Monday, October 19, 2009

ARCHIVE: Book Review: Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture

Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture
By Dale Allen Pfeiffer
New Society Press
ISBN 0865715653

125 Pages, Paperback

by Kellia Ramares
[This review was originally published in Online Journal on December 1, 2006]
At just the point when agriculture was running out of unexploited tillable lands, technological breakthroughs in the 1950s and 1960s allowed it to continue increasing production through the use of marginal and depleted lands. This transformation is known as the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution resulted in the industrialization of agriculture. . . . the Green Revolution increased the energy flow to agriculture by an average of 50 times its traditional energy input. . . . In a very real sense, we are eating fossil fuels. --Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, p. 7.
Have you ever considered how much energy it takes to get food from the farm to your table? Or how many miles the food has traveled to reach you?
These are two of the questions raised by Dale Allen Pfeiffer in Eating Fossil Fuels, a ringing indictment of industrial agriculture.
One reason Pfeiffer condemns industrial agriculture as unsustainable is the imminent arrival of Peak Oil, i.e. global peak of oil production, which some people believe is already here. Peak Oil, which Pfeiffer described well in his previous book, The End of the Oil Age, signals the beginning of the decline of the petrochemical sources of modern pesticides, fertilizers and mechanized farming. But, in Eating Fossil Fuels, Pfeiffer goes beyond Peak Oil to condemn industrial agriculture, and its partner in crime, globalization, for soil degradation, water degradation, overpopulation, overconsumption, and the destruction of local agriculture.
Pfeiffer calls for worldwide agrarian reform based on local, organic farming. The book contrasts the experiences of Cuba and North Korea, both of which faced sudden loss of energy supplies as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cuban example raises hope that local organic farming can sustain even urban populations, while North Korea’s emphasis on supplying energy to the military at the expense of agriculture makes one wonder where the United States is headed as the effects of energy depletion loom on the horizon.
This short book contains a valuable 15-page resource guide listing organizations and books providing information on localized agriculture, permaculture, organics, ecovillages, and even places to get heirloom seeds. Though the list is largely made up of organizations in the United States and Canada, there are several non-North American sources. These include Navdanya, an organization founded by Dr. Vandana Shiva, which is dedicated to biodiversity conservation and organic farming in India, The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, which is involved in global networking and the training of environmental activists, and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), which is the worldwide umbrella organization for the organic movement. This extensive resource list is a fine tool for anyone wanting to become an activist in issues such as food security, permaculture, and the development and preservation of localized agriculture. Individuals looking to set up their own gardens and make food choices that are healthier for themselves and the environment can find useful contacts here. Organizations wishing to expand their networks can also benefit from the list.
Eating Fossil Fuels is an excellent short introduction to the environmental and food security crises wrought by industrialized agriculture. Everyone who eats should read it.

Copyleft 2009. Kellia Ramares. Non-commercial distribution with credit highly encouraged.