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The hippies were right all along about happiness

Andrew Oswald, Financial Times via New Economist Blog
Politicians mistakenly believe that economic growth makes a nation happier. “Britain is today experiencing the longest period of sustained economic growth since the year 1701 – and we are ­determined to maintain it,” began Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, in his 2005 Budget speech. Western politicians think this way because they were taught to do so. But today there is much statistical and laboratory ­evidence in favour of a heresy: once a country has filled its larders there is no point in that nation becoming richer.

The hippies, the Greens, the road protesters, the downshifters, the slow-food movement – all are having their quiet revenge. Routinely derided, the ideas of these down-to-earth philosophers are being confirmed by new statistical work by psychologists and economists.

First, surveys show that the indus­trialised nations have not become happier over time. Random samples of UK citizens today report the same degree of psychological well-being and satisfaction with their lives as did their (poorer) parents and grandparents. In the US, happiness has fallen over time. White American females are markedly less happy than were their mothers.
(19 January 2006)
This article was mentioned by George Monbiot in his latest column on a similar theme: How the harmless wanderer in the woods became a mortal enemy (“Wealth itself can be a source of deprivation, when property paranoia makes us hate each other”).

The complete column is available on the Financial Times website for subscribers. Economist Oswald wrote a prescient piece back in 2001: Can the ‘New Economy’ Really Survive Expensive Oil? (PDF).

The end of suburbia
Or the beginning of widespread permaculture?

David Holmgren, Permaculture Magazine
How permaculture design could be critical for planning life after fossil fuels
In the ‘creative descent’ scenario [for the future of energy], which I consider to represent the only truly sustainable future, human society creatively descends the energy demand slope essentially as a ‘mirror image’ of the creative energy ascent that occurred between the onset of the industrial revolution and the present day. The actual sustainable plateau is a long way down from current energy demands, but also a long way ahead in time.

If we begin our journey now, there is time to use our familiarity with continuous change and creative innovation to avoid bringing on ‘Atlantis’.

So, in an energy-descent future, what are the prospects close to home – here where we live in suburbia? Will it be the end of suburbia? What if we can no longer afford to commute to work by car? What if we are dependent on food and energy supplies that are transported long distances at increasing expense? What if the services and functionality of our communities decline further so that there is ever-diminishing support from local councils and police, for example?

There is a real and viable alternative to this seemingly alarming scenario – a retrofit of suburbia – a remodelling of local neighbourhoods and communities for an energy-descent future. The ‘refit manual’ will bring together and integrate features such as…
(Winter 2005 issue)
The UK Permaculture Magazine devotes its winter issue to peak oil analysis and solutions. All the articles except this one by David Holmgren appear only in the hardcopy magazine. For a list of articles, see Permaculture Magazine – current issue.

McKibben on eating local for the winter

Melissa Pasanen, Burlington Free Press (Vermont)
…The traveling oats are a small example of what drew [environmental writer Bill] McKibben to the topic of local food in the first place. He is not a typical “foodie.” He doesn’t obsess over the superior flavor of heirloom beets or trot out the latest recipe he has discovered. The former New Yorker staff writer and Guggenheim and Harvard fellow has made a career of groundbreaking writing about the environment. His acclaimed 1989 book, “The End of Nature,” was an urgent call to re-evaluate human impacts on the natural world, particularly as we approach what is known as “peak oil,” when demand for oil is expected to exceed supply.

“We face very big environmental issues, especially global warming,” McKibben said as he sat in his living room sipping cider, “and the food system we’ve built is example number one of the wastefulness we’ve created. Take the heads of lettuce in most supermarkets. They come from California’s Central Valley. It takes 97 calories of fossil energy to grow and ship one calorie of iceberg lettuce. And all you have is iceberg lettuce in the end. We might as well be shipping baggies of water back and forth across America.”

“Conventional food is marinated in oil,” he continued, referring to petroleum. From the chemicals and pesticides used to grow it, to mechanized processing, to its transportation across the world, “it is a significant reason why we can’t get a handle on global warming.”

McKibben is careful to point out that although organically raised food is in principle a good thing, he prefers locally grown food even if it is not certified organic. As national corporations have entered the organic market, he notes, “the average bite of organic food travels further than the average bite of conventional food.”

But conserving oil is just one reason to buy lettuce from a local farm — or find other crisp salad options during the winter (see recipes.) McKibben has also determined that a key antidote to our increasingly mechanized, globalized, energy-gobbling society is “to figure out how to rebuild and strengthen our local economies.”

Despite our long, cold winter, McKibben says, “Vermont is in a lucky position; it is more possible to be self-sufficient here.” Should we need to feed everyone without imports from beyond the state’s borders, McKibben says, local agriculture experts project that could be accomplished in about one growing season.
(31 January 2006)

Saving small farmers

Marcy Kaptur, The Nation
We all know that small farmers are in crisis. What many Americans don’t realize is just how much worse things are getting. Because of trade policies like NAFTA, the United States will become a net importer of agricultural products in 2006. While agricultural subsidies have risen to record levels, the prices American farmers receive for crops like corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice have fallen 40 percent since 1996. Some farmers have been able to survive temporarily through emergency payments and subsidies from the government; others, like their counterparts in developing countries around the world, are selling off or abandoning their land. The American dream of small farming is dying.

Congress has a chance to address the crisis in 2007, when the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 expires. While recent debate has focused on subsidies, they are just a Band-Aid on the real wound: prices being controlled by the global agricultural giants. Despite being championed as a boon to small farmers, recent trade agreements have benefited the giants, not those who grow the products. Making matters worse, we have seen a steady erosion of domestic programs that used to benefit farmers by insulating them from volatile prices and correcting the inherent tendency to over-produce. The government has allowed those mega-brokers to dictate policies that benefit them–and kill small farms.
(19 January 2006)

Miguel Altieri on industrial agriculture and agroecology

Global Public Media
Miguel Altieri, Professor, Division of Insect Biology at Berkeley University and leader of the Agroecology Project talks to GPM about many different aspects of agriculture and food security: the green revolutions, land reform, biotechnology, agroecology and much more
(September 2004, but just posted on Global Public Media)

Magazine “reap/sow” for young food activists

BLAST, The Food Project
We’re looking to celebrate young people who are revolutionizing the way that food is grown, distributed, and eaten.

BLAST, a national initiative of The Food Project, is starting an online magazine called reap/sow. This magazine will be a forum for creative thinking and expression, both for and by young people working to change the food system.

We will be focusing on young people who are doing innovative work around food. We know that people everywhere are finding creative solutions to problems, and we want to hear about the work that is inspiring to you.

We’re looking to publish the best content we can find. This is a great opportunity for you, or someone you know to get your art, poetry, or writing out to a large audience. We’re planning to have the website up by April, so we would like to get content by the 17th of February.

One of the first articles in the magazine will be a feature on the best young innovators in the movement. We’re hoping that you know someone who you think deserves this recognition. If you do, please nominate them using the form found here(
(31 January 2006)

Bat or badger? It’s the roadkill recipe book

Steven Morris, The Guardian
For most, a squashed hedgehog or flattened badger lying on the side of the road is a tragic sight – for Arthur Boyt it is an opportunity for a free, tasty and nutritious meal. Mr Boyt has spent the last 50 years scraping carcasses from the side of the road and chucking them, together with a few herbs and spices, into his cooking pot.

The retired civil servant has sampled the delights of weasel, rat and cat. His most unusual meal was a greater horseshoe bat, which he reckons is not dissimilar in taste to grey squirrel, if the comparison helps. Fox tends to repeat on him. He has tucked into labrador, nibbled at otter and could not resist trying porcupine when he came across a spiky corpse while on holiday in Canada.

Yesterday Mr Boyt (favourite snack: badger sandwich) announced he is ready to share the secrets of his curious culinary success with a wider audience and is writing a roadkill recipe book.

…Mr Boyt, 66, from north Cornwall, insisted the creatures were not a health threat if properly butchered and cooked. He said: “It’s good meat for free and I know nobody has been messing with it and feeding it with hormones. By writing a book I hope to show people it’s perfectly normal and healthy to eat.”
(31 January 2006)
In our present cheap-food society, it may sound comic, outrageous and “wrong” to eat roadkill. In a future society, when food and energy are expensive, we may look upon our current attitudes as wasteful and immature — consumers in industrial societies throw away about 1/3 of the food they buy. Traditional societies in early periods would also shudder at the waste we take for granted. -BA