Has Climate Change become the new Religion?

March 25, 2010 · Filed Under news · Comment 

For many people, their opinion on climate change is more a religious type of faith rather than one based on science.   It’s understandable because most of us are not experts and must rely on the work of those who are.

Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists tell us that man made global warming is happening, we are baffled when a few others come up with credible sounding arguments that seem to back the sceptics. Many people prefer to have blind faith in the sceptics arguments because they do not want to give up their fossil fuel enabled standard of living or do not want to contemplate the catastrophe that is waiting if we do not take action.
As non-experts, we need help to understand some of the debates in this complex area of science, and fortunately, no less a body than The Royal Society- as the UKs national academy of science- has produced an overview of the current state of understanding of climate change and responds in easy to understand terms, to eight key arguments that are currently in circulation by setting out where the weight of scientific evidence lies. We feel that this is really helpful to many people and so we show these responses here on Peak Food.
Burning the massive reserves of fossil fuels in a very short time frame will not only alter the climate but will bring our oil and gas dependent farming industry to its’ knees when those finite resources become scarce and expensive due to depletion or to events in the middle east where 60% of remaining oil reserves are. It is the stated ambition of Islamist extremists to establish a Caliphate to rule that entire region and deny “Muslim oil” to the hated infidels. US and western policy is to fight wars to stop that happening but success is not assured.
At some time we will be forced to devise a sustainable way of living, using the abundant solar energy that reaches us each day more effectively, rather than the ancient solar energy stored in oil and gas. The farming industry will, by necessity, have the major role in collecting that energy via the plant leaf.

Can Organic Farming solve Peak Food?

May 27, 2009 · Filed Under news · 1 Comment 

We are probably close to the time when the amount of food that can be grown for each person in the world will peak and then go in to decline as the population continues to grow and the problems of energy, water and land shortages get worse. In addition, global warming will cause extreme weather related crop losses from time to time.

Our modern farming system is now totally reliant on oil and gas for power, nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides and is therefore vulnerable to energy shortages caused by depletion or disruption. Phosphate, potash and other nutrients have to be mined and applied as the natural soil nutrient cycle has also been broken.

Advocates of organic farming believe that it is the only sustainable method of farming, but can it feed the world in the future?

Organic farmers do not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Instead they use animal manure together with crop rotation that usually includes nitrogen fixing legume crops, to build soil fertility. They claim that healthy soils produce healthy crops that are less vulnerable to disease and can thrive without chemical fungicides and insecticides. They use mechanical hoeing, hand weeding and other techniques to control weeds.

As a conventional farmer growing wheat and vegetables, I have gone along with all the latest methods to increase yields and reduce labour as they have become available, but I have the greatest admiration for those farmers who are able to work with nature and produce good food in what they say is a sustainable way. In the future we will have much to learn from these people as we build a sustainable, high yield agriculture.

But can organic farming resolve peak food and feed the world? Sadly, I think not. Unfortunately, the once and for all binge of abundant cheap fossil energy that we conventional farmers have been able to convert to huge amounts of food energy has allowed the world population to go way above what it’s carrying capacity would be without oil and gas.

In organic farming systems, yields are usually much lower and depend on high numbers of livestock to provide manure. Organic farmers usually use tractors, combines and other machinery powered by diesel and the very effective crop covers that protect crops from pests such as carrot fly, cabbage root fly etc are made from oil. Effective weed control in field scale crops is very difficult without weed killers especially in slow growing crops such as onions and carrots.

If we still had a 1930’s population of 2 billion, I think a sustainable organic system with minimal fossil inputs would work well, but to feed the 8 billion expected by 2025 would be impossible.

So, is there any way 8 to 9 billion people can be fed in 15 to 30 years time with dwindling energy, water and land resources?

I believe it is unlikely, but if there is any chance, we need to be making plans now to work out how we can collect more solar energy through plants and use it in a sustainable way.

We will need to use part of the cellulose portion of the crop for our power needs and use low till methods to leave remaining crop residues close to the surface to protect soil from erosion.

We will need to eat less meat so that arable crops can feed humans directly and restrict livestock to land unsuitable for crops. Animals can also be used to convert waste in to meat.

Research should be done to breed improved legume crops such as peas and beans that can provide vegetable protein and at the same time fix nitrogen to improve soil fertility, and we must find ways to return all nutrients to the soil, even by putting human waste through a digester to provide bio-gas and fertilizer.

There is much that can be done to devise a sustainable food system by combining the best principles of organic farming with non damaging, low energy input methods that include some help from inorganic fertilizer and low toxic pesticides. But we need to start now.

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