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Eating Fossil Fuels
... it is clear that solutions for these questions, perhaps the most important ones facing mankind, will by necessity be found by private individuals and communities, independently of outside or governmental help. Whether the real search for answers comes now, or as the crisis becomes unavoidable, depends solely on us.
Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250% ... This additional energy did not come from an increase in incipient sunlight, nor did it result from introducing agriculture to new vistas of land. The energy for the Green Revolution was provided by fossil fuels in the form of fertilizers (natural gas), pesticides (oil), and hydrocarbon fueled irrigation.
In the United States, 400 gallons of oil equivalents are expended annually to feed each American (as of data provided in 1994).7 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
· 08% for raising livestock (not including livestock feed)
· 05% for crop drying
· 05% for pesticide production
· 08% miscellaneous8
Energy costs for packaging, refrigeration, transportation to retail outlets, and household cooking are not considered in these figures.
In a very real sense, we are literally eating fossil fuels.
... The U.S. food system consumes ten times more energy than it produces in food energy. This disparity is made possible by nonrenewable fossil fuel stocks.
...if you remove fossil fuels from the equation, the daily diet will require 111 hours of endosomatic labor per capita; that is, the current U.S. daily diet would require nearly three weeks of labor per capita to produce.
Modern intensive agriculture is unsustainable...
Surviving Crisis in Cuba
An immediate 53 percent reduction in oil imports not only affected fuel availability for the economy, but also reduced to zero the foreign exchange that Cuba had formerly obtained via the re-export of petroleum. Imports of wheat and other grains for human consumption dropped by more than 50 percent, while other foodstuffs declined even more. Cuban agriculture was faced with an initial drop of about 70 percent in the availability of fertilizers and pesticides, and more than 50 percent in fuel and other energy sources produced by petroleum.
The Cuban experience illustrates that we can feed a nation’s population well with an alternative model based on appropriate ecological technology, and in doing so we can become more self-reliant in food production. Farmers must receive higher returns for their produce, and when they do they will be encouraged to produce. Expensive chemical inputs—most of which are unnecessary—can be largely dispensed with. The important lessons from Cuba that we can apply elsewhere, then, are agrarian reform, agroecology, fair prices, and local production, including urban agriculture.
Read the entire 29 page report in Word format.
Expensive chemical inputs—most of which are unnecessary—can be largely dispensed with.