replacements would need replacable lubricated bearings to hold up for that type of commuting)

You started talking about cyclists, then switched to running and walking. Calories burned per mile for the average cyclist is probably no more than 30. Being a runner and a cyclist, I can definitely attest to the fact that cycling takes way less energy, at least on the average road that one is likely to encounter in the typical city.

You also need to consider the emobodied energy of the auto -- unless, of course, you just consider that a sunk cost.

Also, you need to consider whether the runner/walker is a vegan or a meat eater.  I've seen estimates that being a vegan vs. a meat eater saves 1.5 times the GHG of an SUV vs. a Prius.

Consider, also where the food is grown, how far from the consumer, whether the consumer mostly buys locally grown foods, and whether the food grown is organic.

Also consider what would happen if we truly made a large scale transition from an auto dominated to a pedestrian/bicyclist society -- at least in the cities. Road s would be narrower and require way less maintenance  in the form of expensive oil based asphalt and other energy intensive maintenance activities, not  to mention the fact that cities would be more compact requiring less distance traveled.

Consider, also, that the walking or bicycling is necessary, anyway, for an individual to maintain health.  If you would otherwise drive to the health club, the real net energy for walking or bicyling might be zero. I know when I used to bike to work, I did it as a substitute for exercise I would have done, anyway.

And what about all the energy for all the health care saved. I wonder how energy intensive the health care industry is. One could start by considering all that stuff, including a lot of plastic, they use and throw away.

Getting more cars off the road would also increased the efficiency of those on the road because of less traffic jams.


I agree in principle to the calorie conversion, 30 walking mpg.

My only defense is that those upstream calories are based on averages, and that we can beat the averages by shopping carefully.  I'd expect my canister of rolled oats to do better on an "upstream fossil fuel use per food calorie" than a stop at McDonald's.

We should try to combine biking/walking with best practices on the culinary side.

P.S. - I put just a dribble of maple syrup on my oatmeal ... but man talk about a terrible EROEI, boiling down all that sap :-(

I try to get the worst possible EROEI when making my maple syrup.

  1. No power tools used for anything
  2. Wood is cut with axe and Swede saw
  3. Wood is split with 12 lb. Monster Maul
  4. Wood is stacked by hand
  5. When my friends come to help me with the sugaring, we eat huge fantastic wonderful and outrageous amounts of rich food.
I mentioned that the oil conversion factor with the Calories. It's fully true that you can carefully select foods with the best oil > food conversion rates i.e. local-grown organic veganism. With 30 Calories/mile that would end up being a cyclist's mpg equivalent being 1,000mpg until you factor in oil > food conversion of the agriculture.

We hear "experts" nag us all trying to get us all to exercise. The suggestion of 1/2 hour 3 times a week just wouldn't burn many Calories. You'd be better off with a desk job (like programming) and commute by running and living 5 miles away. A job where you're on your feet all day doesn't burn hardly anything yet you get every mile's worth of bodily wear and tear plus you'd have too many aches to commute by running.

The obesity problem boils down to too many Calories in the food, to the point that portion control becomes a sick joke. Maybe we overweight people need to allay hunger pangs with Haitian mud pies just to fill you up. Some "foods" with a way less than unity of metabolisable EROEI would help dieters. I bet the mud pies would be awful gritty no matter the spices used. Exercise alone would not cut it unless you train for marathons or commute by running.

I was in a big long ... discussion, about meat eating, food production, and energy inputs.  I think everone in the thread pulled together some interesting numbers.  For anyone interested:

The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, is a very good read, and is very enlightening on the effect of cheap fuel on the food supply. America has moved into "industrial" food production, with concommitant decline in quality, both of the food we eat and the lives of those who grow it. He writes extensively about Polyface Farms, in Virginia, which may become the model for post-peak food production: high quality, sustainably grown food, grown with minimal fossil fuel inputs.
I'm just a few chapters into this, and it really is an excellent read.  PO underlies a lot of what he talks about, and there's also some highly interesting facts about industrial food production that I haven't read anywhere else.  Outstanding book.
This book is all the rage now. Is the subject of Peak-Oil discussed? And to what extent?
Not really discussed, per se, but mentioned in passing as part of inputs to massive industrial corn production, fertilizer, etc.  You know, the "farming is turning oil into food"--thing.
This is right up my alley, but at a nuts & bolts level rather than a world markets view. Will food production fall as a result of rising energy (and fertilizer) prices? Yes. Does it have to? No.

Intensively managed organic farms are usually more productive than conventionally managed farms. But they can use organic inputs as fertilizer (eg. fish meal). If these inputs become more expensive, organic farm production will fall, but not by much. The reason is that some organic practices can drastically reduce the need for fertilizer inputs. For example, a crop rotation that includes a legume or green manure crops that are grown only to capture nitrogen and are then turned into or left in-place on the soil.

If mainstream farming remains focused on minimizing labour and maximizing production based on high-energy practises and inputs, we can expect food production to drastically fall. If the mainstream shifts to produce low-input crops using low-input production methods, then the fall won't be as drastic.

Similar principles apply to meat production as well. Currently, the practise is to pasture livestock on grass fields and fertilize to maximize grass growth. An alternative model incorporates legumes in the pasture mix. Properly managed pastures can finish cattle without a trip to the high-density feedlot for a 6-week diet of grain.

A side benefit of these practices (besides survival) is the transformation of farming from a huge carbon-dioxide producer to a carbon-sink.

These are the practices that I'm exploring and my impression is that farmers (but not agricultural companies) are moving in this direction. Hopefully, the move will be big enough and quick enough to minimize the drop in production, but we can all expect trips to the grocery store to be more expensive. Next spring would be a good time to plant a garden.

Interesting post.  A few quibbles:

a) according to USDA, food availability was 3,900 calories per person per day in 2004 (down a bit from 2000, when it hit 4,000 calories per person per day).  See here for more.

b) That doesn't mean Americans ate 3,900 calories per day.  It means we ate or wasted 3,900 calories per day.  Some of that spoils, some is plate waste. The US hasn't gone  below 3,100 calories per person per day since 1909, and perhaps much earlier.

c) In terms of raw calories (not other nutrients, e.g. protein, vitamins or minerals) the US corn crop alone  produces about 3-4 times as many calories as the human inhabitants of the country consume each year.  (~11 billion bushels, 139,000 kCal per bushel, 3,900 kCal per person per day, ~300 million people --> corn crop = 3.6 x calorie needs.) And corn occupies, oh, only about a fifth of US cropland.  

And that doesn't count the other major commodities (wheat, rice, soybeans, other oilseeds & minor grains) or any of the food grown on pasture or rangeland, or orchards, or vegetable crops.  

Obviously, we don't eat feed corn; I only include the stat to show the sheer scale of food production in the country.

Plus, much of the 3,900 kCal represents meat, eggs, and dairy produced from grain -- which is a pretty wasteful way of delivering calories from farm field to people.  

So while I don't doubt for a moment that an oil & gas shortage could have huge implications for food availability, production methods, & prices, we're starting from a food system with a phenomenally high level of productivity & waste, feeding lots of (relatively wasteful) animal fats and proteins to an overweight population.  

Which means you could, in theory, cut way back on food production (cutting commodity subsidies would be a start) while still providing lots of calories to people's plates.  Not that things would turn out that way, necessarily.

I'm with you and happen to be vegetarian. Having said that... in the 19th century sanitationmen would collect "nightsoil" (human waste, that is) from chamberpots for use on farms. Why can't we recycle waste from cities for use on farms (if not composting at home if you are inclined to tend a garden). Seems like this would cut down on the energy needed to run sewage treatment systems, help on the fertilizer demand front, and (along with increased vegetarianism) make, well, too much sense.
I think a lot of places digest sewage to produce methane, and then offer composted sludge to the market.  But I think acceptance is limited and the result is a sluge surplus, and political sludge wars.

Sunlight/Odograph, I recommend William McDonough's book Cradle to Cradle and also this Newsweek article on his work in China. Waste = food (biological or technical nutrients). Inspiring.
The linked article refers to toxins, a serious issue in sludge acceptance or acceptability. Raw wastewater in the large majority of municipal treatment systems comes from commercial and industrial sources as well as from sinks and toilets. It contains all sorts of toxic substances whose chemical properties cause them to concentrate into the sludge: heavy metals and metalloids (cadmium, arsenic, copper, zinc, etc.) and many organic compounds, including organochlorine and other types of pesticide.

The concentrations of toxic substances in sewage sludge are typically subject to health and environment regulations that prescribe limits for certain uses. Tomatoes and many leafy vegetables, for example, are pretty good at concentrating certain heavy metals from the soil, so the agricultural limits can be quite restrictive.  

Milorganite, a fertiliser made of dried sewage sludge from Milwaukee, has been available since the 1920's and can be used on fruit and vegetables. It has wide public acceptance and is sold throughout North America in garden shops and nurseries, though I suspect most end-users are ignorant of its origin.  At the other end of the spectrum, some municipal sludges can't be used to fertilize anything other than forest land, if that.

Austin has 'Dillo Dirt.  Sewage sludge mixed with ground up leaves and tree limbs.  They sell 100% of their waste that way.
Sunlight, you have to have a look at The Humanure Handbook (the entire text is viewable for free via the link). Materials to build your own system are less than $50. I have plenty of first hand experience with the method and it isn't near as bad as one would first suspect. (Evidence: I remain married.) Composting toilets are another, more acceptable, option.

A garden and a home bodily waste composting operation would be a wonderful way of reducing a household's energy footprint and would probably end up being a carbon sink.

The problem with the conventional sewage composting facilities, and their product, is that they have to deal with a lot more than just bodily waste (ie. everything else an average North American doesn't think twice about flushing down a toilet or dumping down a drain).

"everything else an average North American doesn't think twice about flushing down a toilet or dumping down a drain"

That's true. I live in a house that was owned by an American before my parents moved in, and when emptying the septical pit several years ago, a lot of junk was floating on or hidden in the sludge.

Kind of like how we throw so many things "away"--where's that, anyway?
Thanks for the link Mark, and for the GREAT thread Prof. Goose and seismobob.  I love the Yak dung-straw walls... third worlders are very practical and creative (in deforested areas of africa they use dung for heating and cooking too).

Another good source for Composting toilets is "The Composting Toilet System Book" (Del Porto and Carol Steinfeld).  It discusses the history of composting toilets, commercial systems available and plans for building your own, planning and installing and operating, Urine diversion and use for gardening.  It also has chapter on Profiles of Owners and Operators and discusses using greywater (from laundry, bath, dishes etc) for attached greenhouses or gardens.

It's interesting that a hundred years ago there was competition between the "water closet" and "earth (composting) closet"... with Queen Victoria prefering the Earth Closet.

The system designed by Henry Moulde in 1859 looked like a wooden version of a modern toilet but in place of a water tank there was a box filled with earth and ash - it took care of the oders and aided composting... and made his potatoes grow 1/3 bigger on average than non-compost treated potatoes...

Were people to understand the cruelty to animals involved in U.S. production of meat, few would eat it. I'll fish and hunt and eat free-range meat. But if I'm not willing to kill and butcher the animal, why should I put up with the horrible, horrible horrendously vile practices in today's "bacon bins," and feed lots?

Please do not get me started on chickens. After seeing some years ago on "Sixty Minutes" how the carcases are cooled in feces-infested big toilets, there is not enough money on planet earth to get me to eat that substance labelled "chicken" in the supermarkets. I'd much sooner eat rattlesnake meat, which tastes much better and is more nutritious by far. Also, prairie dogs are good, if you know how to fix them.

Sailorman's post reminds me of Kunstler's Rant this week  It contains a letter from a farmer claiming local factory farmers feed their cows a silage made partially from chicken dung and wood shavings... Makes me want to get me a couple mini-bovines and grow my own hambergers for on ;)
This was widely reported, but the documentation is generally crappy. This purports to be truthful, and the BBC has mentoned the same EU report:

"On October 23 [1999], an EU report was released confirming that human and animal sewage has been used by France's rendering industry to make animal feed. The investigation began in August, after a German television report uncovered the fact that feed had been contaminated with dangerous pesticides, heavy metals and human waste. From then on the war of words between the two countries was peppered with charges of "hypocrisy" levelled against the French and warnings that eating its produce could lead to food poisoning." Article

Think goats.

Some decades ago, my sister got her picture on the cover of "Dairy Goat Monthly" for keeping her two milk goats in her Berkeley backyard at 1422 Arch St.

Neighbors loved the goats; they do NOT smell bad, and kids came from blocks around to pet the friendly animals.

Now my sister keeps too many goats for a woman her age just coming back from the second bout of cancer that nearly killed her. But she is soft-hearted, and if a goat needs a good home, everybody in the County knows she has a huge humongous goat barn and five acres of goat paradise, plus friendly dogs and a dozen or so cats plus chickens and sometimes bees or other livestock.

Oh, and her garden puts mine to shame. She always wins prizes for her cheeses and yogurts at the County Fair, and the nice thing about goat people is that they are nice (though many are grossly obese women, for some reason, and perhaps half of goat keepers are gay, for reasons I totally fail to understand)


Part of the reason we cannot use nightsoil as much in the modernworld is because of the HUGE amount of excreted drugs and other chemicals that end up in the waste stream. Tests on various waste streams indicate dangerous quanities of everything from heart medication to cocaine to pesticides to valium.

Many of these chemicals are taken up by some plants and can be reingested.


I've always wondered about "Johnie's crack corn"....
I agree that there are huge opportunities to powerdown agriculture without impacting North American food calories.  The upstream calories to produce "meat" or "produce" vary hugely when you get down to detail: beef vs eggs, kiwi fruit vs cabbage.

I hope we do the shift, rather than feasting in the face of world starvation.

If we transfer dollars (and not subsidized food) to those suffering world starvation then they can compete with us and meat will become more expensive for us but they will eat.
If we ship dollars instead of foodstuffs then the corrupt governments will merely buy weapons instead of compete on the food markets. As it stands those same governments merely divert the food for the armies to feed them first and sell the rest. Try airdropping FOOD STAMPS instead! Kin Jong Il doesn't take food stamps to my knowledge and neither do the Iranians.
Wow, I wonder what would have happened if someone decided to bypass corrupt government by airdropping money :-) Probably wouldn't look nice!
We give a couple billion a year in food aid to Egypt each year, and it does not seem to have corrupted that government. For a third-world horribly overpopulated country threatened by the Islamofascists, I'd say Egypt has done pretty well.

Hard to say why.

Maybe having had a pretty much continuous civilization (despite a few collapses, invasions, etc.) for more than five thousand years helps.

Maybe being intelligent enough to sign a peace treaty with Israel accounts for part of Egypt's relative success.

As Diamond has pointed out, it is really really tough in some cases to figure out why things go relatively well for a long time.

THanks for the comments and different data.  One of the thing to remember is that we export lots of food.  I once had a Saudi muslim in London ask me, rather gleefully, if the coming energy crisis would end the US hegemony and prevent the US from projecting its military force.  I told him that it would  but that he shouldn't be too gleeful about the possibility of an energy crisis because Saudi Arabia imports a large percentage of their food. Without energy, those imports will drop and people will starve. (see

Lots of countries depend upon our food. They better hope we still have energy

We will probably feed the last hungry American to excess before we do much to stop the coming deaths of hundreds of millions of people in the food importing countries.

Russia is an exception. We sell them food at reasonable prices or they nuke us: It really is that simple.

Hello Seismobob,

Thxs for the info.  This is truly the crux of the Overshoot issue.  Living without fossil fuels is doable, afterall, that was the standard way of life for our ancestors, but trying to live without sufficient food and clean drinking water is the truly impossible part.

I think many early postPeak lives can be saved by developing a bugfood industry.  These insects can be fed trash, harvested, dehydrated, then possibly irradiated or microwaved to kill any harmful pathogens, then ground up to make a rich protein additive to bread.

Australian Aborigines lived sustainably for 40,000 years with insects as a part of their diets.  We should be hoping that the food industry combines are trying to do the same as part of postPeak preparations.  Thankfully, many university entymology departments are investigating this issue also.  We might be very grateful for the opportunity to buy cricket bread in a few years.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Hi Bob Shaw,

When you talk about a eating bugs, I have done so.  When I lived in Beijing, I went looking for a delicacy called can yong (I think I have the pin yin correct). It is silkworm pupae.  I told my driver to find a restaurant that had them and take me there one lunch.  I walked in and they showed me a bushel basket full of the things (jumping around like jumping beans.  I got one order of them which was a bowl big enough for 3 people, one order of rice and some tea.  The waiters had to show me how to eat them (just pop them into your mouth). The flavor was good, but as I ate more and more of the bugs, the idea that I was sitting alone at a table in Beijing eating pupae began working on my head.  I finally decided that I needed to quit eating before I blew lunch all over the place.  The taste hadn't changed, but I had come to my American senses.

In the early 60s when China was starving, people ate these things and some came to love them.

You are right, though that insects create high protein meals. Native Americans ate grasshoppers and thought times were good when they were around.

Hmmm... sounds pretty "Klingon" to me (Trek fans should get this ref.)

I think live larva would be a bridge to far for me unless lost in a jungle but I have eaten worms; African nightcrawlers... Fed on straight corn meal for a week or so, then baked on a cookie sheet in the oven till crispy.

What can I say, somewhat bitter and a bit "woody", but I imagine modern "food science" could turn them into a generic protien powder that would taste like whatever you ordered...

An awful prospect, but there ya go.

Haitians eat dirt. It fills bellies.

Many Africans eat the non-nutritious parts of plants such as maize to stave off hunger. It kills the kids fairly quickly and the adults slower.

In all probability, more people today die as the direct or indirect results of malnutrition or undernutrition.

The Green Revolution has been the greatest failure in the history of technology, and the evil it has done has hardly begun to be reaped.

Future historians, both of them;-) will marvel at the stupidities of the Green Revolution, which will doubtless be counted as the greatest creator of poverty and mass death ever. By Far.

When you can't buy diesel for irrigation pumps, you die, if you are in a poor country.

For much of the world, Africa is the future.


Because I'm planning to put up a county wide organisation for preparing for Peak Oil, I have read lots of stuff regarding food production methods.

My first preocupation is a possible shortage in winter.  A few helpfull vegetarian showed me how to grow alfalfa germination wich can provide vitamin C.  Winter is long around here so we need to ensure emergency food availability while using the smalest amount of storage and money to buy it.  It will be used with other means to go trough one winter.  If shortage are not dramatic, it will just have costed a few thousands or so.

Preparing for the "aftermath" is done trough a biointensive community garden and adult course.  Two friend are already preparing for that, the city has given land and the local adult school hired my friend to give the course.

I'm currently reading the Masanobu Fukuoka books regarding natural farming (both the philosophy and techniques)and found that they were pretty good at ensuring good growing techniques.  He does the following :

  1. Never cultivate the soil (no turning, plowing or playing with the soil);

  2. Never use fertilizers or prepared compost;

  3. Do not remove wild grass using machines or chemical products;

  4. Never depend upond chemical products;

He return all the straw to the fields and use mainly hand tools.  Same principles are obtained by following permaculture solutions but he does it for grain growing. Yield were comparable or better than other farmers using machines and chemicals.  They were less diseases and insects.

I think that's the way Cuba transformed their agricultural, life and work practice.  Because I dont see how we could transform country wide both life and agricultural practice without being deep into the problem.  Will it allow to sustain a large population?  I dont know.  Is some people wont be able to make it? maybe.

As Albert Bartlett told it, population will have to be put in check, whether we like it or not.  I guess war and famine is the way.  I do not fear for the humain race, I fear even less for western way of life.  We will find ways to overcome this but after every bad options are tried.


A subject I might actually be able to weigh in on for my first post...

I'm in my first year practising a similar method to Mr Wolfric's - based heavily on Jon Jeavons "Grow Biointensive" program.

The statistics at the beginning on Mr Jeavons' book make for interesting reading:

  • Area required for average US diet (fossil fuels available) - 22,000 - 42,000 sq. ft.

  • Average area required for third world diet (fossil fuels available) - 22,000 - 30,000 sq. ft

  • Average US vegan diet - 10,000 sq. ft

He then provides the estimate that between 2014-2021 the area of arable land available will be 9,000 sq. ft per person.  Also included is the statistic, taken from US department of Agriculture, that 6 pounds of topsoil is lost in America for every pound of food produced, and the conclusion, referenced as "Availability of Agricultural Land for Crop and Livestock Production" (1989, D. Pimentel and C.W. Hall), that worldwide only 50-100 years of topsoil remains.

Actually we use the John Jeavons book.  I have read it but the copy is now in the hands of the girl who is going to give the actual course.

I'm not calculating how much we need to feed everyone in all countries.  I dont even think it's relevent to do it for a too large area.  Theses techniques will need to be used in conjonction with many other changes.  Some of it will be implemented in large cities, but I have doubt on how fast and how large the land will need to be to sustain a city.

I dont want really to predict the future, because future is something we will never know until we experience it.

My father used to told me that experience is tricky.  You need it when you dont have it and when you have it, you dont need it anymore :)

Somehow I'm reminded of a cartoon where two guys are in a diner.  Waitress asks, "What'll you have?"  Guy in the EPA jacket says "Anything but vegetables".  The guy in the USDA jacket says "Anything but meat".
It would be nice to see some discussion about the relationship between tight global grain supplies and high oil prices, if there is any:

I'm not even sure I understand what the foreign agicultral service is talking about when it says that grain consumption is outstripping production. Does this mean that there are enough stores from 2005 and early years to make up for a two-year production shortfall? Are world grain stores going to be drawn down to nothing? What happens after that?

It seems clear to me that in a peak-oil induced global food production crisis, The U.S. population would not be the first to suffer. Although if Americans could reduce per capita calorie consumption by 25% it would be great for their health, the fact that they haven't done so even though we all know it would improve the nation's health is evidence of how we are all hard-wired to eat when confronted with abundant supply. Americans won't stop eating unless and until they are confronted with real scarcity in the food supply. But we will let the third world starve before that happens.

According to Lester Brown (and his sources), global grain consumption has exceeded production in 6 out of the last 7 years or so, not just two.  Thus each year the amount in storage decreases, it is now down to about 8 weeks worth.  And yes there would be nothing left in storage before long, except that historically when the amount in storage gets this low, prices rise, and consumption decreases.

In recent years (again according to Lester Brown) China has greatly increased demand for grain, due to increased consumption of meats.  As grain prices rise, what will change?  Perhaps demand in China will abate a bit, or rise more slowly, but those who will suffer most are poorer countries, especially in Africa, who are dependent on grain imports.  You'd think that they would therefore cut back on the growing of cash export crops and grow their own edibles instead, but besides the time it takes to make that shift, there is the problem that "a country" is not a monolith: those who are or will be starving are not the same people who "own" the land used for growing cash crops.  Therefore expect spotty starvation coupled with political instability.

Regarding the title of this thread, if meats (and vegetables) get pricey, people eat relatively cheap starch, which means a poorer, not better, diet, and often a gain in weight (but loss of health).

It can get even worse than that.  I heard recently (on NPR?) that in poor countries like Bangladesh the money that the average person spends on tobacco could have bought them 800 daily calories of food, easily enough to make the difference between living and starving.  And then there is the demand for biofuels competing with food production:

Cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in world grain consumption this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that world grain use will grow by 20 million tons in 2006. Of this, 14 million tons will be used to produce fuel for cars in the United States, leaving only 6 million tons to satisfy the world’s growing food needs.

In agricultural terms, the world appetite for automotive fuel is insatiable. The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol will feed one person for a year.

The price of corn is way way way too low.

The answer is ethanol from corn.

Well, lets kill all subsidies, and sugar/ethanol import duties, and see how it flies.  If it's got the efficiencies, it should just go on its own.
Wanna see what RR has to say. I agree so far.
RR is right about corn ethanol and the U.S. subsidy program.

I'm more positive on sugar than he is. I have posted links to two great, if big, studies on bio-fuels - one by the World Bank and one by World Watch Institute - which seem to confirm that all paths to bio-fuels are hard, but tropical sugar cane does actually lead somewhere.

I claim that ethanol, primarily from sugar cane until the next technology, can account for 10% of global vehicle fuel use in 10 years.

anybody interested on my research logs from growing my own jerusalem artichokes, eating some and mashing up others to make ethanol?

Or would people prefer to see a bibliography of scientific (as opposed to theoretical or handwaving) research on ethanol for fuel--including many articles from several highly reputable peer-reviewed journals?

BTW, isn't it interesting that even Pimental cannot replicate his own results? True, he admitted he was wrong, but what he has never admitted to (despite strong evidence) is that some of his later research was pure fiction based on guesses done from experiments of decades earlier. In other words, he admits to being wrong but denies being a fraud.

Interesting. Very interesting.

Phenomenal 'On Point' moderated by Tom Ashbrooke on Ethanol. Excellent roster of experts and callers on all sides of issue. I only heard last half hour, but will be going back for seconds.

Race Car Driver called in near the end to verify what Don was saying the other day about performance issues that are important to racing community.

TOD needs to get Stuart on Ashbrooke's show sometime. Along with Jack, Robert, Sailorman, and others.

GW, food-or-fuel, EROEI, all the topics are covered. You won't be disappointed.

Ethanol Mania ("Fairness with links" - this only takes you to show synopsis - you decide from there how you want to listen)

I'd be interested to know if RR knows who Nathaneal Greene is and what the Natural Resources Defence Council is. I sure don't.

I've been studying sustainable food production for years now and have a few general comments.

First, it takes a lot of skill, knowledge, and land to feed a person without fossil fuel inputs.  And of course if you only have a four month growing season you need to produce and store enough food to get you through the rest of the year.  People have no idea how difficult it's going to be.  And its getting harder all the time as we deplete the soil and disrupt the planet's climate.  

Second, the only way agriculture can be sustainable is to produce a lot of carbon-rich compost material (plants with woody stems like grains, jerusalem artichokes, sunflowers) and then return all plant material and human waste to the soil in the form of cured compost.  If we did that along with grass-based livestock farming and planting a lot of fruit trees we could probably sustain something close to our present population.  But nearly everyone would need to become involved in food production.  And it takes many years to become successful at it.  It's going to be difficult for people to learn farming when you are in the midst of a crisis and have no access to land.

Finally, sustainable food production would require a huge culture change to get people to do things like compost their own manure rather than flush it with clean drinking water.  

I don't see anything like this happening here in the US to avert a massive dieoff.

When do you see farmers having to go "without" fossil fuel inputs?

The number I found was that:

"Agriculture uses approximately 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel per year."

That's out of a total US yearly consumption of about 1.4 billion barrels of diesel, that seems small.

Also "The entire fertilizer industry uses less than 2% of world energy consumption, and this is overwhelmingly concentrated in the production of ammonia. The ammonia industry used about 5% of natural gas consumption in the mid-1990s."

Again, that sounds like there is some room for contraction.

That's out of a total US yearly consumption of about 1.4 billion barrels of diesel, that seems small.

About 5%.  Similar to the NG number.

I think that in the medium term we won't "run out" of fossil fuels, but the barely-elastic demands will cause the price to rise greatly.  That will cause food prices to rise.  Currently in the USA the portion of people's incomes that is spent on food is very small, as compared with other countries and historically.  This will change.  The change will be rather painful for many reasons, including:

  • having to cut down on other purchases (clothes, AC, entertainment, travel) to afford food
  • the ripple effect on the economy due to those foregone purchases - one man's waste is another man's income
  • the contracting economy will reduce most people's incomes, thus making it even harder to afford food.  Rinse and repeat.
  • the current industrial-ag system is set up to pay the farmers very little and give them no bargaining power.  Given rising fuel costs and stagnant grain prices, there are already many farmers saying they will not plant next year, or not as much, as they'll only lose money.  Thus I expect there to be cycles like this: less planting, less harvest, higher food prices, after a lag higher per-unit payment to farmers for the harvest, somewhat more planting, oil depletes further, fuel and fertilizer prices rise further, repeat the cycle.
My guess is that these numbers only include simple inputs: fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, machine fuel and... possibly transportation costs from field to commodity market.


if you walk the grocery store: past the 3 aisles of canned goods like spaghetti sauces, the 4 aisles of dry packaged mixes like rice-o-roni, the 3 aisles of snack foods: cheetos, fritos, chips, pretzels, etc..., the double wide aisles of corn syrup colas, the aisle of ground and extruded grain cereals (WITH VITAMINS <G>) ... I think there is a lot of energy missing going unmeasured.  

The packaging and freezing energy alone is huge. What of the energy for milling, mixing, grinding, powdering, stabilizing, freeze-drying, baking, canning... where are these inputs?

To push the point to an absurd conclusion... who's counting the 75,000 cars in Kraft Inc's employee parking lot(s)?

Measuring grain to ADM's elevator is not the same as measuring grain to cake mix on the store shelf.


I guess I picture us shipping grain to cities as the last, most efficient, form of food distribution.  And we have a long way to go before we worry about that.  We can drop the 10,000 grocery items most flagrant in their energy consumption: Cheetos, Lunchables, etc.
Finally, sustainable food production would require a huge culture change

Yes, THE big overall problem is culture change.
In every respect, and it does not look so easy, it will require a lot of creativity, not just "thinking".
Creativity is bit different from what I see on TOD.
ALL, really ALL of what is discussed is just extrapolations of well known ideas.
Growing one's own food is seemingly "obvious" but as you rightly say People have no idea how difficult it's going to be.
Same for almost EVERYTHING which is discussed, improving this or that device efficiency, making investments in energy production companies, etc...
Of course, SOME of those ideas are going to work but NOT the folk's views.
In every field it will take professionalism to succeed, same case as for food production, and not even every professional will succeed.

TOD is just a playground for "amateurs", apart from the work of people like westexas, Khebab et als.
And even this is of little practical value, predicting the exact date of the peak?
Then what?

The very function of society and economy is to maximize the efficiency of human ingenuity, way, way beyond the capabilities of any individual or small group.

This what I see missing from the TOD threads, more concerns for which kind of society could "work" after and DURING the energy descent.
And I DON'T mean lofty political (right/left) utopian (back to nature) or dystopian (doomers,survivalists) dreams.
We have had enough of those all along history, the time is NOW to ask how we DESIGN a WORKING society and economy.
This has never really been done, the various societies we live in are the result of hapazard historical events.

We just see that they are likely to fail us soon.
Time to think HARDER...
What else can we do?

Troll go back under your bridge.
That article about money that can't earn interest was the closest thing I've seen here to what you are asking for.  

I actually think you are right - people have no clue how vast the cultural changes will be, and how difficult it will be to make them.  Just look at the reactions to that article about the problems with interest.  Some got it, but many reacted with a "dog trying to understand calculus" kind of blankness, or kneejerk opposition.  And that's not really all that radical.  Usury was considered a sin in Biblical times, but few seem to have wondered why.

And the other changes we are facing are likely to be even more profound.  So much so, that I suspect it's kind of pointless to try to plan for them.  We're like fish, trying to imagine the desert.  

We're like fish, trying to imagine the desert.

AWESOME similie.

The reason why usury was considered a sin in the Bible was due to the consequences of consumer loans. You pledge your cloak as collateral and cannot repay--result, freezing to death. You pledge your children as collateral (very common in many cultures, e.g. today in India); you cannot repay and they are sold into slavery.

Business loans often are a good idea. As a wealthy old geezer, it makes sense for me to lend funds to you youngsters to start a business that has good prospects. I learned this from my father, who lost most of his wealth by investing in U.S. Government Savings bonds during World War Two (due to inflation) and then made it all back by lending to hard-working young people who could not qualify for a bank loan. In the process he earned life-long friends, and at his funeral there was not a dry eye in the house.

Loans were not considered a sin, the charging of interest was considered a sin. You can have a zero interest loan with your cloak as a collatoral and as far as I know the Bible has nothing to say about this.

I agree that lending is a natural and perfectly morally acceptable activity, as long as the lender accepts the risk of default and does not demand unethical collatorals.

NB interest itself is not necessarily evil, however the way it interacts with other aspects of our monetary system can have "evil" consequences ... more on that later


"The reason why usury was considered a sin in the Bible was due to the consequences of consumer loans. You pledge your cloak as collateral and cannot repay--result, freezing to death. You pledge your children as collateral (very common in many cultures, e.g. today in India); you cannot repay and they are sold into slavery."

I'm not sure where you get that from within the traditions of the three "peoples of the book". The results of the loan failure are accurate, but I don't see the references in the Torah, Bible or Koran... Maybe I'm just missing them.

As I understand it the prohibition arises from the concept of "deep humility" before G_d inherent in all of these traditions; Lending out ones money at interest creates a deep divide between ones income and efforts, between ones action and the implications of that action. Related concepts are Sabbath, and Jubilee, also much of the book of Job. My knowledge of the Koran is to thin to opine usefully, maybe others can help here...

I'm trying to suggest that the fundimental ethical point here is defined not from the point of view of the borrower as you suggest, but from the lender, which is as it should be I.M.O. for who commits the greater sin: The man forced to sell himself into debt slavery, or the Lender who enslaves him?

All I know for sure about the Bible, Koran, etc. are from what my personal friend/experts/anthropologists/historians/classical-languages guys and gals tell me.

The problem is to get a consensus of expert opinion--impossible in many cases, especially as to which texts are authentic and others bogus.

Then there is the language problem. Ancient Hebrew does not translate well into English. (It translates much better into related languages, such as Arabic or Aramaic.)

Take one huge mistake in the KING JAMES BIBLE: Because they did not know how to read Hebrew very well, the translators came up with:

"It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven."

Knowing what I do of the character of Jesus I never did believe he said that--or than anybody serious ever had. The correct (and reasonable) translation when you guess at the right vowel (Vowels often not written down in ancient Hebrew) is:

I is easier for a piece of yarn to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven."

If you ever look at ancient needles, they were big, sort of like sailcloth needles are today, and they often had eyes such that if you really worked hard at it you might be able to get yarn through the eye of a needle. in other words, hard to do, but by no means impossible

Jesus never hated rich people--or anybody

He hated greed, hypocrasy, cruelty and the stupidity of people who thought that there was any path to happiness than faith, hope, love and charity.

The evidence that Jesus was a real person is overwhelming; the problem is that too many people made up too many conflicting stories about him.

One reason I like Islam is that as a person I find Mahomet likable, shrewd, willing to learn from his mistakes, very human, extremely tolerant in many cases.

BTW, the reason Islam is so strict on theft is that for poor people in the desert, if you steal a man's tent or goat or fodder you kill not only him but also his whole family.

On theft, I would not mind the U.S. going to sharia law. And that includes people like Andy Fastow, that fat pig.

He smacked down a few Temple merchants, though.
The trouble is that Shariah Law comes in the whole package and not a la carte. If you want a preview of Shariah Law, try living in Iran or Saudi Arabia and try to get a drink. Better yet, try to survive the attempt. If you like beer, you might reconsider!
Working on it - new article should be up in a few days
"This what I see missing from the TOD threads, more concerns for which kind of society could "work" after and DURING the energy descent."

What kinds of scale are you talking about - the world or your local economy???  

There are so many regional variables that ultimately local economies will adjust using local solutions... grand schemes to transform/retool large-scale economies will be nearly impossible considering the politics etc adn the VERY limited time we have to prepare on that scale... it is more likely we will continue to respond economically to "hapazard historical events."

Trying to plan a "society and economy that really work" sounds utopian to me... Working on Local Solutions that are more managable looks like the Default Solution to me at this time.  


What kinds of scale are you talking about

I mostly think about local economy but the question does not depend that much on scale, see below.

grand schemes to transform/retool large-scale economies will be nearly impossible considering the politics etc adn the VERY limited time we have to prepare on that scale

"the VERY limited time"
It may sound as a paradox but this is EXACTLY what I am worried about.
The complexity of current societies/economies has been built up from "hapazard historical events" over quite long periods of time.
Given that the changes induced by PO/GW are going to happen much faster than what we are accustomed to we need to use REALLY different approaches to prepare for these changes.
There will not be enough time to adjust by the usual trial and error method, the most planning that we will have done in advance the better.
There I DON'T mean "grand schemes" for which it will be difficult to reach a large enough agreement, but contingency plans with which we can hope to cover most of the unexpected events.
That is, for each need we can foresee, food, shelter, security, etc... make a checklist of the requirements AND POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVES, should the most obvious convenient solution happen to falter.
This is the opposite of sticking to any "grand scheme" and the ultimate outcome will not be "choosen" but decided by circumstances, unfortunately this is even more work than setting up a grand scheme.
This is what I see lacking from most speculations on TOD, not seeing upon which assumptions the proposals really depend.
This only occurs once in a while like noticing that hydroponics require reliable supplies of water and mineral nutrients.
This deficiency is even more blatant (to me...) where informal social usages are involved.
Doing any kind of trade relies on myriads of social conventions we are not consciously aware of.
Trying to simply mimic ancient societies or contemporary simpler societies WILL FAIL because we will not catch those necessary "social ingredients" that we don't see.

This kind of search for hidden causes may "sound utopian" but nothing less will do.


You have been posting here for less than a week. You need to seriously re-adjust or you will be seriously thrashed. By the way - your use of underlining, capitals, bold, italics, spelling, grammar, and the English language itself all suck. Your style is horrendous.

What else can we do? Well I know what I can do. I can lose the idea that I thought I read something by you before that made sense. I must have been hallucinating.

Try again.

You need to seriously re-adjust or you will be seriously thrashed.

Thanks for the advice but I don't really mind that much.

your use of underlining, capitals, bold, italics, spelling, grammar, and the English language itself all suck. Your style is horrendous.

Of course, I am not a native speaker of english language.

I can lose the idea that I thought I read something by you before that made sense.

Fine, I see you can manage.

I must have been hallucinating.

Ha! Which dope?

I mix Chew-Z and Substance D.
OC... I'm not sure Mr. Kevembuangga is doing the forum a disservice with his criticism.

How many recent posts attended to the issue of whether race cars of category A or B use ethanol, methanol, nitro-something-or-other-ol or gasoline? And, should someone eventually resolve the core truth... BFD.  

An aside... my thanks to the contributor who suggested "The Death of Adam". Most excellent! A heavy hitter.

I think that I have posted items about the physical reoganiztion of our society in the past (and a small bit on the social effects of a changed physical environment).  I have given my "good examples" list of Thailand, Brazil, Switzerland & Sweden (and why).

But to re-engineer society and the means by which we govern ourselves & make social decisions begs for an even bigger disaster IMO.

finally something I can contribute to
I started researching sustainable agriculture some 4 years ago. bought equipment and started building raised beds last year (98 beds @ 5'x50'). this year I started growing and have had my ass handed to me every single day so far. this is no easy task. and what's more it doesn't pay, I've made about 500 bucks so far. I'll make more but not much more. I think my timing is right ( I want this thing up and running in 5 years) but the economics are hard right now. I can't over emphasize the hard work or the challenges of a micro climate.

also, it was here at tod that engineer poet  introduced me to terra preta soils
and it seems that todd is doing some trials at his place. These soils appear to be magic. by may estimation, if any tax payer money is spent on ag. subsidies it should go to researching this magic soil. the stuff sound to good to be true but apparently..

Rock dusts are used by many people....see
for some pictures of veggies grown with rock dust.

(and wade thru 57 megs if you want to see what manual labor future will be like.   Rocks and robes!)

Hydroponic is the way to go!
hydroponic is great for growing dope in your closet or tomatoes on mars. other than that its a waste of time and money.
really?  hmmm...tell my tomatoes then - Im just playing I've just heard a lot of positive but haven't gotten into the debate so to speak.  I don't hear the negatives so if you know any, please enlighten me.
while I think hydroponics are exciting, imagine folks in city apartments growing a good portion of their own food, it is still a growing  technique that is input dependent. As I haven't seen any numbers for the energy cost of producing these inputs I'll have to admit that my statement " a waste of time and money" is more just a gut feeling rather than something I can flat out prove. that said I might be suffering a complete cranial rectal inversion.
consider this
I've always had a hard time with the assertion that the suburbs are going to collapse and the cities within will be the place to be. I've always visualized the food coming thru the suburbs and thus being gobbled up first. but hell you've got me thinkin, as the economy turns for the worse and warehouse space frees  up you could pack alot of tomatoes plants into something like that. the costs would be huge (lighting/nutrient/you know energy) but I'm sure that food production will always pencil out. even if it barely does now.
thanks for making me think more about this
Water supplies may not allow for hydroponics in may areas of the world.  

And in the city... when we start experiencine roving brown-outs and blackouts, such systems may be very impractical... especially if city services such as sewer and water and electric are not dependable enough to plan hydro-farms in the city.  

Check out the effect on the economies of cities in S. Asia or S. Africa where power shortages are common and growing worse.

The limitations are no less than being outside.  Hydroponics does not mean growing inside using water.  It means growing using water so that nutrients have access at all times.  You can have a very sweet outdoor setup that uses the natural light, the sun, and you would just grow bigger and faster in most cases.  Hydro does need a lot of water.

I've been thinking though.  People around here bitch about the crappy top soil and how yields will shrink following the dicontinued use of fertilizers.  So if the only problem I have to deal with is water access, why couldn't I supplement the macro food supply chain with nurseries of hydro units?  

I happen to live in the municipality that values fitness.  There are like 4 gyms, a beautiful lake that is used thoroughly, & a lot of community focused get togethers.  They even built a dog park that is suppose to be completed by next month.  We've also got a lot of nurseries, and one really good one.  I've stopped in and talked to the staff and they are very intelligent.  They have an entire hydro farm as a demonstration.  I mean it's big!

After talking some small numbers they say they've averaged 30% larger fruits.  Any fruiting plant generally increases yields by a third and they plants grew faster and stronger.  In a nutshell the plant is biologically limited in production capability.  The thinking is that hydro is pushing the limits of certain genetics by temporarily over producing.  

Now I don't know about quality, I didn't taste a strawberry, but it seems that quality has to be sacrificied for yield, but what do I know, I'm new at this.  I'm looking real hard at hydro to grow many different types of foods year round due to the winters here in the midwest.  I like the speed and almost anything can be flavored with spices, so big deal.  I want raw yield to be as high as possible as fast as possible and hydro answers that.  But that would be supplementing my outdoor garden.

>The limitations are no less than being outside.  Hydroponics does not mean growing inside using water.  It means growing using water so that nutrients have access at all times.  You can have a very sweet outdoor setup that uses the natural light, the sun, and you would just grow bigger and faster in most cases.  Hydro does need a lot of water.

Keeping the water clean and pumping in water that evaporates requires a lot of energy. Also nutrients need to be added. Also hydroponics is difficult to scale. Imagine for instance trying to set up 10 acres on a hillside.

>Hydroponic is the way to go!

Hyrdoponics is very energy intensive and requires lots of technology to be productive. If hydroponics was truly the next big thing, farmers all over the country would have used it. If I recall correctly, farmers that invested into hydroponics abandoned this method because of the huge capital investments and operational costs exceed the revenues.

In my opinion, more technology isn't a solution to Post PO agraculture, its part of the problem. Ever hear of the KISS method? (Keep It Simple Stupid.) BTW: I am not suggesting you're stupid, or critizing you.

All true, but for my small scale, I think this may work just fine.
This seems as a good a place as any to make some genernal comments.

First, I understand Earl's comments regarding making a buck and the time, money and effort involved since I was a very small scale, certified organic farmer a number of years ago.  That's why I shut down.

Second, high crop yeilds of corn using organic methods have been demonstrated at The Rodale Research Farm   but I feel there are a lot of caveats that would take too much space to explain.

Third, what has been discussed in previous comments is, essentially, food coming from production agriculture rather than home production but little as to how home production could be important.  The issues revolving around home food production are significantly diferent than production ag.

This also raises the issue as to whether home produced food could be preserved or whether it would be seasonal.  Food presevation is an important issue.  My wife and I steam/hot water bath can, pressure can, juice and dehydrate.  Yet, we know few people, even in our rural area, who have this equipment much less canning jars, etc.

Fourth, you lose nutrients when you take a crop off...period.  All of the "magic methods" really rob nurtients from some place else and transfer them to the growing area.  And, further, there are many nutrients that probably are not available locally such as phosphate, trace minerals, sulfur and calcium.

This is why I'm so hot on high carbon/Terra Preta soils since they seem to hold nutrients better than even organic matter.  To put this into context, natural soils will tyoically have an organic content of 3-5%.  When it is forced higher (such as by putting on lots of compost), the bugs simply eat it until the level drops to the normal range.  In the case of high carbon soils, that is, high charcoal, levels of up to 10% are not unusual.

Fifth, I have to disagree with Earl that hydropnics is bad per se.  I fertigate all my crops which is nothing more than injecting a nutrient soilution into the irrigation water (the nutrients can be either synthetic or organic - I use a standard, synthetic 20-20-20 plus trace minerals although I have done it using organic nutrients in the past).  I think it offers some real advantages to home produced crops since no soil preparation is necessary if an artificial growing medium is used.  Of course, all of this assumes that stuff will be available...and, this is a big IF.  What I am personally counting on is that my soils will have lots of carbon and that the nutrients (especially P and Ca) that I have added will be available for a great many years since I can easily supply N and K.

Sixth, and even further afield, many stock producers are now using rotational grazing.  In other words, the animals are moved from paddock to paddock as the pasture is eaten down.  Some move their stock twice a day.  This process is not as easy as it sounds and too complex to go into here.

Seventh, most of the energy used for food is not related to its production but rather transporting, processing, etc.  If people would revert to the old days when raw food was prepared at home, a goodly number of joules would be saved allowing more for food growing.

That's enough of a rant for now.  Maybe more later.


Excellent Rant and much appreciated.
Paddock grazing is well-covered in The Omnivore's Dilemna.
Let me throw in one more thing that hasn't been discussed - irrigation.  Food production in the US would collapse without sufficient irrigation water.  In my area in the Coast Range Mountains of northern California, evapotranspiration is 6" per month or half an acre-foot during peak summer months.  What this means is that 5,300+ gallons of water per day per acre must be applied for plant usage and evaporation.  

California may be a bread basket but only by virtue of irrigation water from mountain snowpack runoff.  GW is likely to turn CA back into the desert it was where most crops are grown.

And, just think of all those center pivot systems sucking aquafirs dry west of the Mississippi.


The California Water-Energy paper was interesting because it discussed (among many other things) future growth in drip irrigation - less water used, but more electricity.

Exact increases are as difficult to predict as crop prices, but one study predicts that a doubling in drip-irrigated acreage would increase electricity use by about 1,900 GWh per year, which is about 0.7 percent of total electricity use in the state.

WATER-ENERGY RELATIONSHIP, by the California Energy Commission

Hello TODers,

It's been a while since I posted here, however I still read the site often and continue to benefit from the level of discussion.

I'll just chime in here for the benefit of anyone thinking about growing their own food at some point post-peak:

Three years ago, after learning about PO, I cut down about 100 60-foot red pines to the south of my house (which kept us in shadow in the winter, but not the summer) and created a vegetable garden to test out what it would really be like to try to grow one's own food.

I created eight raised beds, 5 x 40 feet, where they get a lot of sun. The soil here is sandy, the growing season is short, but we also benefit from a lot of rain. We have two streams running by each side of the property, that come down from the mountain behind us, and our well water is plentiful. We adjoin state land and have wilderness and farms around us.

I have built the soil up using peat moss, organic fertilizers, and this year, 10 cubic yards of cow manure compost (approved by the Northeast Organic Farmer's Association). I do everything by hand, except watering, which is helped along with an $8 sprinkler.

I'm no expert at this, but I'm learning. I've got onions (red, yellow and Vidalia), garlic, various types of lettuce; parsnips, carrots, salsify (another root crop); two types of sugar beets, summer and winter squash, broccoli, string beans, eggplant, chili peppers and melon growing. My pride and joy are my 42 tomato plants, which I started indoors several months ago under lights here in my home office. They are thriving.

Here's the rub: All we've really been able to eat as a meal so far has been the lettuce. Sure I know that I could have been eating peas and rutabaga and some scallions already, and probably some other things that some of you may wish to point out, but the point is it is well into the summer and we would have starved a long time ago were it not for the local grocery.

Even reading as much as I can about the subject, there is still a lot to learn by doing: Seeds don't germinate, voles and cutworms destroy your cauliflower and broccoli, and you can screw up the timing of your succession planting and harvesting until you get the hang of it. It is extremely time consuming. However, eventually we will have an abundance of vegetables, and then the time consuming part will be preparing them for storage for the winter while keeping them all from going bad.

If anyone out there is thinking seriously about reverting to a home garden as a back up plan post-peak, start now while we're still in a time of plenty. It will take years to build up your garden and your expertise.

While times are good, when things go wrong in your garden you can just drive down to the grocery sit happily eating a sandwich. If we ever do re-enter an age of scarcity, today's minor annoyances, like seeing your cauliflower seedlings destroyed over night, will instead be heartbreaking harbingers of hunger for you and your family.

Like I said I'm no expert and I don't claim to be a farmer, just a layman working hard at trying to grow at least some of my own food.

Keep up the good work here at TOD.

< If anyone out there is thinking seriously about reverting to a home garden as a back up plan post-peak, start now while we're still in a time of plenty. It will take years to build up your garden and your expertise. >

 I agree 100%. This is my first year gardening.
I enjoy it very much but the  thought often creeps into my mind that I need to learn well to ensure my family has food on the table.
 I recommend also buying heirloom seeds and learning how to save them from the current years crop for following years.

Re:  Solardude

I've suggested (half-seriously) that African farmers come over to the US to teach unemployed US college graduates sustainable farming practices.

There are a lot of Salvadorians around here already ;-)
Professor Goose wrote:

I am concerned about regaining that weight given the fact that Americans eat 920 kg of food annually...

That works out to be 2.55 kilos per day or 5.6 pounds of food per day. Wow! Most people eat a whole lot more food than I do. I figure I eat about a pound a day. However if you are counting beer....

Is that beer or ale?
Darwinian wrote:
"That works out to be 2.55 kilos per day or 5.6 pounds of food per day. Wow! Most people eat a whole lot more food than I do. I figure I eat about a pound a day. However if you are counting beer.... "

Remember wastage.

Speaking of weight loss and energy issues, Steve combines both [here]
I meant here
Electricity from any of several renewable sources can separate hydrogen from water and separate nitrogen from air to create NH3, anhydrous ammonia the most common nitrogen fertiliser. No fossil fuel needed. Farms could use electric vehicles charged with solar or wind power. No fossil fuels needed. The reason nat gas is used for ammonia production is that it is currently cheaper than electrolysis.
If only 1% or 2% of all energy use is for food production then a sane society would ration declining supplies so food production and distribution had enough energy at a reasonable price. Anybody know where I can find a sane society?
I agree.  All the Haber process needs is hydrogen, nitrogen and energy.  Solar energy is the future for producing ammonia, liquid fuels, petrochemicals, etc.  Hopefully we will get there soon before oil supplies become too tight.
as far as tractors go we are well on our way
Ethanol can be used to produce fertilizer? I must have misread the article, my impression was that oil is used to manufacture fertilizer through chemical processes not because it has a lot of energy. You can't simply substitute "energy" for it.

On the other hand, there are other ways to ensure the soil has nutrients. I believe there is work on developing new kinds of plant that shift nitrogen down to their roots, so planting them actually recovers the health of the soil rather than draining it ...


A couple of things:  NG is used for nitrogen fertilizers.  Phosphate comes from mined rock phosphate (which is also seriously depleting). Potassium comes from several sources but often green sand (also mined).

BEsides legumes, there are crops like sugar cane that have endophytic bacteria (that is they live in the plant) that produce nitrogen.  Don't hold your breath on widespread nitrogen producing crops.  What you may see more of is the use of mycorrizhal fungi as a nutrient aid.


Hi Todd,

 Do you have any recommendation on a crop spread for Post Peak Living? Which plants and in what volume would you recommend? Beside the issue of planting plants that can't self nitrate (i.e Legumes), am also thinking about these issues:

  1. Growing season. Some crops take a very long time to reach maturity, others  can be harvested multiple times in a single season.

  2. Off season storage. Crops like potatos, onions, grains can be stored and consumed during the winter. Others like tomatos, lettuce are pershable and either must be canned or refriderated. There are limits to how much canning one can do and refrideration (freezer) may become iffy or impossible.

  3. Highly susceptible to disease or infestation that are difficult to resolve.

  4. Saving large qualities of seeds for next seasons planting. I believe the majority of all seeds originate from a seed producer, instead of homegrown. Some seeds may also have low germination rates or can't be reused (hybrids).

  5. Excessive labor required to harvest the crop. For instance grain crops can be labor intensive to harvest and seperate the grain without heavy machinery. They may also require post harvesting processing: grain dryer, converting wheat grain into flour, etc.

  6. Excessive labor required to cultivate the crop.

  7. The amount of water or pesticides required for the crop.

  8. The amount of yield the crop provides per acre/season.

  9. Cover crops that can be planted along with another crop to serve as weed control, protect against erosion and also fix nitrogen to the soil. I know clover is a good cover crop, but I think seed harvesting may be a problem.

  10. Nutritional value.

What would you recommend as the most safe crops to grow that consider these issues and offer best chance for success for novice farmers?

Second, Do you have any recommend "cash" crops (no drugs) that would have high value, are easy to store and transport. For instance, nuts and spices would probably be good choices since they can be stored for long periods and don't take up much space. I think an ideal cash crop is would be something that isn't difficult to produce, is easy to transport and would be in high demand.  


Depends if you count tobacco as a drug. Though I believe it requires heavy fertilisation as it exhausts the soil really fast.
Almost any orchard crop has a very good input/output ratio and has trade value.  Many fruit trees benefit from being kept pruned to manageable size and durable bird nets (keep the bitrds off).  The bird nets and harvesting may be the highest labor inputs.
I seriously doubt that post-Peak food in New Orleans will suffer greatly, or lead to more weight loss.

The two local cuisines are Cajun (country) and Creole (city) and there has been a mixing of the two in recent decades.  Cajun is based on what was at hand, often within a mile or two.  Creole was more upscale and drew from what could be transported by boat to the city (dairy from accross the lake for example).  More wheat, potatoes (a small part), foreign spices in Creole.

The relative lack of dairy in Cajun is one of the defining differences (I have heard) between Cajun & Creole (lard instead of butter for example).

Before Katrina we had (AFAIK) three McDonalds in New Orleans, and tourists were a large part of their customer base. As one of the National Guard troops (KY ?) asked me shortly after I returned. "Are all these stores restaurants  ?  They look like they are, but I don't recognize a single name.  And none of them have drive-thrus. And you sure got a lot of them !" (10% of local labor force employed by restaurants BTW)

Food is a VERY large part of our culture, and we will eat well even if it takes a high % of our income (better to give up the car than decent food for most locals).

Old saying:  

What are the things you do NOT come to New Orleans to do ?

Sober up.

Lose weight

Fix a failing relationship

Make any real money

So the main reasons to come to The Big Easy are gluttony, lust (such beautiful whores!), drugs, jazz, and drunkeness.


Suspicions confirmed.

Some but not ALL of the reasons !

I have to leave for another neighborhood meeting (streetcar plans for Elysian Fields, aptly named >:-)  so too quickly:

Beautiful architecture, lovely young tourists who adopt/are intoxicated by the "Big Easy" attitude, the comity of the people, our cemetaries, the Greatest Free Party on Earth, (We did make "party" a verb) and Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez !

We are also known as "Sin City".  Certainly not boring (by reputation, one of the few faults of Minnesota).

Something well worth fighting and suffering for.  My guess is that 10% to 15% of the volunteers who come here to gut homes for free (Hot, filthly (think mold after 11 months), sweaty work donated) will settle here.  I knwo of several that already have.  A useful addition to our gumbo :-)

Oil prices are dropping like a stone (-$1.80), any news?
Condi promised a cease fire "soon."
Well, 2008 is pretty soon, in political terms;-)
Near term contract closed at $73.56, down $1.76. No, there was no news, just that now no one expects the conflict in Lebanon and Israel to spread out of the area or for Iran to jump into the fray.

The real news will come tomorrow at 10:30 EDT when we get the inventory report. If crude is down again this week, like it was last week, then all hell might break loose.
US crude inventories were down 6 million barrels last week. Everyone expects a draw again this week but much smaller than that. But tune in to CNBC at 10:30 Eastern or 9:30 Central time go get the news.

I've heard rumors that the shorts are being squeezed and forced to sell because of margin calls.

Anybody who sells short in the oil market deserves to go to the poorhouse, IMO.

Wouldn't shorts being forced to sell cause the price to go up?
Actually they wouldn't be selling, rather they would now be buying.  
A month or two ago a Hedge Fund (forget the name) went under because they shorted copper last winter and lost their bet.

Apparently there are many Market people who feel commodities and oil are in a bubble or something - they just do not believe these prices can be sustained.  

They are likely the eConz who believe too much in the godz of Politics and Technology and disbelieve Peak Energy - which is here Now for all practical purposes (the exact date is irrelevent if the symptoms are hitting us now).

I've been fretting about the trans - Turkey pipline for some time now.  It just opened I believe, 1 million bbls / day of Caspian oil.  Still don't know if this is new oil, or old oil going a new route.

Latest light sweet on 321 is $75.75.

UK oil stocks (shares) have been falling for weeks now.  Valuations look very low and the prices are going down as the oil price goes up. My broker suggests that hedge funds are screwing with reality.

A stone dropped into some really heavy crude? A drop of $1.80 amidst $75/barrel is a drop but not like a stone in anything with less viscosity than ball bearing grease.

It's like gas prices. When they drop, they fall a little but when they rise, they climb like a space shuttle on steroids.


Easy explanation. And in no way do my comments necessarily reflect my own point of view(although they may). This is simply the easy explanation.

A) Price is at a nominal/local record and near an all-time record, so it is natural for it to fall.

B) It was puched up two weeks ago by unfounded fears of Iran and North Korea. Up past $42. Unfounded being the keyword.

C) This last week to two weeks the drill has been firt Hamas then Hezbollah. Traders are smart. Most people aren't. Most people think "violence in the Mideast" means higher energy prices. So the trend is built-in.

D) Calmer psyches prevail. You can reference this site for reasons why Israel is not about oil. But I'll give you the most important one. It doesn't have any. Nor do Hamas or Hezbollah.

E) So let's review. Or rather, let's go back. Since none of the issues that everyone clearly credits for having driven up the price of oil recently do in fact have anything to do with oil - we can simply go back to where the price of oil was before they all started to happen. Like $70.

I repeat - nothing that has driven up the price of oil recently has anything to do with oil.

As people realize this, the price drops. That is what is happening. As you know I use a 26-week trailing moving average to measure price. It gets rid of the noise. The price is dropping because that is the downward noise compensating for the previous upward noise.

Overall the price crawls relentlessly forward. Slowly, but surely. Supply and demand. Why? I suspect because we're peaking.  There seem to be some issues with supply. And I know you agree with at least that.

Anyway, that's my version of an easy explanation.

Buy on the rumor sell on he news.
Re:  "Moden agriculture is nothing but a system which turns petroleum and natural gas into food. ...When energy becomes scarse the quantity of food will decline."

Clearly the above is written by someone who knows nothing about food production:  Land doesn't matter.  Weather doesn't matter.  Work and skill of the farmer doesn't matter.  Government policy doesn't matter.  Consumer preferences don't matter.  The only thing that matters is petroleum and natural gas.  What a crock!

I'd like to buy you some petroleum and natural gas and watch as you turn it into food without the above mentioned.

Other things matter, for any process that turns oil and natural gas into anything. That's not the point. The question is, what does modern agriculture produce once you take away the oil and natural gas? Answer: not much.
In the us today farmers make up less then 2% of the population.  

I would like to see a farmer till, plant, grow, irrigate, harvest, and deliver food for 49 of their friends with out using petroleum and natural gas.

I agree with you that the other things matter greatly - soil quality, water, weather, market for products, and the skill and work required to plant, tend, and harvest a crop every year are very, very important.  But for the majority of modern farming with out petroleum and natural gas your soil quality drops, water cannot be pumped from the well, and you cannot deliver your product to market.  

You have weather (damn GW).

You have your skills - mostly knowledge of modern farming practices but you don't have a tractor to drive, fertilizers to apply, pesticides to control weeds, combine for harvest, propane to dry the corn, and most of your friends don't want to eat unprocessed soybeans, but then you don't have a delivery method anyway.

You have a hoe - wait, the wooden handle was harvested, iron was mined, and finished product was delivered with petroleum products.

You are left with your bare hands trying to manage the land to feed your 49 friends.

I grew up on a family farm and have several family members that still farm.  They work hard, put in long days, and have a good knowledge about what they are doing.  But take away the petroleum and natural gas and they would fail miserably.  In the future shortages will be petroleum and natural gas.

You may not be aware that it's a pretty well known process to turn coal to refined petroleum products. Fischer-Tropsch is the process name and was invented to keep the WW I German war machine going in the face of a lot of coal but not much oil around. South Africa ground down the cost per bbl equivalent to $32/bbl of diesel. That's way below the current market price.

Before we starve all our machinery grinds to a halt, we'll start firing up F-T plants and use our abundant coal reserves as a substitute, politics and environmentalists be damned. In the 1970s, we started building and operating these plants in the CO coal fields and they worked just fine. Then came the crash in oil prices in the 1980s and suddenly you had $40/bbl plants in a $12/bbl price environments. Investors lost their shirts. Now they're gun shy but if you read carefully, you'll see that the DoD is testing F-T products for their needs and are willing to grant long-term contracts if the product is good enough. That will bring the investors out of the woodwork.

We've got about a 200 year coal supply so the idea that we're not going to be able to make fertilizer in our lifetimes is not realistic. If nothing else (and there are several other promising technologies) Fischer-Tropsch is a well understood, available road out from the specter of economic collapse and civilizational ruin.

Frankly though, F-T is the worst case solution. There are better ones out there.

I am sure you are aware that the 200 year estimate goes out the window once FT ramps up.
While 200 years will drop somewhat given new uses for coal, the use of F-T certainly will function well as a bridge technology to get us over any significant rough spots. Even if it is only 50 years, that gives us an awful long time to get cheap, sustainable energy up like lunar or orbital beamed solar (which would require a new pathway to orbit like a space elevator).
When we have to cut back our food consumption I vote that we call it the Yegin Diet!
I meant "Yergin" of course.  I can't type late in the afternoon.
I've quoted this before, but it fits the current discussion:

The average daily energy expenditure, as physical activity, of Stone Age humans is estimated at approximately 5.2 MJ (1240 kcal) and their total caloric intake at approximately 12.1 MJ (2900 kcal) (Cordain et al., 1998). Their subsistence efficiency was thus approximately 2.25 kJ (kcal) acquired for each kilojoule (kilocalorie) expended in physical activity. In contrast, sedentary humans in contemporary affluent societies commonly consume perhaps 8.5 MJ (2030 kcal) with expenditure, as physical activity, of approximately 2.3 MJ (555 kcal) (Cordain et al., 1998), a subsistence efficiency of 3.66 to 1.

A "kcal" is equal to a food calorie; the kind of calories on the side of our packaged food.  I think peak oil is going to encourage more of us toward the paleo pattern.  Eat 2900 calories, and burn off 1240 calories through physical activity.

Note that this is a higher intade than you may now enjoy.  As mentioned above, I think the calories will come from more basic foods, to balance the global energy equation.

The PDF report is here:

paper in PDF format

Prof Odogoose,

A really interseting post. My kids insisted on reading it to get fuel for tonights nightmares - last night it was bombs on Aberdeen.

The chart from Wang (1995) is very interesting.  A couple of questions:

  1. Is there any reason that 50 kg / Ha is a minimum cutoff?  Or can we track the orange line down to the Y axis and get circa 500kg grain / Ha as a future yield without energy based fertilizer?

  2.  Any idea what the average fertlilizer usage / grain yield is for the OECD and other countries?

It also strikes me that using only 1% of current energy production to produce fertilizer is not that much.  One can envisage a G11 meeting in Dehli in 2012 where world leaders decide to prioritise fertlizer production over skiing holidays in the Alps.  At what stage on the power down curve (oil + gas + coal) does producing fertilizer become a darg on the rich nations?

Thanks - overweight Scott

Sorry it should have been Prof Seismogoose!
To Cry Wolf.  Having lived in Aberdeen (actually Culter) and having been to that little church museum down the hill from downtown Culter, I know that bombs did land on Aberdeen back in WWII so your kids have reason to fear.  But, I also gained a bit of weight there drinking the ales and single malts and eating fried haggis. I had to go to China and eat insect pupae, fish stomachs and pigs ears to lose that weight.  Glad you liked the post.
Did you ever try deep fried Mars Bars - a local delicacy!

I decided to get less lazy and do some work myself.  The chart of fertilizer use v crop yield is in fact a time seriese progressing from 1952 (50 kg / Ha) to 1993 (330 kb / Ha).  The 50 kg / Ha cutoff is essentaily baseline use of organic fertilizer, before chemical fertlizers were widely used.  It seems likely that with no fertilizer use at all that yields would fall below 500 kgs / Ha - but this is unlikely to happen even in extreme post-fossil fuel conditions as horse and human manure would still be available to maintain soil nutrients.

Will hunt around for data on OECD fertilizer use and crop yields - I came across this:

Nature 418, 671-677 (8 August 2002) | doi: 10.1038/nature01014

Agricultural sustainability and intensive production practices

David Tilman1, Kenneth G. Cassman3, Pamela A. Matson4,5, Rosamond Naylor5 and Stephen Polasky2

A doubling in global food demand projected for the next 50 years poses huge challenges for the sustainability both of food production and of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and the services they provide to society.

Did you ever try deep fried Mars Bars - a local delicacy!

I prefer the deep fried snickers.  

A useful link to data on fertilizer use and crop yields:$webindex/485AF893EC22742A86256B80007B54DD

The figures are % drop in yields when N based fertilizer is not used:

Corn 41%
Cotton 37%
Rice 27%
Barley 19%
Sorghum 19%
Wheat 16%
Soybean 0%
Peanut 0%

It seems that soya and peanut do not need N.  And cereals are less dependent than corn.

So it is an interesting prospect - food demand increasing by 100% over 50 years (see Tilman et al above) whilst crop yields may start to fall in the same period.

well a lot of grain that could be feeding people is used to make pet food for peoples animals I mean a lot of these big dogs eat just as much as a person If there is a human starvation then people should get rid of large pets because the stuff that they make the pet food out of could make human food
I wonder if you could fix much nitrogen with a solar concentator:

By running plain air through a little countercurrent-circulating refractory bulb that's heated by a parabolic sun reflector, ... can you get it hot enough to dissociate some N2?

I could have added a bit more explanation to that, but just wanted to publish the diagrams. There was a process for artificially fixing nitrogen that could never compete with Haber, but it involves using an electric arc to heat up the molecules of air to get them to react. Once you have formed the NOx, the rest of the steps are exothermic, or at least easy — the Ostwald process can take the nitrogen oxides on to nitric acid. An electric arc is a hideously inefficient way to fix nitrogen, since you have to generate the electricity and it puts out ozone and a lot of heat as byproducts, but only a small amount of nitric oxide.

Also, we have NOx as an unwanted pollutant byproduct of a number of combustion processes. We employ catalytic converters to degrade the NOx back to ordinary air.

So I was wondering, would it be possible to heat air in a small refractory (alumina? zircon?) container at the focus of a parabolic reflector and accomplish the nitrogen-fixing task of the electric arc, but using sunlight directly? It's just a matter of having N2 and O2, very hot, in close proximity. The energy invested would be to build the refractory bulb, heliostat and reflector, and to pump air through it.

>So I was wondering, would it be possible to heat air in a small refractory (alumina? zircon?) container at the focus of a parabolic reflector and accomplish the nitrogen-fixing

It would probably be more practical to use focused sunlight to disassociate water into Hydrogen and Oxygen and use the Hydrogen to make Ammonia instead.

In any case, The issues with large scale development such a system would be difficult because of the maintenance required. At high temperatures the materials will be quickly broken to thermal fracturing caused by the contant thermal cycling (ie every time a cloud temporary blocks direct sunlight).

It would probably be more pratical to build a solar trough steam plant or use wind turbines and to generate electricity to disassociate hydrogen from water.

With this recent heat wave of temps reported as high as 110F from Oklahoma to South Dakota I wonder if global warming might lead to heat wave highs increasing faster than temps on average.

If in 20 years average global temps rise 0.5F could we have widespread new record highs that are several degrees hotter?

In reading up on greenhouses (the food growing kind) I've read that temps in excess of 115F lead to rapid and severe damage and even death of a great many plants, especially in dry conditions.

We are currently hitting 110F across a big portion of our agricultural and suffering modest losses of crops and livestock.  Is it likely that these 'freak' heatwave events will escalate in frequency and severity?

I think it may be easier to cope with a decline in synthetic fertilizers than it will be to deal with the consequences of the changes to our environment that fossil fuels have facilitated.

It's certainly possible that extreme high temperatures are increasing faster than the average.  Where I live (British Columbia) the  minimum overnight temperatures have been increasing more rapidly than daytime highs, creating a climate with a narrower daily temperature range, a longer growing season and fewer days of frost each year.

The natural distribution of plant and animal species is affected more by extremes of temperature than by the average condition. I think the jury is still out on the question of whether extreme summer temperatures will become more frequent, but here in British Columbia they have generally not increased over the last 50 years.  

Dear TOD's
What is the energy resource need of a modern- and sustainable society?
A study made in Denmark in the late 1990's (lost on my desk)indicates that without fossil energy- and with optimal allocation of biomass, full implementation of windmills and conservation on all counts, some 1.2-1.4  ton/Yr of oil equivalent energy (OE)per citizen would be available.
That is 8-9 barrels/yr(OE).
corresponding to approx. 40% of the energy use in Denmark today.
The society could still work as now, but conservation on all aspects of society is necessary. Travel would be affected, as well as housing.

The 9 barrels applied to the US  9*300 million 2700 MBBl.
1 Quad= 172 MBBl, thus a similar US sustainable energy scenario is 2700/172 =16 Quad/yr of actual energy use.
At the moment the us uses ~100 Quad/yr so the US must reduce a factor 6 !
The population density of Denmark is 120/km2 and the US ~76/km so in the US there should be a litte more biomass available.
Better save than sorry

>At the moment the us uses ~100 Quad/yr so the US must reduce a factor 6 !

Don't forget to include the energy from natural gas which is about half of all fossil energy consumption in the US. If I recall correctly the figures from ASPO suggested that US need to reduce consumption by a factor of over 20 to reach a sustainability. This excludes factoring in adapting the infrastructure changes required to "power down" and keep the population feed and clothed.

We have over 100 years of infrastructure that is nearly 100% dependant of fossil fuels. To believe that we can adapt it overnight or even a decade is foolish. We have already reached peak conventional oil production and it will quickly become apparent that keep the existing system running while trying to make a "powered down" transistion is going be nearly impossible.

Thankyou Seismobob.

Here's my tuppence.

Japan managed to sustain itself before the mid-1900s with low fertiliser production (human faeces only) by putting a cultural taboo on meat eating, including eggs and dairy, which meant they didn't waste food energy on animals. A vegetarian future is probably more sustainable with reduced fertiliser than a meat-producing one. It is certainly more sustainable if you take into account the amount of water good animal care requires, and the increasing difficulty we'll have linking water resources to population centres. The use of fish in the Japanese diet arises obviously from the large 'edge' of the islands of Japan and its relative protein efficiency.

A wrinkle that we don't want to think about comes from the experience of organic farmers and the certification process. This is more than just the expected reduction in yields for organic farmers, sometimes 50% compared with high-fossil-input farmers. Figures from New Zealand and Ireland, and undoubtedly similar elsewhere.

In many cases not just the microbiology but the whole soil structure has been destroyed by high fossil input and the land has no "heart" for an organic system to build from, so recovery times are going to vary immensely. It is likely that the farmers who have been putting artificial fertiliser on the land with little thought beyond immediate profit are the ones who will be more ill-equipped to deal with a return to organic practices and with this loss of topsoil, we are looking at permanent yield drops from the "farming industry". So long as we reduce our meat consumption, this won't necessarily lead to hunger.

Today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution has this story on urban and rural green markets throughout the South, including a New Orleans twist, and this story on how one such market got organized.