Watching the BBC Natural World program A Farm for the Future got me thinking. With our agriculture and food industry based on the availability of cheap oil, who will be feeding us in, say, 20 years?
Most of our crops are grown using chemical fertilisers and pesticides which are made from oil. Farm vehicles are powered by diesel. In the UK we are a net food importer, so much of our food is transported in ships and aeroplanes powered by oil; it is often chilled or warmed in transport, requiring the use of still more energy. When it arrives in the UK it is trucked – using fuel - to distribution centres and thence to supermarkets for us to buy. As oil availability declines and oil prices rise how will this affect the current system? I suspect that supermarkets will be unable to remain open at all. So how will we be fed?
In the Second World War, the UK population was a little over 47 million. The “Dig for Victory” campaign resulted in local needs for fruit, vegetables and some meats (rabbit etc.) being largely met from back gardens and allotments, reducing the requirements for imported goods. According to the office of national statistics, in mid-2007, the UK population reached 60,975,000 (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?ID=6). Even with a massive "Dig for Victory" style campaign, it seems almost impossible, using conventional agricultural methods, to grow enough food to feed our current population, especially in the absence of cheap fossil-fuel based fertilisers and pesticides.
This is without even considering the impacts of climate change in terms of loss of cropland and water and suitable climate, or the other impacts of peak oil, for example on domestic use, the pharmaceutical industry and the National Health Service.
We need to radically alter the way we eat, grow and think of food. How many of us even know what is seasonal any more? How will our predominantly urban and de-skilled population cope as the supermarket shelves empty?
We need to
- start building land-focused intentional communities to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels
- look at alternative methods of agriculture such as permaculture, urban gardening and urban forestry.
We need to re-skill; we no longer have the luxury of time. If we continue as we have been the social and environmental costs will be catastrophic.