Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Peak Oil and Your Garden

At the Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative we've been concerned about climate change, soil depletion, and the health effects of chemical additives in our food. These are all reasons to garden here in the Forge. However, people are increasingly talking about another reason to garden at home, one we feel compelled to share with you: peak oil production.

You may have heard the term "peak oil" -- it has been in the news a lot lately. The idea isn't new, but it has remained on the margins of conversations about energy for decades. But with the steep increases in the price of oil in the summer of 2008, peak oil went mainstream.

Peak oil is the point at which oil production -- a single oil well or the entire production capacity of a country, or even a planet -- reaches its maximum. In the simplest terms, a peak corresponds to the midway point in reserve capacity. Oil production can increase year after year until the point at which half of the reserve has been reached. Then oil becomes harder and more expensive to extract, and production begins to decline. (United States oil production peaked in 1970 and has been in decline since.)

According to proponents of peak-oil theories, this decline in production can lead to price shocks and rising oil prices. While many proponents of oil interests insist that there are great reserves yet to be discovered, other geologists and executives of petroleum companies and energy investment firms refute such claims. The graph here shows the major oil discoveries of the past century. You can see that they mostly happened in the mid-20th Century and have been going down ever since.

What does this have to do with food and gardening? As Michael Pollan and others have pointed out, when you eat food from the supermarket, you are eating oil. Fossil energy was used to plow the fields and fertilize, harvest, freeze, and transport that food 1,500 miles from the field to your plate. The journalist Richard Manning has estimated that each food calorie in this country is backed by 10 calories of oil energy.

That means that food will have to be less energy intensive in the future, which means that it might have to be growing right out your front or back door. We'll return to this idea in future posts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

HI, can you please post where you found the information concerning the US peaking oil?