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February 2007: Notes

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We include this section not to spread “gloom and doom” but to take a realistic look at some of the serious challenges currently impacting the world, with the real potential of affecting all of us. We also believe that GROW BIOINTENSIVE, Ecology Action’s small-scale sustainable agricultural system, if adopted worldwide by individuals and farmers, has the power to help ameliorate some of these most pressing challenges and gives us the means to feed ourselves in the midst of global change.

This comes from “Making Other Arrangements” by James Howard Kunstler in the January/February 2007 Orion Magazine. It is part of a much longer article, which may be accessed at :

“As the American public continues sleepwalking into a future of energy scarcity, climate change and geopolitical turmoil, we have also continued dreaming. … It is a particularly American dream on a particularly American theme: how to keep all the cars running by some other means than gasoline. … And a harsh reality indeed awaits us as the full scope of the permanent energy crisis unfolds. A clear picture emerges: [oil] demand now exceeds world supply. … The natural gas situation is comparably ominous.” Kunstler then notes that he is speaking here of the gas that heats half the homes in America “and about 16 percent of our electricity is made with it. Industry uses natural gas as the primary ingredient in fertilizer, plastics, ink, glue, paint, laundry detergent, insect repellent, and many other common household necessities. … You tend to get your gas from the continent you are on. To import natural gas from overseas, it has to be liquefied, loaded in a special kind of expensive-to-build-and-operate tanker, and then offloaded at a specialized marine terminal. … In North America, natural gas production peaked in 1973.”

Climate change was not only responsible for the warmer ocean temperatures which spawned Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (diminishing U.S. oil and natural gas production in the Gulf). It is also bringing “fierce summer drought” causing American grain crops to wither. Because of this, and the rising cost of agricultural inputs (based on oil and natural gas), “we are going to have trouble feeding ourselves in the years ahead, not to mention the many nations who depend for survival on American grain exports. So the idea that we can simply shift millions of acres from food crops to ethanol or biodiesel crops to make fuels for cars represents a staggering misunderstanding of reality.

“We have to do better. We have to start right away making those other arrangements. We have to begin the transition to some mode of living that will allow us to carry on the project of civilization. … In general, the circumstances we face with energy and climate change will require us to live much more locally, probably profoundly and intensely so. We have to grow more of our food locally, on a smaller scale than we do now, with fewer artificial ‘inputs’ and probably with more human and animal labor. Farming may come closer to the center of our national economic life than it has been within the memory of anyone alive now. … It’s a daunting agenda, all right. And some of you are probably wondering how you are supposed to remain hopeful in the face of these enormous tasks. Here’s the plain truth, folks: Hope is not a consumer product. You have to generate your own hope. You do that by demonstrating to yourself that you are brave enough to face reality and competent enough to deal with the circumstances that it presents. How we will manage to uphold a decent society in the face of extraordinary change will depend on our creativity, our generosity, and our kindness, and I am confident that we can find these resources within our own hearts, and collectively in our communities.”

Global Warming

From “US Foot-Dragging Fuels Global Warming” by Elizabeth Kolbert in the June 11, 2006, issue of the Los Angeles Times:

Although President George H.W. Bush signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, American emissions of carbon dioxide have continued to rise. The Administration has claimed that “uncertainties about climate change make action premature.” However, “the climate system is highly inertial; it takes several decades for changes already set in motion to become apparent. … Once we know for sure that the ice sheet is in danger of disappearing, it will be too late to reverse the process. …The effect of adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is to throw the planet out of what scientists call ‘energy balance.’ For balance to be restored, the entire planet has to warm up. This is a slow process, largely because the oceans have such an enormous capacity to absorb heat. That’s one of the reasons why, despite having already thrown billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air over the last 50 years, we are just beginning to feel the effects now.”

From “Nations Scour for Wheat as Drought Shrivels Supplies” by Sambit Mohanty, online August 30, 2006, through NDTV

“Erratic weather is slashing wheat crops of the major producers, which is threatening to push up prices to multi-year highs and making it difficult for countries to replenish stocks. … The United States had one of the hottest summers since the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s” with its wheat supply expected to fall 14%. Much lower yields were also expected in Australia, Europe and Canada as a result of the high temperatures. Investment funds are becoming interested in grains as their price rises, pushing prices up even higher. “Compounding the price woes are surging purchases from countries such as India, where the need to import has shot up because of its own crop shortfall.”

From “Sweden’s Tree Line Moving at Fastest Rate for 7,000 Years” in the January 16, 2007, edition of Agence France Presse:

“Climate change over the past two decades has caused Sweden’s tree line to move north at a faster rate than at any time in the past 7,000 years,” according to Swedish researchers. “While some of the change could be explained by natural phenomena such as the reduction in global volcanic activity—allowing more sunlight to warm the Earth—the trend was clearly provoked for the most part by man-made factors. … We can say that 75 percent of the change is due to the emergence of greenhouse gases.”



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©2006 Ecology Action.

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