Sunday, December 03, 2006

The end of gas guzzling food

There’s a lot of talk about the impending oil crisis and its affect on food and agriculture. Agriculture is a huge guzzler of fossil fuels. Diesel powers the machinery, fertilizers are made from natural gas, pesticides are made from oil, and fossil fuels are burned shipping and refrigerating food from the farm to your fork.

According to Richard Heinberg, author or The Party’s Over, the agricultural industry is the single largest user of petroleum products, even higher than mining and the military. He spoke a few days ago in Saskatoon at a conference of the National Farmers Union.

Heinberg’s thesis is that rising costs of fossil fuels will change our lives dramatically. Farmers will no longer be able to grow food on a large intensive scale. We’ll no longer be able to afford food shipped in from far away. People in the suburbs will be hungry and out of work. Our depopulated rural areas will become a wasteland.

But Heinberg is optimistic. He sees a population shift back to rural areas, where people will grow food in a traditional way (without fossil fuels) and start supplying the cities again. City people will keep gardens. We’ll rely on seasonal local food, not imports and delicacies from around the globe. He estimates the United States will need 50 million new farmers to feed the population. Extrapolated to Canada, that would be 5 million new farmers. Will your children be among them?

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