Animal Rights and Human Rights and Life and Vegetarianism11 Sep 2009 06:26 pm

Today is 9/11/2009, and we all remember what happened eight years ago. My heart goes out to all of those who lost friends and family on that day. It was an event that shook us to our core, and I hope we never forget that more than 3,000 people lost their lives.

Not surprisingly, this day brings much somber reflection. As it winds down it occurs to me that that a couple of other things are also weighing on my mind, and I think deserve mention.

The first is that today — like every other day of the year — about 25,000 people will die worldwide from causes related to hunger. The reasons for this are multiple, including hard-to-solve political and societal causes, but in part because the wealthy of the world (you and I) are feeding much of the world’s grain to non-human animals (raising them for meat) and to our cars (ethanol). The events of 9/11 were a horrible tragedy, but we should not forget that hunger is causing many horrible tragedies every day of the year.

The second is that today — like every other day of the year — we in the US will kill over 2,500,000 animals (most of them to eat). That’s nearly 20,000 animals per second. The numbers are so huge that they are hard to fathom. The amount of suffering involved is numbing.

Let us not forget the events of 9/11 or the people we lost. But let us also not lose sight of the fact that there are even larger horrors going on every day, and ones that we can personally do something to help solve tomorrow.

Family Life and Peak Oil and Self Sufficiency21 Aug 2009 02:26 pm

Potato harvest

Many people in today’s society (myself included) are astoundingly disconnected with — and naive about — food and its production.

I’m not talking here about the nastiness of our overly-manufactured foods, or our inhumane and unsustainable practices around raising animals for food (topics for another time).

I’m thinking about a couple of more fundamental issues: how much land you really need to support yourself and your family, and how fragile our modern food chain is.

I’ve talked before about how amazingly cheap and easy it is in our society to buy your day’s worth of calories. This is directly attributable to the fact that we still have relatively abundant cheap energy in the form of oil. But that easy life is going to be pulled out from under our feet over the next few decades.

One of the most eye-opening things about gardening is that you begin to appreciate how much time, energy, and resources (land, water, nutrients, etc.) are required to feed a person. For example, our greatly-expanded garden this year gives us roughly 800 square feet of planting area. Yet I am surprised how many people assume that we can basically feed our family from what we grow there. Ahh, were it so simple! It is a nice garden, to be sure, but the reality is that it only makes a small contribution to our diet (less than 2% now, but hopefully more once our soil is better and we become more proficient growers).

Just how much land do you need to feed a person in a sustainable way? It depends on a lot of things, obviously, but roughly speaking you’ll need about 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of planting area to supply all the food (year round) for one person.1 That assumes a vegan diet — if you start adding animal products (milk, eggs, meat) to that diet, the land requirement goes up pretty quickly. It also assumes that you really know how to garden well (I’m in my second year of serious gardening, and I’m sure I’ll still be learning plenty 5 years from now). And you will need to store a good bit of food for the portion of the year when the garden isn’t producing so much.

When you combine that reality with the things that we are doing now and will be seeing in the near future, it can get kinda scary.

As oil becomes increasingly more expensive and difficult to extract from the ground, the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ is going to crumble (relying as it does on cheap fertilizer, pesticides, and fuel, all of which are derived from petroleum). We are depleting topsoil on our commercial farmland at an alarming rate (something that has caused many societies to collapse). We are (literally) flushing key agricultural inputs (like phosphorus) down the toilet. Our fishing practices are on the verge of sending ocean ecosystems into collapse. In our car-induced madness we are starting to use biofuels, which (in the current corn-to-ethanol model) means wealthy people taking food away from the poor to use in our cars. In the slightly longer term, climate change (in combination with scarce fuel for transportation and habitation needs) is likely to make large areas of the planet uninhabitable by humans.2

I’m not looking forward to the likely near-term scenario when a spot shortage of oil over several weeks results in supermarket shelves emptied of all food. I’m trying to do something about it, but as we slowly grow and store more of our own food, I realize what a challenge and commitment it is. I am struck by the thought that pretty soon we will realize how remarkably easy we had it.

1. Those figures are based on discussions in two of the gardening books I trust most:

2. More good reading material on all of this:

Biking and Energy Conservation / Renewable Resources and Peak Oil21 Aug 2009 09:39 am


Today marks the second anniversary of my biking-to-work adventure. Still enjoying it! I’m especially appreciating the summer riding; the winter, with all those layers and all that cold, gets to be a bit of a drag.

Meanwhile I’m looking forward to getting the bike commuter tax credit (AOL is still working out details of how they are implementing the legislation).

My old bike is still going strong, although I’ve gone through several chains, freewheels, and wheels. The last flat I had was over a year ago. About 5 months ago I moved to Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires — not the lightest, but more important to me is avoiding flats.

My old ’92 Accord, on the other hand, is showing its age and may not be with us much longer (it logs ~3500 miles / yr taking kids to soccer practice, running weekend errands, etc.). Which would ruin my plan to have this car be the last internal combustion vehicle I own :-/

Life and Peak Oil12 Aug 2009 11:44 pm

A little less than a year ago I wrote about how the imminent energy descent will likely mean the end (over the next couple of decades) of our high-tech tools and toys (especially anything that uses a microprocessor or other sophisticated solid state electronics). That post was triggered by this excellent paper by Alice Friedemann.

Here are some more recent articles that deal with the same topic:
* The monster footprint of digital technology, by Kris De Decker.
* The End of the Information Age, by John Michael Greer.
* Will the Internet Still Be Here in Tough Times?, by Sharon Astyk (which draws heavily from the two articles above).

As Sharon’s post and the resulting comments discuss, two of the major adaptations we will face are losing easy access to a world’s worth of readily searchable information, and learning to live and interact solely with those physically close to us (instead of the like-minded communities we find online).

Computers have been a regular part of my life for nearly 30 years, and the Internet for half that time. It is hard for me to imagine living without them, but that is exactly what we will eventually have to do. It does help to remember that quite a few people who came before us seemed to manageĀ  ;-)

Family Life and Self Sufficiency12 Aug 2009 07:41 am


New gardening pics.

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