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Peak Oil

There are many reasons that make people decide to start producing some of their own food (some are listed in this ‘why homestead’ article), but it’s an inescapable fact that large-scale food production as we know it is doomed. Quite aside from the loss of agricultural land to industrialisation, urbanisation and degradation due to unsustainable practice (about 35 million hectares per annum according to the UN) and the continuing rise in demand, there is an obvious link between the price of food and the price of oil, because chemical fertiliser is produced from natural gas.

Everyone knows that the price of gas at the pumps is increasing, and that the increase is accelerating. We also had a spike in prices in 2008, and although things calmed down again afterwards prices never quite got back to where they were: the upwards drift continued. So why does the price keep going up? Is it just profiteering by the oil barons? Sadly, the answer is no.

Put simply, there is only so much oil to take out of the ground. To start with things were easy and we quickly found newer and better ways to locate oil reserves and get them to the surface, but after a while we’d found all the oil that was easy to get to. Think of dropping a sack of rice in your kitchen: to begin with you can scoop up big handfuls and put them back in the sack, but sooner or later you’ll need a brush and pan, and not long after that you’ll have to start moving furniture to find the last few grains.

peak oil

A graphic representation of peak oil

You can find a well-written primer on peak oil at EnergyBulletin.net – the subject is not a cheery one but, as the Transition movement points out, there are things you can do to make your local community more resilient.

As for homesteading: it may not make you independent from the rest of the world, but it can act as a buffer for your family to enable you to withstand short periods of food shortage or spikes in prices. Could there be a better reason to dig up the lawn?

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2 Responses to “Peak Oil”

  1. Peter Wilson says:

    Oil reserves are becoming increasingly difficult to find, true. However, as this article points out, chemical fertilised is based on natural gas. Natural gas reserves have increased 4 fold since 1970. The US, historically the world’s largest energy consumer, is on the brink of becoming a gas exporter, thanks to shale gas. Check out the Wikipedia article on world gas reserves. The feedstock for chemical fertilizer manufacture will be available for many more years than affordable oil.

    • Alex says:

      None of that explaIns away the problems faced by contemporary agricultures extreme dependence on oil nor does anything to address the damage done to soils by dependence on artificial fertilisers.

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