Peak People

What caused the global food mess? Notice this sentence from a recent story on rice shortages:

Prices of rice, wheat and corn have skyrocketed in recent months because of rising fuel prices, drought, more demand for food in China and India and other emerging nations, and the trend of using crops for biofuel rather than food.

I’m confident that a trained analyst like fester can manage the variables in much more detail, but for now this will do. Counting down the main causes of food instability we can start with the problems that won’t ever get better.

* First, the price of fuel. We have hit the point where oil stops being an elastic commodity (e.g., production can be upped to meet demand) and switches to a catch-as-catch can resource. Atrios had a post a few days back about how that shift will necessarily make the price of gas go crazy. We won’t see cheap gas again unless the entire planet stops driving or we find a magic spell that turns CO2, water and soot back into light sweet crude. Since modern agriculture has been described as the process by which petroleum is converted into food (fertilizers, harvesting, packaging, transport and most of the other steps depend on hydrocarbons) that can be a real problem.

* Climate doesn’t need to get tremendously warm to cause major problems, weird will do. The major problem here is that food production isn’t the sort of thing that can just chase clement weather wherever it happens to be from year to year – if farmers can’t predict the right crop to grow in a given region year in and year out then a lot less food will come out of the ground. Drought in regions that grow rice, for example, is devastating because cultivating rice demands more water than any other kind of agriculture. CO2 climate warming will gradually shift agriculturally productive regions, but in the much shorter term it will have the equally dangerous effect of making local climate less reliable. Regarding reversibility, even if we stopped emitting CO2 today inertia and positive feedbacks will keep warming the planet for a decade or more. We’re not going to do that, so we might as well treat warming and climate instability as a given.

* More demand for food in China and India. At the same time that global population is growing, the two most populous countries on Earth have starting upgrading from a third world diet. In China’s case that is only the beginning of a potentially titanic shift from a carefully managed reduction in living standards (China invests most of its revenue in foreign currency rather than bread, circuses or infrastructure) to something more appropriate for their GDP. In India it is more of a symptom of the country’s rising prosperity. In the case of neither country would it be very useful to ask them to go back.

* Collapsing fish stocks. The cost-to-benefit ratio of commercial fishing is getting increasingly silly as more ships work harder to chase rapidly decreasing stocks of fish. Many species have already crashed to the point where harvesting just isn’t feasible, and there is ample evidence some overfished ecosystems have radically changed for good. Species near extinction may recover, but a) not for a very long time, and b) not before fuel prices make commercial fishing impractical. Fish farming is as much a shell game as growing meat on land – to get a pound of protein you need to throw in a bucketful of feeder meal.

The good news, such as it is, is that food supply has some elements of elasticity. It doesn’t have many, but the choices do represent option space that will be explored once the ‘life as usual’ path is no longer feasible.

* Meat. How many pounds of grain does it take to make one pound of beef? I don’t know the answer, but the popular consensus of about ten to one sounds right to me. Eventually it won’t make sense to shovel that expensive grain into cows and chickens, and then people will stop eating as much meat. Since people like meat (one could say “demand” it) the shift won’t be total – meat will gradually get more expensive, fewer people will buy it and a little more grain will land in stores instead. Consider the veg option a finite and limited buffer against availability-based price spikes for certain grains.

* Biofuels. We might as well accept that foodstuff-based biofuel is a dead plan walking. However, eventually we will stop making it, food will still be expensive and we won’t be that much better off.

* Population is elastic. People have ways of dealing with resource shortages – they die of starvation and disease, they go to war to take resources from others (and drop their own demand somewhat), and eventually they reach a new stable state. Just ask the Maya!

All told, count me as concerned. We can change our behavior a little to mitigate the implacable trends of fuel and climate, but in the long run I have a hard time seeing how supply keeps up with demand. Maybe good leaderhip may prove up to the challenge. To get there however, we could use someone with a rudimentary understanding of the relevant issues (i.e., not John McCain) and someone who doesn’t respond to critics by building a defensive wall and making an enemies list. Unless Al Gore gains reality-bending superpowers and crowns himself President I think that Obama is the best option that we have.

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120 replies
  1. 1
    Josh E. says:

    Population is elastic. People have ways of dealing with resource shortages – they die of starvation and disease, they go to war to take resources from others (and drop their own demand somewhat), and eventually they reach a new stable state. Just ask the Maya!

    But sometimes, if a population exceeds the carrying capacity of its ecosystem, doesn’t the entire population die off rather than simply declining to a sustainable level? I vaguely recall learning this in HS or college.

  2. 2
    Mary says:

    Wow, Tim. Nice, if scary, summary.

    Some things are out of consumer control, but there are obviously other things we should pay more attention to.I already have a relatively small footprint (dense urban housing, no car, generally frugal habits with gas and electricity), but I also have a freezer full of cheap meat. I’ve been vegetarian before, and I can be vegetarian again, if truly necessary, but I think my little challenge to myself is to see if I can make the meat last the rest of the calendar year. (It’s in vacuum bags, so it could last even until next year).

  3. 3
    Tim F. says:

    But sometimes, if a population exceeds the carrying capacity of its ecosystem, doesn’t the entire population die off rather than simply declining to a sustainable level?

    Great, somebody besides me studied ecology. Yes, population crashes can go far below sustainable levels due to unwise choices at the peak, the inertia of learned behaviors that may not be appropriate for a low-density environment, nuclear-armed belligerents, etc. But I prefer not to go too dark in one post.

  4. 4
    Dave_Violence says:

    Hey, aren’t Americans all a bunch of fat obese slobs who do nothing more than play with their X-boxes all day and drive them big SUVs at night?

    Then: a food shortage would get us all into shape and highhighhigh gas prices would get us better cars – and it would be more expensive to be a couch potato as power companies would charge more and more.

    Everyone plant a victory garden! Everyone get PV panels on your roofs! THE SKY IS FALLING!

  5. 5
    Stooleo says:

    Let’s not forget this option.

    Disclaimer, those of you under 40 might not get it.

  6. 6
    jake says:

    Yep, people were saying encouraging this after the PotUS gave his “break our addiction on foreign oil” SotUA. Encouraging farmers to divert food crops to ethanol (which isn’t cheaper and requires a lot of oil to get to market) was yet another bone-head move. I just don’t think they expected to be proven correct so quickly.

    We won’t see cheap gas again unless the entire planet stops driving or we find a magic spell that turns CO2, water and soot back into light sweet crude or oil companies are allowed to start drilling wherever the hell they please.

    This won’t necessarily give us a drop more oil but it will give your friendly neighborhood oil exec. that feeling of omnipotence that he craves and might encourage him to lop a penny or two off the price of a gallon.

    As far as meat is concerned, it’s already been noted in another thread: That depends on what your definition of meat is.

  7. 7

    Speaking of Hillary:

    Sen. Clinton’s ‘primary v. general’ electability theory makes no sense to me. I don’t understand this argument that if a person loses a primary/caucus in a state, it somehow means that they cannot win that state in the general election. Out of curiosity (and if this has been researched and highlighted before, I apologize), I looked up President Bill Clinton’s primary/caucus tallies from back in 1992. According to Wikipedia (famous last words) President Clinton won 39 primaries/caucuses. Here are the states he lost:

    Arizona
    Colorado
    South Dakota
    Iowa
    Maryland
    Delaware
    Vermont
    New Hampshire
    Massachusettes
    Rhode Island
    Connecticut

    Of those states, he only lost Arizona and South Dakota in the general election. Now there were certainly mitigating factors (local politicians such as Sen. Tsongas and Sen. Harkin won on their home turf in the primaries, and Ross Perot siphoned off a lot of Rep votes in the general), but since the Clinton campaign likes to deal in absolutes, let’s apply the logic absolutely. President Clinton’s own performance in 1992 proves that if someone loses a state’s primary, it doesn’t even come close to guaranteeing that they can’t win that same state in the general election.

  8. 8
    Mary says:

    Heh, Stooleo. The first comment on that YouTube post: “AT least it’s cheaper then RICE”.

  9. 9
    Zifnab says:

    Remember back in the 70s, when Carter was faced with the oil shortage and told America “Stop cranking up the thermostat and put on an extra coat”? Yeah, he got kicked to the curb real quick.

    I think we waste enough raw materials in the US such that a little belt-tightening can go a very long way. People talk about how many tons of food get thrown in the trash every day or how much arable land is wasted on resorts or destroyed by pollution. If we want to survive, we’ll get smart and inventive like we always have. Even the Great Depression didn’t kill the entire country.

    But, over the past 50 years, Americans have proven themselves to be incredibly spoiled. If they can get away with raping this land or that country or the other eco-system for another year of SUVs and Fart-in-a-Can, don’t suspect for a second that they’ll pass on the opportunity.

    I don’t question America’s ability to survive and prosper, but I do question its ability to do so without assuming the title of World’s Biggest Asshole (which, to be fair, China and Russia are rivaling rather hard for at the moment).

  10. 10
    Dreggas says:

    Yeppers. That’s why my rebate check is going for bottled water, canned goods, bullets, and a good rifle.

    Speaking of the rebate, a grocery chain here in so-cal is offering to take your check and in return give you a debit card worth the check + 10% for grocery shopping at their store. So if it’s 600 then add 60 to it.

  11. 11
    Should Know Better says:

    Prices of rice, wheat and corn have skyrocketed in recent months because of rising fuel prices, drought, more demand for food in China and India and other emerging nations, and the trend of using crops for biofuel rather than food.

    Not that it’s wrong exactly, but I do like the implication in the quote that the problem is mostly due to foreigners and environmentalists.

  12. 12
    dbrown says:

    Don’t forget potable water – both the cost of oil and AGW will have a big impact in the world on this critical substance and not having enough of fresh drinking water makes having shortages of either fuel or food look like a minor annoyance. Also, food production tracks water availablity in a one-to-one manner.

  13. 13
    chopper says:

    Meat. How many pounds of grain does it take to make one pound of beef? I don’t know the answer, but the popular consensus of about ten to one sounds right to me. Eventually it won’t make sense to shovel that expensive grain into cows and chickens, and then people will stop eating as much meat. Since people like meat (one could say “demand” it) the shift won’t be total – meat will gradually get more expensive, fewer people will buy it and a little more grain will land in stores instead. Consider the veg option a finite and limited buffer against availability-based price spikes for certain grains.

    grass-fed meat is better for you, and better for the environment. pasture land is an important part of the biosphere and digging it up to grow grain to feed ruminants that should be eating prairie grasses in the first place is idiotic and short-sighted.

    of course, there are too many people in this country to switch to grass-fed meat. we’d need more grassland than we currently have. either way we lose.

  14. 14
    Ninerdave says:

    You’re also leaving out Ethanol subsidies, at least in this country.

  15. 15
    BFR says:

    Yeppers. That’s why my rebate check is going for bottled water, canned goods, bullets, and a good rifle.

    Sweet – just what we need. Heavily armed left-wing wingnuts to go along with the right-wing wingnuts.

    Prices of rice, wheat and corn have skyrocketed in recent months because of rising fuel prices, drought, more demand for food in China and India and other emerging nations, and the trend of using crops for biofuel rather than food.

    Curiously, not mentioned is the declining value of the dollar which is leading (directly and indirectly) to hoarding and panic buying.

  16. 16
    Dreggas says:

    BFR Says:

    Yeppers. That’s why my rebate check is going for bottled water, canned goods, bullets, and a good rifle.

    Sweet – just what we need. Heavily armed left-wing wingnuts to go along with the right-wing wingnuts.

    Hey if the world’s gonna go to shit I’m gonna be prepared damn it.

  17. 17
    The Moar You Know says:

    As I recall, the ten to one figure (pounds of grains to pound of beef) is a bit on the low side.

    What is staggering is the amount of water needed to raise a pound of beef; 5000 gallons of potable water per pound. About another 400 gallons for the processing. And that doesn’t count the water needed to grow the grains!

    Can you say unsustainable? I knew you could!

  18. 18
    EdTheRed says:

    It doesn’t take any grain to make a pound of beef. The fact that we in the U.S. choose to raise and consume grain-fed beef doesn’t make the prospect of raising cattle a future impossibility. Cows are much healthier (and, to my taste buds, tastier) when they are allowed to wander around pastures and eat grass (winter, of course, necessitates the consumption of hay). This has the added bonus of leaving the grain supply for humans, who don’t have the option of eating grass.

    Agribusiness can’t go the way of the dodo bird fast enough.

  19. 19
    BFR says:

    Hey if the world’s gonna go to shit I’m gonna be prepared damn it.

    We’ve spent the last 1500 (or so) years listening to fundies claiming that rapture was upon us and the end is nigh. We really don’t need another set of lunatics joining the choir.

    We’ll know when the end is coming – when a giant fucking asteroid is spotted heading for the earth. In the meantime, it’s just business (war, famine, floods, energy shortages, etc) as usual. Maybe more of it, maybe less of it, but that’s our history.

  20. 20
    meander says:

    There is a lot of land in the U.S. that could be converted to growing food. Think of the massive lawns in corporate America. Why not run some cattle, grow tomatoes and other vegetables, or raise chickens? The idea of an attractive office park should shift from a building surrounded by grass and parking lots to a building surrounded by gardens. And the front yards and backyards of suburban America are another massive untapped resource. During WWII, America’s “victory gardens” created an enormous amount of food.

  21. 21
    The Moar You Know says:

    Dreggas: I, too, will be picking up another hunting rifle. Do you reload? I’m well-stocked on ammo but could see that getting pretty unavailable if the shit hits the fan.

    BFR: Up yours. Unlike Shillary, I really have been shooting since I was a child and am sick and tired of taking crap from my own party about it. Let’s not repeat the mistakes that led to the sweep in ’94, shall we?

  22. 22
    Jonathan Swift says:

    I have a pretty wild idea.

  23. 23
    Josh E. says:

    But I prefer not to go too dark in one post.

    In for a penny, in for a pound! Famine and plague as far as the eye can see!

  24. 24
    Calouste says:

    We might as well accept that foodstuff-based biofuel is a dead plan walking.

    If you’re talking about turning corn into biofuel, you are right. You get about 1 gallon of biofuel for every gallon of fossil fuel you put in. Sugarcane, as has been used in Brazil since the 70s, is far more efficient and the returns are about 8 gallons of biofuel for every gallon of fossil fuel put into the process.

  25. 25
    jerri says:

    Did you know there is only a 3 month supply of rye flour in the USA. That’s first since the 1930’s. Where is the agriculture sect.?

  26. 26
    Punchy says:

    When I heard the price of rice was increasing in California, I thought perhaps Jerry had laced up the spikes again and gave San Fran a call….

  27. 27
    BFR says:

    BFR: Up yours. Unlike Shillary, I really have been shooting since I was a child and am sick and tired of taking crap from my own party about it. Let’s not repeat the mistakes that led to the sweep in ‘94, shall we?

    I don’t give a rats-ass one way or another about hunting for the sake of hunting. I do object to this veiled glee about how prepared someone is to deal with a post-apocalyptic Mad Max hellhole. This survivalist mentality that I’m going to waste anyone who comes within 100 feet of my land – every man for himself. It’s just as anti-social coming from the left as it is from the right.

    Counting down the main causes of food instability we can start with the problems that won’t ever get better.

    Tim, you’re only slightly touching on what’s really a monster cause of food instability – government action (or inaction). You mention ethanol, but there’s also the major problem of civil war (Ethiopia in the ’80s) and outright government corruption (too many examples to cite – there was an article I think in WSJ discussing rice-related corruption in the Phillipines if I’m not mistaken).

    Crop failures are probably less of an issue than they’ve ever been in human history because we have the ability to ship food long distances, but localized hoarding and civil disruption are as big an issue as they’ve always been.

  28. 28
    El Cruzado says:

    Really, I think it all ends up in “don’t live beyond your means”. It’s all stuff you should be doing anyway.

    Meat has historically been a very expensive thing, eaten by the plebes only in special occasions and only eaten often by the nobility. It will probably end up that way again.

    More beans. They have protein and are cheap to produce. And if you don’t like beans try chick peas, lentils etc. The world can survive a few billion more farts a year.

    As for the rest of the foodstuffs, learn what’s produced locally and what can be produced locally and learn to like it. In a few years it will look a lot more tempting at the groceries compared to the products that get trucked through half the country.

    Get a car that does what you need 99% of the time, instead of the little brother of an 18-wheeler that you need the other 1%. Ever heard about rentals? You’ll save money hand over fist NOW, and far more when gas reaches the prices it had in Europe 10 years ago. Don’t let your dick make your car-buying decisions.

    Downsize your house. Make sure it’s well insulated. A well built townhome has utility bills a huge deal lower than a SFH of the same size (your neighbors act as extra insulation). Don’t keep any turf unless you really live in an area with plenty of water (and tell the HOA to fuck themselves if they complain about it). Don’t let your dick make your house-buying decisions.

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s not about saving the world, but rather surviving the bad times coming. And if they’re not as bad as some say, you’ll still be better off, your quality of life will be, honestly, about the same it would have been otherwise, and you can then take a couple extra holidays or something.

  29. 29
    Ned Raggett says:

    Did you know there is only a 3 month supply of rye flour in the USA.

    I suspect that’s more people realizing that rye bread sucks. (Okay, so I’m biased…)

  30. 30
    Ned Raggett says:

    The world can survive a few billion more farts a year.

    I have a feeling there’s a Jay Leno-on-politicians joke in the inadvertant birth here.

  31. 31
    DougJ says:

    All of this is bad news for Democrats…and great news for Republicans.

    What’s some elitist Muslim from Hawaii going to know about food shortages?

  32. 32
    smiley says:

    “AT least it’s cheaper then RICE”

    I know language evolves and all, but is it now acceptable to use “then” in this context rather than “than” (rather then “than”)? I’m seeing this more and more, including here.

  33. 33
    DragonScholar says:

    The one factor that gets missed in these discussions is that in the case of declining food there’s declining health – and the disease that comes with it.

    I’m not sure that Bird Flu is going to be the Next Great Pandemic (as I’ve been hearing about it for years), but I would keep an eye out for the effects of disease if food supplies get tighter. Populations with compromised immune systems are going to be more likely to die of disease – and perhaps spread it to other populations as well.

  34. 34
    Visceral says:

    The tectonic shift will be going back to employing most of the population in low-tech agriculture in some form. Mechanized, fertilized, and irrigated agriculture is well-suited to an unstable climate – we just make our own climate – and if resources were still plentiful, we wouldn’t be in such bad shape.

    No, it’s the end of all the technology that’ll decrease crop yields and force the big changes, climate problems just make it worse. Everyone is going to have to commit a good chunk of time to producing food for themeselves, their families, and their community, since a handful of people with lots of machines can’t do it for us anymore.

    Buy some land in the country (but make sure it won’t turn into a desert on you), rip up your lawn and grow food; fill your balcony and your building’s roof with potted plants; etc. Local and individual solutions like that are going to make up a bigger and bigger chunk of your diet from now on.

    Al Gore with reality-bending superpowers … that was a beautiful image. Thank you.

  35. 35
    Dreggas says:

    BFR Says:

    Hey if the world’s gonna go to shit I’m gonna be prepared damn it.

    We’ve spent the last 1500 (or so) years listening to fundies claiming that rapture was upon us and the end is nigh. We really don’t need another set of lunatics joining the choir.

    We’ll know when the end is coming – when a giant fucking asteroid is spotted heading for the earth. In the meantime, it’s just business (war, famine, floods, energy shortages, etc) as usual. Maybe more of it, maybe less of it, but that’s our history.

    First of all I don’t foresee the rapture, as for the asteroid which one? The one that comes close enough in 2012, or if it misses but shifts course ever so slightly will be in-line to hit us in 2019?

    I am not talking the end of days however if the food supply is going to go to shit and the economy is going to continue tanking just how long do you think it will take before people go apeshit? Or for that matter before stores just run out of food. I can hunt my own quite well and would rather be prepared to do so.

    This isn’t “Mad Max” shit. Is it survivalist? Yep, because I do plan to survive whatever may happen in the not too distant future and don’t count on anyone really trying to save my ass. So yeah, if the world is going to go to shit I’m going to be prepared for it. Do I expect it to be some dooms day scenario? Not necessarily but I’ll be damned if I just sit back and watch and trust the people talking about it on the TeeVee to actually stop it from happening.

  36. 36
    Tim says:

    HA! HA!

    so my metabolism that holds on to every single calorie as long as possible gives me a distinct advantage over you skinny types.

    (sung in a teasing voice)
    I starve la-ast!
    I starve la-ast!
    I starve la-ast!

    But to be serious, yeah, sounds like we’re gonna be eating less meat before long… soylent green anyone?

  37. 37
    Dreggas says:

    Tim Says:

    HA! HA!

    so my metabolism that holds on to every single calorie as long as possible gives me a distinct advantage over you skinny types.

    (sung in a teasing voice)
    I starve la-ast!
    I starve la-ast!
    I starve la-ast!

    But to be serious, yeah, sounds like we’re gonna be eating less meat before long… soylent green anyone?

    Hmmmm your metabolism is slower and you keep more weight on…we’ll just eat you first.

  38. 38
    Andrew says:

    Arcade Fire and Superchunk is people!

    Arcade Fire and Superchunk playing Obama Early Vote Rallies in Greensboro, NC and Carrboro, NC on May 1 & 2
    http://www.mergerecords.com/ne.....202008#372

  39. 39
    Mary says:

    Yeah, if we start massaging him now and giving him lots of beer, we can have Kobe Tim — yum!

  40. 40
    Dreggas says:

    Mary Says:

    Yeah, if we start massaging him now and giving him lots of beer, we can have Kobe Tim—yum!

    bet he can’t outrun us either….

  41. 41

    Not to be a complete Malthus, but the best scenario for our way of life right now is an all-out nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

    Personally, I’d rather change my way of life.
    .

  42. 42

    Did you know there is only a 3 month supply of rye flour in the USA.

    No, there isn’t. It’s down to 27 days.
    .

  43. 43
    Tax Analyst says:

    meander Says:

    There is a lot of land in the U.S. that could be converted to growing food. Think of the massive lawns in corporate America. Why not run some cattle, grow tomatoes and other vegetables, or raise chickens? The idea of an attractive office park should shift from a building surrounded by grass and parking lots to a building surrounded by gardens. And the front yards and backyards of suburban America are another massive untapped resource. During WWII, America’s “victory gardens” created an enormous amount of food.

    I have just one word: Golf courses (Oh shit, there I go again, that’s TWO freaking words).

    I predict they will become a Class War battle zone at some future point. It’s a tough call, most of that land just sits there while doofus’s in ugly pants futilely hack at some little white, dimpled spheroid and wouldn’t the world be a better place without that?

    But then what of Tiger Woods? The man is SO good at it that he even makes golf interesting to watch. That truly boggles the mind.

    Maybe we can just keep a couple dozen courses for Tiger to dismantle and defang and turn the rest into something useful.

    Now a brief comment on the “Survivalist” topic: If things really melt down that badly some fucking rifle isn’t really going to do you any fucking good. If you think it will somehow ensure your survival you’re kidding yourself. In the long run you’d have just as good a chance putting on those goofy golf duds and swinging at people with an 8-iron with the added bonus of replacing all that self-centered couch potato-macho paranoia and delusional Rambo fantasies with something that at worst is a mindless and harmless killer of spare time. We’re in this shit together, dudes. I suppose there’s some possibility popping people you think are after your dwindling essential life-support stuff might keep you around to watch an extra grain of sand drain pointlessly away, but is that really worth all the posturing and chest-beating you need to end up there? Wouldn’t it be better to find people whom might be amenable to determining steps a small but resourceful group might take that would allow them to survive in something resembling a human and humane environment?

  44. 44
    A.Political says:

    The free market will rescue us through supply and demand!!!!

    Just ask McCain and any other idiotic conservative out there. And if that fails war is always an option.

  45. 45
    Tim says:

    Hey look! Over there!

    (runs out of room quickly)

  46. 46
    Dreggas says:

    Now a brief comment on the “Survivalist” topic: If things really melt down that badly some fucking rifle isn’t really going to do you any fucking good. If you think it will somehow ensure your survival you’re kidding yourself. In the long run you’d have just as good a chance putting on those goofy golf duds and swinging at people with an 8-iron with the added bonus of replacing all that self-centered couch potato-macho paranoia and delusional Rambo fantasies with something that at worst is a mindless and harmless killer of spare time. We’re in this shit together, dudes. I suppose there’s some possibility popping people you think are after your dwindling essential life-support stuff might keep you around to watch an extra grain of sand drain pointlessly away, but is that really worth all the posturing and chest-beating you need to end up there? Wouldn’t it be better to find people whom might be amenable to determining steps a small but resourceful group might take that would allow them to survive in something resembling a human and humane environment?

    In case you didn’t get it, The rifle is for hunting and I plan on surviving. While self defense may come up (though I doubt I’d see many people once I am in an area better suited to hunting) it wasn’t the purpose for a rifle. As far as in this together, that won’t last before human beings, being a dichotomy of social but selfish creatures begin to fight over meager resources and look into ways to screw over their fellow man (ie what they do now only, most likely, in a less civil manner).

  47. 47
    NonyNony says:


    I have just one word: Golf courses (Oh shit, there I go again, that’s TWO freaking words).

    I predict they will become a Class War battle zone at some future point.

    Meh. Not too quickly, I think. Here in the midwest the housing bubble might just solve the “where do we get more farmland” question for the short term, though. We’ve spent decades turning our farmland into suburbs and housing subdivisions – now is the time to reverse it.

    With the right re-direction of government priorities and a shift in the industries that get subsidies, it would even be a mostly painless transition…

    Oh crap. I just re-read what I wrote about. Nevermind. We’re screwed. I’m going to go claim my plot on the golf course up the road tonight.

  48. 48
    Dreggas says:

    I predict they will become a Class War battle zone at some future point. It’s a tough call, most of that land just sits there while doofus’s in ugly pants futilely hack at some little white, dimpled spheroid and wouldn’t the world be a better place without that?

    You have a really bad golf game AmIRight?

    seriously though, I agree a golf course is nothing but wasted land.

  49. 49
    Andrew says:

    Now a brief comment on the “Survivalist” topic: If things really melt down that badly some fucking rifle isn’t really going to do you any fucking good. If you think it will somehow ensure your survival you’re kidding yourself. In the long run you’d have just as good a chance putting on those goofy golf duds and swinging at people with an 8-iron with the added bonus of replacing all that self-centered couch potato-macho paranoia and delusional Rambo fantasies with something that at worst is a mindless and harmless killer of spare time.

    I think I’ll stick with a rifle versus being the golf club guy who went down swinging in what was later remembered as the very one sided Battle of the 18th Fairway.

  50. 50
    4tehlulz says:

    Not to be a complete Malthus, but the best scenario for our way of life right now is an all-out nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

    You realize that you just gave the White House an idea….

  51. 51

    You realize that you just gave the White House an idea….

    That’s like giving a monkey a camera. Don’t worry, our doom is safe.
    .

  52. 52
    Dave_Violence says:

    Hey! They make Budweiser out of RICE!

    Where are the armchair quarterback riots???

  53. 53
    Tsulagi says:

    Sweet – just what we need. Heavily armed left-wing wingnuts to go along with the right-wing wingnuts.

    That’s funny. So they’ll be turning in their Birkenstocks for bullets. What could go wrong? I’d guess between them and the crack ones on the loony right like Cheney, tall, skinny, white-haired old Texans might really get nervous.

    Not to worry about the food shortage. The administration has a plan. Brawndo spraying begins immediately. It’s got what plants crave.

  54. 54
    Dave says:

    Buy some land in the country (but make sure it won’t turn into a desert on you), rip up your lawn and grow food; fill your balcony and your building’s roof with potted plants; etc. Local and individual solutions like that are going to make up a bigger and bigger chunk of your diet from now on.

    We’re digging up part of the side yard to start growing vegetables. On the upside, that’s less mowing I have to do.

  55. 55
    MNPundit says:

    Well what happened the last time the planet faced a global crisis? We killed each other out of it.

    I’m sure that will happen again, only this time there will be nukes.

    Perhaps we should order a crash helmet.

    Also there have been numerous things to show that lawns as we known them are grossly inefficient. The problem with growing big food gardens is you have to deal with rabbits, but even worse, with bugs. Lots of them, and I hate bugs.

  56. 56
    Kirk Spencer says:

    grrr, golf courses.

    Water rationing inevitably has an escape clause for “business needs”. So every morning, while I can only water my garden once per three days, I drive by the golf course and see the high-arc sprinklers blazing away…

  57. 57
    Martin says:

    Tim, you’re only slightly touching on what’s really a monster cause of food instability – government action (or inaction). You mention ethanol, but there’s also the major problem of civil war (Ethiopia in the ‘80s) and outright government corruption (too many examples to cite – there was an article I think in WSJ discussing rice-related corruption in the Phillipines if I’m not mistaken).

    Typically when people think of supply/demand models and whatnot they assume some uniformity within the population. We don’t have that. We have people that can, and will, stockpile 10 years of food for their own needs and do that stockpiling in a matter of days.

    That’s why we’re seeing the anecdotal problems in the US now that we are. It’s not that overall demand for rice has gone up, or that supply has gone down, it’s that the perception of supply dropping here has created a temporary, artificial surge in demand by people that are afraid it won’t be there tomorrow. Then you get shortages and there really isn’t any there tomorrow. So the perception becomes reality, more people buy into it and it spirals outward. Now, if we had no way of inserting rationality into the situation (someone of authority educating the public that there is no real crisis, but the supply chain got shocked by an unexpected surge in demand not unlike what happens before a hurricane hits) then it has trouble settling down, but we can do that and Americans in general are actually quite good at listening and making the right decisions. But you are right, government action and inaction are key here.

    But the bigger problem is that there is a great deal of disproportionate control in the society. These are the people that will stress the system for personal gain – either to ensure that their small circle gets service before anyone else or to capitalize on the crisis. The latter is what Enron was all about. The crisis here in CA was very real – even though it was also very limited in impact. The first day it took me 90 minutes to drive 3 miles home from work because every traffic light in the city was out was a real reminder of just how fucked we are if this becomes a regular thing. You can guarantee that there will be people in this country that can exercise control in the supply chain above the consumer that will manipulate it in order to extract the most money out of consumers. They’ll buy up rice or flour or whatever, shove it in warehouses, and trickle it out at 1000% the previous market rate. If half of it rots, they’re still 500% better off than if they didn’t fuck with the market. Again, government action and inaction.

    Much of the economic foundation laid down in the first half of the 20th century centered around providing stability around these key resources. Farmers were encouraged to overproduce and the nation export so that if there was a famine, drought, etc. that the US would have reserves, could cut back on exports, and have enough breathing room to protect Americans. Nobody would ever walk into a store and not find food. That applied to electricity, water, and so on. It’s why the government invested massively in public works – because uncertainty about essentials is cancer to productivity.

    What’s happened is that as we’ve moved toward less regulation, some of the government insurances have fallen away but much of the old system of relying on the free market was based on there being so many players in the market that nobody had the ability to screw with it too much. A century ago, over a quarter of the population was involved in agriculture, today it’s about 1%, and a lot of that is now corporatized and consolidated. There is considerable power to screw with the markets. We see that with oil now where traders can push and shove the price quite a bit by simply tying up the tiny bit of surplus that shows up in the system until the price shoots up. Since there will always be markets that are more dependent on that resource, they can be leveraged to pay far more than regular consumers would. It’s this kind of disproportionate, for-profit control that will kill us in this country. I refuse to use bottled water because it encourages and rewards corporate investment and control of the water supply. Do you think Pepsi will stop bottling water in San Antonio and shipping it to flood-ravaged Iowa just because Texas is in a drought? There are shareholders to consider, profits to be had, you know.

    Meat. How many pounds of grain does it take to make one pound of beef?

    It’s not the grain that’s the real problem. It’s the water. The grain situation really isn’t that bad aside from that, as you noted, the weather is getting weird. PA used to be a huge maple syrup producer 100 years ago. It’s just too warm now. Vermont took over that mantle. It’s now too warm there. Canada is the new winner in that market.

    For grain, Nebraska’s climate is becoming better suited for wheat than for corn now. But the farmers aren’t. There are some changes that we’ll need to adapt to on the climate front, but the water will be the big problem shortly. The Ogallala aquifer which supplies most of the water to the midwest has been depleted at a steady rate. It’s now reached a point that wells in western Kansas are running dry. If we keep running the level of the aquifer down, then we won’t have a reserve to power through drought periods – and with no water there, we take a big food hit – grains and livestock.

    The estimate is that it takes about 40 to 50 times more water to produce a calorie of beef than a calorie of wheat. Rice and corn and most vegetables need more water, but maybe 2-3x what wheat does. That’s mainly because cattle need to eat so much grain to add mass that we ‘waste’ a lot of our grain in the conversion process to meat.

    We saw the water problems in Georgia recently. We have them in CA/NV/AZ all the time. They are developing in the midwest. Climate change will only screw it up more because we’ve developed around where the water shows up – and that’s moving.

    In the case of the US, it’s probably not ever going to be a crisis like we would see elsewhere, but Americans SUCK at adapting to new things and fight it with all they are worth and try to hold out against change as long as possible. The trade-offs we choose to make will be interesting to watch.

  58. 58
    Cyrus says:

    We’ll know when the end is coming – when a giant fucking asteroid is spotted heading for the earth.

    Don’t forget the caldera. And if certain diseases mutate to be resistant to antibiotics, it won’t literally be the end of the world, but it could be as bad as anything else we’re talking about here. Nuclear war still could be the end of the world, or, again, close enough to make no difference.

    If Adrian Veidt declares his candidacy for president, he’s got my vote.

  59. 59
    Punchy says:

    In for a penny, in for a pound! Famine and plague as far as the eye can see!

    These units dont match. Not even close. Can’t we at least get some cliches that pass 5th grade science?

  60. 60
    Andrew says:

    In the case of the US, it’s probably not ever going to be a crisis like we would see elsewhere, but Americans SUCK at adapting to new things and fight it with all they are worth and try to hold out against change as long as possible. The trade-offs we choose to make will be interesting to watch.

    Actually, if the shit really hits the fan with global climate crisis and food shortages, the U.S. (plus our 51st state, Canada) is in perhaps the single best geographic position in the world. The grain belt is huge and secure, we have water reserves from melt in northern Canada, and we have access to the Canadian tar sands which are, while expensive and dirty to extract, potentially huge. Water, land, fuel. So we really could hunker down in fortress North America while the entire world goes to hell.

  61. 61
    The Other Steve says:

    we find a magic spell that turns CO2, water and soot back into light sweet crude.

    It’s called the Fischer-Tropsch process.

    It is how Synthetic oil is made now, today. This was created by Germany and used during WWII to generate a lot of their diesel fuel. The process requires a carbon input, along with hydrogen from water to generate the hydrocarbons. That input is usually coal or natural gas, but scientists are looking into ways to use CO2 molecules as the input.

    This process is also called Coal Gasification. The energy bill from a few years ago set aside a billion or so to build a plant up in northern Minnesota. I’m not sure what the status is now, because environmentalists were screaming and yelling about it.

    BTW, this process goes to another theory called abiogenic petroleum origin, which postulates that oil is not the result of dinosaurs decaying, but is a chemical process taking place within the earth’s core, where carbon, hydrogen are combined together under heat to create what we call oil. This hypothesis actually originated in the 18th century, and has been further researched by Russian scientists in the 20th century.

  62. 62
    Stooleo says:

    During the 70’s, my Dad, sort of out of a response to the energy crisis and sort of out a response to wanting to get the hell out of the city, moved my family to Montana. He wasn’t really on a survivalist gig, more of a self sufficiency gig. During that time we had a huge garden, raised our own chickens and beef and did a lot of deer and duck hunting. We also did a lot of conserving; the heat was never above 62 degrees and if my brothers or I left a light on our allowances were docked. People can learn to use less if they want to (most folks just don’t). I think if one of these houses were around at the time, we would have been living in one.

  63. 63
    Kirk Spencer says:

    TOS, the abiogenic petroleum theory runs into a practical snag. Basically, if it is how the system works, it must work VERY slowly. Evidence? petroleum availability at exhausted wells has not recovered. ANY exhausted wells.

    IMO the jury’s still out about which (or even both) process is “correct”, but if either takes multiple centuries to make sufficient quantities available, then the difference is immaterial for the majority of us.

  64. 64
    Punchy says:

    So we really could hunker down in fortress North America invade Canada and steal all their shit while the entire world goes to hell.

    Just declare that we believe OBL is actually playing goalie for the Habs, and, in Wingnut World, that’s as good a reason as any to go all 82nd Airborn on our upstairs neighbor.

  65. 65
    Dreggas says:

    Cyrus Says:

    Don’t forget the caldera.

    Yeah when Yellowstone goes we’re up shit creek without a paddle in a barbed wire canoe.

  66. 66
    binzinerator says:

    We’ve spent decades turning our farmland into suburbs and housing subdivisions – now is the time to reverse it.

    That subdivision won’t be reversed into farmland, even if it could be sold for that purpose. It’s because simply un-paving the land doesn’t restore it to good farmland. Developers strip the topsoil and sell it, leaving just an inch or so to support the lawns they unroll on it. And they completely remove the topsoil underneath streets and house foundations for structural reasons. Soil compaction and contamination are other problems. In short, it’s not reversible.

  67. 67
    jake says:

    Sweet – just what we need. Heavily armed left-wing wingnuts to go along with the right-wing wingnuts.

    I don’t own a gun so if you could provide any tips on how to bring down a deer (preferably in a humane manner) without a gun, I’m all ears.

  68. 68
    chopper says:

    I don’t own a gun so if you could provide any tips on how to bring down a deer (preferably in a humane manner) without a gun, I’m all ears.

    you could make a blowgun outta bamboo.

  69. 69
    4tehlulz says:

    . So we really could hunker down in fortress North America while the entire world goes to hell.

    With some defective ABMs to defend us against ICBMs! We’re in the clear!

  70. 70
    * says:

    I have just one word: Golf courses (Oh shit, there I go again, that’s TWO freaking words).

    Very timely two words. Last night I downloaded the latest version of Google Earth, and took a view of my parent’s neighborhood. 3 blocks over from their place there are eighteen swaths of green that take up the same amount of space that approx 2,000 families take up in the adjacent neighborhood. Judging by their emerald color, I’d wager these 18 strips also take up similar amounts of resources these 2k families require.

    Now, I know folks pay a premium to $hit over the folks downstream, but damn.

    The fact that the stewards of my community all partake in this environmentally suicidal activity is particularly infuriating.

    Oh, and in my part of the country (NC) we’re facing manditory water restrictions because said stewards think its a brilliant idea to grow exponentially without simultaneously taxing said growth to account for infrastructure needs.

    I particularly like the vehement reactions some rubes are throwing Michael D’s way in the previous thread. He’s just telling it like it is. Unless you’re living on a family farm, you’ve got no room, none, to bitch about the coming crunch if you’ve chosen to live in an exurb. One of the delightful aspects of living in a free society is, if you choose to live in an area that is economically and environmentally unsustainable, well, grow a pair. I’m sure there are regions of the country where families are forced economically to live great distances from where they work.

    Mine is certainly not one of them.

    We have quite a few friends who have chosen to live 45 minutes from anywhere to get the 2 to 10 acres they’ve dreamed of, and the 4,500 square feet for 1/3rd the cost.

    One couple spent exactly one weekend shopping around, found a place that suited them, signed on the dotted line that afternoon. When the ink is dry, THEN they ask about the schools, the commute, etc.

    Oh, and all of these cats are, to a T, self-described ‘libertarians.’

    My friends don’t want impact fees, they don’t want property taxes, they want their own well water to flow, and last but certainly not least: they don’t want to live on the same street (or neighborhood) as a minority family.

    Then these start demanding the perks that those of us with marginally adequate property taxes enjoy. When the libertarian starts sizing up your wallet, that’s when you know the libertarian whine-cycle of entitlement is complete.

  71. 71
    chopper says:

    We’re digging up part of the side yard to start growing vegetables. On the upside, that’s less mowing I have to do.

    lucky bastard. i have to settle for a small plot inna community garden. shoulda got a bigger one, but for some reason (i have no idea why) they’re getting all snatched up this year. hm.

  72. 72

    Tim – the NY Times recently ran articles (1) blaming food speculators, and also (2) saying that some markets are relaxing their resistance to GMO products in the wake of the shortages.

    Could those nice people at Monsanto, etc., be engineering the shortages so as to ram GMO, literally, down people’s throats?

  73. 73
    chopper says:

    It’s called the Fischer-Tropsch process.

    yeah, but it’s far less efficient than sticking a straw in the ground (not that that’s really a bad thing), and it only creates diesel fuel which is kinda a dealbreaker.

  74. 74
    Dreggas says:

    jake Says:

    Sweet – just what we need. Heavily armed left-wing wingnuts to go along with the right-wing wingnuts.

    I don’t own a gun so if you could provide any tips on how to bring down a deer (preferably in a humane manner) without a gun, I’m all ears.

    Short and simple answer, there isn’t one. With bow hunting you need to be able to track a blood trail since nine times out of ten the shot will not kill instantly. There’s always trapping but the end result is a live, pissed off deer that you either have to club or shoot provided they haven’t gnawed their foot off to escape.

  75. 75
    kilo says:

    Punchy Says:

    In for a penny, in for a pound! Famine and plague as far as the eye can see!

    These units dont match. Not even close. Can’t we at least get some cliches that pass 5th grade science?

    I’ll take “English Currency” for $100, Alex.

  76. 76
    ThymeZone says:

    I really don’t see how this “issue” trumps the wearing of flag lapel pins.

  77. 77
    chopper says:

    I’ll take “English Currency” for $100, Alex.

    that’s not what your mother said last night, trebek…

  78. 78
    4tehlulz says:

    I don’t own a gun so if you could provide any tips on how to bring down a deer (preferably in a humane manner) without a gun, I’m all ears.

    Mines

  79. 79
    Dreggas says:

    chopper Says:

    I don’t own a gun so if you could provide any tips on how to bring down a deer (preferably in a humane manner) without a gun, I’m all ears.

    you could make a blowgun outta bamboo.

    Odds are the poison would take too long to work and ruin the meat in the process. Plus there would still be the tracking factor to find the animal.

  80. 80
    Brachiator says:

    Tim F.

    What caused the global food mess? Notice this sentence from a recent story on rice shortages

    This indeed is the question. Right now, I am not really sure that anyone has a handle on exactly why there has been a price surge with respect to both fuel and food prices. What is hard to tease out is the combination of local and world issues.

    A few tidbits in response:

    First, the price of fuel. We have hit the point where oil stops being an elastic commodity (e.g., production can be upped to meet demand) and switches to a catch-as-catch can resource.

    There is no shortage of oil, so this is not a demand problem. Supplies have been cut back and but even the chaos in Iraq does not prevent Iraqi oil from reaching global markets (the problem here is that revenues go to the black market, not to the government or legitimate operators).

    Climate doesn’t need to get tremendously warm to cause major problems, it only has to get weird.

    Agree with you here. I am surprised that there has not been more on the effect of drought on food production in Australia, e.g., this recent NY Times story (A Drought in Australia, a Global Shortage of Rice)

    The Deniliquin mill, the largest rice mill in the Southern Hemisphere, once processed enough grain to meet the needs of 20 million people around the world. But six long years of drought have taken a toll, reducing Australia’s rice crop by 98 percent and leading to the mothballing of the mill last December.

    Ten thousand miles separate the mill’s hushed rows of oversized silos and sheds — beige, gray and now empty — from the riotous streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but a widening global crisis unites them.

    The collapse of Australia’s rice production is one of several factors contributing to a doubling of rice prices in the last three months — increases that have led the world’s largest exporters to restrict exports severely, spurred panicked hoarding in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and set off violent protests in countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

    Drought affects every agricultural industry based here, not just rice — from sheepherding, the other mainstay in this dusty land, to the cultivation of wine grapes, the fastest-growing crop here, with that expansion often coming at the expense of rice.

    The drought’s effect on rice has produced the greatest impact on the rest of the world, so far. It is one factor contributing to skyrocketing prices, and many scientists believe it is among the earliest signs that a warming planet is starting to affect food production.

    This, by the way, dovetails with an October, 2007 NY Times story about drought in the southern US (Drought-Stricken South Facing Tough Choices)

    For the first time in more than 100 years, much of the Southeast has reached the most severe category of drought, climatologists said Monday, creating an emergency so serious that some cities are just months away from running out of water.

    And connecting the dots from food production to economics, there was this little item from April of this year, which indicates that recent investment trends in financial markets, using methods similar to those which contributed to the subprime mess, is distorting previously stable pricing mechanisms (Odd Crop Prices Defy Economics )

    Economists note there should not be two prices for one thing at the same place and time. Could a drugstore sell two identical tubes of toothpaste, and charge 50 cents more for one of them? Of course not.

    But, in effect, exactly that has been happening, repeatedly and mysteriously, in trading that sets prices for corn, soybeans and wheat — three of America’s biggest crops and, lately, popular targets for investors pouring into the volatile commodities market. Economists who have been studying this phenomenon say they are at a loss to explain it.

    Whatever the reason, the price for a bushel of grain set in the derivatives markets has been substantially higher than the simultaneous price in the cash market.

    When that happens, no one can be exactly sure which is the accurate price in these crucial commodity markets, an uncertainty that can influence food prices and production decisions around the world.

    These disparities also raise the question of whether American farmers, who rely almost exclusively on the cash market, are being shortchanged by cash prices that are lower than they should be.

    “We do not have a clear understanding of what is driving these episodic instances,” said Prof. Scott H. Irwin, one of three agricultural economists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who have done extensive research on these price distortions.

    Professor Irwin and his colleagues, Prof. Philip T. Garcia and Prof. Darrel L. Good, first sounded the alarm about these price distortions in late 2006 in a study financed by the Chicago Board of Trade. Their findings drew little attention then, Professor Irwin said, but lately “people have begun to get very seriously interested in why this is happening — because it is a fundamental problem in markets that have generally worked well in the past….”

    Veteran traders and many farmers blame the new arrivals in the commodities markets: hedge funds, pension funds and index funds. These investors and speculators, they complain, are distorting futures prices by pouring in so much money without regard to market fundamentals.

    “The market sends a sell signal, but they don’t sell,” said Kendell W. Keith, president of the National Grain and Feed Association. “So the markets are not behaving the way they otherwise would — and the pricing formula for the industry is a lot fuzzier and a lot less efficient than we’ve ever seen.”

    As an aside, I don’t see that concern over the amount of grain required to make one pound of beef will have a tremendous impact on food prices or food choices. Beef is a relatively small part of world food, and beef production is actually more efficient than vegetarians care to admit. But increasing fuel and fertilizer costs can have an impact, although I am not sure how much it would affect total consumption. Also, since vegetable production can be hit hard by other transportation and production costs, the vegetarian option is not necessarily a more economical move.

    Biofuels. We might as well accept that foodstuff-based biofuel is a dead plan walking.

    Yep. The interesting thing here is that a lot of people pushing biofuels as a panacea simply had no idea how a shift away from traditional agricultural land use could wreak havoc on food markets, and disproportionally affect poorer nations.

  81. 81
    liberal says:

    Eventually it won’t make sense to shovel that expensive grain into cows and chickens, and then people will stop eating as much meat.

    Actually, I think chickens are pretty efficient. Definitely less than 50%, of course, but not nearly as bad as beef.

  82. 82
    chopper says:

    Odds are the poison would take too long to work and ruin the meat in the process. Plus there would still be the tracking factor to find the animal.

    poison, maybe. not an issue if you attach a frying pan to the dart. knocks the beast clean out.

  83. 83
    chopper says:

    Actually, I think chickens are pretty efficient. Definitely less than 50%, of course, but not nearly as bad as beef.

    and chickens will eat a lotta crap. grass, bugs, worms, half-rotten compost, plants, seeds, grain. they love it all.

    cows eat grasses. if you feed them grain you have to deal with stomach infections and e.coli.

  84. 84
    Tim F. says:

    bring down a deer (preferably in a humane manner) without a gun, I’m all ears.

    I thought that’s what brush guards are for.

  85. 85
    Tsulagi says:

    I don’t own a gun so if you could provide any tips on how to bring down a deer (preferably in a humane manner) without a gun, I’m all ears.

    I dunno, working the problem I might have one solution.

    Put out a salt lick and some apples. Bambi, smelling your generosity, comes on over. Unknown to Bambi, though, is that you’ve hollowed out some of the salt lick and have a live 220v line just sticking out the top surface. Bambi takes a lick and lights up. Now that’s humane, and maybe even cooked a little.

  86. 86
    w vincentz says:

    MNpundit,
    You said, “The problem with growing big food gardens is you have to deal with rabbits, but even worse, with bugs. Lots of them, and I hate bugs.”
    I’d like to respond.
    1) I have a rather large organic garden. It is fenced, so, although there are rabbits in the area (and woodchucks too), the wire mesh keeps them out. The only threat to the garden are my neighbor’s stray cats that attempt to use it as their litter box. Since I don’t enjoy cat urine on my lettuce or spinich, my sling shot has done very well at convincing the meow critters to tend to their needs in other environs.
    2) Bugs. It is my experience that insects attack unhealthy plants. Think of it like a wolf going after a crippled caribou, or a lion taking out a limping zebra. The only way that I’ve found to produce healthy plants is to create healthy soil. The way this is done is through composting. I compost all vegetable scraps, yard wastes like leaves, lawn clippings, and weeds.
    In a suburban locale, perhaps the town crew could centralize their collection of plant materials for composting and distribution to the community. I don’t have that available here, so I do my own composting.
    The vegetables I grow are not treated with pesticides (poison) as I really don’t have insect problems. The soil is complete with the nourishment that the plants need.
    Oh, I should mention that the taste of fresh organically grown vegetables is quite a bit better than the produce in your local supermarket.

  87. 87
    Keith says:

    Fish farming is as much a shell game as growing meat on land – to get a pound of protein you need to throw in a bucketful of feeder meal.

    Not necessarily. Lots of fish can feed off algae, and in fact, the U of Virgin Islands has a combination aquaponics/tilapia farm that’s been going quite well: the plants grow with water fertilized by fish waste, and the fish feed off algae that grows around the plants. Nice little ecosystem, although I’m not sure how well it could crank up to a global scale.

  88. 88
    Dreggas says:

    chopper Says:

    Odds are the poison would take too long to work and ruin the meat in the process. Plus there would still be the tracking factor to find the animal.

    poison, maybe. not an issue if you attach a frying pan to the dart. knocks the beast clean out.

    what is the average velocity of a pan laden dart?

  89. 89
    Dreggas says:

    Keith Says:

    Fish farming is as much a shell game as growing meat on land – to get a pound of protein you need to throw in a bucketful of feeder meal.

    Not necessarily. Lots of fish can feed off algae, and in fact, the U of Virgin Islands has a combination aquaponics/tilapia farm that’s been going quite well: the plants grow with water fertilized by fish waste, and the fish feed off algae that grows around the plants. Nice little ecosystem, although I’m not sure how well it could crank up to a global scale.

    The chinese had a pretty ingenious system where they had plants that attracted silk worms. From the silk worms they obviously extracted silk, but below the plants they would have a pond, in those ponds they’d keep carp or other fish. The fish fed on the silk worms and silk worm droppings and were in turn caught and used as food.

  90. 90
    jake says:

    what is the average velocity of a pan laden dart?

    Is it an African or European pan laden dart?

  91. 91
    w vincentz says:

    Kieth,
    The people at Rodale (Organic Gardening) did some experiments with tilapia fish farming during the 70’s. I think it was fairly efficient. They used geodesic domes to cover the pools.
    Also, I remember some experiments that used mirror carp, talapia and ducks in a mixed system that worked well.
    On another topic, small animals like rabbits (I like New Zealands) are very efficient at converting alfalfa hay into delicious protien in about eight weeks. Two does and a buck will provide many nice meals. Also, free range chickens (eight pullets of dual purpose like Rhode Island Reds) will provide you with lots of eggs and meat.
    We’ve also raised our own pork (3 piglets provide for our needs) and sheep, two ewes will provide lambs and wool.
    Just don’t name the critters and think of them as pets.

  92. 92
    chopper says:

    aquaponics is awesome. its simple enough that you can set it up yourself if you want, there are plenty of plans and parts. raise fish, grow crops, save water and plant/fish food.

  93. 93
    chopper says:

    african or european tart pan?

  94. 94

    Well, at least we haven’t reached the point in the discussion where we get into the efficiencies of getting protein from insects. I mean, besides the inadvertent eating bugs while riding a motorcycle.

  95. 95
    CBD says:

    Bullets are worth more then the Rifle thats shoots them. Don’t bother buying one. Just trade for one later with the bullets you bought instead.

  96. 96
    vwcat says:

    The food shortage thing scares me. I am guess some of it is a bubble as well being created in the commodities to sub for the collapsed housing bubble. Manipulation is most likely involved in some of this as well.

  97. 97

    Feed to meat ratios:

    Beef = 8:1
    Chicken = 2:1
    Farmed tilapia = 1.6:1 (most efficient of commonly-available animal flesh.

    But as many others pointed out, it’s the water that’s the killer in the equation.

    And grain is a problem for beef, since it requires antibiotics to keep them healthy–another reason, if you must eat beef, to go grass-fed.

  98. 98
    HyperIon says:

    Dreggas, I thought you moved to Phoenix. But that doesn’t seem to square with your gardening and hunting plans. What gives?

    I visited my parents in Tampa for a week in Feb. I got to looking at their water bill: per person usage is 5 times mine. It must be due to watering the lawn. They don’t have a dishwasher, the house has only one toilet/bath, they do maybe tow loads of laundry a week. I was shocked and appalled. My usage is about 55 gals per person per month. Theirs was more than 700 gals per month for two people. Jeez. I hate lawns…just let ’em go brown in the summer. If I were an eco-terrorist, my first target would be a golf course.

  99. 99
    PanAmerican says:

    Primary factor is printing money to pay for a war.

    Another contributing factor: dry bulk shipping is maxed out and capacity is not expected to catch up with demand until 2010-ish. China Cosco Holding Co., owner of the world’s largest dry-bulk fleet, on Tuesday announced 2007 profits up by 152 percent.

    They’ll drag it out until November then implode it on the head of the next administration.

  100. 100
    Soylent Green says:

    The rifle is for hunting and I plan on surviving. While self defense may come up (though I doubt I’d see many people once I am in an area better suited to hunting) it wasn’t the purpose for a rifle.

    If the supermarket’s supply of shrink-wrapped animal protein goes away, and those with the means start harvesting the wild critters en masse, those wild populations are not going to last very long. They simply aren’t what they used to be. Our wildlife management agencies and laws came into being a century ago because market hunting of wild animals was wiping them out. Ever hear of the passenger pigeon? There were as many as five billion of them (estimates vary) in mile-long flocks that darkened our skies. But we hunted them to extinction to put food on urban tables. The bison was almost wiped out and the elk seriously depleted, then controls on hunting brought them back. Today we have a lot of deer (their natural predator the wolf still mostly MIA) but if they start getting bagged to replace our sirloins, I’d wager they won’t be around more than a year or two. Many other species of edible wildlife that used to be abundant in North America carry on in much reduced numbers, their habitat largely erased by clearing and development, and what remains of it compromised by fragmentation. Think you’ll be pulling fat trout from the nearest stream? They won’t last either.

    The hook and bullet crowd might eat better than the rest of us for awhile, but ultimately if we don’t work together to find sustainable new ways to produce food, we will all go together when we go.

    Thanks for all the free publicity for my handle in this thread.

  101. 101
    Martin says:

    I don’t own a gun so if you could provide any tips on how to bring down a deer (preferably in a humane manner) without a gun, I’m all ears.

    Barry White and some Courvoisier?

  102. 102
    Martin says:

    Feed to meat ratios:
    Beef = 8:1
    Chicken = 2:1
    Farmed tilapia = 1.6:1 (most efficient of commonly-available animal flesh.

    Are those ratios mass or calories?

  103. 103
    TenguPhule says:

    Well, at least we haven’t reached the point in the discussion where we get into the efficiencies of getting protein from insects.

    You rang?

    Grasshoppers, the new pork.

  104. 104
    TenguPhule says:

    For what we feed a cow to get a pound of beef, we could get 10 pounds of caterpillars instead.

  105. 105

    Excellent, Tim.

    Thank you.

    For those of us on Cape Cod and the Gulf of Maine, restoring our native fish stocks is the work of a lifetime, but we owe to our children to get them back to health. These fish are our home. Without cod, haddock, swordfish, Atlantic salmon, squeteague and fluke we are nothing but shitty, trailer park losers and the ocean out front is a desert.

  106. 106
    carsick says:

    Soylent Green is people!

  107. 107
    chopper says:

    If the supermarket’s supply of shrink-wrapped animal protein goes away, and those with the means start harvesting the wild critters en masse, those wild populations are not going to last very long.

    depends on how quickly the situation devolves. if its slow, then yeah wild meat stocks will drop and pretty soon it’ll be gone. in a shit-hits-the-fan scenario it isn’t like that nearly as much.

  108. 108

    […] I recall that the most common way prices can be driven up (or maintained) is through scarcity – increasing demand or cutting supply.  Since production and demand seem rather constant, what other explanations are there?  Barry Ritholtz at Big Picture casts a suspicious eye towards the Federal Reserve.  Tim F. at Ballon Juice opines as well.  Angry Bear argues too-low interest rates versus demand outstripping supply. Share This Close […]

  109. 109
    Dreggas says:

    HyperIon Says:

    Dreggas, I thought you moved to Phoenix. But that doesn’t seem to square with your gardening and hunting plans. What gives?

    I ended up staying here in California. Figure if shit does start hitting the fan I’ll head north, or back to the north east where game is plentiful.

  110. 110
    chopper says:

    or back to the north east where game is plentiful.

    …and the growing season is shorter.

  111. 111
    Dreggas says:

    chopper Says:

    or back to the north east where game is plentiful.

    …and the growing season is shorter.

    shorter yes, but the climate allows for cold enough winters to freeze food stores plus the canning aparatus that my family there has as well as the smokers and other items necessary for preserving meat.

  112. 112
    chopper says:

    shorter yes, but the climate allows for cold enough winters to freeze food stores plus the canning aparatus that my family there has as well as the smokers and other items necessary for preserving meat.

    it can. root cellars work especially pretty well in the winter, though our winters here have been kinda goofy. warm then cold then warm then cold etc etc. personally it isn’t that hard to grow intensively even through the winter, you just have to 1) know what you’re doing and 2) not be fickle. ‘oh no, not squash again’ sorta shit.

    preserving food, of course, works anywhere. i’m gonna be canning and preserving a shit-ton of stuff from the garden plot this year. my wife used to think i was a nut for canning or freezing all these excess tomatoes and squash and eggplant and all that shit (makin’ pickles by the ton this year), but given all the economic craziness on the horizon she now thinks i’m sane again.

  113. 113
    Dreggas says:

    chopper Says:

    shorter yes, but the climate allows for cold enough winters to freeze food stores plus the canning aparatus that my family there has as well as the smokers and other items necessary for preserving meat.

    it can. root cellars work especially pretty well in the winter, though our winters here have been kinda goofy. warm then cold then warm then cold etc etc. personally it isn’t that hard to grow intensively even through the winter, you just have to 1) know what you’re doing and 2) not be fickle. ‘oh no, not squash again’ sorta shit.

    preserving food, of course, works anywhere. i’m gonna be canning and preserving a shit-ton of stuff from the garden plot this year. my wife used to think i was a nut for canning or freezing all these excess tomatoes and squash and eggplant and all that shit (makin’ pickles by the ton this year), but given all the economic craziness on the horizon she now thinks i’m sane again.

    My family has a long history of growing gardens and going in on the work and spoils. We’d have our own plus a huge one on my grandparents property that we would all help plant, maintain and harvest. Come harvest/fall we’d be picking apples from the apple trees there and making a ton of apple sauce, making pickles of all varieties as well as dill green beans. We’d be canning tomatoes and freezing green beans by the pound as well as other vegetables. In August we’d strap gallon size buckets to our belts and head back into the woods to some old log cuts and harvest wild black berries by the gallon bucket load to freeze for pies/dumplings as well as making some into jams and jellies along with other kinds of fruit jellies and jams.

    I actually miss that sort of thing being out here in california.

  114. 114
    chopper says:

    yeah i used to go sneak out onto wild areas with my pop and pick berries to make jam. we also had a huge garden in the back, apple and pear trees, berry bushes, tons of shit.

    now i live in the city and have a small plot in a community garden. oh well.

  115. 115
    Dreggas says:

    I was actually looking at getting one of those hanging tomato plant rigs. Where the tomatoes basically grow in a hanging planter and are upside down.

  116. 116
    Randy Paul says:

    We might as well accept that foodstuff-based biofuel is a dead plan walking. However, eventually we will stop making it, food will still be expensive and we won’t be that much better off.

    Sugarcane based ethanol is a success in Brazil and has been for years.

  117. 117
    chopper says:

    I was actually looking at getting one of those hanging tomato plant rigs. Where the tomatoes basically grow in a hanging planter and are upside down.

    eh, the ones you buy don’t have a big enough container for anything more than smaller determinate varieties.

    you can make your own hanging planter from a 5 gallon bucket for better determinates, or larger containers like rubbermaids for indeterminates (though you might want to brace around the bottom to keep it from bowing too much).

    all in all it isn’t that much better than a regular container right-side-up.

  118. 118
    Evinfuilt says:

    Great, somebody besides me studied ecology. Yes, population crashes can go far below sustainable levels due to unwise choices at the peak, the inertia of learned behaviors that may not be appropriate for a low-density environment, nuclear-armed belligerents, etc. But I prefer not to go too dark in one post.

    We’re like the Deer in Yellowstone, our population has gone unchecked and made ecological disasters in area’s far removed.

    But if we’re lucky, a simple correction like in Yellowstone will happen. If not… I don’t like the if not.

    But the most probable correction method is disease. Bacteria & Viruses are our predators. Food shortages lead people to eating more of the same, and when that goes bad, a lot more people are effected. I guess I’m saying Soylent Green won’t be the answer ;)

  119. 119
    Evinfuilt says:

    Sugarcane based ethanol is a success in Brazil and has been for years.

    I don’t think its been a success like we need.

    Positive
    Energy Independence for One Nation
    Energy Positive Extraction Method (unlike Corn based)

    Negative
    Much like the ranching, a lot of highly desired Rain Forest is being converted to keep up with demand. Sugar Cane plants are no where as efficient a carbon sink as an Untouched Rainforest.

    No form of Ethanol is a cure. Cellulose (think switch-grass) based (using bacteria to break down the cellulose) has the highest energy output. Yet it still requires gigantic swaths of land to meet the energy needs, and then it needs a huge industry of truckers/rail to just move the cellulose to the plant for breakdown.

    The answer to our energy problem has so many steps, so many parts, I have a lot of doubt that it will be reached. A combination of wind, solar, tidal and nuclear. Along with better conservation and waste management. That’s where we START.

  120. 120
    Evinfuilt says:

    That subdivision won’t be reversed into farmland, even if it could be sold for that purpose. It’s because simply un-paving the land doesn’t restore it to good farmland. Developers strip the topsoil and sell it, leaving just an inch or so to support the lawns they unroll on it. And they completely remove the topsoil underneath streets and house foundations for structural reasons. Soil compaction and contamination are other problems. In short, it’s not reversible.

    Well for sub-divisions like mine… In Galveston county they’d have to do a lot of work to make it farm land.

    As it is, it WAS swampland, but they used “fill” (ie trash) and raised it up 12′ and build a huge development. I don’t think they could have ever turned it into farm or ranch land, its main problem now is the water and where it goes (well, it goes back up the Pearland and floods them.)

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