html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Wooo-hooo!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


My comment on How the World Works got a little star! I have been graded and validated! You can't know how my perpetual student's soul craves that. (On second thought, I suspect everyone who reads here knows that feeling well.) One day I will write a post good enough to be linked on How the World Works*, and then I will be happy forever.

*Or one funny enough to get linked by Defective Yeti.

In the comments where some people got stars and some people didn't, I saw this by futhark:
3. Probably 5 out of 6 people alive in the world today are here because of the bounty we have enjoyed due to using petroleum as a resource to plow, plant, fertilize, irrigated, cultivate, harvest, process, and distribute food. In the days when agriculture depended on real "horse power", a third of the acreage under cultivation was devoted to raising grain and fodder for the horses. When the oil bounty is exhausted, a substantial portion of the world's population will of necessity expire.

That is the unsourced-by-me rule of thumb I've heard as well. A third of the grain you raise with animal power goes to your ox. I knew that cheap energy was a substitute for human labor and I knew that cheap water is a substitute for careful management. But this was a reminder that cheap energy is also a substitute for animals and land.

I didn't agree with this comment by IaintBacchus:
I'd be more concerned about whole metro areas, LA and Phoenix come to mind, that are too large and situated too far from any source of agriculture to feed in a low energy culture.

I think L.A. could provide a good chunk of its own food if it had to. It was an agricultural region in my lifetime; I remember the orange and walnut groves. Even in a low energy culture, if sustenance were on the line, there's a lot L.A. could do. They have a year-round growing season, good soils, aquifers in the San Fernando Valley and available labor. Some of those laborers were peasants recently enough that they still know how to grow food (it would be fun to watch their skills suddenly become valuable). With greywater systems in houses (low energy costs), cisterns (low energy costs), wastewater treatment plants, imported water and solar power, I think L.A. could grow just about everything but major grains. If you switched out lawn for garden everywhere and people re-learned how to do manual labor, Los Angeles could substanially feed itself.

Remember, in food production, cheap gas is a substitute for labor. If you have reserves of labor (on the couch perhaps, watching television) close to your food production, you can do without cheap gas. People would have to be willing and knowledgeable, and I fully recognize that most don't think of themselves as gardeners or growers. But I think if gas got radically expensive, AngeleƱos would decide to grow their much of their own food before they abandon the region.

I assume they would get major grains by freight or container shipping.
Not much meat in that diet.
I think this is true for the major valleys and L.A. Basin. In an expensive energy scenario, the circumference deserts will be abandoned when air conditioning, fire protection costs, importing water and commutes get too expensive.
When I say "grow pretty much everything" in L.A., I really mean it. They can even grow the bananas I eschew out of fanatic self-righteousness. I have heard, though, that they may be losing their apricot crops for lack of winter cold. That brought a sheen of tears to my eyes, because I can describe the three apricot trees we had in our back yard in elaborate detail. The middle one was the sweetest.
I did not cry one single tear for news that an oleander blight is going to take out all the oleanders in California. Good. Neutral-looking poisonous non-native plants. I never liked them. It'll change the look of California when they don't line the median of our freeways, but I won't miss them.
Of course, if gas becomes radically expensive, food production will be a minor problem for Los Angeles compared to transportation costs. But this is a water and ag blog with a bike fetish, not a transportation blog.)


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