Energy writer to speak on the impact of oil depletion on farming
By Brian Voerding
The world will run out of oil.
Long before that, world oil production will peak, after which dwindling reserves will limit production. This moment, known as “peak oil” is hotly contested; because of the data required to prove it, it won’t be discovered until months or years after it happens.
“We don’t know when these peaks are going to occur, but we need to have the forethought to prepare,” said Kurt Cobb, a freelance writer from Kalamazoo, Mich., who has written and spoken on oil depletion for the past two years.
“What would be nice is if the peak passed and we didn’t notice.”
Some economists and industry watchers have estimated that world peak oil will happen in the next 20 years; some have said it will take much longer, and others have argued it’s already passed. U.S. oil production peaked in 1971.
When supply fails to meet demand, it won’t just be drivers who are hit; oil is involved with nearly every part of life, from manufacturing and pharmaceuticals to the machines that manufacture wind turbines, electric hybrid cars and other devices intended to wean the world off petroleum products. Agriculture is largely dependent on oil, from production of pesticides and fertilizers to fuel costs.
Cobb will speak tonight evening at the Winona County government center on how oil depletion will affect farming. On Saturday, he will discuss the film “End of Suburbia,” on the demand for oil created by suburban development, part of the Frozen River Film Festival.
The way for farmers to sever their oil dependence is to grow organic and sell local, said Cobb, a former Michigan State agriculture professor who sits on the Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance board.
Cobb admits the organic certification process is lengthy and can be intimidating to some farmers. But there are tangible solutions other than an entire farm conversion, which include connecting with local buyers and selling smaller amounts of produce.
There’s the option of community-supported agriculture, a program where farmers take payments from residents and deliver packages of food each week. Or farmers can convert small sections of their land for organic use. Farmers who sell less than $5,000 of produce a year can advertise it as organic without going through the certification process.
The Winona County Economic Development Authority could help; it has planned a local food expo next month to bring together local growers and producers.
“People have to recognize that they have to support agriculture in their own communities,” Cobb said. “If they want to have a food system that will work in a post-oil world, they have to start now.”
The film “End of Suburbia” examines the growth of suburbs in the last 50 years and how associated factors, like longer commutes, have created an increasing demand for oil. Suburban living, enabled by cheap oil, will be threatened by rising prices and falling production, the film argues. Cobb, who wasn’t involved in the film’s production, will host a question-and-answer session after the film.
Cobb said changes to agricultural practices and suburban living, as well a push for increased public transportation and alternative fuel development, are necessary not only to ease threats of peak oil, but to promote a more sustainable way of life.
“If we did all these things, and it turns out the peak is in 2050, would that be a bad thing? I don’t think so,” he said. “We’d be glad we did all those things, because they’re all good on their own merit.”