Avoiding “The Long Emergency” in Food Supply

The Mayas of Mexico and Central America created amazing temples, pyramids and palaces, all constructed by hand.  We don’t know precisely why, but the Mayan civilization suffered a serious blow in the 8th and 9th centuries when drought, disease or overpopulation caused the abandonment of the lowland cities.  The Spanish invasion later finished off the remainder of the Mayan civilization.

They used several calendars but the Mesoamerican 5000-year long count calendar generates some controversy today.  A number of new age mystics have come to the belief that the world ends in 2012 since that calendar also ends.  Mayan scholars, of course, insist that the ancient Mayans meant nothing of the sort.

We can easily dismiss the idea of the world ending, but we might examine why Mayan society ran into trouble, or why the Roman Empire collapsed if we want to understand the serious threats to our present day society.  Reasons suggested for the downfall of Rome vary from overtaxation of agriculture to support a massive military necessary to retain the outer limits of empire, foreign invasions and political instability, a dissolute economy incapable of production, and many more.

Some of those conditions, such as a feeble Canadian agriculture sector, American overexpenditure on military to maintain the empire, exist today in our society.  I might add that we have an unprecedented energy decline coming very shortly on the horizon.

The “banksters” of Wall Street have really sabotaged the world’s financial system, not from intention, but from structural greed.  Who dislikes a bonus?  Previous to the credit crisis we had a diversion of corn supply to ethanol and rise of food prices to the world.  Products like rice also rose in price and countries hoarded supplies.  Now, we have the tightening of trade of agricultural goods between countries, although temporary.  Will the tightening of credit apply to world farmers and affect our available food in 2009?

Security of supply is a matter of extreme concern.  The food supply chain is dependent on cheap and available fuel, and there is probably only three days food in the local supermarkets.  Food travels thousands of kilometers across the world – melons from Mexico, bananas from Ecuador, lettuce from California, oranges from Florida, water from Italy or Fiji and on it goes.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) sees the narrow viewpoint of industrial agriculture, ignoring security of supply or the plight of the small farmer around the world.   Food is not a discretionary product like a video game but we treat our farmers as unimportant elements in an ordinary production process.  It is an article of faith that we will always be able to ship food around the world by air or truck.  Unfortunately, that is not going to be the case in a few years as fuel supplies trend down.

The higher price of food today has many in the Maritimes thinking of growing a garden in their yard.  As well, there are citizens across North America pushing for the right to have some farm animals in their urban garden.  This “chicken in the city” movement is gaining converts.  Locations such as Victoria BC, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore, New York City and many other locations permit chickens.

The rules typically permit 3 or 4 hens, but no roosters and may specify other conditions such as size of coop or distance from residences.  Here in the Maritimes, the city of Moncton bylaws allows rodents, rabbits, Vietnamese potbelly pigs, but only if they are pets.  Unfortunately, no chickens are welcome.

Recently, I had the pleasure to meet a young couple who would like to add chickens to their backyard urban farm.  They look for the eggs that chickens would provide, as they are vegetarians but not vegans.  Being very aware of their ecological footprint, they give me some hope that we can turn around our society.

Writer James Howard Kunstler gave a talk at Mount Allison University this week.  The author of “The Long Emergency” has a vision of our future that is bleak, but entirely possible.  He considers that energy independence and being car-dependent are mutually exclusive.

According to Mr Kunstler “We have to get off of petro-agriculture and grow our food locally, at a smaller scale, with more people working on it and fewer machines. This is an enormous project, which implies change in everything from property allocation to farming methods to new social relations. But if we don’t focus on it right away, a lot of people will end up starving, and rather soon.”

James suggests that we will know if the world wants to survive when it starts to rebuild the train system for freight and passengers.

On the other hand, Shawn Graham is suggesting hundreds of millions of dollars on four lane highways such as route 1.  You might think about the Atlantic Gateway as a boondoggle, socializing the costs to you and privatizing the profits to someone else.

There should be a law to stop the wasting of our money in such a cavalier manner.  Oh wait, there is one! – The voting act.

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One comment

  1. Julian Varty · May 12, 2009

    Food security really must be become a much larger part of public policy, I agree 100%. Especially considering the negative direction farming is headed in NB, according to Statistics Canada we lost around 250 farms between ’01 and ’06. Things have to change. There are some positive signs pointing to the provincial PCs standing up for NB farmers and food security, but party policy is still being discussed. Personally, I really believe that if more of us (especially politicians) knew about peak oil that we would indeed see some action on this front.

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