Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"We eat a lot of oil"

I'm showing "The End of Suburbia" to my students this week, which means it's time to update the Guide to entries that contain answers to "The End of Suburbia."  For this semester, I'm following through on a promise I made in a comment on the latter entry last semester.
I need to write about fossil fuel use in agriculture, a topic covered by Questions 14-16 for "The End of Suburbia" and Question 28 for "Food, Inc." Stay tuned.
Follow over the jump for the four questions and the answers in the same style as Corn questions from 'Food, Inc.' worksheet.

First, the three food questions from "The End of Suburbia."
14. How did fossil fuels contribute to the first Green Revolution?
Petroleum distillates fuel the tractors and combines that replaced animals as the source of power on the farm.  Pesticides are made from oil, both the active ingredients and the solvent base.  Finally, synthetic fertilizers, which replaced manure and compost, are made from natural gas.

15. What effect will Peak Oil have on agriculture?
James Howard Kunstler predicted that agriculture would become more local and more labor-intensive, which means that people will have to grow food for their own communities instead of relying on products transported long distance and a lot more people would be involved in food production.  The late Michael Ruppert expected that food would become scarcer and more expensive.

16. How many fossil fuel calories are used to produce one calorie of food?
Ruppert recited ten, not counting transportation, refrigeration, and food preparation.

That was in 2003.  In 2009, Richard Heinberg, who is also in the film, came up with 7.4 calories of fossil fuel energy per food calorie for all the parts of the food system.

Oh, look, we're getting more efficient!

Now for the question from "Food, Inc."
28. How many gallons of oil are needed to bring a steer to market?
Michael Pollan said it took 75 gallons of oil to bring a steer to market.  He may have understated the amount.

Troy Roush is right; as I quoted him in the title, "We eat a lot of oil."


  1. I mention "We eat oil when we eat food" a lot to co-workers and patients on the psych wards. I'm always talking politics and current events, not in a tendentious way, but engagingly and with dark humour. (Or so I hope I come across.) I have my spiel boiled down to three quick sentences about how fertiliser is based on natural gas, crop production and packaging relies heavily on oil-based machines/products, and how so much food comes from far away, which requires oil to transport it. I haven't had anyone disagree with me because the facts are incontrovertible.

    But it's like talking about plate tectonics and the likelihood that a larger-then-Fukushima earthquake and tsunami will obliterate the northwest coast of North America. (Something that's been on my reading list lately, even though I no longer live there.) If it's not happening RIGHT NOW, people "discount the future" in terms of getting prepared for it, even if it's just mentally wrapping their heads around the possibility.

    The people most alarmed about such things tend to be the patients diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. They're worried about a lot of hidden horrors, most of them as unreal as the Illuminati and mind-wave transmitters embedded in the walls of where they live. THAT'S what's causing those voice in their head, by gosh, not a mental illness! It's sad when the only ones taking warnings seriously are the crazy people. Which must include me, you and everyone who puts stock in JHK.

    1. Welcome back, Boomeranger! It's a lot easier to get people to pay attention when one is a teacher. That's one advantage of my position. Besides, coming off as eccentric actually helps me.

      There's one thing scarier than the oddballs being the ones who pay attention. It's when "the crazy person" is the one who's right while the sane ones were wrong. I've had that happen before when someone at FourthTurning.com that everyone there thought was a tinfoil hat wearing lunatic told the truth about Bush and Cheney. No one believed him at the time, but time proved him right.

      Finally, I've read about that likely earthquake. I should blog about it.