Thursday, August 31, 2006

Peak Soil

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a peak-oil believer, but not a hard-core one. I’m no peak oil fundamentalist screaming about a return to the dark ages and a massive worldwide famine; I’m more of a peak oil Episcopalian who believes that declining oil supplies and corresponding high prices will eventually do serious damage to our economy. Declining oil fields, increased demand from India and China, and high American dependence on automobiles — I don’t see these three adding up to equal a pleasant future. But an economic downturn and decline in living standards is not the end of the world the fundies fear.

Another thing about peak oil fundamentalists is that they usually fear at least three catastrophes in addition to peak oil. After we freeze and starve to death in our dark unheated homes some winter we’ll still manage to suffer in the ensuing nuclear war, or maybe just become prisoners in one of Halliburton’s secret American concentration camps.

So when I found this article titled Will the End of Oil be the End of Food? which discusses how much the price of petroleum-fertilizers has risen, as well as the cost of gasoline to power tractors and combines and other farm equipment, and eventually food will get so expensive you won’t be able to afford any, I wasn’t surprised to discover another threat to our food supply in the comments section:
the great plains of the American mid-west --- you know, that "bread basket of the world" that produces more grain than any other region of its size? --- here's a little factoid about that "dirt": WHEN THE FIRST SETTLERS CAME INTO THAT REGION, THE TOP SOIL WAS 10 TO 12 FEET DEEP. AFTER 100 YEARS, THE SOIL IS NOW LESS THAN 3 FEET DEEP, AND (despite great effort on the part of modern farmers) STILL SHRINKING.
Uh-oh. That rate of shrinkage leaves us with only 30 years or so before the Midwest becomes a bedrock plain. And the rest of our farmland is permanently destroyed, another commenter points out:
In many areas of the country, our arable soil has been paved over and replaced with shopping malls, housing developments and golf courses. . . .Crops can only grow on fertile soil. Once soil is paved with asphalt, it is forever ruined as viable cropland.

Because no matter how much effort you put into it, you can’t rip up the asphalt and nourish the soil underneath back to viability, I guess.

Yes, I share a belief with a bunch of crackpots. As a libertarian, I ought to be used to that by now.


Anonymous NoStar said...

I've seen enough plants growing up through cracks in asphalt and concrete to know that the soil under the pavement remains fertile.
Think of all that pavement as a capped soil bank for the farmers of the future.

I've read that most of America's top soil came from Canada via glacial migration. If the Global Warming scare-mongers who believe that the warming will create a new ice age (melt water from polar ice lowers ocean temperatures...) then we can expect a fresh load of soil from Canada anytime now.

Not only that, but the advancing glaciers will be tearing the pavement off the road beds while simultaneously delivery our new soil.

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Robb Allen said...

The scariest part of all this is that, as oil peters out, nobody will ever invest in nor discover any new energy sources. While necessity is the mother of invention, it simply won't happen here because....ummm.... it just won't! I assume because all the oil will simply stop showing up all over the world at the exact same time!

I'm keeping several cases of 10W-40 handy, just in case.

Seriously, though. We will not 'run out of oil'. Ever. (a) the same sysytem that put it there in the first place is still happening now and (b) eventually it will be cheaper and more efficient to use other sources for energy, reducing the consumption of oil.

What is often mischaractarized as "Peak Oil" is really "Cheap Oill". Eventually, it won't be cheap and we'll do what humans have done since the dawn of man - adapt.

9:14 AM  
Blogger David Macharelli said...


When that happens I prefer to think of it as crackpots somehow sharing one of my "well thought out and logical" beliefs. I feel better about myself that way.

Yes, I realize that there's no difference.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Jadagul said...

That phenomenon was what kept me from buying into global warming. "These people are statist morons, and they're wrong about everything else; they've got to be wrong here too." I'm trying harder to avoid that trap now.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I actually like that idea, David. Reversing the equation helps.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Brad Warbiany said...

Peak Oil? How about Peak Liberty. Is it possible that the grand American experiment has already crested our peak, and we're on the slow slide back into tyranny?

8:08 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

What about peak rocks? Rocks are all pieces of once-larger rocks. Soon there will only be pebbles.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When scientists figure out a way to fuel our world with the hair from men's backs, butts, noses and ears, all our energy problems will be solved as these resources seem to be unlimited.

Someone needs to tell those scientists to start adapting now. I don't have the faintest clue how they will do it. I will, however, blame them if they fail :)

1:29 PM  

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