WHAT WILL WE EAT AS THE OIL RUNS OUT?
Feasta held a major international conference on June 23rd, 24th & 25th, 2005, at the Faculty of Agri-Food and the Environment, University College Dublin, Ireland.
The world's food supply has become heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Environmental degradation, water shortages, soil erosion, climate change, globalisation and corporate control all pose serious threats to our food supply and further increase the consumption of finite oil and gas reserves. Now, however, oil is becoming scarce and its output is expected to decline. This conference explored the nature of the threats to world food security, examined our global food supply systems, evaluated the possible solutions to the problems that we face, and sought to answer a crucial question:
How can the world's population be fed without the extensive use of fossil fuels in the production, processing and distribution of food?
Many of the proceedings of the conference are available below in a multimedia format that combines the video recording of the speaker synched with the visual presentations. These media files are in a QuickTime 7. If you have difficulty viewing the linked files below, you may need to download the latest software which is available for free for both MacOSX and Windows.
1. Food Under Threat
2. Examining our Food Supply Systems
3a. Technology Based Solutions
3b. Knowledge Based Solutions
3c. Infrastructure Based Solutions
4. Precedents and Possibilities
5. Feeding the World / Moving Forward
Presentation Summaries and Speaker Profiles
Richard Douthwaite explores the critical relationship between food security and energy scarcity. Since the 1800s and especially since the Green Revolution of the mid-1900s, we have become almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels to feed the world's rapidly growing population. By examining food exports, land availability and urbanisation, Douthwaite explains the devastating reality humans will face if they continue living an oil-dependent society. Douthwaite sets out the challenge of the conference: how do we change our agricultural, economic and social systems in order to undo the damage caused by the Green Revolution and to drastically limit our dependence on fossil fuel to provide our food.
Richard Douthwaite is a writer, journalist, speaker, and economist. His books include The Growth Illusion, Short Circuit and The Ecology of Money . He is a founder member of Feasta and is currently working on a proposal to resolve the three global crises of high oil prices, climate change and international debt.
Richard Heinberg - Peak Oil and the Global Food Supply
Richard Heinberg analyses the threats to the quality, quantity and sustainability of food production in our energy-scarce world. Man-made innovations and advances have pushed the earth's natural energy limits to feed larger and larger populations. Since the early 1900s the Haber-Bosch process has been used to tap fossil fuels to synthesise nitrogen and in the mid-1990s The Green Revolution spurred chemical developments, such as pesticides, which increased crop yields. While these innovations sustained the growing population, Heinberg explains that technology can only go so far in ensuring food supply long-term. Oil production is peaking, causing increased cost of operating machinery, producing fertilisers and transporting food. Heinberg argues that we must change our food system to avoid an "Agricultural Armageddon." Citing Cuba's recent energy crisis which prompted a transition from an industrial to an organic-based agriculture, Heinberg shows that moving away from fossil fuels is possible with shrewd and creative policy changes that consider not only food production, but also population control.
Richard Heinberg is a journalist, educator, editor, lecturer, and musician. He is the author of numerous books including The Party's Over: Energy Resources and the Fate of Industrial Societies and Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World, and he edits MuseLetter, an award winning monthly newsletter.
Mae-Wan Ho discusses the impact of global warming on food production while explaining creative, sustainable alternatives that benefit the environment, the economy and mankind. Current agriculture systems waste energy and emit dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which in turn are likely to decrease crop yields. Ho contends that if we are to continue using the dominant model for structuring economic and agricultural life, we will not only perpetuate global warming, but we will also strip ourselves and the world's species of vital resources. However, if we are to employ a sustainable growth model we can minimize external input and waste while maximizing production and biodiversity. Calling for structural changes, Ho discusses a food system - known as "the Dream Farm" - based on environmentally benign processes which do not rely on fertilizers, pesticides or fossil fuels but instead productively recycle farm waste as an aid to sustain crops and livestock and fuel production.
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho is the Co-founder and Director of the Institute of Science in Society and the editor of Science in Society quarterly. She is a geneticist, a pioneer of the physics of organisms and is the author of The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of Organisms and Living With the Fluid Genome.
Helena Norberg-Hodge - Globalisation and Loss of Democratic Control
As social and environmental crises surface around the world, Helena Norberg-Hodge discusses the need for people to look at the bigger picture surrounding these issues, which range from global warming to terrorism, in order to move toward a more sustainable, peaceful existence. She advocates the reassessment of societal systems in both developed and developing countries in regards to energy, consumerism, urbanisation and the centralisation of food, employment, trade and media. Identifying a lack of accurate information as "the biggest threat to democracy", Norberg-Hodge discusses the broadly-accepted idea by governments that economic growth is the key priority. In contrast, she advocates the localisation of food and energy systems to combat the exorbitant costs of transporting products and resources, while allowing communities to prosper economically and culturally, independent of monopolies.
Helena Norberg-Hodge is a leading analyst of the impact of the global economy on cultures around the world. She is founder and director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture. She is the author of numerous works, including Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. She is a co-founder of the International Forum on Globalisation and the Global Eco-village Network, and is a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, or "Alternative Nobel Prize".
Dan Keech presents data from the UK to illustrate the hidden environmental damage that can be attributed to a typical meal. He briefly identifies the difference in energy use for organic and conventional food production, various modes of transport, typical travel distance, air pollution, carbon emissions, and waste. Keech pays particular attention to the increasing distance that our food travels and explains how our food systems encourage the movement of food in ways that allow us to avoid responsibility for the energy used and carbon emissions produced. He provides a general overview of the extent to which carbon emissions can be reduced by buying local, unprocessed, organic food.
Dan Keech works with Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, as the Sustainable Food Chains Officer, working on local food infrastructure, public sector food and Food Links UK. He has worked for Common Ground, as first their Flora Britannica Field Officer and subsequently as Community Orchards Officer. He is co-author of the Common Ground Book of Orchards. Dan has also worked for Watling Chase Community Forest, the Countryside Agency and the former London Ecology Unit.
Colin Sage - Effecting a Paradigm Shift in Food Policy
Colin Sage reviews the challenges posed by Big Science and bureaucratic governance in the transition from a Productionist food paradigm through a Life Sciences Integrated paradigm to a Sustainable Healthy Ecological food paradigm. He describes how the decline of the current hyper-expansionist production processes can be encouraged through the development of diverse agroecological livelihoods and an increase in fair trading relationships. Sage outlines ways in which we can create a new vision for a sustainable, health-enhancing, ecological form of food governance, and he believes that we should push food further up the agenda within the current public debates about energy, climate and health.
Dr. Colin Sage is Senior Lecturer in Environmental Geography at University College Cork. He has considerable experience of field research in farming systems, rural livelihoods and food security in countries of the South. More recently he has been conducting research on alternative food networks and the environmental consequences of our contemporary food system. He is currently writing a book on food and environment.
David Holmgren - Holistic approaches to food production during energy
David Holmgren explores the nature of Permaculture within the context of an energy descent world where future generations will be forced to rely on progressively less energy and fewer material resources to provide their needs. He approaches these issues from an in-depth understanding of the global issues, and from a very grounded understanding of the practicalities of producing food and living a low energy lifestyle based on Permaculture principles. He outlines some of the key strategies for food security from a Permaculture perspective including: garden and urban agriculture; uses of prime arable land; uses of parsotal and woodland; food marketing; public policies. He also outlines some key "hazards and red herrings" that we must be aware of in developing sustainable food systems.
David Holmgren is the co-originator (with Bill
Mollison) of the permaculture concept following the publication of Permaculture
One in 1978. Since then he has written several more books, developed three
properties using permaculture principles, conducted workshops and courses in
Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Japan. David presents permaculture ideas
through practical projects and teaches, by personal example, that a
sustainable lifestyle is a realistic, attractive and powerful alternative to
dependent consumerism. David's latest book Permaculture: Principles and
Pathways Beyond Sustainability explores the philosophical and conceptual
foundations for sustainability.
Lori Stahlbrand - Growing local food systems: The North American Experience with Eco-labels
Lori Stahlbrand provides a survey of the North American experience of using eco-labels, including the international organic label which seeks to ensure ecologically sound farming practices, labels that seek to preserve the habitat of endangered species and labels that seek to ensure the economic and social livelihood of local communities. She also discusses her own initiative of developing an eco-label with the purpose of fostering local sustainable food systems by certifying local farmers and processors and linking them with local institutional purchasers.
Lori Stahlbrand is president of Local Flavour Plus which is a non-profit organisation based in Toronto, Canada. She has been a food policy consultant and was a journalist and broadcaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She is co-author of Real Food For A Change and is currently pursuing a PhD focusing on strategies for developing local, sustainable food systems.
Micheline Sheehy Skeffington presents a very personal view of how people in Cuba have adapted to a the drastic drop in available energy. Cuba is the primary example of a society that has already dealt with many of the issues facing the rest of the world. She gives a broad overview of how the society has changed as she experienced it over several visits to the country. She outlines how national policy has changed to adapt to the low energy context. She also talks about a number of projects where people have developed innovative approaches to low energy food production including: The Fruit Tree Project at the National Botanic Gardens, community food education projects and urban agricultural systems.
Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington is a Lecturer at the Botany Department, NUI Galway. Her research includes work on sustainable agricultural systems in the west of Ireland and she spent a year in Indonesia working on rattan ecology with a view to its sustainable use and also on the 'home gardens' of Sumatra. Her recent visits to Cuba have drawn her enthusiasm for a very resilient and self-sufficient people. She worked on a voluntary basis in the National Botanic Gardens in Havana on the fruit tree project in 2001.
Wayne Roberts - Acting Locally: Setting the Global Municipal Agenda for Oil-free Food
Wayne Roberts discusses the changes municipalities can make, within the context of peak oil, to implement food security at the local level, while promoting popular education, public health and community control. Based on his experiences in Toronto, he outlines a series of policy and practical recommendations for all municipalities including appointing a chief risk officer to oversee emergency meal planing, setting up institutions of deliberative democracy, implementing a rights-based food charter and establishing public food terminals. He argues that we can fundamentally solve many of the problems associated with energy descent through the full development of existing, abundant, unused capacity, including citizen power, "cosmetically challenged" food, household and municipal wastes and vacant spaces for urban agriculture.
Wayne Roberts coordinates the Toronto Food Policy Council, and oversees the implementation of Toronto's Food Charter and Food and Hunger Action Plan. He is co-author of Get A Life!, a manual on green economics and Real Food For A Change. Wayne is on the Board of Community Food Security Coalition, on the Steering Committee of Food Secure Canada and is regularly invited to speak across North America on strategies that combine food security, community empowerment, environmental improvement, job creation and attitude.
John Feehan presents the historical context within Ireland that has led to our current crisis in farming, a situation which provides a very poor starting point as we attempt to meet the challenges of the future. He describes how the dominant view of farming, with its singular objective of wealth creation through production, will need to be replaced by a paradigm that sees farming as three equal aspects of production, the environment and community. We will need new generations of committed farmers, from within the declining farming communities of Ireland or from abroad, who are highly educated in the very best productive, environmentally sound and socially supportive practices, and who are in turn valued and supported by the community.
John Feehan is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Environmental Resource Management, Faculty of Agri-Food and the Environment, UCD. He is the author of Farming in Ireland: History, Heritage and Environment which explores the last 6,000 years of Irish farming, and how farming has shaped Ireland's natural and cultural development. John's interests include the management systems that sustain biodiversity, Irish environmental history and paleobotany and the development of environmental resources for rural tourism.