Tuesday, April 18, 2006

As ye sow

I heard a segment on NPR this faternoon in which the reporter spoke with people from several different walks of life talking about how the rising price of petroleum was affecting them.

I'm guessing a bunch of people were surprised when they heard the farmer talk about how severely it affected him. He said that farming is a "petroleum based industry," which you might not have heard before, but you are going to be hearing a whole lot as the Peak Oil shit hits the fan. This particular farmer said he generally uses 100 gallons of diesel a day just to run his two tractors.

As oil prices sprial upward, they are going to have effects that most people would never dream of. I don't know what the percentage of the food we eat is the embodied cost of the oil used to plant it, fertilize it, insecticide it, pick it, transport it, process it and package it, but I would not be surprised at all if the number exceeded 50%. Think about where the food on your table came from -- how many miles away was the farm -- 100 miles? 1000? You probably don't have a clue, and neither do I. But the entire agriculture infrastrucure we rely upon is based on cheap oil.

For example, California's Central Valley, which produces, just to pick the first statistic I could find, "approximately 95 percent of the processing tomato crop in the United States and about 40 percent of the world's production." Think about the diesel consumed getting your tomato paste to you if you live on the east coast. Now think about diesel at $5/gallon.

This is going to hurt all of us, but the farmers are at the leading edge of the supply chain, and they are feeling it right now. My first thought when I heard the story was that this presents a political opportunity if we can get these folks to connect the dots between the Iraq disaster and the pain they are now feeling. But then I thought about Bush's tanking numbers in the Grain Belt and other farming-intensive regions, and I realized that could well be exactly what is already happening.

James Howard Kunstler has been all over this issue for quite some time. We're going to be wishing somebody had paid attention very soon.

If there was some magical way to limit the effects of the coming denouement to the Red State fools who voted for Bush out of jingoism and racism and homophobia (I wonder who that farmer on NPR voted for?), that would certainly be poetically just. But we will all reap what they have sown.


Anonymous Unholy Moses said...

I heard the same NPR story and just shook my head.

How in the hell can Brazil go to a 100% ethanol system -- with all of it made inside the country -- while we're still sucking from the fossil fuel teat?

Well, other than the fact those currently in power have stock in the oil companies ... and that big oil makes big campaign contributions ... and that American auto makers are about a decade behind in green technology ...

You know, other than those things, how is that possible?

7:52 PM  
Anonymous Sorghum Crow said...

Great topic and scary.
"The Oil Drum" has terrific running commentary on peak oil and the oil industry.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous RandyH said...

Another thing we often forget about is the fact that huge amounts of petrolium products and natural gas are needed to manufacture fertizer products as well. If you apply any of these products to your lawn or garden, you will notice that they've gone up quite a bit in the last couple of years.

7:35 PM  

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