Archive for May, 2008

Guest Post by NoImpactman - Help Him Bring 350 To National Attention!

Sharon May 24th, 2008

Colin Beavan is a friend of mine, and he’s got a great project on, trying to get Congress to officially recognize the the 350 ppm goal.  Please, please, please support him (and he’s giving away cool free stuff too).  Send an email.  Pass it along!  This is excellent, excellent work!!!!! -Sharon

____________________________

I really, really need support from all of you today (and I’m unashamedly bribing you with the offer of free Reverend Billy DVDs). But first I have to give you some background. Just read the bits in bold if you’re in hurry.

Next Friday, May 30, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York’s Eight Congressional District has kindly agreed to meet with me in his New York office. As one of his constituents, I intend to ask Representative Nadler to support an effective global warming mitigation policy that is based not on what is politically possible but on what is scientifically necessary.

More specifically, I intend to ask him to:

  • Introduce, as soon as possible, a non-binding resolution to the House of Representatives asserting that we need a climate change mitigation policy with a goal of no more than 350 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide (read why here). Furthermore, the resolution should say that the United States must collaborate with the international community to achieve an effective successor to the Kyoto Protocol that will achieve the 350 goal or better (depending on how the science progresses).
  • Pledge to support the 1sky.org policy platform that also includes creating five million green jobs (through, for example, weatherizing our buildings and manufacturing solar panels and windmills), and placing a moratorium on the building of new coal power plants.
  • Pass on to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter addressed jointly to her and Representative Nadler, in his position as Assistant Whip, asking them both to push for the introduction of new and the strengthening of currently pending climate change legislation to reflect the crucial 350 goal. This means, at the very least, aiming for an 80% reduction in climate emissions below 1990 levels by 2050 and a 25% reduction by 2020.

Now then, here’s how I was hoping you could help. My dream is to present Representative Nadler and Speaker Pelosi with between 350 and 3,500 (10 x 350) emails of support for these policy objectives.

Can you help? All it requires is a cut and paste job (see below).

Fellow bloggers: would you be willing to pass this request onto your readers?

Everyone: would you email this around and get your friends to pitch in?

Two bits of good news:

  1. Representative Nadler has been an ardent supporter of environmental issues ranging from the thorough cleanup of the World Trade Center site to securing federal funding for state conservation and wildlife grants. He received a score of 95% for his voting record in the 1st session of the 110th Congress from the League of Conservation Voters.
  2. Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping have provided me with five copies of their new DVD, What Would Jesus Buy (watch the trailer here). I’m going to give the DVDs to people who send in their emails of support (the 1st, the 35th, 100th, the 350th and the 1000th).

Here’s how to send in your email of support:

Simply cut and paste the below, making sure to substitute in your name, mailing address and email address, and send it to [email protected] (it looks like a weird email address but, don’t worry, it will work).

Dear Representative Nadler and Speaker Pelosi–

Thank you for your hard work on behalf of the people of the United States. It is indisputable that the health, happiness and security of the American people depends upon the well-being of our planetary habitat. It is also indisputable that the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases is causing changes in our habitat that will adversely effect Americans on every level–from our health to our economy.

On May 30, Colin Beavan aka No Impact Man will visit Representative Nadler to express to him support for a number of climate change mitigation policies that are much stronger than those currently passing through Congress. Please consider this a letter of support for the measures Colin Beavan will be advocating.

Specifically, I support Colin Beavan in requesting that Representative Nadler and Speaker Pelosi both, together or separately:

  • Introduce, as soon as possible, a non-binding resolution to the House of Representatives asserting that we need a climate change mitigation policy that accords not with what is politically possible but what is scientifically necessary–a goal of no more than 350 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide (read why here). Furthermore, this resolution should assert that the United States must collaborate with the international community to achieve an effective successor to the Kyoto Protocol that will achieve the 350 goal or better (depending on how the science progresses).
  • Pledge to support the 1sky.org policy platform that also includes creating five million green jobs (through, for example, weatherizing our buildings and manufacturing solar panels and windmills) and placing a moratorium on the building of new coal power plants.
  • Push for the introduction of new and the strengthening of currently pending climate change legislation to reflect the crucial 350 goal. This means, at the very least, aiming for an 80% reduction in climate emissions below 1990 levels by 2050 and a 25% reduction by 2020.

Yours sincerely,

<Your Name>
<Your Mailing Address>
<Your Email Address>

Sure as G-d Made Little Green Apricots: A Story of Three Gardens

Sharon May 22nd, 2008

There are tiny green apricots on my two apricot trees.  I’m sure those of you from South Jersey down are thinking…so?  But this is rural *upstate* New York.  I live at 1400 feet, effectively zone 4,  and no one grows apricots here.  Whenever I mention my apricot trees, people look at me strangely, as though I’m mad to even attempt it.  And I’m pretty awed myself - the first thing we did after moving here was to plant two apricot trees, which hung around looking pretty but producing nothing for a couple of years, and then died in an especially cold winter.  So while it isn’t a miracle, it is perhaps the next step down - something extraordinary that gives you, if not evidence of transcendence, a tiny, tasty hint of its possibility.

But to understand the apricots, you have to know about the two gardens that came before this one.  The first one was in Paramus, New Jersey, perhaps the most archetypical suburb I’ve ever visited, the kind of place that makes James Kunstler moan with pain.  It was also Eric’s grandparents’ home for 20 years.  They lived in a 1950s style suburban brick ranch in one of those places where there are lawn mowers going at 7 in the morning and you can’t walk to anything useful. 

But that’s only part of the story.  It was also another kind of suburb - one where Inge and Cyril were friends with their neighbors and the neighbors’ kids.  They tutored the Russian immigrants down the road in English, shared holiday dinners with the orthodox Jewish family across the street, babysat the Pakistani family next door’s child.  As they got older and less physically able, their neighbors looked out for them, came and helped them out with chores, brought over meals - as they had for neighbors before. The suburbs may have been a mad dream, but the mad dreamer came, and some of them brought their love for a place, and a house and a space, and they loved it into something beautiful. 

And it was where their garden was.  All my best memories of them are of their garden - if the the weather was at all warm enough, that’s where one went, out to lie in the lounge chairs or play games on the grass.  It was lush, green, enclosed and miraculously peaceful.  Both of them worked long hours in their garden - Cyril was the architect, and I remember him, 92 or 93, slowly but surely planting out begonias and saving me seeds from his lovely blue columbine.  It was their paradise, their pride and their delight.  It literally gave them life - I suspect that Cyril lived at least a year longer than he would have if he had not had his garden to get him out of his chair and into the world. 

It is easy to mock suburbia, to see it as fodder for, say the suburb eating robots.  But whether the idea of suburbia was always good, its execution had its troubling parts, but also its peculiar virtues and beauties as well.  It is easy to forget those, as we sit judgement of what we ought have done.  But I think a limited view of the suburbs is probably a mistake - at least, I can’t have one, because I remember the tremendous beauty and generosity of a host of suburban gardens, and the neighborhood they fostered. not least theirs.  Because if you can love even a 1950s brick ranch and a suburban neighborhood into beauty, you can love and transform anything in the world.

When it came time for them to come live with us, one of the things they desperately wanted was a garden.  By that time, Cyril was too ill and Inge too exhausted from caring for him to want to maintain anything.  They simple wanted a beautiful space to rest in.  So we made one.  We helped them hire a landscape designer. And he made them a suburban garden in miniature, a truly beautiful one, lending shape to our vast rural landscape. The addition they lived in  had its main entrance in an area enclosed on 3 sides by the house and the attached garage they wanted.  It faced south, and the landscape designer hauled in far more fertile topsoil than lives on our farm, and filled it in with beautiful shrubs and low care perennials.  I planted the scarlet runner beans and columbines they’d always had, since Cyril was a boy in Wales, and they rested in their gardens. 

Until only a month or two before he died, Cyril was the garden designer.  He said would say, “Sharon, darling, would you get me that grass seed in the garage.”  And, of course, I would oblige.  “What do you want to do with it, Grandpa?” I asked.  “Well, I’d like to plant it, but I’m afraid I’m not up to it.  Have you any thoughts about how it might get planted?”  He was a clever man, and not much limited by his physical constraints.

Sadly, Eric’s grandparents lived here only a couple of years.  Cyril died a few weeks before his 95th birthday, and Inge couldn’t live without him - she lasted only 4 months afterwards.  And for the first year without them, we were simply too sad to do anything but go out in the garden, look at it and miss them. 

In the springtime after their deaths, I had a dream.  I dreamt that a grapevine and a rosebush in their garden grew all the way up to the second floor of the house, and burst in through our window one morning, blooming and scattering lush petals and fruit across the floor.  And I woke up and for the very first time, looked at their garden, and thought that perhaps the garden could continue to be their memorial, perhaps be a better memorial, if I changed it a little, and made their garden bring forth not just beauty, but fruit, so that their great-grandchildren could not just enjoy the shaded beauty, but the taste of the space and gift they’d left us.

The first year I dug out a rhodedendron (I hated the thing anyway) and and a couple of viburnums and replaced them with two apricot trees and two quinces.  I didn’t do much else, but that itself was enormous - at first it looked like I’d defaced their garden, removing these beautiful, productive shrubs and placing these little sticks in next to them, but they are glorious trees, and rapidly the beauty came back.  The next year I took out a few more plants, added some raspberries and blackberries, comfrey, sweet woodruff, some pennyroyal as a ground cover, and a row of alpine strawberries to edge it.  This year, I started out cautious, afraid that if I took out the wiegela and spirea I’d have stripped their garden altogether, but really looked at it, and saw how beautiful it was - no less, and perhaps more - and I got brave.  I bought blueberries to replace the evergreen shrubs (they are all getting moved off to another part of the garden, don’t worry), hazels to go where the weigela was, and two peach trees to replace the forsythia.  I planted lupins in around the blueberries, mixed in yarrows, and I’ve got two wolfberries waiting to be planted.  And I bought some grapevines, and I’m going to see if I can train them all the way up to the second floor.

The apricots bloomed for the first time this year, and in our protected, south facing microclimate had their blossoms even survive a hard late frost.  I was afraid they hadn’t been adequately pollinated, but yesterday the boys came running in to tell me that there were dozens of small green apricots on the tree, and so there were.  As I said, it isn’t quite a miracle - just a grand unlikelihood, brought to fruition. 

The garden is a fusion - the blue columbine seed brought from New Jersey, an echo of flowers from a garden in Wales,  still come back every year.  Fewer of the shrubs they picked out are in that part of the garden each year, but a few still are, and the scarlet runner beans race up the trellis every year, and my boys pick and eat them, calling them “Grampy’s beans.”  The fruit and nut plants are mine and my idea, but Eric and the boys do all the planting this year, while I work.  And the dream, well, who knows where that came from. 

All gardens are fusions, hybrids, mixes of memories from our childhoods, ideas we picked up, the gifts of friends who bring chives and new thoughts, the love of people who taught you to garden, or the kindness of the strangers who help us.  They contain histories so long and vast we cannot track them back - who first domesticated the potato?  Who first bred this tomato, this flower? Who carried this seed across water, and how did it change when it reached these shores?  What wild meadow and ancient apple combined to create this fruit?  And how is it now different, in my place, in my garden? 

This garden of mine is the fusion of dreams and memories, of people we loved and love still, no less that they are less proximate.  It is the fusion of desires - of the suburban landscape and the food producing one.  It is the linking of past and present, with the futures that run about me, nibbling and dancing.  And sure as G-d made little green apricots, it will change some more under their hands, and hopefully, on and on.

 Sharon

Peak Energy and an Overview of Its Implications for Food

Sharon May 21st, 2008

Well, there’s a headline, folks.  I turn on my computer this morning and see the words “Oil rises to $130 on supply concerns“!!!!  Wow, we’re concerned.  Speaking as someone who has been concerned about PO since, oh, 1997, and has been writing about it since 2003,  I find it both heartening and, well, odd.    I can’t count the number of people who in the last few months have said something along the lines of ”Wow, you were really right, weren’t you.”  The tones of amazement are my favorite part ;-).

With Kunstler on CNN and T. Boone Pickens driving the markets, and Jeffrey Brown all over the place, I think we’re there folks.  Peak oil is now taking center stage.  And since I suspect there are probably a lot of people out there this week googling around looking for information, I’m posting a peak oil primer that Aaron Newton and I collaborated on.  It covers what will be entirely familiar ground to many of my readers, but hopefully will be useful to others.

But before you read this, I’d like to mention a couple of other posts I’ve written.  Because just knowing what peak oil *is* doesn’t necessarily help you.  Aaron had to, as he joked, “talk a friend off the ledge” this week, and I suspect there are a lot of people out there who have just encountered a new and terrifying idea, and who are now panicking. And this is scary.  It does mean an enormous amount of change. 

BUT- and this is an important but - we are not all doomed.  This is hard and scary, but it is not the end of your world.  So before you rush out and buy MREs and ammo (Aaron’s line was “Spam and automatic weapons are the new black” ;-)), read some more stuff.  Because it is important to remember that what is happening is the beginnings of a huge and difficult change - but change can happen.  There are a lot of people - a lot on this site, a lot in the world - who can help.

 To the extent I can help anyone, here’s some stuff I’ve written before on this:

http://sharonastyk.com/2008/04/24/ok-breathe/

http://sharonastyk.com/2007/11/07/scared-duh/

http://sharonastyk.com/2007/01/23/do-the-right-thing/

The truth is, your world has just changed.  You can’t unknow things.  But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing good left. 

 If you are still dubious and don’t understand how this is different than the 1970s, you might look here: #

   PEAK ENERGY

                To alcohol- the cause of and the solution to all of life’s problems.”   

                                                                                                - Homer Simpson

Brewing beer takes about thirty days. There’s the malting and mashing and lautering and boiling, not to mention the hopping and the separation, the cooling and fermentation.   Then most beer is filtered before being bottled.  And let’s not forget the drinking.  Beer has been brewed since the 7th century BC, or perhaps even before, and will probably be brewed until humans no longer walk the face of this planet.  As a Whistran Brewery sign describes it, “Beer: So much more than just a breakfast drink.”

The above description makes it sound like an awfully complicated process, but really it’s not. But the procedure does requires adding specific ingredients, including heat, in just the right sequence so as to produce one of mankind’s most beloved beverages.  In this way brewing beer is not unlike the process of making oil.  A long time ago, a tremendous amount of oceanic plant material lived and died and floated to the bottom of the sea.  There it built up into an enormous layer of biological material. Like brewing beer, this process required the combination of specific ingredients in the presence of heat. At lower temperatures it produced oil and at relatively higher temperatures it produced natural gas. In certain locations the oil and natural gas became trapped in porous rock formations conducive to the containment of such materials.  You can think of these formations as kegs of energy. 

 During previous millennia, before we discovered how to make use of these intense energy sources the human population was relatively stable, never exceeding several hundred million. During our most recent experimentation with fossil fuels however, we’ve seen that number increase to just over 6.5 billion people. . Even more important than the growth in population, oil has enabled lavish, consumptive lifestyles in the Global North, so that inequity between rich and poor has grown. The average American consumes 30 times the resources of the average Kenyan.[i]

During the middle part of the 20th century, the United States was awash in oil.  Germany, on the other hand, was so desperate for similar fuel that they were forced to take coal and press it into gasoline.  Many historians point out that our victory in the World War II was made possible, in part by our easy access to great quantities of oil and it’s abundant energy. Winston Churchill famously said , “”Above all, petrol governed every movement.”[ii]  Following World War II, the United States began to utilize this incredible resource at home.  James Howard Kunstler, author of “The Long Emergency”, describes America’s domestic use of fossil fuels this way.

“It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as the necessities of modern life — not to mention all of its comforts and luxuries: central heating, air conditioning, cars, airplanes, electric lights, inexpensive clothing, recorded music, movies, hip-replacement surgery, national defense — you name it.”

Most of us are familiar with regular gasoline fill-ups and the need to drive back and forth from work to home, from the shopping mall to the elementary school.  Cheap fuel made easy motoring typical of American life.  And although that has begun to change with rising energy prices, we’ve barely begun a great shift.  Imagine for a minute how hard most Americans find livingwithout a car.  But aside from this most obvious of petroleum uses, there plenty of other ways we use oil in our everyday lives. 

It is inevitable when you fill up a mug with beer and begin to drink it that eventually you will reach a point at which your glass is half empty.  If you go out with friends to a bar, you are more likely to order a pitcher of beer for all of you to share.    Now imagine that around the time that you have drunk half of it, someone announces that it is the last pitcher of beer in the whole world - that we’re all very sorry, we thought we had more, but everyone in the universe has looked in their fridges, and the beer is all gone forever.  So now you have half a pitcher of beer and that’s it - no more.  Now, what do you do?  Do you drink it fast, and have one incredible party, and never drink again?  Do you sell what is left to people who will pay you a lot for it?  Do you horde it, holding on to it at all costs?  Do you ration it out so that everyone gets a fair share? Fight over the rest of it?  

There’s likely to be a lot of people who want that beer, and regardless of whether you share it out evenly or unevenly, people’s desire for beer is going to be met with smaller and smaller supplies of beer.  Now it is possible that we could reduce desire - that if it gets inconvenient enough, that some of the beer drinkers will decide they like lemonade better anyhow.  But no matter how many advertising campaigns praise the wonders of lemonade, quite a few of us are going to notice that it really isn’t quite the same thing as beer, the wonder liquid. 
Now the nice thing about beer is that it is not required for human existence (ok, we know some people who will argue with us about this).  And in a purely technical sense, neither are oil and gas.  But just about every part of our life here in America is dependent upon oil and gas, both of which are most likely near the halfway point of availability.  As we mentioned above, oil doesn’t just fuel our cars and heat our homes.   Virtually everything we buy, from food, to medicine to clothing to tools has petroleum in it as an ingredient.  And everything we do has an energy cost.  Much of that energy is supplied by oil and natural gas.  And there are a lot of people who want what’s left - even as it gets more expensive, and harder to get out of the ground, and there starts not being enough to go around evenly.  

And no one really disputes that someday, the pitcher will be half empty.  When one examines the life of an oil well it inevitably follows a pattern that looks a lot like a bell curve. In the beginning, as an oil well starts to operate, it easily extracts oil and production rises steadily. At a certain point in the life of the oil well, typically at about the halfway point of its life, the production of the well peaks. All the easily extractable oil has been pumped out and the well is now working harder to extract oil that is tougher to get out of the ground. From this point on, the oil is harder and harder to extract so production slowly declines each subsequent year.

As individual regions and nations peak in oil production, the world as a whole gets closer and closer to the day when the global oil keg will reach halfway and then enter into an era of declining availability. Currently, 54 of the largest 65 oil producing nations are in decline.[iii]  Russia’s production just declined for the first time, and Saudi Arabia, while strenuously denying it, seems unable to meet demand.  Large numbers of oil company executives have begun to admit we are at or near an oil peak. 

As we peak, oil producing nations begin to hold back more of their limited supplies for their own use.  Saudi Arabia, for example, recently announced that it planned to reserve energy for future generations.   Again, this is perfectly natural - the US, for example, long past its peak exports virtually no oil - but this means that the declines in availability are greater than the declines in production - if production falls by 2%, exports may fall by 4%.  If this happens, as is likely, while demand is still growing, the total shortfall in availability may be quite dramatic.  This is called the Export Land Model, pioneered by geologist Jeffrey Brown.

Poor industry transparency makes it difficult to say for sure, but there is little doubt that for those of us not currently receiving senior citizen discounts, peak oil will happen during our lifetimes, probably quite soon.  It is not unlikely that the peak in oil (as opposed to “liquids” which include unconventional sources)  is already past.  This fact might turn out to be an event of even greater magnitude than the discovery of oil itself. In America we have built an entire way of life on ever increasing amounts of energy, especially oil, the liquid fossil fuel that powers 95 percent of transportation in this country.[iv] It’s not hard to see that peak oil will have an enormous impact on us as the global keg party winds down.  

Natural gas is the other essential  fossil fuel response for how we live our lives in America these days.  We use huge quantities of natural gas each year to heat our homes, cook our food and take hot showers.  Six out of every ten homes in America used natural gas as a heat source.[v]  A natural gas production well experiences a different sort of life cycle. Because it is a gas, it flows out at a constant rate. Unlike an oil well, when natural gas production peaks, it then drops off dramatically (think chugging the pitcher).  And in much the same way as with oil regions, natural gas regions reach a peak when the majority of the wells in that region reach their individual peaks. Right now the North American natural gas production appears to be approaching peak. Exxon’s chief executive Lee Raymond was quoted in 2005 saying, “Gas production has peaked in North America.”[vi]

When will our global natural gas supply peak? That is one of the most urgent  questions of our time and one to which the answer is not known. It’s unlikely however that the global peak of natural gas production worldwide is very far off.  Many analysts expect natural gas to peak about a decade after petroleum.  It is important to understand that natural gas is much more difficult than oil to transport over long distances, so what matters most to Americans is the North American gas supply.  US natural gas supplies peaked in 1973,[vii] but the US has a NAFTA agreement that requires Canada to sell us much of their gas.  All North American gas peaked in 2002, and soon that agreement may leave Canadians short of heating and cooking fuel[viii]

But aren’t we making huge new discoveries every day?  You hear about them in the news all the time!  In fact, most of the discoveries we’re making are very small in relationship to world oil demand, and many of them will take a decade or more to develop.  At this point, we’re using 6 barrels of oil for every new one we discover[ix], and oil discoveries have been declining for forty years.  As Julian Darley told us in regards to the much hyped “Jack” discovery (which is under 5 miles of ocean) “we’re digging around in the couch cushions for loose change now.”[x]

So it seems very likely that both our global pitchers of oil and natural gas are about half empty.  What will that mean for us?  A report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy headed by Dr. Robert Hirsch states that, 

“Oil is the lifeblood of modern civilization. It fuels the vast majority of the world’s mechanized transportation equipment - Automobiles, trucks, airplanes, trains, ships, farm equipment, the military, etc. Oil is also the primary feedstock for many of the chemicals that are essential to modern life.”  

So it is not surprising that Dr. Hirsch reports that,” the problem of the peaking of world conventional oil production is unlike any yet faced by modern industrial society.” 

Richard Heinberg, author of “The Party’s Over” writing in May of 2006 said,

“Global oil production is peaking-for all practical purposes, now. In the past weeks, the New York Times, Bill Clinton, and the executive vice president of Ford Motor Company (among many others) have stated that world oil flow is at peak. We have even seen one of the major oil companies (Chevron) place ads in multiple magazines and newspapers in order-gently, perhaps, but insistently and conspicuously-to break the news to the American people that the era of cheap oil, and cheap energy in general, is finished, over, done, dead, and gone. And that era just happens to be the only one that Americans alive today have ever known.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers[EAW1]   put out a report in September of 2005 that stated, “World oil production is at or near its peak and current world demand exceeds the supply.”[xi]  The above-mentioned US Department of Energy-sponsored Hirsch Report says that to deal with the coming peak in global oil production we would need 20 years of  devoting virtually all of our national wealth and energies to developing alternative energies and building new infrastructure.  The report stated that to do it in 20 years, we’d have to be devoting more of our time and energy than we did to fighting World War II - that is, most of our money, and our time and our industry would all have to be working together to make this giant change in 20 years.  Otherwise, there could be major problems - a depression, huge changes in the economy, energy shortages, rationing, rolling blackouts and gas lines, poverty, even hunger.  Especially hunger. 

So enough with the geology and beer analogies you say.  What about food?  One of the most troubling ramifications associated with the coming peak in fossil fuels is the roles they play in how we get our food.  The model of industrial agriculture used currently to produce much of our food is especially vulnerable to the coming decrease in both natural gas and petroleum availability because it is utterly reliant on cheap energy and fossil fuel derivatives.

Petroleum has made possible the mechanization of much of the labor involved in agriculture. In 1900 roughly 38 % of the population of the United States was actively involved in growing food. By 1950 that number had been reduce to just more than 12 %.[xii] Today less than 2% of the American population does that work. This shift in labor was made possible largely by the harnessing of fossil fuels. Tractors and combines, among other machinery, replaced the human hand in the field. Pumps for irrigation rely on diesel fuel as does the vast network of intercontinental trucking that hauls, on average, each item of food over 1500 miles from where it is grown to where it is eaten.

Petroleum is also the feedstock for the pesticides used to support industrial agriculture and its vast fields of monoculture crops. Seemingly endless landscapes of corn, wheat and soybeans cover Midwestern America and are protected with a combination of chemicals that kill the pests. When you grow a thousand acres of just one type of plant, the bugs that like to eat that plant are drawn to those fields in swarms.  Without the ability to fight off enormous numbers of such pests, this system of monoculture probably wouldn’t be possible.

Next there’s the matter of all the nutrients needed to grow our food.   We eat an incredible amount corn in our country.  A recent Corn Refiners Association study suggests corn is used as an ingredient in almost 4,000 products.  This does not include the meat, dairy and eggs that are a derivative of corn used as feed or lots of paper products that include corn.

Author Michael Pollan put it this way in a Mother Jones interview in February 2005. 

In addition to contributing to erosion, pollution, food poisoning, and the dead zone, corn requires huge amounts of fossil fuel - it takes a half gallon of fossil fuel to produce a bushel of corn.”  To grow the corn on which our current diet is largely based requires providing it with an awful lot of one specific nutrient, nitrogen.  The large amount of nitrogen fertilize required to grow corn, is currently created using the Haber-Bosch process of taking atmospheric nitrogen out of the air and putting into a solid state. And this process uses an inordinate amount of natural gas.  But as we have already discussed, both natural gas and petroleum are finite resources beginning to enter into a stage of decreasing availability. The short-term effect is likely to be a rise in the cost of our food, especially processed food made from corn. The long-term effect will likely be failure of industrial agriculture to continue to feed the United States and the world.

Taken in isolation, the idea that we’ll prioritize energy for agriculture, or for any one thing or another does make a lot of intuitive sense - as long as we are talking about some discrete, neatly isolated thing.  It is easy to think that the reprioritization of resources will be both logical and inevitable -  but the problem is that intuitive responses aren’t always right.  In actual working systems, there are a host of first priorities, all of them extremely difficult to triage. 

The problem is that there are so many highest priorities in any society - do you cut back on police protection?  Medicines? Ambulances?  Heat for the freezing? Public transport? The transport of relief supplies?  Military engagements?  In times of radical shortage, prioritizing becomes the struggle of competing priorities, political interests, black markets and a host of other factors,  none of which ever quite get what they need 

What about renewable energies? Biofuels?  Hydrogen fuel cells?  The truth is that none of these can replace the energy density of fossil fuels at all.  Biofuels, for example, produce, at best, only 1.34 barrels of oil equivalent for every barrel of oil used to produce them.[xiii] That’s not very impressive - oil gives you 30-100 barrels of oil for every barrel used to extract it. And it is possible that the energy return of biofuels is actually much less - that it is negative. David Pimmetal and Ted Paczek have analyzed ethanol, including cellulosic ethanol production and found that they consume more fossil fuels than they produce in equivalent energy[xiv].   And biofuels produce more greenhouse gasses, raise food prices, and essentially put cars in competition with people for basic foodstuffs.  If we were to put every single acre of arable land in the US into ethanol production we could run cars for less than half a year.  Biofuels have been a disaster for the environment, for the world’s poor, and for the pocketbooks of ordinary Americans who suffer from high food prices.

Hydrogen is a technology that has been “just around the corner” for the last 3 decades, and which shows no signs of getting any closer.  It is not, in fact, an energy source at all, but a medium for storing energy, and an inefficient one as well - it is four times less efficient to use electricity to generate hydrogen than it is to just use the electricity directly[xv]

While we support growth in Solar PV panels and Wind production, the difficulty with both of these is the large quantities of reserve capacity, fueled by fossil fuels required to deal with the fact that both are intermittent sources - solar cells only produce energy when the sun shines, wind turbines only when the wind blows.  Thus, they both require large quantities of fossil fueled backup capacity - up to 60%.[xvi]  Add to this that both remain substantially more expensive than fossil fuels despite rising fossil energy prices, because the comparatively small technological improvements are overridden by the rising costs of the fossil fuels and metals used to make them. [xvii]

While we will almost certainly build out some renewable energy sources, the reality is that our future involves using much less energy than we do now.  We have no choice but to cut back radically - and a reasoned, careful, wise reduction will be more just and positive than a haphazard one done by necessity.

All of this makes it much makes it that much more urgent that we get to work now.  If we are going to continue to feed ourselves and all the other human being already on this planet without the help of fossil fuels we must begin to make a change now.   Yes folks, the house lights are coming up as the partying is winding down.  It seems like we might want to sober up before trying to tackle the difficult question of just how best to deal with the problems of peak oil, chief among them fossil fuel based industrial agriculture.     

A return to small-scale, sustainable agriculture with a focus on producing our culinary needs and wants locally would reduce our dependency on oil and natural gas in advance of their inevitable decline in availability.  One obvious benefit will be the enormous amount of fuel saved by reducing the amount of food shipped all over the country.  Fewer refrigerated tractor trailers crisscrossing the country means less oil needed as a nation. 

Changes like removing some of the mechanization from our agriculture and reducing or eliminating the use of inorganic pesticides and fertilizers will reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and the foreign countries in possession of the majority of what remains of these fuels.  Two thirds of the world’s remaining oil reserves are in the Middle East.[xviii]  Much of the remaining natural gas is there too.  If we needed a great deal less of their oil and NG to grow our own food, we would be less likely to get caught up in deadly conflicts that require huge amounts of money, energy and worse yet, the lives of our men and women in military service.  Imagine if we refocused the amount of money and man power spent intervening in Iraq on learning how to again grow our own food without Middle Eastern oil.  We could disengage from a region that obviously isn’t interested in our meddling.

Less oil involved in growing our food will also mean more oil available as feedstock for precious commodities like medical equipment and necessary pharmaceuticals.  Rather than a drastic decline in the availability of really important petroleum derivatives, removing the fossil fuels from our food could help us more gradually adjust to decreasing stocks of these fuels.  Even more important, the health benefits of a more localized, nutritious diet might reduce our need for medical equipment and drugs.

Making this change now rather than waiting until the peaking of fossil fuels creates more severe social disruptions is important because it will take time to learn how to grow our own food without fossil fuel inputs.  And it will take time to learn how to cook with whole ingredients and to adjust to a more seasonal diet.  These changes will be much easier if we do them now while we have time to adjust rather than more abruptly in a time of crisis.  




[i] http://www.livingonearth.org/shows/segments.htm?programID=08-P13-00004&segmentID=3

[ii] Michael Antonucci, Blood for Oil: The Quest for Fuel in World War II, Command:

January-February 1993

[iii] http://www.peakoil.net/Oil_tsunami.html

[iv] http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/analysis_publications/oil_market_basics/demand_text.htm

[v] http://www.aga.org/Legislative/legislative+advocacy/issues/energy/Questions+and+Answers+About+Natural+Gas+and+National+Energy+Policy.htm

[vi] http://asia.reuters.com/articlePrint?articleId=USN2163310420050621

[vii] The Story Of Natural Gas:Supply, Demand And A Brick Wall

Enskilda Securities

Institutional Investor Meeting

Kitzbühel, Austria

March 12, 2004

Matthew R. Simmons

[viii] Darley, 183

[ix] Murphy, 8

[x] Darley, Personal Communication, September 25 2006

[xi] Energy Trends and Implications for U.S. Army Installations

Eileen T. Westervelt and Donald F. Fournier ERDC/CERL TN-05-1 September 2005

[xii] http://www.foodmuseum.com/nmffUSAFarmHeritage.html

[xiii] A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service Report number 814 titled “Estimating The Net Energy Balance Of Corn Ethanol: An Update” was published in July of 2002.

[xiv]

[xv] Murphy, 66

[xvi] Murphy 84

[xvii] Ibid, 85

[xviii] The New Petroleum by U. S. Senator Richard G. Lugar and R. James Woolsey

Published by Council on Foreign Relations Jan/Feb 1999


Public Health and Welfare (_Depletion and Abundance_ Book Excerpt)

Sharon May 20th, 2008

I’m short on essay constructing time right at the moment, and I thought it might be nice to include an actual excerpt from _Depletion and Abundance_. 

One of the central arguments I make in the book, an argument probably familiar to most of my readers, is that the things we most need to prioritize in adapting to difficult times are the things that most people say they care about most already - education, healthcare, basic security issues.  So my approach, when I wrote about health care was not to try and comprehensively answer what we should do about medical care, but to a. make the argument that this needs to be a much bigger priority in discussions of peak oil and climate change and b. say that it is possible to create a “shadow” health care system that would serve not just our needs in a future crisis, but the needs of millions of Americans who have no access to health care now.  I don’t claim to answer every question about how X condition can be dealt with, or what might or might not be available to many people, but I do try and get the ball rolling, and ask that we bring health care to the center of our discussions of the future.

It is a long chapter, so I’m going to break it up into several pieces.  Bear with me if something you think is important isn’t here yet - it may be coming up in a later post.  Enjoy!

___________________________-

If you are going to deal with the issue of health in the modern world, you are going to have to deal with much absurdity. It is not clear, for example, why death should increasingly be looked upon as a curable disease, an abnormality by a society that increasingly looks upon life as insupportably painful and/or meaningless. — Wendell [ad1] Berry

“I’ve been in hospitals,” I said. “They take away your pants. Then they hurt you and starve you and expose you to disease. Then they bill you for it. A lot.” — Spider Robinson

As I mentioned in the first chapter, many Peak Oil and Climate Change activists have, as much as everyone else, tended to think that the biggest energy consumers in our lives are the places we most urgently need to focus our attention. This reasoning has led us to emphasize things like transportation and energy replacement. This is a reasonable assumption, of course. You look around and think “Where do the fossil fuels go at present?” and it seems reasonable to associate large usage with the most important sectors of our society. But if you rethink the problem, and truly get your mind around the fact that the future really is going to be very different from the present, we can begin to think about it in terms of optimization — the places where we get the most quality of life out of our fossil fuel inputs. That is, I believe we have, thus far, been asking the wrong questions about what matters.

If we were to ask “Where do we need energy the most?” we would get a very different answer. Perhaps the most bang for our fossil-fueled buck comes in health care. In fact, when anyone suggests moving to a much lower-energy society, the most disturbing and frightening thing for them to imagine losing is usually health care. When we talk about the changing economy, the question that most immediately jumps up is “What will we do about health insurance?” The shift here — from medical care to insurance — is a telling one, because right now medical care is so costly that almost no one can afford to pay for it outright. And yet, medical care in and of itself does not have to be as expensive as it is for us. The French, who arguably have the best medical system in the world, spend only half what we do.

In the coming changes, the most important things will be making sure that people can live simpler, lower-energy lives without unbearable costs. That means keeping infant mortality low and lifespans long. It means stabilizing population. As we’ve seen, to a large degree decisions about how many children to have are based on expectations of those children’s survival. In a society with a great deal of uncertainty about the future of children, we can expect rising, rather than falling birthrates.

Along with access to education and basic social welfare programs such as support for the elderly and disabled and food price stabilization, I would argue that one of the most urgent projects we can engage in is in finding a way to maintain the benefits of modern medicine in a low-energy society. And as I research this problem, I increasingly believe that this can be accomplished, that we have the resources to create a low-energy national health care — or, if our government will not lead on such a project, that states, regions or even communities can enable such a health care model.

I am not claiming that we can reproduce modern health care as we know it, or that the change will be without cost or difficulty, but I do believe it is possible to integrate a lower-energy health care system into our existing models, and that the project of doing so, besides preparing us for a crisis, might also improve the lives of the 40 million Americans currently without access to health care.

Now, just as I am not a demographer, an economist, a nutritionist or any of the other things I’ve presumed to do research on and offer analysis of, I am not a medical professional. My intent here is not to offer specific medical advice, but to jumpstart the conversation about what kind of low-impact, low-energy medical infrastructure we can have. My goal is not to end the conversation, but to begin it, and to pass on my thoughts to those who can take it further.

The Myths of Medicine

It is difficult to begin to triage the current medical system without first evaluating our assumptions about how the medical system works. I think many of us are carrying three false beliefs about medicine. They are:

1. More health care is better, and good health care must be expensive.

2. The benefits of modern medicine always outweigh the costs

3. Social good programs like health care are things you get to later rather than sooner.

The first assumption seems fairly obvious — in a world where billions of people, including millions of Americans don’t have access to health care, it would seem that if you could get all the health care you wanted, that would be better. But in fact, the data are more complex than that. For example, a recent article in The Atlantic by Shannon Brownlee, author of Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer[ad2] , includes the telling quote by a Dartmouth Medical School professor: “If we sent 30 percent of the doctors in this country to Africa, we might raise the level of health on both continents.”

That is, even something that seems to be as obvious a good as a large number of doctors isn’t necessarily so under the current system for a host of reasons, including the fact that multiple specialists attending to treatment often lead to confusion and errors, and that doctors tend to concentrate in wealthy areas, so that more doctors doesn’t mean better distribution of health care.

Americans spend about twice as much money on health care as Europeans do, but our lifespans are no longer and often shorter. We take more drugs than they do, endure more medical interventions at the end of our lives, report lower levels of satisfaction and happiness with our health and suffer more from anxiety and depression than people with lower levels of health care. It is also true that our present medical system is not about “health” so much as treating disease, and that a system that actually focused on preventive care, health and wellness — all much lower-input practices than our present one — might work better with less energy.

In his book Aging Well Dr. George Valliant describes tracking several groups of men over more than 50 years, including Harvard graduates and inner-city, lower-class Boston men, and notes that among all these groups access to health care was not the defining factor in quality of life or health in the senior years — basic self care and staying away from doctors was. That is,

…being able to afford better doctors, hospitals, and healthcare is unrelated to their health or longevity. “It’s not economic at all,” he asserts. “People [ad3] who go to hospitals are sicker than people who don’t. Having better doctors and hospitals is a bit like locking the barn after the horse is out. The trick is not going to hospitals in the first place.” (Valliant )

[ad4] 

Though it is obviously important that sick people have access to health care, at present only three out of every 100 dollars spent on health care in the US go to any kind of help maintaining good health, rather than to the treatment of medical problems. For example, midwife Kathy Breault observes that an increase in Caesarean sections is tightly linked to an explosion of gestational diabetes in women, which often causes very large babies that cannot be delivered vaginally. The increase in gestational diabetes is almost entirely a product of our industrial diet and sedentary lifestyle, and yet while health insurance will pay for a C-section, it will only rarely fund nutritional education or cooking classes and never pay for a babysitter to allow an expectant mother to cook a meal, shop at a farmer’s market or get some exercise.

It is important to realize that Americans have similar lifespans to average Cubans, and higher infant mortality rates, despite the fact that Cuba is a vastly poorer nation and spends about $186 per person annually on health care — compared to $4500 per person in the US. In Kerala, a state in India, lifespans are not quite the same as in the US, but they similar to those of inner-city African Americans. Kerala infant mortality rates are lower than mortality rates for infants in Cleveland or Baltimore’s inner city. That is remarkable because Keralans use one seventeenth the resources we do to maintain health.

There are other examples of “low income, high well being” nations that spend very little on health care, demonstrating that neither energy use nor expenditure is the determining factor in long lifespans and low infant mortality. What does matter is making health care and its corollary, education (the ability to obtain and make use of health information is tied to literacy levels to a large degree), a major social priority, even to the exclusion of other projects if resources are limited.

The Amish are another important example. Amish people in the US have a number of factors that would seem to place them at risk of higher infant mortality rates and lower lifespans — they receive little preventive care, eat a high-fat diet, have no health insurance, use herbal and home remedies first, and give birth to most of their children at home, using lay midwives. And yet the average Amish lifespan is virtually the same as that of the average non-Amish American, despite their spending one fifth or less on health care.

All of these examples demonstrate the simple truth that, although hospitals and medical care are energy intensive, it is not impossible to dramatically reduce our need for expensive, energy intensive medical care by prioritizing health and general welfare.

Whenever I talk about going to lower-energy usage, a percentage of people shout out something like “But that would mean going back to the stone age, to lepers walking the streets and people throwing their feces out the window on our heads!” (Okay, I exaggerate a little for effect.) But I think it is fair to say that variations on “Without power, life would be intolerable” is a common assumption, and that it is tied to myth #2 above, that modern medicine is an unmitigated good.

Now, do not mistake me — I believe that much of medicine is good. But everything comes with a price, and sometimes we simply choose not to see the price of things clearly. That is, often when we worry about the dangers of losing modern medicine and society, we see clearly the costs of not having easy access to high-technology, high-energy medical care, but don’t see, because we have assimilated into them the high costs of the medicine and the society that makes it possible.

____________________________

 Next time…more on evaluating the costs and benefits of energy intensive societies.

 Sharon

Farmer-Hunter-Gatherer

Sharon May 19th, 2008

I recently was asked to provide advance comment on a new food storage book, _Food Security for the Faint of Heart: Keeping Your Larder Full in Lean Times_ by Robin Wheeler.  She’ll definitely be getting a great deal of praise from me - this is a terrific book, warmly written, funny and smart.  Not only do I now want to read her gardening book, but I immediately found myself fantasizing about hanging out with the author and trading recipes and graden tricks.  That doesn’t happen so terribly often - I’m impressed.  I really recommend the book, and I’ll put it in the food storage section of my store once it is out.

 I was particularly struck by one of her observations, in a chapter on edible flowers and foraging (the book ranges widely over everything from bulk buying to gardening for renters and preservation methods).  Wheeler writes,

 ”Like most people visiting Asia, I have experienced the constant dripping of a rain of epiphanies during my stays.  One of these occurred on a trip to Northern Thailand, as I was standing on the edge of a new friend’s yard.  I admired the grove of towering bamboo that edged her garden boundary, in a row so straight I could have marked it off with a piece of thread, with not a single trace of bamboo growing out into the road. 

‘How do you do that?’ I asked her.  ‘How do you keep the bamboo from growing all over the place, outside of your yard?’

‘Well, that’s easy,’ she replied.  ‘Everyone knows how good bamboo shoots are in their dinner.  The minute one shows its head outside of my garden, someone takes it home.’

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘In Canada we hack down the bamboo and throw it in the bushes and buy bamboo shoots in a can at the store.’

But that is what North America is all about.  We have been trained that if it is right in front of our face (e.g. free, accessible) it is somehow inferior, and that the only really good stuff is at the store.  The more abundantly and freely something grows, the more reviled it should be.” (Wheeler, 95)

I think Wheeler’s articulation of our culture is right on the money.  And I started thinking about that fact in relationship to another book I’ve been reading, a very different, but equally wonderful book.  Archaeologist Martin Jones has written _Feast: Why Humans Share Food_ in which he takes the time to make strange the human custom of food sharing, and then explores its origins and history.  It is an utterly fascinating work.

In one section, he talks about the custom of choosing *not* to eat, to render taboo, commonly available foods.  For example, he explores bone piles from coastal British tribal populations that show no sign of including fish bones, even in periods where there are signs of famine and protein shortage.  This suggests that the cultural taboos against eating fish were powerful enough to affect even the starving.  It may well be that the cultural habit of not seeing things as food made them effectively invisible to the hungry?   And, of course, we know that they are.  How many hungry Americans know to go out in the parks near them and dig up burdock roots?   How many know to eat grasshoppers, and how many Americans can overcome their aversion, the profound idea that something is not “food.”

The ability to take some edibles and call them taboo is an important way that cultures differentiate themselves  from one another - what we eat is who we are- and that’s no less true now than it was in any other society.  Of course, some of this is the wastefulness that Wheeler describes, but part of it is also the cultural sense that we are identified by our ability not to recognize these things as food - this is our way of differentiating ourselves from our agrarian prior culture.  How many ethnic narratives describe being embarrassed by a parent or grandparent’s harvesting of a wild plant from a public place, or by agrarian food traditions?  Many, that I’ve read.  It isn’t just that we’re wasteful - it is that we’re still sending out the cultural message “we’re different from the old agrarian roots” even though that’s become painfully obvious.  That is, we are constituting ourselves as fundamentally different from what came before us, as a new people.  The difficulty, of course, is that we may need to be rather more like the old people. 

One of the ways we are abandoning our agrarian roots is by disdaining wild foods.  That may seem like an odd claim, given our tendency to think of the world as historically divided into highly discrete hunter-gatherers vs. agrarians, but in fact, the archaeological record suggests that most agrarian societies relied quite heavily on wild plant foraging, and that the line between gathering and agriculture probaby predates any solid archaeological evidence.  For example, Laura Schenone, author of _A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove_ observes about our perceptions of gatherers,

 ”Let’s have a look at her again, a woman moving light-footedly through brambles, gathering berries.  To our modern perception, the image seems somehow innocent and trivial.  In fact, the ancient gatherer women were nothing short of botanists with extensive knowledge far beyond the scope of berries for dessert.  This knowledge could only be built up over generations through careful judgement, skill and yes, even some poisonous trial and error along the way.  By the time the Europeans came, Indians from coast to coast were gathering almost 2 thousand types of edible roots, nuts, vegetable plants, greens, fruits, and herbs, as well as insects and shellfish….

Spend one week (even one day) in the wilderness with no food, and you’ll quickly realize that without no-how, you’ll starve or poison yourself.  And it’s not just knowing what you can eat, but where to find it and when it will be ripe or available.  If you get to the nut trees or fruits even a few days late, more enterprising animals will have beat you to them, or you’ll find youself left with the taste of overripe or rotten fruit in your mouth, opportunity so closely missed….

While we can never be sure, many experts believe that women “discovered” horticulture and were probably America’s first farmers.  The rise of farming was a gradual process.  Perhaps one woman decided to help along the wild plants she liked best.  First, she began to weed away competing plants or give water to her favorites.  Maybe she noticed that a basked of dropped seeds had sprouted in the loosened soil where she’d built an earthen oven.” (Schenone, 8-9)

I’ve written before in my work on vegeculture about how when European scholars arrived in Africa to study African gardening, they were stunned by how small the cultivated patches of roots were in African house gardens.  The assumption of early bigoted thinkers was that Africans were simply bad farmers - it was only decades later that it became clear that large patches of jungle near villages were actually cultivated patches of food crops.

And the line between gathering and agriculture has remained fine through most of agrarian history.  Martin Jones argues in _Feast_ that in fact, “the cultivated field was more unusual to our modern eyes….We could envisage instead plots of land that were certainly sown from a particular stock of seedcorn, often a maslin mixture to hedge against poorer years.  After these plots had been tended and brought to maturity, quite possibly everything in them was treated as a resource, not just the progeny of what was sown…”

He backs this up with evidence from bodies excavated from peat bogs, many of while contained mixtures of both wild and cultivated plants in their bellies.  He notes that as late as the 20th century, Danish farmers were still eating wild brome grass seeds, a grass that flourished when the rye harvests were poor, and so were allowed to coexist in fields to ensure a secure harvest.  

Jones also argues that farmers in most societies had every incentive to diversify their diets - because agricultural taxes have usually been based on single, monocropped analyses (and we still count food this way) - that is, farmers were forced to play based on single crop food webs.  The way to minimize taxation and retain the most for your family’s diet, then, was to vary one’s crops as much as possible, and rely on fields and forests, to have as diverse a food web and harvest as possible. 

There are still modern rural populations that make full use of the food around them.  One 0f the revelations of Dmitry Orlov’s _Reinventing Collapse_  is that most Soviet families fed themselves on extremely small gardens, much smaller than most of us would expect.  But this was heavily supplemented by the foraging of wild foods, particularly berries and mushrooms. 

What does all of this have to do with food taboos?  Well, on the one hand it is worth reminding us that strong identifications of what we don’t eat do have a purpose, they aren’t just wastefulness, but they help us identify ourselves as part of particular community. 

I say this as someone who accepts (with some ambivalence) a set of religious taboos about food - I keep kosher.  I was not raised a Jew, so I grew up eating most of the foods that are not included in a kosher diet - growing up along the coast of Massachusetts, shellfish were a dietary staple.  And I want my children to obey religious dietary laws, and find value in those laws - I believe that the restrictions of kashruth lend to a greater mindfulness in eating, an awareness of G-d even during ordinary kitchen tasks.  At the same time, I recognize that religious food taboos are designed to differentiate, and that often those raised with food taboos cannot bring themselves to eat taboo foods.  I don’t want my children to respond to rabbit or clams with an instinctive “ugh” - I want them to recognize them as a food, one we choose not to eat, because we have an abundance of other things.  But I wish them to be able to eat them in the interest of pekuah nefesh, the Jewish law that “saving a life” overrides every other requirement. 

At the same time, just as kashruth generally serves me now, but might not in the same ways in a scarcer future, the cultural food taboos of the technological rich world can no longer serve us.  The unconscious (for most of us) process of differentiating ourselves from people who engage in literally “dirty” or “old-timey” or “dangerous” (think how much we worry about poisonousness in wild plants) practices has to stop, and we have to find ways to differentiate ourselves from others that may include food taboos, but cannot be based on the idea that we only eat processed, store bought food.  How will we do this?  My suspicion is that the first priority must be to change our set of cultural taboos, to render “dirty” the processed foods we now rely on.  And this is happening because they are dirty and dangerous - toxic to us in many cases, and often contaminated as we’ve seen in the past year or two.  We need to precisely reverse our current set of food taboos.

Even more, however, it suggests that not only do we need to be working on our gardens, but on our integration into the farmer-hunter-gatherer paradigm - that is, most of us will feed ourselves not simply through horticulture or agriculture, but as mostly-fixed human beings have for thousands of years - with the integration of all of the above skills. 

I think of the role of farmer-hunter-gatherer in a community as the integration of the margins into the whole.  That is, our job is not just to cultivate as much earth as we can, but also to familiarize ourselves with what is out there, and make the absolute best use of it we can.  In some cases, this will mean traditional hunting and foraging - most of us should at least have the skill to trap small pest animals and the ability to eat them, to gather wild foods.  But that also means recreating the ability to *see* what is around you - to make use of sidewalk margins as growing space, or to view the weeds that compete with our crops as potential hedges against crop failure. It involves the recreation of a deeply intimate and profound knowledge of place - and this will take time and practice, and a new crop of home botanists with the eyes to see and the courage to cook.

 Sharon

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