Chris Nelder’s Notes on the 2009 ASPO-USA Peak Oil Conference (pdf)
These are merely my notes from the conference. I hope they will be useful to others as an index to the volumes of material that were covered. Any errors or omissions are undoubtedly mine. Please send any comments/corrections to me.
My coverage is no doubt incomplete because I can only type so fast and much of the material went by very quickly. Consider this document an index, and go back to the source presentations to double-check the data. If available, the slide decks are linked into the title of each presentation.
My personal comments are shown in [brackets]. (?) indicates information I wasn’t sure I got right. I have boldfaced selected comments that I thought were important.
Since no one can be in two places at once, I could only cover part of the split sessions that occurred simultaneously. I regret every session that I missed!
At the end of this document there is a key to abbreviations, links to more information and speaker bios, and selected links to others’ coverage of the conference.
Download the pdf (415 kb) here.
A few highlights follow:
Jason Bradford – “Sustainable Farming”
- Talk based on Sustainable Agriculture White Paper.
- Defining sustainable: use resources at or below regeneration rate without degrading them, plus fair distribution within and between generations.
- Ecological economics model
- The state of today’s food system:
- Pros: food is plentiful and cheap
- Cons: depletes non-renewable resources; degrades soil air and water; puts 5 billion pounds of harmful chemicals into environment per year; major GHG emissions; unhealthy & unsafe food; unstable economics; etc.
- [Great slide from New Scientist paper showing 24 “hockey stick” charts]
- We are reaching systemic limits: demand is increasing while stocks and arable land decline. Per capita arable land has essentially halved in the last 50 years worldwide.
- Fossil energy in the U.S. food system: 10.3 quads of energy consumed for 1.4 quads of food energy available. Tractors, artificial fertilizer production, seed production, trucking & refrigeration of food produced, processing & frozen foods, refrigeration, cooking. “The hubris of Wile E. Coyote”
- Feedlot food system is massively polluting. Waste is concentrated, corn & feed imported, etc.
- Food production system produces massive “dead zones” offshore where algae suck the oxygen out of water, create anoxic environment where nothing can live.
- Three crops comprise 71% of U.S. crop acres: corn, soybean and wheat. Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta (all basically chemical companies) dominate the seed industry with patented seeds. We’re setting up a situation where we have very low diversity.
- The food industry (e.g., meat packing) is highly concentrated with the vast majority concentrated into just a couple of companies. Total opposite of historical arrangement of millions of small family farmers.
- Half of U.S. crop subsidies went to corn between 2003 - 2005. 56% of corn went to feed animals, 18% exported, 13% went to make ethanol…
- Just-in-time food delivery system dominates. 1-3 days of supply all up and down the food distribution chain.
- Climate change poses a major challenge to the finely tuned temperature, rainfall, etc. of our highly concentrated food regime.
- Must restore diversity of natural web, use diverse rotation system, cycle through pasture…
- Organic methods can feed the world. Organic has about 30% yield advantage over commercial farming. Organic also has more resilience to stress, less volatility.
- Can we scale the transition to organic to the whole country, to the world? Only 0.5% of cropland is organic in the U.S.; most of the organic food is imported.
- Costs and benefits of conversion to organic: premiums of 50 - 200%, higher value crops, less fertilizer input costs, etc.
- CSA farmers typically earn 2.5x of what conventional farmers make.
- Total U.S. farmland property value: $1.9 trillion. Average family spends 10% of its income on food (probably the lowest cost in history). Only $0.17 per dollar spent gets to the farmer.
- Picturing a sustainable food system:
- Instead of tilling, use no- or low-till methods (rolling, crimping).
- Instead of importing ammonia fertilizers, fix nitrogen using legumes.
- Instead of being forced to buy GMO seeds every year, farms should be allowed to grow & save their own seeds.
- Pest and weed management can be done using natural methods.
Gail Tverberg - "What’s Ahead? Two Scenarios"
followed by notes
Rick Munroe, "Government Plans for Liquid Fuel Emergencies"
followed by notes
and many others...
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