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Peak Oil Week Day 2 – Eating Up The Oil Reserves

News article filed by BNP news team

Yesterday’s publication of the first in our Peak Oil series reports has sparked some debate and generated feedback which sadly indicates just how ill-informed the majority of the population seems to be on this issue.

That perhaps is not surprising as it is an issue largely ignored by the mainstream media and barely mentioned by the dinosaur politicians of the Lib/Lab/Con party; this in part no doubt because of the major changes individuals, businesses, societies and nations will face. The Old Gang parties do not like and are not prepared for change they themselves have no control over. The prospect of a post-oil world presents them with a sense of fear and dread. The British National Party however is ready to embrace the challenges of a post-oil future as it will present us with many more prospects than threats, many more positives than negatives and present us with a once in a generation window of opportunity to make life in Britain safer, more prosperous, healthier and more spiritually fulfilling.

Some of the responses received are to be blunt – short-sighted. Suggestions of switching to public transport, driving less, driving hybrid/electric or more fuel-efficient cars, switching freight from diesel lorries to electric railways are of course positive suggestions but only address one issue – vehicular movement; such measures are akin to moving the deckchairs on a sinking ship.

Pictured: From field to plate – gas guzzling combinesToday we will have a look at another aspect of the Peak Oil crisis which broadens the picture – the food on our plates.

The source of all life

All foodstuffs; wheat, potatoes, apple trees, marine plankton depend on sunlight to grow in a process called photosynthesis. Animals both domesticated and wild, including fish eat plants for their growth and development and humans in turn consume animals. Thus all life is dependent on sunlight, but at the same time limited by the amount of sunlight that can be captured, at least that’s the theory.

A stunning statistic however shows that Mankind can free itself from that limiting parameter. Between 1950 and 1984 world grain production increased by 250%. (Ref 1) The amount of sunlight did not increase, nor were vast new hitherto undiscovered areas of land brought under the plough so what happened?

The answer was a huge input of energy, energy derived from fossil fuels in the form of more mechanized methods of ploughing, drilling, spreading, harvesting; in the form of converting a naturally occurring fossil fuel – gas to fertilizer; in the form of converting another naturally occurring fossil fuel – oil to pesticides, fungicides, insecticides.

This energy revolution brought about by cheap and abundant oil increased the energy flow to agriculture by an average of 50 times the energy input of traditional agriculture. In the most extreme cases, energy consumption by agriculture has increased 100 fold or more.

Oil usage on farms

In the United States, 400 gallons of oil equivalents are expended annually to feed each American (as of data http://www.dieoff.com/page55.htm in 1994).

Agricultural energy consumption is broken down as follows:

• 31% for the manufacture of inorganic fertilizer
• 19% for the operation of field machinery
• 16% for transportation
• 13% for irrigation
• 8% for raising livestock (not including livestock feed)
• 5% for crop drying
• 5% for pesticide production
• 8% miscellaneous

Energy costs for packaging, refrigeration, transportation to retail outlets, and household cooking are not considered in these figures. Similar figures apply to the UK, Europe and other industralised nations.

Not only has the input of energy allowed more foodstuffs to be grown and harvested it is lead to a massive growth in the world’s population; from 3 billion in 1959 to 6 billion by 1999, a http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/world.html in just 40 years.

Spoiled for choice

A typical British supermarket presents shoppers with a dazzling selction of food from all over the world. Apples not just from Somerset and Kent but from Italy, France, Chile and New Zealand, strawberries are not just limited to the 2 month English growing season but can be eaten in December – flown in from Egypt or California.

Some of the http://www.guardian.co.uk/food/focus/story/0,13296,951962,00.html of food around the World are not only just plain crazy but are not sustainable:

Lettuce is a healthy salad vegetable, which can be grown readily throughout the UK but supermarkets import out-of-season plants from California – a journey of 5460 miles. It takes an incredible 127 calories of energy (in the form of aviation fuel) to import just one calorie of lettuce across the Atlantic, according the research group Sustain, yet we import lettuce out of season from California or from southern Europe.

For centuries we have imported food we cannot grow for ourselves but the UK exports thousands of tonnes of chicken meat every year at the same time thousands of tonnes of chicken sold in the UK comes from Thailand and Brazil via the Netherlands. KFC franchises in the UK source some of their meat direct from Thailand, 6,643 miles away. Tesco has invested heavily in the country and owns the majority share of the retail arm of Thailand’s leading chicken producer, Charoen Pokphand (CP).

Shipments of food in and out of British airports and docks can only be made by the consumption of oil; aviation fuel, marine diesel plus the lubricants, the refrigerants, the hydraulic fluids and millions of tonnes of packaging.

Unsustainable

Most of the food whether imported or home grown is produced by intensive methods of agriculture and it is unsustainable. Fossil fuel based agriculture has exacerbated soil erosion (which does of course occur naturally), polluted and overdrawn groundwater and surface water, and even (largely due to increased pesticide use) caused serious public health and environmental problems. Soil erosion, overtaxed cropland and water resource overdraft in turn lead to even greater use of fossil fuels and hydrocarbon products. More hydrocarbon-based fertilizers must be applied, along with more pesticides; irrigation water requires more energy to pump; and fossil fuels are used to process polluted water.

The end product goes where it has always gone, having worked its way through the human digestive system the waste matter is dealt with today by a complex system of sewage treatment, pumps and ultimately to the sea, not in itself a energy intensive process but today’s apples, olive oil and jammy dodgers come in fancy packaging; aluminium foil, printed polythene wrappers, cardboard boxes and steel cans and of course polythene carrier bags. All that packaging has to go somewhere, it is for the most part collected by an energy intensive waste system which may or may not involve sorting, recycling and reusing or just for incineration or landfill. Such manmade packaging is wholly dependent on a supply of cheap oil for its production and feedstock, the polythene wrappers, the inks and the adhesives all come from oil by-products.

So there is more, much more to Peak Oil than more fuel efficient cars and switching goods from lorries to electric railways.

Without a replacement for oil, in the coming years the cost of buying Californian strawberries for Christmas lunch or a Brazilian watermelon will rise, perhaps to a point where it is no longer economic for producers, supermarkets and consumers alike.
The choice on the shelves may be much more limited. Middle men and giant corporate processors may not be making such huge profits. Fast food giants selling junk processed food may be consigned to the history books. Population growth may slow down and population decline may begin, eventually balancing the global population with the amount of food that can be produced in a sustainable manner.

However if in 15 years time the average dinner time meal is completely sourced within a radius of 20 miles from the supermarket or family home with hardly any packaging, produced organically without any input of growth hormones, pesticides and fertilizers, tastes better and every vegetable in season has retained its nutritional quality is this not a development which be nothing other than welcomed?

References and links

1. Constraints on the Expansion of Global Food Supply, Kindell, Henry H. and Pimentel, David. Ambio Vol. 23 No. 3, May 1994. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

http://www.fwi.co.uk/gr/foodmiles/facts.html
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=454275&in_page_id=1770 of Saturday 12th May 2007.
http://www.policypete.com/.

Recommended reading:

http://www.bnp.org.uk/shopping/excalibur/item.php?id=122

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0865715653?tag=bnpwebsite-21&camp=1406&creative=6394&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=0865715653&adid=0MVXYN3BVWNMKVKF9SEF&
 
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0471790184?tag=bnpwebsite-21&camp=1406&creative=6394&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=0471790184&adid=0QMWV1H0Z7FHRS7DM15B&

http://www.bnp.org.uk website

2007-05-17

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