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November 2006: Notes of Interest

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* A very interesting energy bulletin was published July 3, 2006 by The Futurist. ( It is titled “Rescuing a Planet Under Stress” by Lester Brown and covers many interesting subjects:

China as the world’s leading consumer

-- China has replaced the US as the leading consumer of grain, meat, coal and steel—all the basic commodities except for oil.

-- Two-thirds of China’s energy is based on coal.

-- By 2031, if China’s consumption per person equals that of the US, they will need 99 million barrels of oil a day. The world is currently producing 84 million barrels a day.

Harnessing the wind

-- World wind-generating capacity is growing at 29% a year.

-- Germany is the world’s primary wind-energy producer. Denmark gets 20% of its electricity from wind. Fifteen years from now, wind-generated electricity is projected to satisfy half of Europe’s population.

-- In 1991 the U.S. Department of Energy noted that North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas had enough harnessable wind energy to satisfy national electricity needs. This was before advances in wind turbine design which can perhaps triple harvestable wind.

-- Some 24 U.S. states now have commercial-scale wind farms feeding electricity into the nation’s grid. Farmers, with no investment, typically receive $3,000-$5,000 a year in royalties from the local utility for siting a single, large, advanced-design wind turbine, which occupies a quarter of an acre of land.

Service stations and supermarkets compete for food

-- The world’s farmers are starting to produce fuel as well as food, which means the high price of oil is also determining the price of food.

-- Biodiesel production more than tripled between 2000 and 2005. In 2005 it equaled nearly 2% of world gasoline use.

-- Ethanol-producing operations use food crops such as sugarcane, sugar beets, corn, wheat and barley.

* A look at the down side of ethanol production was printed in “The Peak Oil Crisis: Ethanol and Peak Food” by Tom Whipple, in the Falls Church News-Press May 25-31, 2006:

-- A debate is going on as to whether or not the production of corn-based ethanol takes more energy than it produces.

-- Though ethanol burns cleaner than gas, it only produces about 70 percent of the energy and so gets 25-30 percent less mileage.

-- How much of our food can safely be shared with our gas tanks?

-- About 15% of the US corn crop is used to produce ethanol. However, when the number of plants now under construction are completed, they could take 40-50% of the corn crop.

* This information comes from “Farmers sue over genetically modified rice” in the August 29 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Rice farmers in California and Mississippi Valley states sued Bayer CropScience after unapproved genetically modified (GM) rice was found in bins of long grain commercial rice in Arkansas and Missouri. The farmers are losing money because Japan banned imports of long grain rice and the European Union required long grain to be certified free from the GM strain. Criticism has been growing “over the federal government’s efforts to control experimental crops. … An Office of the Inspector General audit … found numerous holes in oversight efforts. … It said the [federal inspection] service lacks ‘basic information about the field test sites it approves and is responsible for monitoring’… The audit concluded that even though the inspection service was supposed to inspect experimental fields, it was not even requiring companies to provide site location information.”

* The following was gleaned from a much longer article: “Feeding the World, One Small Farm at a Time” which appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of The Community Farm (The Community Farm, 3480 Potter Road, Bear Lake MI 49614):

“The Green Revolution, the ‘efficiency’ of large farms and, more recently, genetic engineering have been promoted as solutions to world hunger. … Organic agriculture has been criticized as far less efficient than conventional agriculture, and unequal to the task of producing ample food for a growing population. But is this true?” Research conducted by UC Davis and Rodale Institute “found comparable corn and soybean yields under organic and conventional management.” But under organic systems, soil fertility increased while it decreased under conventional practices. Peter Rosset points out that “even though experts have … predicted the demise of the small family farm … family farmers persist in the U.S. and continue to numerically predominate. … Rosset argues that small farms are ‘more productive, more efficient, and contribute more economic development than large farms.’… John Ikerd, agricultural economist at the University of Missouri Columbia believes that most large, commercial farms today are too big to survive. ‘As a farm expands beyond the natural productivity capacity of its ecological and social niche, it must turn to extraction and exploitation as a means of maintaining its output.’… It is often possible to obtain the highest yield of a single crop by planting it alone on a field—in a monoculture. But this farm may produce nothing else of use to the farmer. Small farmers, by contrast, are much more likely to plant a variety of crops. Though the yield per unit area of one crop—corn, for example—may be lower on a small farm, the total output per unit area, composed of multiple crops and/or animal products can be far higher. In fact, Rosset’s examination of the relationship between farm size and total output in 15 Third World countries suggests that small farms are 2 to 10 times more productive than larger ones. Similar relationships are evident in the U.S.”

* This is taken from “India Digs Deeper, but Wells Are Drying Up” by Ruth Fremson in the September 30, 2006, issue of the New York Times:

“Bhanwar Lal Yadav, once a cultivator of cucumber and wheat, has all but given up growing food. No more suffering through drought and the scourge of antelope that would destroy what little would survive on his fields. Today he has reinvented himself as a vendor of what counts here as the most precious of commodities: the water under his land. Each year he bores ever deeper. His well now reaches 130 feet down. Four times a day he starts up his electric pumps. The water that gurgles up, he sells to the local government—13,000 gallons a day. What is left, he sells to thirsty neighbors. He reaps handsomely, and he plans to continue for as long as it lasts. ‘However long it runs, it runs,’ he said. ‘We know we will all be ultimately doomed.’ Mr. Yadav’s words could well prove prophetic for his country. Efforts like his—multiplied by some 19 million wells, nationwide—have helped India deplete its groundwater at an alarming pace over the last few decades. The country is running through its groundwater so fast that scarcity could threaten whole regions like this one, drive people off the land and ultimately stunt the country’s ability to farm and feed its people.”



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