All The Farm That Is Fit To Print

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

....And Now For Something Completely Different......

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams

Some thoughts on the fate of marketing when the revolution comes, according to Douglas Adams:

The marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes." An edition of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Evolution, Gobal Warming, Doomsday, and the Afterlife

by Patrick Takahasi

About that title, Carnac the Magnificent would pause because he would at least be mildly confused as to his possible response. In time, he utters, "Not the life progression for Americans" and opens the envelope. There is only a trickle of laughter because the audience does not quite understand the connection. Johnny Carson grimaces and extends a particularly invective Middle Eastern curse.

Yes, Carnac would have been right, for the above title is not a sequential prediction of your past, present and future, if you are the typical American. But shockingly enough, not for the reasons you might think. The punch line comes at the end when you learn that we (not me, but the majority) believe in only one, well, maybe two, of the following: evolution, global warming, doomsday and the afterlife.

I recently wrote a book partially treating evolution and the afterlife, and an earlier one analyzing global warming and possible doomsdays, and have lately been busy reading up, responding to and organizing virtual discussion forums on the economic collapse, peak oil, global warming and doomsday. The participants tend to be the more scholarly facet of our society and hardly represent the masses. Yet, many of them have devoted their professional lives to these subjects and are the best and brightest, so their views are important and can't be totally discarded.

I would say something like 10% to 20% of this eclectic group actually believe the combined crush of the economic collapse, peak oil and global warming will be so severe that society as we know it will NEVER recover, our lifestyles will be seriously compromised and survival could become a life-or-death issue. Some have purchased land and are initiating self-reliant communities. There are blogs to prepare individuals living in these uncertain times. A few of my friends are actually looking forward to this new kind of adventure. Most in this forum, though, are like me, in that we rather enjoy our current mode of life, but are beginning to get mildly concerned.

I tried searching for a poll on what real Americans think about this coming doom, but couldn't find one with a scenario reasonably close to the above. Sure, there are the Biblical ones, and, well, we are a religious country, plus the Large Hadron Collider still has that miniscule potential and the SciFi Channel in 2006 had a countdown to our mass extinction. However, as none of the respected economists or politicians I see on television seems particularly concerned about this worst-case option, I take satisfaction in maintaining a similar insouciance.

Anyway, how can anyone get so traumatized by this latest series of existing and potential catastrophes, for in the 70's we muddled through the population bomb, limits to growth, potential nuclear winter, the Vietnam War, acid rain and two energy crises...and somehow recovered. In fact, nearly two decades after the Second Energy Crisis, crude oil in 1998 fell to the lowest on historical record ($15.52/barrel in 2008 dollars, even lower than the $18.29 of 1972), and there was nothing government, academics or politics did to orchestrate this drop. Further, another decade later the United States is now supremely unchallenged and oil is heading back to almost historic lows. Nuclear holocaust? Iran and North Korea will not precipitate a World War 3. Aside for this inconvenient economic collapse, things seem generally okay today.

All this led me to think, though, whether this small minority planning for the end (of life as we like it), might, in fact, be right? Let's look at religion, for example. The surveys vary a bit, but for the longest time, something on the order of 90% of Americans have said they believe in God and some form of Afterlife. Of that remaining 10% who don't, I would not be surprised if many of them are amused and disappointed at the same time that their friends and family can be so deluded. Is that what this doomsday group thinks of the population at large in terms of the coming downfall?

Changing the subject a wee bit, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin. By now, everyone must believe in evolution, right? Wrong! Two-thirds of Americans actually know that God created us within the past 10,000 years, so does this mean that only 33% of us accept evolution? Well, it's a bit more complicated then that, but, yet, alarming. Live Science reports on a poll of 34 countries, placing the U.S. second from the bottom (Turkey was lower at 26% on belief in evolution, while the European countries and Japan were just the opposite, with 60-90% in the evolution camp). I go into vivid detail on this subject in Chapter 5 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.

Okay, so much for that controversial subject, but, then, by now most of us must be convinced about global climate change. Actually, yes, 82% of Americans do believe, with, interestingly enough, 91% being Democrats and 72% Republicans. That was a 2007 survey. A 2009 poll broke this down to 44% saying long-term planetary trends are causing this change, with 41% blaming it on human activity. Only 21% of Republicans think that we are at fault. Also, 54% say the media exaggerate the dangers. In other words, most Americans don't think their use of fossil fuels is causing this Greenhouse Effect. They blame nature.

To summarize, the majority of Americans believe in both creationism and an afterlife, the potential of some sort of religious doom, and think they are not causing global warming. So the title of this article should have been: "Creationism, Doomsday and the Afterlife," to more closely reflect life in the USA. You now should have a better understanding about why we are in deep...(feel free to add your own odious term). So what has this got to do with the economy? Go back to the beginning and try again, or revert to my earlier HuffPost introduction to this subject.

Did we become the greatest country ever because of our beliefs? Certainly not entirely, which gives me hope that the best is yet to come.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

CDC Warns Public to Prepare for 'Zombie Apocalypse'

By Joshua Rhett Miller

Published May 18, 2011| FoxNews.com

A screenshot of the website for the Centers for Disease Control, which were swamped by a massive wave of traffic following the tongue-in-cheek warning of an impending "zombie apocalypse."

Are you prepared for the impending zombie invasion?

That's the question posed by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a Monday blog posting gruesomely titled, "Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse." And while it's no joke, CDC officials say it's all about emergency preparation.

"There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for," the posting reads. "Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That's right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you'll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you'll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency."

The post, written by Assistant Surgeon General Ali Khan, instructs readers how to prepare for "flesh-eating zombies" much like how they appeared in Hollywood hits like "Night of the Living Dead" and video games like Resident Evil. Perhaps surprisingly, the same steps you'd take in preparation for an onslaught of ravenous monsters are similar to those suggested in advance of a hurricane or pandemic.

"First of all, you should have an emergency kit in your house," the posting continues. "This includes things like water, food, and other supplies to get you through the first couple of days before you can locate a zombie-free refugee camp (or in the event of a natural disaster, it will buy you some time until you are able to make your way to an evacuation shelter or utility lines are restored)."

Other items to be stashed in such a kit include medications, duct tape, a battery-powered radio, clothes, copies of important documents and first aid supplies.

"Once you've made your emergency kit, you should sit down with your family and come up with an emergency plan," the posting continues. "This includes where you would go and who you would call if zombies started appearing outside your doorstep. You can also implement this plan if there is a flood, earthquake or other emergency."

The idea behind the campaign stemmed from concerns of radiation fears following the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan in March. CDC spokesman Dave Daigle told FoxNews.com that someone had asked CDC officials if zombies would be a concern due to radiation fears in Japan and traffic spiked following that mention.

"It's kind of a tongue-in-cheek campaign," Daigle said Wednesday. "We were talking about hurricane preparedness and someone bemoaned that we kept putting out the same messages."

While metrics for the post are not yet available, Daigle said it has become the most popular CDC blog entry in just two days.

"People are so tuned into zombies," he said. "People are really dialed in on zombies. The idea is we're reaching an audience or a segment we'd never reach with typical messages."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Two Bucks Don't Make a Litter

Funny Story from a friend:

"As a part of my ongoing project to live more lightly on the earth, I have begun raising bunnies with the idea that we would breed them for meat. One slight problem has arisen. The female bunny--Willow---has turned out to be a male--William. After apologizing to the two male bunnies, I am on the lookout for a new female New Zealand Red."

It seems to me that this process of raising natural meats is more complicated than I suspect.

Of course, the Hubbell Farm makes it look easy.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Preserving Food at Home from the University of Georgia

Announcing a free, self-paced, online course for those wanting to learn more about home canning and preservation. (You can find more information on the National Center for Home Food Preservation's home page.)

Introduction to Food Preservation
General Canning
Canning Acid Foods
Canning Low-Acid Foods

This course is offered in the University of Georgia eLC system. UGA requires registration for you to receive a login.

So Easy To Preserve

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is pleased to offer the 5th edition of its popular book, So Easy To Preserve. This beautiful book contains the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations for safe food preservation. So Easy To Preserve is now a 375-page book with over 185 tested recipes, along with step by step instructions and in-depth information for both the new and experienced food preserver. Chapters include Preserving Food, Canning, Pickled Products, Jellied Fruit Products, Freezing and Drying. This 5th edition has 35 new tested recipes and processes, in addition to a new section with recommended procedures for home-canned salsas.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Japan's disaster tells us about peak oil

Our World 2.0: Life for survivors after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami gives a clue to what a peak oil world would look like

by Brendan Barrett

For large parts of eastern Japan that were not directly hit by the tsunami on 11 March 2011, including the nation's capital, the current state of affairs feels very much like a dry-run for peak oil. This is not to belittle the tragic loss of life and the dire situation facing many survivors left without homes and livelihoods. Rather, the aim here is to reflect upon the post-disaster events and compare them with those normally associated with the worst-case scenarios for peak oil.

The earthquake and tsunami affected six of the 28 oil refineries in Japan and immediately petrol rationing was introduced with a maximum of 20 litres per car (in some instances as low as 5 litres). On 14 March, the government allowed the oil industry to release 3 days' worth of oil from stockpiles and on 22 March an additional 22 days' worth of oil was released.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which serves a population of 44.5 million, lost one quarter of its supply capacity as a result of the quake, through the closedown of its two Fukushima nuclear power plants (Dai-ichi and Dai-ni), as well as eight fossil fuel based thermal power stations. Subsequently, from 14 March 2011 onwards, TEPCO was forced to implement a series of scheduled outages across the Kanto region (the prefectures of Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa).

While the thermal power stations may restart operations soon, the overall shortfall will become even more difficult to manage over the summer period when air conditioning is utilized. The reality is that these power cuts could continue for years, especially since the one of the two Fukushima nuclear plants has effectively become a pile of radioactive scrap.

Related to this, when the Tokyo Metropolitican Government began to announce levels of radioactive contamination of drinking water above permissible levels, this was immediately followed by the rapid sell-out of bottled water, even after the levels dropped again. When bottled water is on sale in local convenience stores after some restocking took place, each customer is only allowed to purchase one 2 litre bottle.

Immediately after the quake, supermarkets outside the disaster area in Tokyo and other major cities began to sell out of foodstuffs, including various instant meals. The electrical appliance stores sold out of batteries, flashlights and portable radios.

As we all know, the twin natural and human tragedies are having impacts beyond the Tohoku region where Fukushima lies, and the Greater Tokyo area. It has been difficult for Japan's notoriously efficient industries to maintain production, given that they rely on just-in-time systems and which have supply plants (for needed parts) that are located in the zone impacted by these combined disasters. One example is in car production, where major firms have had to suspend work at their factories when key parts are no longer available from the affected region. The fragility of this system of industrial production is glaringly obvious and it is something that peak oil commentators have warned of multiple times.

These food and bottled water shortages, power cuts, fuel-rationing and breakdowns in just-in-time manufacturing have been anticipated by those who take peak oil seriously. It is almost as if eastern Japan is experiencing a peak oil rehearsal, although other regions of Japan are virtually unaffected. If proponents of peak oil are correct, then the rest of the world may experience something similar within the next 5 to 10 years, and hence it is important that we learn valuable lessons from Japan's response to the current circumstances.

What makes the current situation different from peak oil?
Under a peak oil scenario, the entire world (not just one country) would be affected by a continuous decline in global oil production. The rate of that decline is the key factor. If the rate is very gradual (a few percent points each year), then economies and their food and energy production and distribution systems in particular will have more time to adapt.

In such circumstances, we could envisage a significant decline in the flow of goods and people across the globe — a slowing or a potentially grinding halt. For a country like Japan that relies heavily on the import of food, having only 40% self-sufficiency, the real peak oil scenario would have dire impacts.

Under the present situation, Japan can still rely on imports to alleviate food supply problems. This is fortunate as over 600 farms, 125 harbours and 2,333 fishing vessels were destroyed by the tsunami, not to mention the thousands of people who made their livelihoods from agriculture and fishing who are either deceased or displaced. Furthermore, the 20-30 km zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant may not be used for food production for some time to come and the good reputations of those areas for providing clean produce may take even longer to be restored.

In a global peak oil scenario, it is highly likely that food prices would increase significantly. To some extent this is happening. For instance, in February 2011 it was reported that food prices reached a record high due to poor harvests, rising oil prices (at US$105 per barrel) and increasing demand for foodstuffs due to rising population and incomes. The conflict in Libya was predicted to further exacerbate the food and oil prices. In fact, conflict and civil unrest in oil producing countries is another facet of various peak oil scenarios as nations scramble for the remaining resources. It is something that Richard Heinberg describes as the "last one standing" scenario in which powerful countries will use their assets to promote their own survival at the expense of everyone else.

So in the current predicament facing Japan, the situation is ameliorated by the ability of different nations to offer support and continue trading (for instance, Evian is selling a lot of bottled water to Japan at the moment). This certainly would be more difficult under some of the extreme peak oil scenarios, where rapid oil decline is involved.

Lessons from Japan
While the consequences of the current disaster for Japan have been tragic in terms of the loss of life and while it is clear that the emotional, psychological and economic impacts are enormous, there are real signs of hope.

The first important lesson to recognize is the way that Japan's leaders acted rapidly and responsibly. We have already indicated that fuel rationing was in place from 12 March 2011. The reality is that Japan is one of the most disaster-prepared nations in the world and regularly undertakes wide-scale drills. This practice proved to be of vital importance in helping people, communities and institutions cope with the major challenges that they have had to face.

Government officials quickly recognized that people were hoarding food supplies and began to publicly request that they only buy what they need. This was followed up by a series of public service announcements by the Japan Ad Council under theme of "What I can do now."

The Minister in charge of consumer affairs,
Renho Murata, frequently called on people not to panic buy and hoard food. She argued that this kind of activity was undermining the ability to provide relief supplies to the quake hit areas. At the same time, the general public and the private sector in the Kanto region were encouraged to comply with the scheduled power outages and to significantly reduce their energy consumption. Everybody responded positively – keen to play their part in solving this problem.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan in particular made an appeal to the people of Japan on 13 March 2011 when he said, "We Japanese have overcome many very trying situations in the past to create our modern society of peace and prosperity. I firmly believe that through our citizens working together to respond to this great earthquake and tsunami, we will certainly be able to overcome this crisis."

This message has been echoed across the media and the Japanese public has responded by showing calmness, patience, respect for each other and mutual support. If anything, they have exemplified Richard Heinberg's power down scenario — the path of cooperation, conservation and sharing. Whether they can hold true to this path over a prolonged period of time remains to be seen.

In the global Transition Movement, they often refer to the "head, heart and hand" approach to coping with peak oil and climate change, as discussed in Rob Hopkin's Transition Handbook. Put simply, the head signifies the exploration needed about how we can re-orient our lives to become more local and small scale as our awareness increases of the energy crisis we are heading into. The heart symbolizes how we can generate positive visions of the future and how they can be harnessed to overcome the feelings of powerlessness in the face of these immense challenges. The hands are a representation about understanding how the transition model can be employed in practice for specific communities.

For many communities in eastern Japan, the current circumstances represent the first time they have had to consider questions about food and energy security. The vast majority appear, quite naturally, to share the overwhelming desire to get back to normal, back to the way things were before. But there are also signs of the head, heart and hand approach as many Japanese commentators are asking questions about how will develop in the future.

If Japan is to build back better, then it should perhaps do so by building more resilient, more locally oriented communities in the areas affected by the quake and tsunami, and beyond. In fact, this is a chance to reconsider completely the development path for Japan towards one that is less vulnerable, less reliant upon fossil fuels, and ideally a low carbon society.

To borrow the words of Prime Minister Kan once again when he called upon his compatriots:

"Through this resolve, let us all now — each and every individual — firmly reinforce our bonds with our families, friends, and communities, overcoming this crisis to once more build an even better Japan."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Content with Mediocrity

Inflation Spares None
By Nick Hodge in Energy and Capital
Friday, May 6th, 2011

It's getting tough out there, isn't it?

Milk hasn't been on special at my Safeway in weeks, the price placed firmly just under $4.00.

Gas is the same price.

The last time I filled up my truck, it cost me $105. I had to swipe my card once at the pump and again inside with the cashier; you're now only allowed to use a credit card once for $75 in a 24-hour period at the pump.

And while I can't say I take pleasure in paying higher prices — nobody does — I can say I see them as validation of the theories I and my fellow analysts have been presenting to you each and every day for years.

I take pride in the fact that I've not only prepared myself for economic uncertainty and price volatility, but that our advice has helped hundreds of thousands of people like you do the same.

But sometimes preparing yourself isn't just about finding the next best stock, timing an option play perfectly, or taking profits from rising commodity prices...

It's also about reducing your debt-load (or better yet, eliminating it) to increase the economic security of you and your family.

It's about spending wisely and saving diligently.

It's about taking the time to think about what you would do in an economic emergency.

Not many of us take enough time to think about it. Our society has been stable and prosperous for so long, and the government has kept the middle and lower classes placated so well, the honest truth is that hundreds of millions of people are content with mediocrity...

And not only content in mediocrity, but reveling in it.

Have you seen an Olive Garden on a Friday night, laden with an increasingly overweight population, giddy as they shell out their depreciating dollars for an endless basket of doughy breadsticks?

How many of them you think have taken in Tuscan air or even pondered the virtues of a Mediterranean lifestyle? How many of them do you think could point to the Mediterranean on a map?

And it isn't only a zombie middle class that's emerged. The lower class thinks it's entitled as well.

I see it every day on my drive home... East Baltimore stoops blanketed with long white t-shirts, airbrushed fingernails, and brown paper bags. Laughing faces pulling on Newports and riding bikes in the middle of the road.

They're okay with one of the lowest graduation rates in the country and one of the highest murder rates — because that new low-budget comedy and hip-hop album are gonna be off the hook, yo.

I share this perspective not to demean or belittle. I share it to show those who are interested how complacent we've become with our own destinies, and how accustomed we are to cheap goods and relative order.

But What If That Changes?

And what if it changes rather quickly, as we've seen with the sudden sharp rise in fuel and commodity prices?

Sure, Olive Garden will still be full when gas averages $4.00 — and probably even at $5.00.

But what about when it hits the $9.00+ currently being paid in Greece, Norway, Turkey, Hong Kong, and other parts around the globe?

What if milk and cereal and bread follow suit?

How long before meager discretionary income for Olive Garden turns into millions of middle-class deficits — incomes no longer able to cover all expenses, even basic ones?

How long before class distinctions turn into class warfare?

It's arrogant to think it can't happen here. It's naïve to think the government can prevent it.

Look how fast it happened in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. Those aren't third world countries. Algeria's GDP is larger than New Zealand's; Egypt's is larger than Ireland's.

Greece went from upscale tourist destination to rock-throwing in the streets in weeks...

The U.S. is closer than you think.


Now I'm not one of those go-buy-a-gun-right-now kind of guys (though I do have a few hunting rifles that can pull double duty).

But I am the get-your-house-in-order-and-keep-it-that-way type.

The dollar is approaching a 30-year low at the same time the cost of goods is skyrocketing. And the Fed's approach isn't helping matters.

Stocks may be going up, but the dollars you sell them for are worth less and less.

Unemployment and housing prices still say we're in recession.

Call it a recovery all you want...

Unions are being stripped of rights. Public pensions are in question. The government that's used the success of the rich to keep the poor at bay is flat broke.

And it's only a matter of time until all these simmering pots come to a boil.

If you aren't already financially free, times are only going to get tougher. The cost of living has never been higher, and it shows no sign of abating.

Stop spending frivolously now. Save vigorously.

And store that wealth in something besides dollars.

Secure your house and your property. If you don't have one or any, get some.

Focus on what you'll do in that situation as much as you hope it won't happen.

But most importantly, accept that the status quo won't always be so. Step outside the mundane long enough to see that $10 gas isn't out of the question — and could actually happen rather quickly.

And above all, know that the onus is on you.

No one will be a utilitarian if it happens.

Call it like you see it,

Nick Hodge

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chilling News from the New York Times

Company Believes 3 Reactors Melted Down in Japan
Published: May 24, 2011

TOKYO — In a belated acknowledgment of the severity of Japan’s nuclear disaster, the Tokyo Electric Power Company said Tuesday that three of the stricken Fukushima plant’s reactors likely suffered fuel meltdowns in the early days of the crisis.

The plant’s operator also said that it was possible that the pressure vessels in the three stricken reactors, which house the uranium fuel rods, had been breached as well. But most of the fuel remained inside the vessels, the company said — far from a more severe nuclear meltdown in which molten fuel penetrates the ground, a calamity known as the “China Syndrome.”

Also Tuesday, a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear oversight body of the United Nations, began an investigation into Japan’s handling of the accident, amid criticism that a slow response made matters worse.

“We’re here to gather info and to seek to learn lessons that we can apply across the world to improve nuclear safety,” Michael Weightman, the chief nuclear inspector of Britain and the team’s leader, said at a meeting with Japan’s trade minister.

Tuesday’s disclosure by Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, could delay efforts to bring the plant’s reactors under control. Earlier this month, the company released an updated plan to bring all reactors at the plant to a stable state known as a “cold shutdown” in six to nine months. But that goal was based on an understanding that workers could efficiently cool the fuel in the three reactors, a harder task if their inner pressure vessels are breached.

It is also likely to trigger more criticism over what many critics have called a lack of timely disclosure by Tokyo Electric, and by the Japanese government, of important details of the accident. Prime Minister Naoto Kan has apologized in parliament for fanning public mistrust.

“We take this disclosure very seriously. But what’s important now is our response,” said Goshi Hosono, who heads the Japanese government’s nuclear crisis task force.

“Though we now know the situation is very severe, the fuel still remains inside the reactors,” Mr. Hosono said. “There is no change to our strategy of continuing to cool the reactors until we can bring them to a stable state,” he said.

Experts had long suggested that meltdowns occurred at the three reactors after a 50-foot tsunami knocked out power for their cooling systems, causing the nuclear fuel at the reactors’ cores to overheat.

Three other reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, about 150 miles north of Tokyo, were not operating at the time of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Last week Tokyo Electric for the first time acknowledged that the fuel at one of the reactors, Unit 1, likely melted and fell to the bottom of the reactor’s inner pressure vessel.

On Tuesday, Tokyo Electric said that meltdowns likely occurred at units 2 and 3.

It took time for Tokyo Electric to reach that conclusion because it has been gradually retrieving data from the damaged plant and analyzing its findings, Junichi Matsumoto, a senior nuclear official at the company, said at a press conference.

Mr. Matsumoto said data showed that damage to unit 2 began three days after the quake, when its back-up cooling system failed, with most fuel rods eventually melting and collecting at the bottom of the pressure vessel. At unit 3, fuel rods showed signs of damage by the afternoon of March 13.

But many of the details of how the accident unfolded still remain murky. The 18-person I.A.E.A. team, which includes experts from the United States, China, Britain and Russia, will interview officials at Tokyo Electric, as well as Japanese nuclear regulators, before drafting a preliminary report next month.

Greeting the team, Banri Kaieda, Japan’s trade minister, promised full cooperation.

“We are prepared to disclose all the information we have,” Mr. Kaieda told the team’s leader, Mr. Weightman.

Later speaking to reporters, Mr. Weightman expressed some understanding for the severe circumstances workers at the plant faced in the early hours of the crisis.

“In these severe circumstances, when roads, electricity, communications is severely disrupted, how do you manage to have an effective response?” he said.

The Japanese government is conducting separate independent inquiry into the accident. On Tuesday, the government appointed Yotaro Hatamura, known for pioneering a field that studies systematic failures, to head an investigation into the government’s response to the disaster.

“We hope that the inquiry is wide-ranging, and treats nothing as off limits, including actions taken by cabinet ministers and the prime minister himself,” said Yoshito Sengoku, deputy chief cabinet secretary.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shower Together to Save the Planet

Okay, here's an idea whose time has come. Baths take twice the water of showers. So, why not switch to showering for cleanliness? Then, if you want to get really creative, add a friend to your shower. That will really save water!

Of course, it may lead to other complications.....

Sunday, May 22, 2011

VFW Hall, Polka, and Men with Beer Can Hats

What makes a community liveable? Last night I pondered that question at the VFW Hall in the little village where I live. A local company had rented the VFW Hall and installed a fine Polka band for a night's entertainment. The sign outside said, "Dance, All Ages Welcome, 70's, 80's,
and Polka, Friday 7-11."

I don't think that you've really lived until you've seen a man with Beer Cans poised on either side of his head like antlers bounce around the floor to "Roll Out the Barrell." He was having a terrific time.

It seems to me that uniqueness, tolerance, sustainability, and a shared sense of values all contribute to the liveability of a particular community. While polka isn't my preferred dance music, I've been known to shuffle around when the accordion warms up. It has something to do with community.

If you have a hat that holds two beer cans on either side, you understand what I am saying right away.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Recycling for Charity

How to donate to our community through BARC...

Bay Area Recycling for Charity provides recycling services to residential customers and area businesses and also partners with non-profit organizations in their recycling programs to provide maximum benefit for local charities. Our partnerships with these local non-profits creates a means for fund-raising for them and inspires recycling at the grassroots level. Businesses and residential customers may designate a charity of their choice to be the recipient of the revenues resulting from their recycling partnership with BARC.

The most important part of BARC's mission is to give back to our community here in northwest lower Michigan. One of the ways we do this is through our Customer Shares program.
Annually, all customers accrue shares based on how much they recycle with us. We then offer our customers the opportunity to donate these shares (which translate to money!) to local non-profits of their choice. What an easy way to give back! Click on this link to read about BARC's donations in 2009: http://www.tcchamber.org/node/2156

Here is a list of organizations we have made donations to through our Customer Share Program and/or collaborated with:

Big Brothers Big Sisters

The Children's House

Children's Museum/Discovery Center

Freedom Builders Ministry

Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools

Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve

Grand Traverse Conservation District

Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy

The Grand Vision

Habitat for Humanity

Inland Seas

ISLAND (Institute for Sustainable Living and Natural Design)

LIAA (Land Information Access Association)

Leelanau Children's Center

Leelanau Conservancy

Leelanau Outdoor Center

Michigan Land Use Institute

Munson Hospice

NMEAC (Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council)

Rapid City School Pathfinder School SEEDS

TART (Traverse Area Recreation Trails)

Traverse City Christian Schools

Traverse City Film Festival

Wagbo Peace Center

Watershed Center

Wings of Wonder

If you are involved in a local non-profit organization and are interested in partnering with Bay Area Recycling for Charities through our Customer Shares program please Contact Us.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How to Maintain Your Health in Tough Economic Times

Article Date: 12 Mar 2009 - 7:00 PDT
by Mental Health America

To help millions of Americans deal with the stress created by the tough economic times, Mental Health America is recommending strategies to help people feel better and protect their mental health.

One recent poll reported that nearly 60 percent of respondents said the current economic situation is a cause of stress in their lives. And one-quarter indicated that anxiety is serious.

"This is a terribly challenging time for many people," said David L. Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO of Mental Health America. "But there are things people can do to take care of themselves during stressful times such as leaning on the people who care about them and focusing on the positives in life."

Here are some simple steps people can take to protect their mental health.

Take a problem solving approach:

- Sit down and list your problems and some possible solutions. Weigh pros and cons, and once you have some possible solutions, break them into manageable chunks. This process not only can produce concrete answers, but offers a sense of organization and control at a time that may feel chaotic and confusing.

Shift your thinking:

- Review the skills and strengths that have helped you rise to challenges in the past. You can rely on those abilities again now. Try not to blame yourself for matters that may not have been in your control.

Get support:

- You may feel like you don't want to worry your loved ones. But chances are they want to help. You can just enjoy each other's company or, if you're in a relationship, work with your partner to solve financial problems together instead of isolating yourself and struggling alone.

Focus on positive aspects of your life:

- Sure you have worries, but you are likely to have a lot to be grateful for. Thinking about those positives-or writing them down-can boost your mood.

Take good care of yourself:

- Exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep and taking time to relax are essential. You'll be able to cope better with stress and take care of those who depend on you if you find even a few minutes each day to refuel. Beware of turning to alcohol to relax. It may seem to offer a release but actually puts more stress on your body and can drag down your mood.

Watch for signs of excessive stress:

- Be aware of irritability, difficulty concentrating, headaches, stomach pain and fatigue. You might also see if you've developed some unhealthy behaviors, like repeatedly checking the economic news that mostly feed your fears.

Get professional help if you need it:

- Some people feel it's a sign of weakness to see a mental health professional, but it can be a sign of great strength to take the steps necessary to get your life back on track.

For more information or referrals to local services, visit the Mental Health America website at http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/faqs, or contact your local Mental Health America affiliate.

Through its national Resource Center, Mental Health America offers information and referrals to local resources and services. Individuals also may take Mental Health America's anonymous depression screening test at http://www.depressionscreening.org/.

If you or someone you know is in crisis now, seek help immediately. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24 hour crisis center or dial 911 for immediate assistance.

Celebrating 100 years of mental health advocacy, Mental Health America is the country's leading nonprofit dedicated to helping all people live mentally healthier lives. With our more than 300 affiliates nationwide, we represent a growing movement of Americans who promote mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation-everyday and in times of crisis. In 2009, we are marking a century of achievement with a year-long Centennial Observance: "Celebrating the Legacy. Forging the Future."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

11 Clear Signs That The U.S. Economy Is Headed Into The Toilet

By The Economic Collapse

The vast majority of the talking heads on television are still speaking of the current economic collapse as if it is a temporary "recession" that will soon be over. So far, the vast majority of the American people seem to believe this as well, although for many Americans there is a very deep gnawing in the pit of their stomachs that is telling them that there is something very, very wrong this time around. The truth is that the foundations of the U.S. economy have been destroyed by an orgy of government, corporate and individual debt that has gone on for decades. It was the greatest party in the history of the world, but now the party is over. The following are 11 signs from just this past month that show that the U.S. economy is headed into the toilet and will not be recovering....

#1) When even Wal-Mart is closing stores you know things are bad. Wal-Mart announced on Monday that it will close 10 money-losing Sam's Club stores and will cut 1,500 jobs in order to reduce costs. So if even Wal-Mart has to shut down stores, what chance do other retailers have?

#2) Americans are going broke at a staggering pace. 1.41 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009 - a 32 percent increase over 2008.

#3) American workers are working harder than ever and yet making less. After adjusting for inflation, pay for production and non-supervisory workers (80 percent of the private workforce) is 9% lower than it was in 1973. But those Americans who do still have jobs are the fortunate ones.

#4) Unemployment is absolutely exploding all over the United States. Minority groups have been hit particularly hard. For example, unemployment on many U.S. Indian reservations is over 80 percent.

#5) Unfortunately the employment situation is showing no signs of turning around. December was actually the worst month for U.S. unemployment since the so-called "Great Recession" began.

#6) So just how bad are things when compared to past recessions? During the 2001 recession, the U.S. economy lost 2% of its jobs and it took four years to get them back. This time the U.S. economy has lost more than 5% of its jobs and there is no sign that the bleeding of jobs will stop any time soon.

#7) Can you imagine trying to get your first job in this economic climate? Our young men and women either can't get work or have given up on work altogether. The percentage of Americans 16 to 24 who have jobs is 13 percent lower than ten years ago.

#8) So where did all the jobs go? Over the past few decades we have allowed the corporate giants to ship mountains of American jobs overseas, and there are signs that this trend is only going to get worse. In fact, Princeton University economist Alan S. Blinder estimates that 22% to 29% of all current U.S. jobs will be offshorable within two decades. So get ready for even more of our jobs to be shipped off to Mexico, China and India.

#9) All of these job losses are leading to defaults on mortgages. Over the past couple of years we have seen the American Dream in reverse. According to a report that was just released, delinquent home loans at government-controlled mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac surged 20 percent from July through September.

#10) But that is nothing compared to what is coming. A massive "second wave" of mortgage defaults is getting ready to hit the U.S. economy starting in 2010. In fact, this "second wave" is so frightening that even 60 Minutes is reporting on it.

#11) Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has announced that it made a record profit of $46.1 billion in 2009. Apparently during this economic crisis it is a very good time to be a bankster.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why Our Food is So Dependent on Oil

Compiled by Norman Church

You can find the original article at: Peak Oil UK

Friday, 01 April 2005

"Concentrate on what cannot lie. The evidence..." -- Gil Grissom

“Eating Oil” was the title of a book which was published in 1978 following the first oil crisis in 1973 (1). The aim of the book was to investigate the extent to which food supply in industrialised countries relied on fossil fuels. In the summer of 2000 the degree of dependence on oil in the UK food system was demonstrated once again when protestors blockaded oil refineries and fuel distribution depots. The fuel crises disrupted the distribution of food and industry leaders warned that their stores would be out of food within days. The lessons of 1973 have not been heeded.
Today the food system is even more reliant on cheap crude oil. Virtually all of the processes in the modern food system are now dependent upon this finite resource, which is nearing its depletion phase.

Moreover, at a time when we should be making massive cuts in the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in order to reduce the threat posed by climate change, the food system is lengthening its supply chains and increasing emissions to the point where it is a significant contributor to global warming.

The organic sector could be leading the development of a sustainable food system. Direct environmental and ecological impacts of agriculture ‘on the farm’ are certainly reduced in organic systems. However, global trade and distribution of organic products fritter away those benefits and undermine its leadership role.

Not only is the contemporary food system inherently unsustainable, increasingly, it is damaging the environment.

The systems that produce the world's food supply are heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Vast amounts of oil and gas are used as raw materials and energy in the manufacture of fertilisers and pesticides, and as cheap and readily available energy at all stages of food production: from planting, irrigation, feeding and harvesting, through to processing, distribution and packaging. In addition, fossil fuels are essential in the construction and the repair of equipment and infrastructure needed to facilitate this industry, including farm machinery, processing facilities, storage, ships, trucks and roads. The industrial food supply system is one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels and one of the greatest producers of greenhouse gases.

Ironically, the food industry is at serious risk from global warming caused by these greenhouse gases, through the disruption of the predictable climactic cycles on which agriculture depends. But global warming can have the more pronounced and immediate effect of exacerbating existing environmental threats to agriculture, many of which are caused by industrial agriculture itself. Environmental degradation, water shortages, salination, soil erosion, pests, disease and desertification all pose serious threats to our food supply, and are made worse by climate change. But many of the conventional ways used to overcome these environmental problems further increase the consumption of finite oil and gas reserves. Thus the cycle of oil dependence and environmental degradation continues.
Industrial agriculture and the systems of food supply are also responsible for the erosion of communities throughout the world. This social degradation is compounded by trade rules and policies, by the profit driven mindset of the industry, and by the lack of knowledge of the faults of the current systems and the possibilities of alternatives. But the globalisation and corporate control that seriously threaten society and the stability of our environment are only possible because cheap energy is used to replace labour and allows the distance between producer and consumer to be extended.

However, this is set to change. Oil output is expected to peak in the next few years and steadily decline thereafter. We have a very poor understanding of how the extreme fluctuations in the availability and cost of both oil and natural gas will affect the global food supply systems, and how they will be able to adapt to the decreasing availability of energy. In the near future, environmental threats will combine with energy scarcity to cause significant food shortages and sharp increases in prices - at the very least. We are about to enter an era where we will have to once again feed the world with limited use of fossil fuels. But do we have enough time, knowledge, money, energy and political power to make this massive transformation to our food systems when they are already threatened by significant environmental stresses and increasing corporate control?

The modern, commercial agricultural miracle that feeds all of us, and much of the rest of the world, is completely dependent on the flow, processing and distribution of oil, and technology is critical to maintaining that flow.
• Oil refined for gasoline and diesel is critical to run the tractors, combines and other farm vehicles and equipment that plant, spray the herbicides and pesticides, and harvest/transport food and seed
• Food processors rely on the just-in-time (gasoline-based) delivery of fresh or refrigerated food
• Food processors rely on the production and delivery of food additives, including vitamins and minerals, emulsifiers, preservatives, colouring agents, etc. Many are oil-based. Delivery is oil-based
• Food processors rely on the production and delivery of boxes, metal cans, printed paper labels, plastic trays, cellophane for microwave/convenience foods, glass jars, plastic and metal lids with sealing compounds. Many of these are essentially oil-based
• Delivery of finished food products to distribution centres in refrigerated trucks. Oil-based, daily, just-in-time shipment of food to grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, schools, etc., all oil-based; customer drives to grocery store to shop for supplies, often several times a week


Our food system is energy inefficient...

One indicator of the unsustainability of the contemporary food system is the ratio of energy outputs - the energy content of a food product (calories) - to the energy inputs.

The latter is all the energy consumed in producing, processing, packaging and distributing that product. The energy ratio (energy out/energy in) in agriculture has decreased from being close to 100 for traditional pre-industrial societies to less than 1 in most cases in the present food system, as energy inputs, mainly in the form of fossil fuels, have gradually increased.

However, transport energy consumption is also significant, and if included in these ratios would mean that the ratio would decrease further. For example, when iceberg lettuce is imported to the UK from the USA by plane, the energy ratio is only 0.00786. In other words 127 calories of energy (aviation fuel) are needed to transport 1 calorie of lettuce across the Atlantic. If the energy consumed during lettuce cultivation, packaging, refrigeration, distribution in the UK and shopping by car was included, the energy needed would be even higher. Similarly, 97 calories of transport energy are needed to import 1 calorie of asparagus by plane from Chile, and 66 units of energy are consumed when flying 1 unit of carrot energy from South Africa.

Just how energy inefficient the food system is can be seen in the crazy case of the Swedish tomato ketchup. Researchers at the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology analysed the production of tomato ketchup (2). The study considered the production of inputs to agriculture, tomato cultivation and conversion to tomato paste (in Italy), the processing and packaging of the paste and other ingredients into tomato ketchup in Sweden and the retail and storage of the final product. All this involved more than 52 transport and process stages.

The aseptic bags used to package the tomato paste were produced in the Netherlands and transported to Italy to be filled, placed in steel barrels, and then moved to Sweden. The five layered, red bottles were either produced in the UK or Sweden with materials form Japan, Italy, Belgium, the USA and Denmark. The polypropylene (PP) screw-cap of the bottle and plug, made from low density polyethylene (LDPE), was produced in Denmark and transported to Sweden. Additionally, LDPE shrink-film and corrugated cardboard were used to distribute the final product. Labels, glue and ink were not included in the analysis.

This example demonstrates the extent to which the food system is now dependent on national and international freight transport. However, there are many other steps involved in the production of this everyday product. These include the transportation associated with: the production and supply of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium fertilisers; pesticides; processing equipment; and farm machinery. It is likely that other ingredients such as sugar, vinegar, spices and salt were also imported. Most of the processes listed above will also depend on derivatives of fossil fuels. This product is also likely to be purchased in a shopping trip by car.

...is dependent on oil...

One study has estimated that UK imports of food products and animal feed involved transportation by sea, air and road amounting to over 83 billion tonne-kilometres (3). This required 1.6 billion litres of fuel and, based on a conservative figure of 50 grams of carbon dioxide per tonne-kilometre resulted in 4.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (4). Within the UK, the amount of food transported increased by 16% and the distances travelled by 50% between 1978 and 1999.

It has been estimated that the CO2 emissions attributable to producing, processing, packaging and distributing the food consumed by a family of four is about 8 tonnes a year (5)

..and is unnecessarily contributing to carbon emissions.

It is not that this transportation is critical or necessary. In many cases countries import and export similar quantities of the same food products (6). A recent report has highlighted the instances in which countries import and export large quantities of particular foodstuffs (6). For example, in 1997, 126 million litres of liquid milk was imported into the UK and, at the same time, 270 million litres of milk was exported from the UK. 23,000 tonnes of milk powder was imported into the UK and 153,000 tonnes exported (7). UK milk imports have doubled over the last 20 years, but there has been a four-fold increase in UK milk exports over the last 30 years (8).

Britain imports 61,400 tonnes of poultry meat a year from the Netherlands and exports 33,100 tonnes to the Netherlands. We import 240,000 tonnes of pork and 125,000 tonnes of lamb while exporting 195,000 tonnes of pork and 102,000 tonnes of lamb (6).

This system is unsustainable, illogical, and bizarre and can only exist as long as inexpensive fossil fuels are available and we do not take significant action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.


The threat of global warming and the need to reduce carbon emissions
The nearness of the depletion stage of oil supplies
Discovery of oil and gas peaked in the 1960s. Production is set to peak too, with five Middle Eastern countries regaining control of world supply (9). Almost two-thirds of the world's total reserves of crude oil are located in the Middle East, notably in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq (10). An assessment of future world oil supply and its depletion pattern shows that between 1980 and 1998 there was an 11.2 per cent increase in world crude oil production, from 59.6 to 66.9 million barrels of oil per day (10). Current world production rates are about 25 Gb (billion barrels) per year. A simple calculation shows that if consumption levels remain constant, world crude oil reserves, at approximately 1 trillion barrels, could be exhausted around 2040 (11).

The oil crises of the 1970s when the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) states reined in their production have passed into folk memory. However, they were accompanied by massive disruption and global economic recession. The same happened in 1980 and 1991 (12).

Colin J. Campbell, a pre-eminent oil industry analyst, believes that future crises will be much worse. “The oil shocks of the 1970s were short-lived because there were then plenty of new oil and gas finds to bring on stream. This time there are virtually no new prolific basins to yield a crop of giant fields sufficient to have a global impact. The growing Middle East control of the market is likely to lead to a radical and permanent increase in the price of oil, before physical shortages begin to appear within the first decade of the 21st century. The world's economy has been driven by an abundant supply of cheap oil-based energy for the best part of this century. The coming oil crisis will accordingly be an economic and political discontinuity of historic proportions, as the world adjusts to a new energy environment” (9).

The three main purposes for which oil is used worldwide are food, transport and heating. In the near future the competition for oil for these three activities will be raw and real. An energy famine is likely to affect poorer countries first, when increases in the cost of paraffin, used for cooking, place it beyond their reach. Following the peak in production, food supplies all over the world will begin to be disrupted, not only because of price increases but because the oil will no longer be there.


The organic system is more energy efficient to the farm gate...
One of the benefits of organic production is that energy consumption and, therefore, fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, are less than that in conventional systems.

The energy used in food production is separated into direct and indirect inputs. Indirect inputs include the manufacture and supply of pesticides, feedstuffs and fertilisers while direct energy inputs are those on the farm, such as machinery. One measure of the energy efficiency of food production that allows a comparison between different farming practices is the energy consumed per unit output, often expressed as the energy consumed per tonne of food produced (MJ/tonne) or the energy consumed per kilogram of food (MJ/kg).

A study comparing organic and conventional livestock, dairy, vegetable and arable systems in the UK found that, with average yields, the energy saving with organic production ranged from 0.14 MJ/kg to 1.79 MJ/kg, with the average being 0.68 MJ/kg or 42 per cent (13). The improved energy efficiency in organic systems is largely due to lower (or zero) fertiliser and pesticide inputs, which account for half of the energy input in conventional potato and winter wheat production and up to 80 per cent of the energy consumed in some vegetable crops.

In conventional upland livestock production, the largest energy input is again indirect in the form of concentrated and cereal feeds. When reared organically, a greater proportion of the feed for dairy cattle, beef and hill sheep is derived from grass. In the case of milk production, it has been found that organic systems are almost five times more energy efficient on a per animal basis and three and a half times more energy efficient in terms of unit output (the energy required to produce a litre of milk) (13).

...but not when it goes global.

So far so good - but once passed the farm-gate, things begin to go wrong. Britain imports over three-quarters of its organic produce, and despite consumer demand, only two per cent of its land is organically farmed (14). As the market has grown it has been met by imports.

A study looking at the energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions when importing organic food products to the UK by plane (15) found that carbon dioxide emissions range from 1.6 kilograms to 10.7 kilograms. Air transport of food is the worst environmental option but road transport, especially unnecessary journeys, is also bad. For example 5kg of Sicilian potatoes travelling 2448 miles emits 771 grams of carbon dioxide.
The problem is that, overall, human beings have developed a tendency to deal with problems on an ad hoc basis - i.e., to deal with 'problems of the moment'. This does not foster an attitude of seeing a problem embedded in the context of another problem.

Globalisation makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation. Any society in turmoil today, no matter how remote, can cause problems for prosperous societies on other continents, and is also subject to their influence (whether helpful or destabilising).
For the first time in history, we face the risk of a global decline.
Shocks to the system

As already stated, the three main purposes for which oil is used worldwide are food, transport and heating. Agriculture is almost entirely dependent on reliable supplies of oil for cultivation and for pumping water, and on gas for its fertilisers; in addition, for every calorie of energy used by agriculture itself, five more are used for processing, storage and distribution.

Since farming and the food industry are not famous for spending money unnecessarily, there must be a presumption that there is very little short-term 'slack' which would allow its demand for energy to be reduced at short notice without disruptions in food prices. In the case of transport and heating fuel, there is more scope for saving energy at short notice; cutting leisure journeys, for instance, wearing extra pullovers and, in the slightly longer term, driving smaller cars have a role to play while, in the longer term, there is a totally different low-energy paradigm waiting to be developed. But it is the short term that has to be survived first and, in that short term, the competition for oil for food, transport and heating will be real and raw.

Through its dependence on oil, contemporary farming is exposed to the whole question of the sustainability of our use of fossil fuels. It took 500 million years to produce these hydrocarbon deposits and we are using them at a rate in excess of 1 million times their natural rate of production. On the time scale of centuries, we certainly cannot expect to continue using oil as freely and ubiquitously as we do today. Something is going to have to change.

The same applies more widely to every natural resource on which industrial civilisation relies. Furthermore, one might think that there is a compounded problem. Not only are there more people consuming these resources, but their per capita consumption also increases in line with the elaboration of technology. We seem to be facing a problem of diminishing returns, indeed of running out of the vital raw materials needed to support our economic growth.

Almost every current human endeavour from transportation, to manufacturing, to electricity to plastics, and especially food production is inextricably intertwined with oil and natural gas supplies.
• Commercial food production is oil powered. Most pesticides are petroleum- (oil) based, and all commercial fertilisers are ammonia-based. Ammonia is produced from natural gas
• Oil based agriculture is primarily responsible for the world's population exploding from 1 billion at the middle of the 19th century to 6.3 billion at the turn of the 21st
• Oil allowed for farming implements such as tractors, food storage systems such as refrigerators, and food transport systems such as trucks
• As oil production went up, so did food production. As food production went up, so did the population. As the population went up, the demand for food went up, which increased the demand for oil. Here we go round the Mulberry bush
• Oil is also largely responsible for the advances in medicine that have been made in the last 150 years. Oil allowed for the mass production of pharmaceutical drugs, and the development of health care infrastructure such as hospitals, ambulances, roads, etc.
We are now at a point where the demand for food/oil continues to rise, while our ability to produce it in an affordable fashion is about to drop.
Within a few years of Peak Oil occurring, the price of food will skyrocket because the cost of fertiliser will soar. The cost of storing (electricity) and transporting (gasoline) the food that is produced will also soar.

Oil is required for a lot more than just food, medicine, and transportation. It is also required for nearly every consumer item, water supply pumping, sewage disposal, garbage disposal, street/park maintenance, hospitals and health systems, police, fire services and national defence.

Additionally, as you are probably already aware, wars are often fought over oil.

Bottom line?

If we think we are food secure here in the UK and other industrialised countries simply because we have gas in the car, frankly, we are delusional. Despite the appearance of an endless bounty of food, it is a fragile bounty, dependent upon the integrity of the global oil production, refining and delivery system. That system is entirely dependent on the thread of technology. Modern, technology-based agriculture produces both food, and seeds for next year’s food, on a just-in-time basis. There are precious little reserves of either food or seeds to sustain any protracted interruption.

Technology and the incredibly rich tapestry it has made possible has created a false sense of security for so many of us. The thread is flawed; the tapestry is now fragile; famines are possible. We must take that seriously. . .

Our food supply, and our economic survival as a whole, depends on the steady availability of reasonably priced oil. Is oil our Achilles heel?
This means our food supply is:


The oil supplies that fuel the food system could be exhausted by 2040 (19). In many regions oil production has peaked and most reserves lie in the Middle East. Food security is also threatened: for example, even if all UK fruit production was consumed in the UK, of every 100 fruit products purchased, only 5 will now have been grown in the UK.


For every calorie of carrot, flown in from South Africa, we use 66 calories of fuel. The huge fuel use in the food system means more carbon dioxide emissions, which means climate change, which means more damage to food supplies, as well as other major health and social problems.


Even organic supplies are becoming hugely damaging as imports fill our shelves (17). One shopping basket of 26 imported organic products could have travelled 241,000 kilometres and released as much CO2 into the atmosphere as an average four bedroom household does through cooking meals over eight months (18).

Other problems highlighted include loss of nutrients in food, increased incidence and spread of diseases such as Foot & Mouth and other major animal welfare problems. Poor countries producing food for distant markets are not necessarily seeing benefits through increased and often intensive production for export. The report reveals how such trends could be reversed through industry, government and public action.

In other words, we won’t have to run completely out of oil to be rudely awakened. The panic starts once the world needs more oil than it gets.
To understand why, you’ve got to fathom how totally addicted to oil we have become. We know that petroleum is drawn from deep wells and distilled into gasoline, jet fuel, and countless other products that form the lifeblood of industry and the adrenaline of military might. It’s less well known that the world’s food is now nourished by oil; petroleum and natural gas are crucial at every step of modern agriculture, from forming fertiliser to shipping crops. The implications are grim. For millions, the difference between an energy famine and a biblical famine could well be academic.

Independent policy analyst David Fleming writes in the British magazine Prospect (Nov. 2000), With a global oil crisis looming like the Doomsday Rock, why do so few political leaders seem to care? Many experts refuse to take the problem seriously because it "falls outside the mind-set of market economics." Thanks to the triumph of global capitalism, the free-market model now reigns almost everywhere. The trouble is, its principles "tend to break down when applied to natural resources like oil." The result is both potentially catastrophic and all too human. Our high priests—the market economists—are blind to a reality that in their cosmology cannot exist.

Fleming offers several examples of this broken logic at work. Many cling to a belief that higher oil prices will spur more oil discoveries, but they ignore what earth scientists have been saying for years: there aren’t any more big discoveries to make. Most of the oil reserves we tap today were actually identified by the mid-1960s. There’s a lot of oil left in the ground — perhaps more than half of the total recoverable supply. Fleming says that that is not the issue. The real concern is the point beyond which demand cannot be met. And with demand destined to grow by as much as 3 percent a year, the missing barrels will add up quickly. Once the pain becomes real, the Darwinian impulse kicks in and the orderly market gives way to chaos.

Some insist that industrial societies are growing less dependent on oil. Fleming says they’re kidding themselves. They’re talking about oil use as a percentage of total energy use, not the actual amount of oil burned. Measured by the barrel, we’re burning more and more. In Britain, for instance, transportation needs have doubled in volume since 1973 and still rely almost entirely on oil. Transportation is the weak link in any modern economy; choke off the oil and a country quickly seizes.

This wouldn’t matter much, Fleming laments, "If the world had spent the last 25 years urgently preparing alternative energies, conservation technologies, and patterns of land use with a much lower dependence on transport." (He figures 25 years to be the time it will take a country like Britain to break its habit.) Instead, "the long-expected shock finds us unprepared."


UK food supply chain

UK food retailing market was worth £103,800 million in 2001
Food manufacturing is the single-largest manufacturing industry in the UK
Food supply chain employs 12.5% of the entire workforce in the UK
Food supply chain contributes 8% to the UK economy
Food and drink accounts for 21% of weekly household expenditure

Food supply chain and unsustainability

Food supply chain is the largest energy user in the UK
Food production and distribution contributes up to 22% of the UK’s total greenhouse emissions
Food travels further than any other product - 129 km compared to the average product travel of 94 km
Wages in the food industry are notoriously low compared to other sectors
Nearly 30% of household waste is food waste


Proximity and localisation of food system would be beneficial.
The contemporary food system is inherently unsustainable.
Indicators of social, environmental and economic performance, such as food security, greenhouse gas emissions, food miles, farm income and biodiversity highlight this fact. This process could be reversed by re-establishing local and regional food supply systems and substituting ‘near for far’ in production and distribution systems. This would reduce both the demand for, and the environmental burdens associated with, transportation.

The proximity principle is a straightforward concept in Eating Oil, where production processes are located as near to the consumer as possible. When applied to food supply, local food systems in the form of home-delivery box schemes, farmers’ markets and shops selling local produce would replace imported and centrally distributed foodstuffs.

Taking UK food supply and trade at present, there is great potential to apply the proximity principle, in the form of import substitution. Apart from products such as bananas, coffee and tea, many of the foodstuffs that are imported at present could be produced in Britain. Many meat products, cereals, dairy products and cooking oils are - or could be - available here throughout the year. So could fruit and vegetables, perhaps the most seasonal of food groups, through a combination of cultivating different varieties and traditional and modern storage and preservation techniques.
The land currently used to produce food that is exported could be used to increase our self-sufficiency.

There is growing evidence of environmental benefits of local sourcing of food in terms of reduced transport-related environmental impact. In the case of organic produce, a survey of retailers compared local and global sourcing of produce marketed in different outlets between June and August 2001. Products were chosen that were available in the UK during these months but are at present imported by the multiple retailers. These included spring onions imported by plane from Mexico, potatoes imported by road from Sicily, onions imported by ship from New Zealand. It was found that local sourcing through a farmers market, for example, would therefore reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with distribution by a factor of 650 in the case of a farmers’ market and more for box schemes and farm shop sales (16).

The value of UK food, feed and drink imports in 1999 was over £17 billion. It is clear that a reduction in food imports through import substitution would not only be of benefit to the UK economy as a whole but could also be a major driver in rural regeneration as farm incomes would increase substantially. Local food systems also have great potential to reduce the damaging environmental effects of the current food supply system.

A sustainable food system cannot rely, almost completely, on one finite energy source; an energy source which causes enormous levels of pollution during its production, distribution and use. Although food supplies in wealthy countries such as the UK appear to be secure and choice, in terms of thousands of food products being available at supermarkets, seems limitless, this is an illusion.

The vulnerability of our food system to sudden changes was demonstrated during the fuel crisis in 2001. A sharp increase in the price of oil or a reduction in oil supplies could present a far more serious threat to food security and is likely to as oil enters its depletion phase. Food production and distribution, as they are organised today, would not be able to function. Moreover, the alternatives, in the form of sustainable agriculture and local food supplies, which minimise the use of crude oil, are currently unable to respond to increased demand due to low investment and capacity.

The food system is now a significant contributor to climate change. Reducing the carbon dioxide emissions from food production, processing and distribution by minimising the distance between producer and consumer should be a critical part of any strategy to mitigate global warming.
There are many benefits to organic farming, including reduced fossil fuel energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. However, these are often overshadowed by the environmental damage of long distance transport. Organic products that are transported long distances, particularly when distribution is by plane, are almost as damaging as their conventional air freighted counterparts. Highly processed and packaged organic foodstuffs have an added adverse environmental impact.

The priority must be the development of local and regional food systems, preferably organically based, in which a large percentage of demand is met within the locality or region. This approach, combined with fair trade, will ensure secure food supplies, minimise fossil fuel consumption and reduce the vulnerability associated with a dependency on food exports (as well as imports). Localising the food system will require significant diversification, research, investment and support that have, so far, not been forthcoming. But it is achievable and we have little choice.


1 Green, B. M., 1978. Eating Oil - Energy Use in Food Production. Westview Press, Boulder, CO. 1978.
2 Andersson, K. Ohlsson, P and Olsson, P. 1996, Life Cycle Assessment of Tomato Ketchup. The Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, Gothenburg.
3 Cowell, S., and R. Clift., 1996. Farming for the future: an environmental perspective. Paper presented at the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth, July 1996,CES, University of Surrey.
4. Data for shipping and airfreight from Guidelines for company reporting on greenhouse gas emissions. Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions: London, March 2001. Data for trucks is based on Whitelegg, J., 1993. Transport for a sustainable future: the case for Europe. Belhaven Press, London; and Gover, M. P., 1994. UK petrol and diesel demand: energy and emission effects of a switch to diesel. Report for the Department of Trade and Industry, HMSO, London.
5. BRE, 1998. Building a sustainable future. General information report 53, energy efficiency best practice programme, Building Research Establishment, Garston, UK.
6. Caroline Lucas, 2001. Stopping the Great Food Swap - Relocalising Europe’s food supply. Green Party, 2001.
7. 21 Lobstein, T, and Hoskins, R, The Perfect Pinta. Food Facts No. 2. The SAFE Alliance, 1998.
8. FAO, 2001. Food Balance Database. 2001. Food and Agriculture Organisation, Rome at www.fao.org
9 Colin J. Campbell, 1997. The Coming Oil Crisis. Multi- Science Publishing Co. Ltd
10 Green Party USA, 2001. World crude oil reserves – Statistical information. Based on data from the Oil and Gas Journal and the Energy Information Agency. At http://environment.about.com/library/weekly/aa092700.htm
11 Medea: European Agency for International Information, 2001. Oil Reserves. at - http://www.medea.be/en/ 11 David Fleming, 2001. The Great Oil Denial. Submission to the UK Energy Review. At
12 EIA, 2001. World Oil Market and Oil Price Chronologies: 1970 – 2000. Department of Energy’s Office of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Analysis Division, Energy Information Administration, Department of the Environment, USA, at www.eia.doe.gov
13 Energy use in organic farming systems ADAS Consulting for MAFF, Project OF0182, DEFRA, London, 2001.
14 Natasha Walter, 2001. When will we get the revolution. The Independent 19th July 2001.

15 Based on data on sourcing from UKROFS and a survey of supermarket stores during June – August 2001; distance tables for air miles at www.indo.com/cgi-bin/dist and the environmental impact of airfreight in Guidelines for company reporting on greenhouse gas emissions. Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, London, March 2001.
16 Data for shipping and airfreight from Guidelines for company reporting on greenhouse gas emissions. Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions: London, March 2001. Data for trucks is based on Whitelegg, J., 1993. Transport for a sustainable future: the case for Europe. Belhaven Press, London; and Gover, M. P., 1994. UK petrol and diesel demand: energy and emission effects of a switch to diesel. Report for the Department of Trade and Industry, HMSO, London. Data for cars from the Vehicle Certification Agency at www.vca.gov.uk; Whitelegg, J., 1993. Transport for a sustainable future: the case for Europe. Belhaven Press, London; and Gover, M. P., 1994. UK petrol and diesel demand: energy and emission effects of a switch to diesel. Report for the Department of Trade and Industry, HMSO, London.
17 RCEP, 2000. Energy – The Changing Climate. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Twenty-second Report, June 2000, HMSO, London.
18 DETR, 2001. The draft UK climate change programme. DETR, 2001. HMSO, London.
19 USDOE, 2001.World Carbon Dioxide Emissions from the Consumption and Flaring of Fossil Fuels, 1980-1999. US Department of the Environment at http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/international/iealf/tableh1.xls

Compiled by Norman Church

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lessons from the Great Depression

CNN Living has posted a series of memories of people whose families survived the Great Depression. There are lots of interesting mini-stories and ideas. Will these kinds of ideas work in today's economy?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Spiritual Implications of Peak Oil

As I consider the shrinking resources of the coming century, I've been pondering the spiritual implications of the Western World's current plight. What are the spiritual implications of peak oil, energy crisis, dwindling fresh water, and rising food prices? It's as if we've taken the abundance of resources laid out by a benevolent earth and absorbed all of these resources in one century long buffett! We've gorged ourselves.

Now according to my Catholic school upbringing, gorging oneself falls under the deadly sin of gluttony. Thomas Aquinas said, "Gluttony denotes, not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire..." People make a mistake when they tie gluttony to food alone.

According to the Whitestone Journal, there are at least three forms of Gluttony:
1) Wanting more pleasure from something than it was made for.
2) Wanting it exactly our way (delicacy).
3) Demanding too much from people (excessive desire for other people's time or presence).

It seems to me that in our race for more things, more excitement, and more stuff, stuff, stuff that we both want more pleasure from everything and as if we want everything our way.

Can we learn the difference between consuming everything in our path and cooperative sharing?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Raising Money for the Michigan Environmental Coalition

Hassle-free donations help build a sustainable Michigan

Sustaining Donors use simple online system to strengthen MEC

The easiest way to contribute to the Michigan Environmental Council is also a great way to stretch your dollar further to build a cleaner, safer and more prosperous Michigan.

Instead of making a single gift each year, Sustaining Donors spread their support across multiple smaller payments. Among the many benefits of this method of giving:

•It’s easy. Our website allows you to have monthly or quarterly gifts charged to your credit card securely and automatically. It takes just a few minutes to set up your recurring gift, and once you sign up, that’s it. Your support for MEC continues hassle-free, and you can change or cancel your giving plan at any time.

•It adds up. By spreading your support across multiple payments, you can more generously contribute to the state you love without seeing much difference in your monthly bank statement.

•It helps us fulfill our mission. The reliable support of Sustaining Donors helps MEC plan accordingly to stay strong and effective.
To become a Sustaining Donor, click on “Support” at the top right of this page. Then simply select the frequency of your gift, answer a few short questions, and you’re done.

Of course, we are grateful for all donations we receive, and for our supporters’ trust in MEC to get things done on the issues that matter to them. We’re spreading the word to make sure all our friends know how easy and beneficial it is to become a sustaining donor. To show our appreciation for those who pledge their consistent support:

• We’ll make you an event sponsor. MEC will recognize anyone who signs up for monthly gifts of at least $35 or quarterly gifts of $105 or more as a sponsor of our annual Environmental Awards Celebration. (This year’s event will be on June 8 in Lansing.) Our event sponsorships normally start at $500, but we’re offering this discount to acknowledge the reliable generosity of Sustaining Donors. April 20 is the deadline to be recognized as a sponsor for this year’s event.

• We’ll send you less mail. We are happy to continue mailing you our two yearly fundraising appeals to keep you up to date on our work, but if you’d rather not receive them, simply type “Opt out of mailings” in the comment box when signing up as a Sustaining Donor. We’ll still send you our quarterly newsletter, and we encourage you to subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter by clicking “Sign up for our e-news” at the left side of this page.
Please consider showing your support for MEC by becoming a Sustaining Donor today. It’s easy for you, beneficial for our organization and a great way to show your commitment to environmental protection and renewed prosperity in Michigan.

Thank you!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pied Beauty: Importuning Hopkins

I hope that Spring will come. After this Michigan winter, I think that I need it.

Pied Beauty -- Gerald Manly Hopkins

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough; 5
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 10
Praise him.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Well, despite the cool weather here in Northern Michigan, Spring seems to be springing. On the Hubbell Farm, one indication that the season of reawakening has arrived is the birth of a new Shire foal. Yesterday I visited the farm and saw the little cutie cuddling next to Mama. The spindly legs and solemn little face are adorable!

Check out Rice Creek Shires if you'd like to buy one of the little one's big brothers or sister.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Easter Island Heads with a touch of Shelley

Today I've been pondering the huge monoliths that were left by the inhabitants of Easter Island when they had to leave. These inhabitants had managed to leave behind huge markers displaying their prowess at stonework. However, they were unable to survive because they chopped down all the trees on the island and had no way to cook or warm themselves. Can you imagine being the last woodcutter on Easter Island?

Sometimes, I wonder what our planet will look like to visitors from space if we can't overcome the current challenges that face us. Will we be thriving in a way that is more concious of the Earth? Or will the remains of moldering cities and radioactivity mark our passing? It's hard to imagine a world different from the one that we've created. Our dominance over this planet is both a drug and a blindness. Does our blindness make us proud?

As Percey Shelley noted in Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

Will we leave behind pale wreckage surrounded by lone and level sands?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The peak oil crisis: the future of government

Posted Dec 8, 2010 by Tom Whipple in Falls Church Press

In case you missed it, a couple of weeks back the International Energy Agency in Paris got around to disclosing that the all-time peak of global conventional oil production occurred back in 2006. Despite that fact that this declaration was tantamount to announcing the end of the 250-year-old industrial age, few in the mainstream media noted the event and it was left to obscure corners of cyber space to ponder the meaning of it all.

It is also worth noting that oil is back in the vicinity of $90 a barrel and even Wall Street economists, who are paid to be eternally optimistic, are starting to talk about oil going for$110-120 a barrel in the next year or so.

In the meantime, the talking heads, pundits and even hard-headed reporters chatter on about the slow but persistent economic recovery that is supposed to be taking place. As the effects of last year's near-trillion dollar stimulus start to be felt, every statistical twitch upward is hailed as proof that normalcy will soon return. Realists, however, call this twitching "bottom-bouncing" and are convinced that far worse is yet to come.

As we all know by now, a new crowd has descended on Washington vowing to make everything right again by cutting taxes, reducing the size and the role of some parts of the government. Above all the folks are committed to getting government regulation off our backs so that free enterprise, the entrepreneurial spirit, merchant capitalism, or what have you can flourish as it did in the past.

What all those calling for reduced government fail to grasp, however, is that 200 years of cheap abundant fossil fuel energy has transformed this country into something completely different. Take food as an example, 200 years ago, some 90+ percent of us were involved in its raising or otherwise procuring food -- or we would simply not eat. Now, thanks to cheap fossil fuels, less than 3 percent of us are engaged in agricultural endeavors and I suspect only a fraction of our "farmers" still have all the requisite skills to feed themselves and their families in the style to which they have become accustomed. Take away the diesel for the tractors and farming is going to become mighty different. Has anyone yoked an ox lately?

In short, 200 years of abundant energy have allowed us to build an extremely complex civilization based on dozens of interrelated systems without which we can no longer live - at least not in the style to which we have become accustomed. Food production and distribution, water, sewage, solid waste removal, communications, healthcare, transportation, public safety, education --- the list of systems vital-to-life and general wellbeing goes on and on.

Those who believe that ten years from now we will be able to get along with much reduced government have little appreciation of how modern civilization works or how bad things are going to get as fossil fuel energy fades from our lives. The notion is absurd that we are in the midst of a routine downturn in the business cycle which can be cured by Keynesian stimulus favored by the Democrats or tax cuts favored by the Republicans.

While no one can foretell the future in detail, every now and again a window opens that allows a general outline of coming events to emerge. For example, in the years leading up to the Second World War one did not have to be clairvoyant to appreciate that a great disaster was about to befall.

Although few recognize how precarious the situation is, we are trapped in a very complex civilization that is rapidly losing the sources of energy and numerous other raw materials that built and maintained it. In America today we have millions un- and under-employed and that is certain to grow into the tens of millions before the decade is out as our politicians horse-trade tax cuts for billionaires in return for extensions of unemployment benefits. The good news is that this phase of the great transition from the industrial age to that which will follow cannot last much longer for events are moving too fast.

Whether one likes it or not, the size and complexity of the coming transition will be so great and unprecedented and there will be so much at stake that only governments will have the authority and power to cope with the multitude of problems that are about to emerge. Be it heresy in some as yet unknowing circles; all this is going to require a massive transfer of resources from private hands to public ones. Take something as simple as jobs. If anyone thinks the employment situation is difficult, wait a few years until the very high priced motor fuels makes discretionary car travel unaffordable. Millions upon millions of jobs in the retail, travel, hospitality, recreational, and dozens of other industries will be lost.

The current efforts by various levels of government to stimulate job creation or save people from home foreclosures will prove to be ridiculously inadequate. A completely new paradigm of what we do to sustain life is going to have to emerge or things will become far worse than most of us have ever known. Modern civilization simply cannot stand a situation in which a substantial share of its people is destitute. The potential for social disorder is too great.

If current trends continue, somewhere in the next five years a critical mass of us will realize that new foundations for civilization, and new ways of life must be found and implemented if we are going to survive with a modicum of comfort, economic, and political stability. Until then there will be many false prophets calling for a return to a civilization which is no longer possible.

Originally published December 8, 2010 at Falls Church News-Press

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Can Small Farms Solve Our Big Problems?

Can small farmers solve our big problems?
by Toby Quantrill

With Live Below the Line fast approaching, this guest blog, which was originally published by the Fairtrade Foundation looks at how we can move towards a fairer world without hunger.

Fairtrade Fortnight launches this year amid increasing hunger in the developing world and sharply rising food and commodity prices caused by rising food demand, poor harvests, climate change, excessive speculation and hoarding.

As concern grows over how the world will feed a rapidly rising population, it is almost taken for granted that increased food production will be supplied by big agri-business operating over large tracts of land and pushing down costs with aggressive margins.

There are, however, 450 million smallholders on whom another 1.5 billion rely on for their food and livelihood. The needs and the potential of these people are all too often forgotten in the escalating global food crisis.

Two years ago, in the light of the food price spikes of 2008, the Fairtrade Foundation released a study showing how smallholder farmers are often among the most vulnerable to increased food prices. Producers in poor countries sit at the wrong end of both chains – paying over the odds for food and fertilizers while receiving a pittance for the product of their skills and labour. A UN report on global hunger, in 2006 indicated that half the world’s ‘hungry’ were actually farmers.

This situation is not inevitable. It is a direct consequence of deep rooted inequality, in global society and in the food system specifically.

There is a growing consensus that something is broken in global supply chains. In January 2011 the British government, in its Foresight report ‘Global Food and Farming Futures’, acknowledged ‘a compelling case for urgent action to redesign the global food system’. The Foresight report highlighted both the need to reduce volatility in food prices and to ensure that increasing food production is matched with action to secure universal access to food.

A few months earlier, the Food and Ethics Council launched their excellent report ‘Food Justice’. This report made clear the creation of a fairer food system is central to achieving wider sustainability and health goals.

In 2009, the ‘International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development’ (IAASTD), set out to respond to ‘the widespread realization that despite significant scientific and technological achievements in our ability to increase agricultural productivity, we have been less attentive to some of the unintended social and environmental consequences of our achievements’. Policy options from the report for addressing food security include major investment in smallholder agriculture and ‘increasing the full range of agricultural exports and imports, including organic and Fair Trade products’

The Food Ethics Council report is particularly welcome as too many recent discussions about food security have focussed understandably, albeit simplistically, on the need to produce more and more food, but ignored issues of justice and equity.

We are surely shooting ourselves in the foot if, in our drive to increase food production, we leave more people unable to afford the additional food that we produce. As we stand the worlds agriculture provides more than enough food for six billion, but a high percentage of this is wasted, thrown away or adds to the growing problem of obesity while others go hungry.

A lot of discussions about food security focuses on the need to use technology and economies of scale to improve the efficiency of agricultural production. Such approaches will undoubtedly have a role to play, but a fair and sustainable food system will require an appropriate balance of investment in both small and large scale production.

In its 2011 ‘Rural Poverty Report’ the International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD) President, Kanayo F Nwanze, stated that:

‘It is time to look at poor smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs in a completely new way – not as charity cases but as people whose innovation, dynamism and hard work will bring prosperity to their communities and greater food security to the world in the decades ahead.’

Across the world the Fairtrade movement provides thousands of examples demonstrating how smallholder farmers can use the opportunities provided by Fairtrade to invest in agricultural improvement and diversification. This experience complements an increasing number of studies, most notably by Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, suggesting that investing in smallholder farms can be a route to:

- Substantial gains in terms of productivity per hectare
- Improving environmentally sustainablity
- Poverty reduction and improved equality of income

One of the critical factors to achieving these improvements has been effective organisation. The Fairtrade system requires smallholders to organise into cooperatives or other forms of democratic institution. This organisation can provide smallholders with greater control over price setting, access to knowledge and opportunities to capture value.

A paper by the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) in 2010, reviewing all published literature investigating Fairtrade’s impact (over 80 reports in total), concluded that the published literature strongly supports the argument that Fairtrade is having positive economic and empowerment impacts for smallholder farmers and identified democratic organisation as being of particular relevance to the impact.

Of course, Fairtrade alone cannot create a sustainable food system. Much wider shifts in Aid and Trade policy will be required. As an example the recent Government white paper on Trade acknowledges the role that trade can play in development and makes a strong commitment to the ‘Aid for Trade’ programme. This is 15% of the UK’s Aid budget which is spent against a set of criteria explicitly designed to increase poor countries ability to benefit from trade.

A 2009 report by the Brussels-based Fair Trade Advocacy Office shows that, of the £155 million spent between 2001 – 2005 by the UK on Aid for Trade (based on a relatively narrow definition of ‘Aid for Trade’), only 29 projects with combined funds of approximately US$7 million were specifically designed to benefit smallholders – just 2% of the total.

While investment in large scale infrastructure is necessary, it is unlikely to be sufficient to ensure that poor farmers are able to realise the potential trade can offer. Greater emphasis must be placed on programmes with an explicit focus on reaching rural communities. There is also a need to shift the focus towards ‘soft’ interventions such as organisational development, extension services, training and communications services that. Fairtrade has demonstrated just what a catalytic effect such support can have in bringing smallholder farmers into national and global markets.

The fantastic Fairtrade sales figures for 2010 show, even in these troubled times, price is not the only thing that matters to UK shoppers. The basic principles of Fairtrade – that poor producers deserve a fair return for their labour and that there is more than one way to address ‘economic efficiency’ – still resonate. Our policy makers need to take heed!

You can take action in the fight against hunger by joining thousands of others around the world in Live Below the Line this May. Learn more and signup now - USA, UK, Australia.

Posted by Toby Quantrill (Guest Blogger) in Poverty, Aid, Global Health, Education, Hunger, Technology, Corruption & Governance, Enterprise & Trade, Women & Gender, Fairtrade & Ethical Purchasing, Water & Sanitation, Environment & Climate, What Can I Do?, Polio for column Live Below the Line on Apr 27th, 06:29