Sunday, May 22, 2005

the oil plateau does not mean peak food.

the oil plateau doesn't mean peak food. let me explain.

putting aside massive global disasters - asteroid impacts and all out nuclear war - oil production has reached a plateau from which it can only decline gradually, perhaps at 2 or 3 per cent per year. we don't know. oil supplies a portion of global energy use but a much higher proportion of transport fuel.

the ordinary person imagining a future short of oil pictures queuing at the pumps for highly priced petrol or diesel. this may not necessarily be so. what they are picturing is a sharp oil crisis, brought on by a war or an embargo. oil pervades many industrial and economic processes directly, but it also enters most activities indirectly, as a transport component. have you ever thought how much petrol is consumed by one irish hurling match held at a neutral venue ? so the consumer not only faces a rise in the price of oil, but a rise in the price of all of the other things which have an oil component. thus income is attacked at both ends. less disposable income with which to chase higher priced oil.

a generally depressed global economy would not be a surprising result. so the price of oil might then decline again, as commodities tend to do - in depressions. the average citizen might experience the oil plateau not as a high price for oil at all, but as a reduced price for oil which he, or she, nevertheless could no longer easily afford.

oil will be cheap - but you won't be able to afford it.

oil is also a component of food production. but so is labour. as convenience food prices rose as a result of the oil component of packaging, processing and distributing, - the relative price of locally produced food would look more attractive. moreover, in a depressed or at least contracting economy, many would be unemployed or underemployed. the labour component would become cheaper and more available. this might also be in the form of family labour, as in the past.

so food production might shift its ground, rather than decline. quality might rise. obesity and food related ill health might decline. price, not principle, might shift meat eaters towards bread and cereals. the scattered suburbs might suffer horrendous hikes in commuting costs, but suppose that out of four families, three or four wage earners shared a car, while a fifth and sixth, underemployed and home bound, took to part time basic horticulture. those in city flats might suffer more.

and those unemployed ? they will come from the airlines, tourism, car salesmen, restauranteurs - but in particular those who, or whose employers, have borrowed heavily in anticipation of future growth that we may not see again in our lifetimes.


Blogger auntiegrav said...

We have spent the last 60 years replacing the drudgery of farm labor with oil. The companies who made small hand tools and small equipment for food production are mostly gone. Seed sources are being bought up by Monsanto faster than they can appeal to customers for help. Our food system has become a 'just-in-time' manufacturing system. There is not a decent reserve for people to live on when the economy fails from energy costs and the realization that perpetual growth forecasting is insane. It will take some years to replace the oil with labor. Sure, the oil isn't going to run out overnight, but it doesn't have to. It just has to get expensive, so that the stock market crashes and people stop going in debt to finance the current economy. There is no transition plan in place to put labor back into the food system. There are very few people even thinking about it besides you and I.


8:57 PM  
Blogger auntiegrav said...

Oh, and the optimism part I forgot!

The best current working model of transition to local economics and food supply is the CSA farm.

8:59 PM  

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