Food

Self-Sufficiency and Resilience – Plans upon Returning to Australia

 

Back in January of this year I wrote a post about Self Sufficiency, Independence and Lifestyle Planning . In it, I explained how I wanted to become less reliant on the current industrial system and to take more control of my own life. I’ve achieved a lot since then, but knowing that we were moving back to Australia in less than a year meant that I put off some changes. Now that we are only about 10 weeks away from returning home, I thought it would be worthwhile revisiting that post; to envisage what I want our new lifestyle to look like and to outline some goals for the next few years.

1. Getting off the Economic Grid

In 2010 I finally paid off the last of my mortgages. Now that I’m no longer paying any interest, my cashflow is healthy and I’m saving a large percentage of my after-tax income. Knowing that we have to buy a car and appliances when we get back, my priority now is to save for those big-ticket items. The last thing I want to do is go into debt to buy depreciating assets.

Upon return to Australia, my income drops but Brendan will be back at work so it should even out. We don’t relish the thought of both being back to full-time work, but at least in the short-term we see that it is necessary. We both have secure jobs for the moment, so we plan to use this opportunity to save like crazy. Comparative to the rest of the world, the Australian economy looks reasonably healthy at present. But in this globally connected world I can see that a number of potential crises could impact Australia quite heavily within the decade. I still think the biggest risks come from the Australian Housing Bubble and the reliance of the Australian economy on China. I anticipate that any crisis in the European and American economies (looking more and more likely) will result in rapidly rising interest rates in Australia. Australian homeowners are already struggling with their mortgages while the cash rate is 4.5%. How will they cope if it increases to 9%? 

Holding cash in an economic environment like this just makes so much sense to me. We are using the current ‘recovery’ to prepare for the hard times we predict will come as the global debt bubble unravels.

2. Reducing Energy Dependence

Cheap energy will not last forever and my family and friends in Australia are already seeing rising prices, especially on the electricity bill. There are a few lifestyle decisions we’ve made which should help us to reduce our energy dependence once we are back in Australia.

Firstly, we are renting a detached townhouse just a 15 minute walk to the city centre. It has any excellent walk score which was really important to me. My daily commute to work will be about 4km each way, so I’ll easily be able to do that by bicycle and Brendan will be able to do the same to his work. By carefully choosing where we wanted to live we can reduce our dependence on a car. We will still buy one car, but I anticipate that it will remain in the garage for much of the time. Removing the requirement to buy a second car also saves us a lot of money.

In selecting what car to buy, we have been referring to the Green Vehicle Guide. It’s an excellent website which rates Australian vehicles based on greenhouse and air pollution emissions. It also provides statistics on how much fuel each vehicle consumes. We are very keen to find a fuel efficient, second-hand car.

We’ll also be using the Government’s energy rating guide when shopping for energy-efficient appliances. Our new home is centrally heated with natural gas and we are hoping that the smaller size will reduce our heating expenses. Otherwise, we plan to rug up in order to avoid using too much energy to heat our living space.

3. Improving Food and Water Security

My first priority once we’ve settled into our new home it to begin stockpiling some food and water for emergencies. Knowing that we can sit out a short distruption to services is very comforting. I would never want to put myself in the position where I had to rush off to the shops in a time of emergency to stock up on food and water. It also makes good economic sense to stock up on more than you need. Food is increasing in cost faster than just about any investment right now and certainly faster than the rate of inflation. When things are on sale, we’ll simply stock up and we’ll buy in bulk every six months or so.

I’ve already identified a food co-op not too far from my house where we can buy bulk-goods without all the packaging you get in the supermarket. It also looks like they stock fresh fruit and vegetables.

We don’t have a lot of room for it, but we intend growing some of our own food. The courtyard we have is not very big, but we’ve been surprised how much we’ve been able to grow in our small courtyard in California. Of course, the climate in California is much more condusive to growing food all year round than Canberra, but I’m sure we’ll learn as we go along.

4. Building Community

It’s important to me to get involved in the community when we get home. We feel like we’ve been in limbo for the last three years, but once we are back in Australia I hope we feel a bit more settled. We already have a lot of friends in Canberra, but I’m very keen to meet more like-minded people as well.

I’m especially excited about checking out SEE-change, the local Canberra community for creating a sustainable future.

I finally feel like things are falling into place. I’m now at the point where I can visualise our new life back in Australia and I’m even starting to get a little excited about the move.

Photo by : jef safi

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Eating Locally this Spring

Photo by: Down to Earth

Spring has sprung in our garden. The tomato plants are taking over their world (they seem to be much bigger this year), the apples and oranges are maturing, the beets are ready to harvest and the squash are poking up from the earth. I love this time of year. New life in the garden makes me feel alive.

I’ve also been inspired to try some new recipes to eat up the bounty of our harvest. As I type, I have a ‘Whole Orange Cake’ in the oven. It’s called a whole orange cake because, you guessed it, it’s made from a whole orange! Just put the whole thing in the food processor and add a few more ingredients, transfer to a baking tin and bake for 40 minutes. This is my type of cake. If the batter is anything to go by, this is going to be one tasty treat. A big thanks to Rhonda at Down to Earth for the inspiration.

This week, I’ve also discovered a new edible in the garden. Garlic Scapes. They are the stalk that my garlic have sent up in preparation for flowering. I’ve left a few scapes on to flower, but the rest have been removed for a far more satisfying (to me) purpose.

Photo from: The Hungry Mouse

Last night I made this Garlic Scape Pesto from The Hungry Mouse. The finished product is delish (as long as you like garlic of course). It’s quite a strong flavour and sits somewhere between raw garlic and spring onions. We spread it over Brendan’s homemade pizza last night and it was fantastic. We only got one jar of pesto from our small garlic crop, but I imagine it’s going to make its way into a lot of recipes in the next month.

Photo from: The Hungry Mouse

My next challenge is working out what to do with the six punnets of strawberries I bought at this weeks farmers market. They are so very tasty, but there is only so many strawberries one can eat in any given week. I don’t have any pectin left for Strawberry Jam, so I’m thinking Strawberry Frozen Yoghurt and frozen Strawberry puree might be the best way to preserve the remainder. Any other ideas?

This afternoon I’m going down to the local library where our town is holding its first ‘Home Harvest‘. It’s a monthly homegrown fruit, vegetable, and flower exchange that’s been founded recently by a group of dedicated backyard gardeners and local foodies.

A homegrown food exchange is a way of sharing what we have and reducing waste when we grow more than we need. In these times of economic challenge, a homegrown fruit and vegetable exchange is good for the pocketbook and good for the soul.

I’m excited to see how it turns out. It’s really great to see initiatives like this popping up in the local community.

The Perfect Storm: Six Trends Converging on Collapse

I have an uneasy feeling lately. Everywhere I look I see signs that all is not well. Of course, I’ve been seeing those signs for a couple of years, but things seem to be speeding up and now more and more people appear to be noticing. What interesting times we live in.

There are dark clouds gathering on the horizon. They are the clouds of six hugely troubling global trends, climate change being just one of the six. Individually, each of these trends is a potential civilization buster. Collectively, they are converging to form the perfect storm–a storm of such magnitude that it will dwarf anything that mankind has ever seen. If we are unsuccessful in our attempts to calm this storm, without a doubt it will destroy life as we know it on Planet Earth!

There is a popular saying that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.” If we keep doing business in the same way as we have for the past century, each of these six trends will continue their steep rates of decline, collapsing the natural systems that form the foundation for our civilization and the lifeblood of the global economy. Perhaps the current Gulf oil spill is the wake up call that mankind needs to snap us out of our complacency, realize that we are soiling our nest and that continuation of “business as usual” will destroy the world as we know it? Time will tell whether we heed this warning, go back sleep once the oil spill is contained, or simply tire of the endless media coverage, numb ourselves, and set these critical issues to the side.

We already have the technology and the means to turn this dark tide, but we lack the commitment to make the hard choices and sweeping changes that are necessary for shifting the future of our world from its current course of collapse to a new course of sustainability.

The following six trends are converging to form the perfect storm for global destruction, each of which is a potential civilization buster in its own right, if left unchecked:

1. Climate Change

2. Peak Oil

3. Collapse of the World’s Oceans

4. Deforestation

5. The Global Food Crisis

6. Over Population

Read more from Matthew Stein

Photo by: Madeira

Our Garden in Spring

This year we’ve left our cool season garden in longer than we really needed. We wanted to watch everything go to seed; to see our garden’s entire life cycle. I’m glad we did. I’m amazed how beautiful our vegetable plants are at this time of the year. I’m sad just thinking that this is our last spring here. I’m going to miss our garden.

Chives

Onion

Garlic – Beets behind

Leek

Apples

Collards

A Farm for the Future

I thought I was getting better, but alas I was fooled. I’m still down with this illness, which seems to have progressed to a rotten headache and deep lethargy. I can’t find the energy to write any posts so instead, here is a video I found today at the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

A Farm for the Future

This BBC show features Rebecca Hosking returning to her family farm in Devon. After the petrol price shocks of 2008, she confronts the challenge of reducing the farm’s dependence on oil in order to keep it running and viable in a future of increasingly scarce energy. She explores the history of British agriculture and considers what other British farms have done to wean themselves off fossil fuels.

The journey of 100 posts starts with a single line!

Today marks a milestone. 100 posts! I thought I should celebrate with a little look back at my journey since last July, when I started this blog.

This blog was conceived because I had a mind full of thoughts that needed writing down. I’ve found the process cathartic and illuminating at the same time. Usually, as I go about my day I’ll have a swirl of thoughts and emotions running through my head. If I grab onto one of those thoughts and start to write it down, the process of making it legible for others forces me to work through the issue myself. For that moment in time I am focussed on the issue and can give it my undivided attention. I have enjoyed the process and I love the journey this blog has taken me on over the last seven months. 

Along the way, people have come along and read what I have to say. I wasn’t really expecting that and didn’t set out to get an audience, but I’m richer for it. The little blog community I have become part of enriches me in a way I can’t fully articulate. Every day I learn something new, see things in a different way or get inspired to take on new challenges. I thank all of you for that.

The blog started out as a place to share my thoughts on voluntary simplicity, sustainable living and my gardening efforts.

It then morphed into an exploration of the triple crises confronting us: Economy, Energy & Environment. I started my World Changing Wednesday series to help myself better understand the predicaments confronting us in this most historic of times. I will continue writing these types of articles as the mood takes me. A get a lot of visitors to my site who are obviously looking for this type of information. I hope I can help people understand how all these issues are interconnected and how together they will make the next couple of decades very challenging times for us all.

Towards the end of last year I was away a lot with my job and I lost my blogging mojo for a while. I gave myself permission to have a break which was a good thing. The last thing I want is for this blog to become a chore.

Anyway I’m back into the new year and my focus has moved more towards personal preparedness for likely changes in the coming decades. I’m focussing on Self Sufficiency, Independence and Lifestyle Planning. Less talk, more action! I got myself out of debt and we have been considering our options for where best to adapt to a world of less complexity and expensive energy. I’m learning new skills.

Who knows where this blog will go in the future. I haven’t set any boundaries around it, so it’s free to become whatever I need it to be at the time. I’m also keen to provide information that people want to read about. If you can think of any topics I should cover, please feel free to leave me a comment.

Here’s to another 100 posts sometime down the track. I wonder what I’ll be talking about in another six months times?

Links – Week 7, 2010

Photo by: Brandon Warren

Lot’s of gloomy stuff on the interwebs this week. I had quite a few links planned, but I decided to cut back to just a few for my own sanity. Be sure to check out the bloglinks at the bottom of this post. They are all a sure cure for gloominess.

Economy

What is Collapse, Anyway?

“collapse” is actually an extremely common phenomenon in nations and societies – societies rise to a particular level of function, they run into hard limits, often ecological limits, <…> and they fall to a much lower level of functioning. How low is up for grabs, and depends on the kind of response the society makes. At times this level can be extremely low – there’s Easter Island for example. More recently Rwanda and Burundi have collapsed into untenable violence and endless civil war, with horrifyingly bloody consequences for the people, ones that don’t look that far off of Mad Max.

On the other hand, we could look at the most recent society that has collapsed – Iceland. In 2008 and into 2009, Iceland which had become enormously wealthy and prosperous underwent an economic collapse, the effects of which are still playing out. The banking collapse in Iceland was the largest ever suffered, relative to the nation’s size, in economic history.

What happened in Iceland is probably very reassuring for people who are worried about collapse – the situation wasn’t at all pleasant for people, but compared to Rwanda, it was a walk in the park. There was rioting and the government was broadly speaking, changed, some suicides and emigrations. The costs of dealing with the crisis were enormous, there was widespread unemployment, interest rates shot up and imports stalled, there was a foreclosure crisis, many formerly high paying professionals had to go back to the fishing industry which promptly began to see fish stock collapses, imported goods became expensive, and people got a lot poorer. On the other hand, one’s pickled kale was comparatively safe.

So the first thing we can say about collapse is that it is highly variable – you can have economic collapse, you can have an energy supply related collapse, a political collapse, collapse into civil war – and that some collapses are better than others.

Environment

Is There Enough Food Out There For Nine Billion People ?

A threefold challenge now faces the world: Match the rapidly changing demand for food from a larger and more affluent population to its supply; do so in ways that are environmentally and socially sustainable; and ensure that the world’s poorest people are no longer hungry. This challenge requires changes in the way food is produced, stored, processed, distributed, and accessed that are as radical as those that occurred during the 18th- and 19th-century Industrial and Agricultural Revolutions and the 20th-century Green Revolution. Increases in production will have an important part to play, but they will be constrained as never before by the finite resources provided by Earth’s lands, oceans, and atmosphere. …

Recent studies suggest that the world will need 70 to 100% more food by 2050. In this article, major strategies for contributing to the challenge of feeding 9 billion people, including the most disadvantaged, are explored. Particular emphasis is given to sustainability, as well as to the combined role of the natural and social sciences in analyzing and addressing the challenge.

TED 2010: David Cameron Shows How All Electric Bills Should Be

Blogs

Here are a few blogs I love to read and imagine I am living an alternate life. Beautiful photos accompany these beautiful lifestyles. I hope you are as inspired as I am.

A House Called Nut

This blog is about the adventures of three urbanites (one American, one Finn, one dog of no fixed nationality) displaced to the Finnish countryside. In December 2008, we took up residence in Pähkinä (Finnish for “nut”) after a little joke about moving into our friend’s pretty, yellow cottage suddenly became a reality. If years of London living made our previous move to Helsinki seem like walking through a revolving door into a pasture of cows, what will become of this little walk in the woods? Join us as we explore the nature around us, attempt to grow our own vegetables on a steep, rocky hill in a northern climate, compost all our organic waste, go foraging for mushrooms, berries and other wild foods in the Finnish forest, bake pies, and knit our own socks.

FuoriBorgo

Family life at the edge of an ancient rural community near the Mediterranean.

Beauty that Moves

art; book talk; etsy; Handmade; Homeschooling; moments; morning and night; morning, Natural Goodness; simple green frugal; summer unschooling; Sweet Family; Taste; thrifted; Vermont; Yoga

Little Eco Footprints

I’m Tricia. I live on a small urban block in Newcastle (Australia). I once dreamed of living closer to nature; having space to grow food; having a teeny little ecological footprint; and being part of a community. I thought that meant leaving the city, but now I know I can try to live that dream right here. We don’t have Little eco footprints yet – but we’re having fun trying.

Links – Week 6, 2010

Photo by: Brandon Christopher Warren

Here are some of the articles around the internet that I found interesting this week.

Economy

Delusions of Finance: Where We are Headed

<In this presentation I> go back to my post from January 2008 called Peak Oil and the Financial Markets: A Forecast for 2008 and explain why my forecasts had turned out pretty close to correct, while many others widely missed the mark. My financial forecast really has implications for beyond 2008, so I added some more forecasting thoughts as well.

Becoming a Third World Country

<There’s> a very simple way to talk about the scope of the brutal economic contraction now sweeping through American society – a way, furthermore, that might just be able to sidestep both the obsessive belief in progress and the equally obsessive fascination with apocalyptic fantasy that, between them, make up much of what passes for thinking about the future these days. It’s to point out that, over the next decade or so, the United States is going to finish the process of becoming a Third World country.

Energy

The Peak Oil Crisis: Government in Transition

All it takes is a snowstorm or two to remind us how dependent we have become on government at all levels.

Sitting at home waiting for the plows should remind the more perceptive among us that we are no longer in the 18th century where nearly every family, equipped with an ax and a rifle, could provide for its own food, safety, shelter, and general well-being without the need for outside help. Today, when the lights go out, we rely on government to rush us to shelter where we are kept warm, fed, and even entertained until the lights come on again.

It is amazing how many among us still don’t grasp that we are an interdependent whole, needing many specialized skills and institutions to sustain life. In today’s America, only a miniscule percentage has the skills, knowledge, land, and lifestyle to survive without outside help. For most of us, it is the collective, in the form of government, that holds our civilization together – water, sewers, public health, roads, buses, and yes, even snow plows.

It’s Official: The Oil Export Crisis Has Arrived

Given the very modest increases from unconventional domestic production and Canada, the decline of imports from Mexico and Venezuela means the U.S. will be increasingly forced to depend on suppliers farther afield–the very same suppliers that China has been buying into in size. The “collision course with China” that I wrote about in July 2005 has nearly reached the point of impact.

It also means that when oil prices rise again, the pain will be far greater for the U.S. than it is for our top suppliers. Next time, the spear of declining oil exports will puncture a lung.

The oil export crisis has arrived. We just haven’t felt it yet.

Environment

How Do You Get Friends To Care?

Recently I received an email from Nicole with a very interesting question:

How do you come to terms with the fact that so many people in the world don’t seem to want to become educated about how their actions affect their world? For example, I am learning a lot about our food system lately and I really want my friends to become educated about it, too. I feel like if they just KNEW where their food was really coming from, they would make healthier and more environmentally-sound decisions. But I don’t want to see preachy or holier-than-thou. Another example: I have two friends who just don’t recycle. I can’t wrap my head around it. They CAN recycle in their neighborhoods, they just don’t. Again, I want to call them out on it, but I just don’t know how to do it without seeming judgmental – even though I AM!

This is something I think about a lot actually. I think about it when writing this blog, I think about it when I’m doing work for my clients, I think about it when I walk through the streets on my daily walk, … yes, I think about it a lot!

Environmental Implications Of The Food We Throw Away

Food waste is a huge issue in America, especially in light of the growing divide between the profligate rich and the hungry poor. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Loss Project, we throw away more than 25 percent—some 25.9 million tons—of all the food we produce for domestic sale and consumption. A 2004 University of Arizona study pegs the figure at closer to 50 percent, finding that Americans squander some $43 billion annually on wasted food. Lead researcher Timothy Jones reported that on average, U.S. households waste 14 percent of their food purchases. He estimates that a family of four tosses out $590 per year in meat, fruits, vegetables and grain products alone.

Blogs

I big thanks to those who dropped by and left a comment on my blog this week. I really appreciate knowing that there are people out there on the same page as me.

Greening of Gavin

An Ordinary Australian Man Who Has A Green Epiphany Whilst Watching A Documentary, Gets a Hybrid Car, Plants A Large Organic Vegetable Garden, Goes Totally Solar, Lowers Consumption, Feeds Composts Bins and Worms, Harvests Rainwater. All In The Effort To Reduce Our Family’s Carbon Footprint So We Can Start Making A Difference For Our Children & Future Generations To Come.

Eat at Dixiebelles

Make sure the things you do make you happy, keep you healthy and save you money. Be prepared, live frugally, and make the most of everything you have! Show kindness and gratitude to Earth and all it’s creatures!

Down and Out in a Brave New World

Most people should get the joke for at least half of the title of this blog. If you don’t then I won’t spoil it for you. Work that out and you a long way towards understanding me and how I see the world. This blog’s purpose is to let me comment on the things that I see happening in our world. Many of them I feel compelled to write about, if for no other reason than to be able to say that I didn’t sit idly by, fiddling while Rome burns.

Nevyn’s Place

The ramblings and meanerings of a wanna be greenie. nevyn is a character from a book; he is a powerful sorcerer who is trying to right a wrong from a previous life; this is not me; nevyn means no one; this is me.

A Piece of Wood

This blog follows us as we plan our move South to buy our forever house within the next few years. We’re also trying to live a more simple life which is leading to a more greener life, so I am often to be found wittering about that.  We (for one reason or another) also have an ever decreasing amount of debt, so life is focused towards getting rid of that once and for all as quickly as possible to enable us to lead the life we want to.

Crossroads

Here you can read about the challenges in our quest to change from consumers to conservers, about our drive to simplify life in as many ways possible. Our journey is about becoming less reliant upon any one system and more resilient in every way possible. Aspiring not to have more but to be more.

Ultimate Money Blog

We believe in a simple, natural lifestyle.  We strive to not only save money, but reduce our consumption and live a little more green at the same time.

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.