Month: January 2010

Independence Days – First month of the year is done!

What a relaxing weekend I’ve had. After my decision to get off the computer yesterday, I’ve managed to get out and enjoy the lovely weather we’ve been having. I rode up to the library yesterday and am now stocked up with some <light> reading for the month. I weeded the garden. I started and finished a new crocheted hat. I called my Mum and my sister on Skype (ok…that’s the computer). Brendan and I rode up the street for a coffee and a peruse through the local bookshop and then we had a stop and chat with our neighbour for an hour. Then we sat in the garden and watched the hummingbirds and butterflies. This is what life is all about!

Preparedness

  • I’m up to day 24 of my fitness training regime. I’m feeling stronger and leaner already, although I don’t know that the scales have registered much change yet. The best thing about it is the huge amounts of energy I seem to have. I’m almost bouncing off the walls in the evenings now instead of feeling like a sloth. I’ve heard it said that exercise gives you more energy, but I’ve never experienced this much improvement. I guess it’s working for me. Later this week I start Phase 2 of my program, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the next 30 days go.

Reducing Debt

  • Big news later this week! Eeekkk!

Stockpiling Food

  • I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was really craving bell peppers, but that they are now out of season and not available at the farmers market. Well guess what? Sometime last summer as I worked every night to put up the abundance of food from the garden, I oven roasted a half dozen peppers and put them in the freezer. It felt like Christmas the night I re-discovered them.
  • I haven’t added anything to our stockpile yet this year. Brendan buys some extras if there are specials on our regular items, but we are probably due for a bulk purchase shortly. I’m having trouble getting motivated to go shopping.

Grow some food

  • Did I mention I’m loving Collard Greens? Every night I snip off one leaf and it goes into whatever meal we are cooking. What a brilliantly simple way of getting fibre and nutrients galore into every meal. They are so easy to grow and are very productive. They’ll be grown in our garden again!

Collards (front), Fava Beans (rear) and Leek (right) – 25 Jan 2010

  • Our snow peas are also growing well. I think I saw some peas lurking in the growth which are ready for harvesting. I’ll go out later today to see how many I can find. Here are some photos of the peas progression over the last couple of months. I’m glad I take pictures because it’s easy to forget how the garden changes over time.

Snow pea seedlings – 15 Nov 09

Snow pea plants – 25 Jan 2010 (four plants got all messed up in the high winds, and now we just have a mess of snow peas)

  • We have one lone carrot growing. Of the entire pack of seeds this is the only one to germinate. It will be extra special when it comes time to eat it.

Spinach seedling (front) and singular carrot (rear) – 25 Jan 2010 (Note our drip irrigation)

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I’ve become addicted to the internet!

It has to stop! Since I’ve been back from the holidays I feel like I’ve been glued to the internet. Here’s what a typical day looks like:

6am – Check email then exercise

7am – Eat breakfast while reading blogs

8am – 4pm – Work on the computer all day with short break outside for lunch.

4pm – 6pm – Read more blogs or watch TV reruns on Netflix

6pm – 9pm – Dinner and watch a movie or documentary with Brendan (often on the computer)

9pm – 10pm – Read and then to bed

It’s horrendous! Last year I made such great strides towards a more simple life and so far this year I’ve fallen into this rut of being constantly on the computer. It’s become the default option when I find I have some time on my hands.

So today I’m changing that. I’m riding up to the library shortly to get some more books. I’ve run out, which seems to have become my excuse for ‘reading’ more in the internet. I’ve already cleaned out the bathroom cupboards and drawers this morning and later today I plan on putting a couple of first-aid kits together from all the goodies I found lurking in the back. Since it’s a beatiful sunny day I think I’ll also get out into the garden. It is in need of a good weeding after all the rain last week.

Does anyone else suffer from this affliction? If so, what has been your cure?

Photo By: Federico Morando

U.S. and Australian property markets – are they both heading for a fall?

There are a handful of websites I make sure I read every day. Many of them are U.S.-centric because that’s where I happen to live at the moment and it’s also where most of the action is in terms of the financial meltdown. It’s also darn interesting to read about. But for a long time I was searching for a common-sense Australian spin on what’s really happening in the world of finance. Enter The Daily Reckoning – Australian Edition. Here’s a little sample of something from today’s edition.  

December existing home sales fell by over a million units and 16.7%, according to the NAR. The positive news, if you’re looking for some, is that sales per year were up 21% compared to 2008. And if you can believe it, the median sales price for an existing U.S. home is a rather humble (by Australian standards) US$178,300.

What a bargain!

Actually, what’s happening is pretty simple. Sales are up because the ass-clowns in the U.S. Congress introduced an $8,000 tax credit for first time home buyers. Sound familiar? It’s not a grant. It’s a tax deduction. But the effect is the same: to bring forward demand and support current prices.

In November, first home buyers taking advantage of the tax credit made up 50% of demand for existing homes. In December, it fell to 43%. Those two months were supposed to be the final months of the credit. The December decline shows that most people who intended to take advantage of the credit had already locked it in.

But what now? The credit supported prices and sent sales soaring. The Congress extended the credit through April 30th of this year. But we doubt it will lead to a huge recovery in home prices. Why?

There is 7.2 months supply of homes at the current sales rate. That’s a huge surplus inventory. It puts massive downward pressure on prices – and that’s before another likely wave of foreclosures hits the U.S. market. Hmmn.

Yes, we know what you’re thinking. In Australia there is not a surplus of homes. There’s a shortage! Yes, median prices are higher in nominal terms and as a percentage of median incomes. But it’s different here. There are immigrants. And there are other things which guarantee house prices in Australia cannot fall. Surely.

We shall see. The principle here is roughly the same. You can bring forward demand through lower interest rates or grants and tax credits. But this does not make housing more affordable. It DOES get the marginal buyer into the market, though, and that supports prices for a while.

Eventually, house prices have to be realistic relative to incomes. In the U.S., that means prices are finding a clearing level that reflects tighter credit, the surplus inventory, and a lower median-price-to-median-wage level. In Australia?

Well, you’d think immigration was a slender reed to lean on. Besides, according to a recent poll, 66% of Australians want the Federal government to cap immigration. Not that the government usually listens to “the people”. But the point is: immigration can be capped.

In fact, the best reason to cap it is generally that a high-tide of immigration lowers average wages by expanding the work force. That might not be the case in Australia, of course. A growing economy creates jobs at all wage levels. And to the extent that Australia is imported skilled workers (to work the mines in WA and Queensland) the wages there are much higher than the wages in the rest of the economy (this pushes WA house prices into the stratosphere).

Our point, though, is that all of these are peripheral factors. Houses can’t be so expensive that people are unable to afford them on the average wage. You can try to bridge the gap with tax credits, grants, and lending schemes. But eventually, prices are going to fall.

<Read More>

Finding our Place – Adapting in the City or Country?

Sharon Astyk wrote a very interesting post a couple of weeks ago about Reconsidering Cities. It got me to thinking about whether the right decision for us is a few acres outside a small country town or a large house block in a medium-sized city. We go back and forth on this question very regularly, so today I’d like to spend some time determining the pro’s and con’s of each option.

I apologise in advance if this is not at all interesting to anyone but me, but it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while. If you do happen to have some thoughts that I’ve missed, I’d appreciate if you could leave me a comment.

This thought process is part of our five-year plan. For the next five years we intend to keep working, saving money and maybe starting a family. We also intend to keep working on our self-sufficiency plans and making our vision become a reality. OK…onto the two options I can’t seem to decide upon.

1. Adapting in the City

There is really only one city I’d be interested in living in permanently when I return to Australia. Here are a few statistics to put it in perspective.

  • Population ~320,000
  • 31% of the population are aged between 20-39. Only 14% of the population are aged over 60.
  • Over 40% of the population are working in government administration and defence.
  • 68% travel to work in a car, 6% walk or cycle and 5% catch the bus.
  • Median Household income is $1400 per week.

It’s very much a government town, with much of the population well educated and well paid.

My vision for adapting in the city

We’ll be living in a small house (2-3 bedrooms) which is likely to be a post-war brick or weatherboard ex-government house. We’ll be on a block that’s about 500-600m² (5300-6500ft²) which is in the inner city area (within 7km drive of the city centre). We’ll be within walking distance of local shops, restaurants and cafes and can cycle to most places within the inner core of the city because it’s extremely bike friendly. We’ll have made our property as sustainable as possible given the climatic conditions:

  • By Australian standards, summers are hot and winters are cold (snow is rare although frosts occur 25% of the year). Good insulation is a must, as is an efficient heating source to stop us freezing in the winter.
  • We’ll add solar hot water and solar electricity panels to the roof. It’s a very sunny city, with mean daily sunshine of 7.6 hours/day and completely clear days 27% of the year.
  • The average annual rainfall is 629 mm (25 in) with an average of 108 rain days per year. Rainfall is reasonably evenly distributed throughout the year.  Unfortunately in El Nino years the region is prone to drought and bushfires. We’ll add rainwater tanks and a grey water system to the property to maximise the usage of all available water, but the lack of rainfall is a still a concern to me.

Most people require a car to live here, but the design of the city is such that small ‘townships’ have been developed to cater to residents. Each neighbourhood has at least a local store  and it wouldn’t be too difficult to ‘relocalise’ much of the population. Farmers markets and food co-ops are already up and running and bus transportation is available.

Because it’s a reasonable sized city, I imagine we’ll find plenty of like minded friends in the community and will find many opportunities to get involved with sustainable solutions to the issues of peak oil and environmental degradation. There is a fabulous weekly market where local people can sell their home-made products and home-produced food. There is plenty of culture with fantastic museums, art galleries and theatres. There are a lot of parks and recreational areas throughout the city, making it easy to get out into nature regularly. There are plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails all over the place, making it ideal for us.

Both Brendan and I will be working part-time jobs. I imagine I’ll be working in some type of government agency which deals with the environment or energy. Between us, we will probably be running a couple of home based businesses. With a population of young government workers, the disposable income in this city is likely to remain higher than what could be expected in other parts of the country. This would make this city a good place to operate small service-based businesses with low overheads.

Because of the high cost of living in this city, we’ll have to maintain an income within the real economy to pay for the mortgage, food, transport and services. We will not have a tremendous amount of free time available to become self-reliant, so we’ll be relying more on a large community over an extended area for food and services.

Pros of adapting in the city

  • Access to culture (museums, art galleries, theatres, cafes and restaurants)
  • Potentially a larger group of like minded people.
  • More options for employment. Jobs typically high paying. Better ability to run home-based businesses for income.
  • Lovely natural environment with great hiking and biking trails.
  • More opportunity to influence leaders and people to prepare for a future with less.

Cons of adapting in the city

  • Prone to drought and bushfires.
  • Vast distances to family.
  • Car dependent culture unless able to afford inner-city living.
  • Must keep working to afford the cost of living. (Rent alone would be a minimum of $500 per week for an old house)
  • Expensive housing. Median house prices in a low-priced inner-city suburb are more than 8 times the median income. Prices rose 230% last decade.

2. Adapting in the country

The town we are considering is Brendan’s childhood hometown which is located on a plateau at the top of a mountain range.

  • Population is 2643 including the outlying areas.
  • 25% of residents are over 60. Only 15 % are aged between 20-39. It is a town full of older residents as young people tend to head to the city after school.
  • 28% of the population work in agriculture, forestry & fishing.
  • 48% travel to work in a car, 19% work at home and 10% walk.
  • The median weekly household incomes is about $400-499 (compared with the state median of $800-899 per week).
  • The unemployment rate is double the state average.

My vision for adapting in the country

We’ll be living in a small home (2-3 bedrooms) which is likely to be an old weatherboard house. We’ll either be on a large block (1/4 – 3/4 acre) within walking distance of town or we’ll be on a few acres less than 10 km out of town.  If we are in town we’ll be within walking distance of local shops, schools and a couple of restaurants and cafes. We’ll have made our property as sustainable as possible given the climatic conditions:

  • Summers are mild and winters are cool and windy. The town doesn’t receive snow and frosts occur less than 10 days per year. Insulation will be important and a good wood fire will keep us warm on those cold, wet nights.  
  • The average annual rainfall is 1979 mm (78 in), making it the wettest town in the state. In a dry country, this much rain is a rarity. If we live out of town, we will not have to rely on town water at all.
  • Despite all the rain, there is still quite a bit of sun (31% of days throughout the year are clear and sunny). We’ll add solar hot water to the roof and may look to use a combination of solar and wind energy for electricity.

The local community is quite well set up and all the essentials are available for purchase in town. Some of the businesses are resupplied by traveling salesmen, which seems a quaint reference to a bygone era.  If it’s not available in town, we’d have to drive one hour to the coast or one hour inland to a small city. A local bus goes to the coast once per week for the day. The region is extremely fertile and plenty of food is being grown locally, although I’m not sure that a local food movement is up and running formally yet.

It’s a small town and much of the population is elderly. While this may be good for learning skills from our elders, I’m a bit concerned about the viability of a town with such a small proportion of young adults. This situation may change as more people become aware of the need to adapt to a changing world.  On the plus-side, the town at the bottom of the mountain has a thriving cafe and arts scene with many local people already living ‘alternate’ lifestyles. The shire is already part of the transition town movement and I can imagine that we could get involved and bring much of that activity up the mountain.

As you can imagine with all that rain and sunshine, the town is surrounded by green, rolling hills and national parks. The town itself has retained much of its original character and hasn’t suffered too badly from modern times. In fact the local bakery still uses a wood-fired oven and the Gazette is the last Australian newspaper printed by the letterpress method. Apparently it’s the last independent newspaper in Australia.

The town is currently very reliant on vehicles to bring everything in from the coast or via the inland route. Occasionally the mountain will be cut off for a week due to flooding of the waterfalls. The train line closed in 1972, but I imagine it could get back up and running under the right set of circumstances. There is still an active group of residents who are doing some fantastic work to preserve railway vehicles and the equipment of a bygone era.

Because there aren’t many options for employment in town, I imagine Brendan and I will both end up working at a variety of things such as in local businesses, working at home and volunteering in a variety of ways.

We should be able to afford to purchase our home outright and with a small income from investments, we could be financially independent to the point that we can choose the type of work we partake in. We’ll have time to grow some of our own food. We can also get involved in self-sufficiency on a community level.

Pros of adapting in the country

  • Plentiful water and food
  • Close to family
  • More affordable housing
  • More time due to financial independence
  • Beautiful location with access to National Parks, rivers and countryside
  • More opportunity to interact with the local community and make a difference on a more personal level

Cons of adapting in the country

  • Cultural activities different to what I’m used to (local theatre and blues festivals, rather than cafes and museums)
  • Elderly population. Potentially more difficult to make friends our age.
  • Employment opportunities limited.
  • Potentially cut-off from the outside world if car usage has to decline.

I just can’t decide which option is for us

I need some new perspectives. Have you chosen one over the other and regretted it or do you love how you live? What do you see the future becoming, and what would you choose if you were in our position?

Thanks for any comments you wish to provide.

Independence Days: The wet weather is over + Happy Australia Day!

Photo by: Leonrw

It’s been a soggy, wet week but the beautiful Southern California weather is back today. I haven’t seen weather like that since we’ve lived here. I’m sure we had more rain last week than we did all of last year. And wouldn’t you know it….we had put off making rain barrels on Saturday just before five solid days of rain. We also had tornado warnings which apparently are really unusual in the part of the country. All I could think of was, “Great….I’ve prepared for an Earthquake, but have no idea about dealing with a tornado!”

Yesterday I co-hosted a big party for Australia Day. It’s not Australia Day until 26th Jan, but since we don’t get that holiday over here, we threw a big party on the Saturday prior. We had over 200 people there so I’m really glad that’s over. I was exhausted last night and I’m having a quiet day today before I’m back to the grind tomorrow. I’m struggling a bit with motivation at the moment. I have less than a year until I’m heading back to Australia and all I can think about is how much I need to do before then. Ick!

My Independence Days updates are based on the principles I outlined in my plan for Self Sufficiency and Independence.

Preparedness

  • I’m still going well with my fitness regime. I’m feeling stronger already. I’ve decided to reward myself with a new pair of jeans when I’ve been at it for three months. Hopefully by then my current jeans will be too big.

Reducing Debt

  • I’m a debt reducing machine at the moment. Last week I sold a house, and today I receive a retention bonus from my work. By signing a five year contract to stay with my organisation, I get a year’s salary as a bonus (taxed of course). I know I’ve been very lucky to get the opportunity of secure employment for another five years at a time when many people are suffering from economic hardship. I had wanted to leave this organisation and start out in something I’m passionate about, but I’ve made the decision that is economically prudent at this time.  When I return to Australia, I’ll have the opportunity to move into a new role, so I hope there will be something available that is more aligned with my values.

Grow some food

  • The garden is looking a little waterlogged today after five days of rain, but the sun is out and I’m sure everything will dry out quickly.
  • Slugs and snails are chomping through the broccoli and collard seedlings, so I’ll have to install the slug trap that Brendan’s folks gave us for Christmas. (Don’t you love gifts that are this thoughtful?)
  • The snow peas are growing really well in a sunny portion of the courtyard. They were blown around a bit during this week’s gale force winds, but they seem to have survived unscathed.

Reduce Energy Dependence

  • I only rode to work a couple of times this week. The torrential rain, winds and tornado warnings were enough to keep me car-bound. I’m not that hardcore!

Plan to own some productive land

  • I’m still going back and forth on the decision about whether to buy land near a small country town or a large house block in a city. Friends who know me from Australia think I wouldn’t cope without the ability to walk to a cafe, but I feel like I’ve changed a lot in the last couple of years. I dearly love the peace and quiet of the mountains….but I also love the cultural and social aspects of a city. Oh boy…..it’s too hard. Maybe I’ll buy one of each!

Hoodwinked – A Book Review

Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded–and What We Need to Do to Remake Them by John Perkins

John Perkins has seen the signs of today’s economic meltdown before. The subprime mortgage fiascos, the banking industry collapse, the rising tide of unemployment, the shuttering of small businesses across the landscape are all too familiar symptoms of a far greater disease. In his former life as an economic hit man, he was on the front lines both as an observer and a perpetrator of events, once confined only to the third world, that have now sent the United States–and in fact the entire planet–spiraling toward disaster.

Here, Perkins pulls back the curtain on the real cause of the current global financial meltdown. He shows how we’ve been hoodwinked by the CEOs who run the corporatocracy–those few corporations that control the vast amounts of capital, land, and resources around the globe–and the politicians they manipulate. These corporate fat cats, Perkins explains, have sold us all on what he calls predatory capitalism, a misguided form of geopolitics and capitalism that encourages a widespread exploitation of the many to benefit a small number of the already very wealthy. Their arrogance, gluttony, and mismanagement have brought us to this perilous edge. The solution is not a “return to normal.”

But there is a way out. As Perkins makes clear, we can create a healthy economy that will encourage businesses to act responsibly, not only in the interests of their shareholders and corporate partners (and the lobbyists they have in their pockets), but in the interests of their employees, their customers, the environment, and society at large.

We can create a society that fosters a just, sustainable, and safe world for us and our children. Each one of us makes these choices every day, in ways that are clearly spelled out in this book.

“We hold the power,” he says, “if only we recognize it.” Hoodwinked is a powerful polemic that shows not only how we arrived at this precarious point in our history but also what we must do to stop the global tailspin.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. John Perkins does an exceptional job of guiding you through the troubles and atrocities that the corporatocracy has placed on the entire world through greed and deception. It is time to change the status quo if we are to provide a sustainable future for those generations to come.

In this book, Perkins tells of his experiences as an Economic Hitman.

Economic Hit Man – A highly paid professional who cheats countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars, funnelling money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other foreign aid organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, pay offs, extortion, sex and murder. ~ Urban Dictionary

Perkins also links the policies and philosophies of short-term (so-called ‘mutated’) capitalism to the negative economic effects currently unfolding in the American economy. This book is not all doom and gloom though. A substantial portion offers policy and philosophical advice aimed to stem the downturn.

Watch Speeches by John Perkins

Environment#3: Resource Limitations ~ Food

Photo by: Bern@t

For some background reading on related issues, try these articles first:

Environment#1: The Issue of Human Population Growth

Energy#1: What is Peak Oil

Environment#2: Resource Limitations~ Water

It’s time to start thinking about Food Security

When you think about the factors affecting food production (climate, water, arable land, fertiliser, energy) it’s easy to see how current trends in each of these areas should be making us feel a little nervous about our Food Security (or lack thereof).

Even more than other oil-driven sectors of the global economy, food production is showing signs of strain as it struggles to maintain productivity in the face of rising population, flattening oil production and the depletion of essential resources such as soil fertility and fresh water. According to figures compiled by the Earth Policy Institute, world grain consumption is starting to exceed global production. Global grain reserves have fallen to 57 days from a high of 130 days in 1986.

The production of an adequate food supply is directly dependent on ample fertile land, fresh water and energy. As the human population grows, the requirements for these resources also grow.

The Decline of Fertile Cropland

During the past 40 years nearly one-third of the world’s cropland (1.5 billion hectares) has been abandoned because of soil erosion and degradation. ~ Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy, Pimentel and Giampietro

At present, fertile cropland is being lost at an alarming rate. More and more of the world’s cropland has been abandoned because agricultural practices, overgrazing and deforestation have caused the land to become unproductive. This is a long term problem because it takes 500 years to form 25 mm of soil under agricultural conditions. Most replacement of eroded agricultural land is now coming from marginal and forest land.

World cropland per capita has been steadily declining and is now less than 0.23 ha per capita; and down to as little as 0.08 ha in China, the world’s most populous country. To enjoy a diverse diet similar to that of the U.S. and Europe, 0.5 ha per capita of cropland is required. With more of the world desirous of a western diet, it’s obvious that more pressure will be applied to the arable land that remains.

In addition to losses from erosion and other environmental impacts, cropland is also being converted to non-farm uses. This doesn’t just apply to developing nations. One only has to look at the housing developments here in Southern California to witness how much productive cropland is being lost to construction. The number of vehicles in the world also continues to grow, claiming even more cropland for roads, highways, and parking lots. China has recently overtaken the U.S. as the largest vehicle market in the world. If the Chinese market were to keep growing to an ownership rate of one car for every two people, the country would then have a fleet of 650 million motor vehicles, compared with only 35 million today. Since at least 0.4 hectares of land has to be paved for every 20 vehicles added to the fleet, this would require paving nearly 13.3 million hectares of land — an area equal to half the rice fields in China.

The shortage of productive cropland combined with decreasing land productivity is, in part, the cause of current food shortages and associated human malnutrition. When combined with other factors such as political unrest, economic insecurity, and unequal food distribution patterns food shortages are likely to become worse in the future.

Water shortages = Food shortages

Of all the environmental trends that are shrinking the world’s food supplies, the most immediate is water shortages. In a world where 70 percent of all water use is for irrigation, this is not a small issue.

The drilling of millions of irrigation wells has pushed water withdrawal in many countries beyond recharge rates from rainfall, leading to groundwater mining. As a result, water tables are now falling in countries that contain half the world’s people, including the big three grain producers — China, India, and the United States. ~Spiegal Online International

Fossil aquifers which are being use more and more for agricultural irrigation, are not replenishable. When they reach depletion in more arid regions, such as southwestern United States or the Middle East, it can mean the end of agriculture altogether.

In China, the water table under the North China Plain, an area that produces over half of the country’s wheat and a third of its corn, is falling fast. Overpumping has led to the drilling of the region’s non-replenishable deep aquifer, which is dropping at a rate of nearly three meters per year. A World Bank report predicted “catastrophic consequences for future generations” unless water use and supply can quickly be brought back into balance. As water tables fall and irrigation wells go dry, China may soon be importing massive quantities of grain in addition to the soybean imports which now account for nearly 70% of the country’s consumption.

The progressive worldwide depletion of aquifers is making further expansion of food production more difficult. After nearly doubling from 139 million hectares in 1961 to 276 million hectares in 2002, the world’s irrigated area abruptly stopped growing. It seems peak water has arrived.

Source

Industrialized Agriculture relies on Nitrogen-based Fertilisers

Nitrogen-based fertilisers enabled the ‘Green Revolution’ that boosted global food production in the last century, but that benefit came at a cost which we are now going to pay for.

Fossil fuels are needed for the continued production of fertilisers. As those fossil fuels become more expensive or harder-to-obtain, the ready availability of fertilisers is likely to be affected.

Natural gas is a key feedstock (up to 90 percent of the total costs) in the manufacturing of nitrogen fertilizer for which there is no practical substitute… Nitrogen fertilizer prices tend to increase when gas prices increase. ~US GAO report: “Natural Gas: Domestic Nitrogen Fertilizer Production Depends on Natural Gas Availability and Prices”

Between 1950 and 1990, the world’s farmers raised grain yield per hectare by more than two percent a year, exceeding the growth of population. Since then, yield growth has slowed such that the demand from a growing population is rapidly converging with the available food supply.

Source

Expensive Energy = Expensive Food

Here we are, supposedly recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and oil is still trading at more than $80 a barrel. If and when a true recovery gets under way, that price is likely to rise even more, as I discussed in last week’s post on The Economy and Oil. This issue is critical, because our industrialised agricultural system is so reliant on cheap oil for harvesting, processing and transporting food vast distances to the store shelves.

10 kcalories of exosomatic energy are spent in the U.S. food system per calorie of food eaten by the consumer. Put another way, the (US) food system consumes ten times more energy than it provides to society in food energy. ~The Tightening Conflict: Population, Energy Use, and the Ecology of Agriculture”

Oil is a finite, natural resource and we are fast approaching the end of cheap oil. When oil is more expensive, food is more expensive too.

Source

Climate Change

Whether you believe in human-caused climate change or not, it’s clear to most people that something is up with the weather. Many agricultural regions around the world are experiencing stronger heat waves, more drought or more extreme rainfall. It’s starting to affect the harvests we are relying on to keep us all fed. Droughts aren’t good for crops, but neither are record wet spells. Extremely wet conditions in the U.S. Midwest last fall delayed harvests to the point that some 30 per cent of North Dakota’s corn remained in the fields by the time a Christmas blizzard put an end to harvest time completely.

Agriculture as it exists today was shaped by a climate system that has remained remarkably stable over farming’s 11,000-year history. Since crops were developed to maximize yields in this long-standing climate regime, climate change means agriculture will be increasingly out of sync with its natural environment.

Population Growth and Food Scarcity

And finally there’s still population growth to consider.

World food production must increase by 70 percent by 2050, to nourish a human population then likely to be 9.1 billion ~UN Food and Agriculture Organisation

It appears that crop yields are moving closer to the inherent limits of the Earth. This limit establishes the upper bounds of the earth’s human carrying capacity. The question is not whether the world grain harvest will continue to expand, but will it expand fast enough to keep pace with rapidly growing demand? If we continue down the current path it is not likely to do so, which means that food supplies will tighten further. There is a real risk that we could soon face civilization-threatening food shortages.

Geo-Political issues

It’s easy to dismiss this issue as something that will only affect poor nations, but we now live in a truly global world. There are many ways that food scarcity can become very political and start impacting our lives in ways we never imagined. Since that’s a huge topic in its own right, I might leave that topic to another week.

This post is part of my World-Changing Wednesday series. Tune in each Wednesday to read my thoughts on an issue which I think will have a huge impact on how we live our lives in the years to come.

Independence Days – Loving the rain and howling wind

Photo By: The Yarn Chick @ Etsy

It’s a gloomy, rainy day and I’m loving it. Southern California gets so little rain, so when it does come I do a little rain dance and then stare out the window and watch my garden soak it all up. We usually drip irrigate the vegetables every couple of days because we are on water restrictions (not that you’d know it to look at the neighbours lawns). When we get even a little rain followed by a couple of days of lovely sun, the vegetables literally grow before our eyes.

It’s also been a great day to stay inside a get some projects done. I recently got a new crochet pattern from The Yarn Chick on Etsy so I’ve spent countless hours this weekend making hats for who knows who. I just love the act of crocheting, so I keep making hats. It’s kind of like meditation for me. Brendan is probably going to be sick of the growing pile of hats soon, so I might have to start shipping them out to anyone in a cold enough climate to make use of them.

We also spent a few hours this week cleaning out a few cabinets in the bathroom and living areas. We are on the countdown to moving back to Australia now, with 11 months to go. It’s amazing how much clutter we’ve accumulated, so we are working on gradually clearing it out in preparation for uplifting our life and moving overseas again.

Here’s my update for the week, based on my post about Independence, Self-Sufficiency and Lifestyle Planning.

Preparedness

  • My fitness regime is going really well. I’ve had no problems with motivation at all this week, so I hope that continues. I lift weights three days a week and then do intervals/light resistance training/yoga twice a week. I allow myself two rest days which I’ve been pretty flexible with. A couple of days this week I’ve just been too exhausted so I let those be my rest days. It’s worked well so far. I also walked Zoe the dog in the mornings and then rode to work and back for four days. I am already feeling the difference so I’m determined to make this a long-term change in my daily schedule.
  • Last week I wrote about preparing for an Earthquake because other than a house fire, it’s the most likely disaster to affect us where we live. Since then, Brendan and I have discussed our evacuation plans and prioritised what we would take out of the house in the event of emergency. We’ve come to the conclusion that we need to put together some dedicated emergency kits, so that will be the next thing we’ll be looking into.

Reducing Debt

Grow some food

  • This week I put in some more onion and leek seeds. We eat onion or leek in almost every meal, so it makes sense to keep growing it.

Reduce Energy Dependence

  • I rode to work four days this week, which I was happy with after my three near-misses last week. It’s already starting to get easier now that I’m back into it. My legs, heart and lungs are just that little bit stronger this week.

Plan to own some productive land

  • Sharon Astyk wrote a very interesting post this week about Reconsidering Cities. Once again it got me to thinking about whether the right decision for us is a few acres outside a small country town or a large house block in a medium-sized city. We go back and forth on this question so regularly that my head spins. I think I might dedicate a post to this soon, as I tend to think best when writing my thoughts down.

    7.0 ways you can help Haiti

    Image from: Winking Owl Studios

    Today on Unstuffed’s blog, she links to The Urban Field Guide who lists 7.0 ways you can help Haiti.

    We tried to use the texting method but for some reason it didn’t go through, so I went with option one instead…..shopping.

    If you click on Etsy and enter Haiti, many of the shops are donating all of their sales to varying relief funds. I won’t say what I bought because it’s a gift and I know the recipient reads this blog. To my mind, this was the win-win option: This purchase helps the haitian relief effort, helped the Etsy seller become known to me (I’m likely to be a repeat customer) and helps the person for whom the gift is intended. I don’t shop often, but this type of shopping even I can enjoy.