The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY
Nelson, B.C. Canada
October 26, 2006
Title: Food as Fuel, Fuel as Food
Producer/Host: Jon Steinman
Transcript: Pat Yama
Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly program produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. My name's Jon Steinman. Each week on this program we learn more about our food by taking a closer look at the impacts our food choices have on ourselves, our communities and the planet.
Weekly topics covered on Deconstructing Dinner very often lead to the importance of local food systems, and today's topic presents perhaps the most vivid scenario of why such systems are and will possibly be so important.
As is often said, we, as Canadians and North Americans, eat oil. That is, our food systems are so reliant on the need for fossil fuels, that we are, in effect, eating oil. "Eating Oil," was actually the title of a book which was published in 1978 following the first oil crisis in 1973.
An excellent article by Norman Church highlights the many food-based uses of both oil and gas. They are both used as raw materials and energy in the manufacturing of fertilizers and pesticides. They are used as cheap and readily available energy for planting, irrigation, feeding and harvesting, processing, distribution and packaging. Fossil fuels are essential in the construction and the repair of equipment and infrastructure needed to facilitate this industry, this industry of food. This includes farm machinery, processing facilities, storage, ships, trucks and roads. Food processors rely on the just-in-time delivery of fresh or refrigerated food, and on the production and delivery of food additives, including vitamins and minerals, emulsifiers, preservatives, and colouring agents. They rely on the production and delivery of boxes, metal cans, printed paper labels, plastic trays, cellophane for microwave/convenience foods, glass jars, plastic and metal lids with sealing compounds, all of which requires fuel. And then of course there is the daily, just-in-time shipment of food to grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, schools, and at the end of it all the need to drive to the grocery store and purchase that food.
And today's topic is a very timely one for those here in Nelson, as this first broadcast is taking place during Fossil Fuel Free week here in our community. And while those around the city make attempts to not use their automobiles or perhaps are turning down the thermostat, let's not forget, that if we were to genuinely be fossil fuel free, we would, for the most part, have to stop eating.
And so as the oil crisis of the 1970s awoke Canadians to the risks of our reliance on fossil fuels, we are yet again, in a time where such a scenario is increasingly being proven to be upon us yet again. And one of the organizations at the forefront of raising awareness of this issue, is the Vancouver-based Post Carbon Institute, whose founder and director is Julian Darley. Julian spoke to a Vancouver audience in February of 2006, and today's broadcast will feature segments from this speech, a speech which is courtesy of the Vancouver-based Necessary Voices Society.
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To better introduce today's topic, perhaps it is first best to pose a question, one that asks the following, "that if our leaders here in Canada and in North America were presented with expert forecasts that our civilization is now facing an energy crisis (that is, a scenario where our resources to produce energy are at a great risk), would, our leaders, tell us the public, about this?
Or, on the other hand, would our leaders lead us into war in Iraq, where one of the largest oil deposits in the world resides. Would they try to overthrow the Venezuelan government, another oil rich country? Would they develop close relations with Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer on the planet? Would they develop a barrier free trading system between Mexico, the United States and Canada, three of the largest oil-producing nations? Or, would Premier Gordon Campbell announce that B.C. will, for the first time, start producing energy from coal, historically the most polluting form of energy generation.
Such a question can also be re-directed to the mainstream media. For one, 100% of all daily print media in Vancouver is currently controlled by one company. How easily would information pertaining to the coming of an energy crisis reach the general public if this media company, CanWest Global, chose to turn a blind eye? Independent media on the other hand has been following this story for quite some time, and independent organizations like the Post Carbon Institute are providing much of the necessary research that we, as the independent media, can now bring to you. Like many similar organizations around the world the Post Carbon Institute uses overwhelming data that points to the increasing need to reapproach our reliance on fossil fuels. This Institute was formed to assist communities in the effort to, what they call, "Relocalize and adapt to an energy constrained world."
As Julian Darley highlights during his speech, food, is perhaps the greatest illustration of how energy and fossil-fuel dependent our culture has become.
But first here's Julian Darley, speaking on the concept of Peak Oil, and does so, in a Canadian context.
Julian Darley: I've just come from a very interesting meeting of BALLE which is the Business Association for Local Living Economies. One of the nice things about the meeting is that people didn't really question the idea of peak oil. It was just mentioned and oh yes, it's happening now, what are we going to do about it. And that's very pleasing and encouraging was we've gone from it's a lot of nonsense and it's just a theory in the words of the White House and other analysts of that sort to being, yes, it's here which I think is true. I think it is here. Canada's in a curious position. For the rest of the world peak oil does look like it's happening. But Canada is still an enormous exporter of oil and gas and therefore, one still has to make the case of why should one bother in Canada to even think about this since Canada is still such a vast exporter of oil and gas.
Jon Steinman: As may come as a surprise to Canadians, Canada is the #1 exporter of oil and gas to the United States, a position that is followed by Mexico. To better illustrate how important Canada's resources are to the viability of our American neighbours, the U.S. is the largest consumer of oil in the world. In fact, using 2004 statistics, the United States consumes roughly 20.5 million barrels of oil a day, and they are followed by China, who with a population over 4 times that of the U.S. only consumes 6.5 million barrels a day. These figures certainly suggest the vulnerable position that the world's most powerful nation has placed themselves into. A position, that as a result of free trade agreements, places Canadians, at the very same risk. And this will be elaborated later on today's broadcast. But first, Julian Darley explains that while on a global scale we are at the peak of energy production, being in such a peak position is not as positive as it sounds.
Julian Darley: Without energy, we're dead. Now, that's rather a grim way to begin but I'm afraid it's the simple truth. Without energy, no living organism does anything at all. It just lies there, nothing happens. And without big energy, by which I mean fossil fuel energy, coal, oil, gas, and also nuclear energy and big hydro as well, without big energy I think we can be pretty sure that the industrial way of life is over. So, we're not without big energy today, we're at the peak. By definition when you're at the peak, in this case of high oil production, you've never had so much. So, it's not running out tomorrow and indeed it won't run out as in none at all for a long time. But it has to be stressed that the decline of big energy availability which will be signaled by oil is going to be very serious because we don't just need a steady vast supply we need an increasing vast supply. So to go into an energy decline particularly an oil decline is going to be a very serious matter.
Jon Steinman: Using this term "Big Energy," Julian looks at the current state of one of these resources - oil, and forecasts its future potential as an energy resource.
Julian Darley: We have to remember that before you can get it out of the ground, extract it, produce it, you actually have to find the stuff. Now this may be mysterious to people who have been trained in economics because they think if the price just goes high enough it will magically appear, but it won't. In vast tracts of the Canadian Shield, where you may diamonds if you're lucky, you will find no oil. There's also shield in Saudi Arabia where you'll find no oil. It's rather strange. It's unlike gold or uranium in sea water which is dispersed throughout the oceans. Oil is either there or it's not.
A little bit of history which I'll step through as quickly as I can because some of you may already know it, I hope all of you already know it but we just need to remind ourselves of a couple of things and then we'll step into the more specific areas of B.C. which I can pretty well guarantee you won't have seen what I'm going to show you with British Columbia.
This is the famous case, the one that we know best of U.S. Lower 48. As you can see as I've pointed out in the logic we have to find it and we right up to a peak of discovery and falls away dramatically. The peak was in 1930 and production climbed to a peak in 1970 and fell away. And as I hope as many of you know Marion King Hubbert correctly predicted this peak of around 1970 in 1956 and was roundly laughed at for many years. So we have to remember that you're not always very popular when you predict the peak and of course it's the decline that's really the concern. If you predict these things you're not going to be terribly popular.
From the famous petroleum geologist Colin Campbell he thinks that given his extraordinary research which he's been doing for decades along with other colleagues, he's predicting a peak of around 2010. He's just put it slightly later. He was thinking 2007 until very recently. There may be geopolitical events which will prefigure this possible 2010 and it may well have already happened or it may be about to happen, we're any time about between 2005 and 2007 - it's going to be very hard to tell where the exact peak is. In some ways, the most important thing is when demand starts to dramatically peel away from the available supply.
Jon Steinman: Yet another resource that provides most Canadians with heat and many with the means to cook food, is natural gas. And while natural gas is seen as a relatively clean fuel, much of Canada's natural gas resource is actually used to extract oil - a relatively dirty fuel. In this next clip, Julian Darley highlights the current state of natural gas supplies, and I will note, that while the slides that accompany this presentation are not essential to this radio broadcast, they will be available on the Deconstructing Dinner website.
Julian Darley: This is really very critical to understand this if you haven't seen it before. The most important thing to understand is that natural gas is very hard to transport and therefore you tend to be limited in your supply of where you can get it from. And therefore you either want it in your backyard if you insist on using it or else it needs to come by expensive pipeline. Shipping it across the oceans can be done but it's very expensive and has a lot of complications as the world is really starting to discover. So, that's why knowing how much natural gas you've got in North America is really important.
So what we see here is a discovery peak of around about 1960. This blue line of discovery has been shifted just so that it makes it a little easier to see how the production line is following it and it's more or less is following it. And you can see the discovery about 20 or 30 years started to go into a freefall and here we are in terms of extraction of natural gas for North America - this includes Mexico and you can see it has started to go into decline. It will not go down this fast but it will certainly not stay in plateau for very long. It will start the decline and then the question becomes how quickly will it go into decline. Will it be a gentle decline of 1 or 2% or will it be a very bumpy decline with an underlying decline rate of many percentage points. We don't know. We are in unchartered territory and we're going to find it very uncomfortable because when gas supply goes into shortage. As I've said, it's very difficult to bring more gas in quickly. And it's worth pointing out that the rest of the world, an industrialized world with the exception of Norway and Australia is also in trouble for natural gas.
This is important to understand - North America is in gas decline. Canada is in gas decline and we can show it. When you find yourself with declining natural gas supplies the tendency is to think, well when we went into oil decline, there's countries that are in oil decline like the U.S. for instance, they can just turn to the world and start importing it. Well as I've said it's very difficult to import natural gas across the oceans but you can do it. But if you're going to do that you better be sure of where you're going to get the gas from. Here we see natural gas discovery peaking in about 1970 and you can see how dramatically it's fallen away. There's a little blip increase here but it's fallen away in this millennium dramatically so that now, for the first time we are using more gas than we're finding. We went through that point with oil about 25 years ago and it's a dreadful sign. It means it's really time to get off this stuff.
Jon Steinman: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly radio program produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. Today's topic is that of fossil fuels, which as is increasingly the case, provides the foundation for the growing, processing, production, distribution, storing, and preparation of food. As was referred to earlier in the program, we are, essentially, eating oil, and that's not the vegetable-based forms.
A reminder that should you miss any of today's broadcast or want to learn more about this topic, you can visit the Deconstructing Dinner website at cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
We are currently listening to clips from a presentation by Julian Darley of the Vancouver-based Post Carbon Institute where he presented the current state of our energy resources. As will be presented later on today's broadcast, he also suggests some innovative solutions, all of which surround the concept of relocalizing.
But as Julian most recently referred to the energy crisis of the 1970's, one which was triggered by the Arab-Israeli war, it is an event that we, now more than 25 years later, can look to as perhaps a forecast to the way Canadians would react to such an energy crisis. In the eyes of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the crisis called for action in the form of a National Energy Program (the NEP) and that was in 1980. The program was created to promote oil self-sufficiency for Canada. It was designed to maintain the oil supply, promote Canadian ownership of the energy industry, promote alternative energy sources, and promote lower prices. The program was ultimately designed to decrease the price of oil below that of world prices, and the Western provinces were of course not very happy. One individual who was also very unhappy was Canada's current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Harper who grew up in Toronto and whose father worked for Imperial Oil, was, at the time of the National Energy Program, living in Alberta after having also worked in the oil industry. It was Trudeau's National Energy Program that helped push Harper further into politics, with Harper having even accused Trudeau's program as one that implemented "unabashed socialism." So in other words, Harper does not believe that people of Canada, should intervene with the free-market in times of crisis. And here we are now, at a time when Harper's Conservative government attempts to address the global issue of climate change. And as he does, can Canadians be convinced that Harper really believes that the people of Canada deserve the right to intervene into the free market in this time of crisis.
Coal, is yet another resource from which energy can be produced. While no supplies of B.C.'s coal are currently being burned for energy here in the province, that is soon to change, as Premier Gordon Campbell has recently awarded contracts for B.C.'s first two coal-fired power plants in Princeton and Tumbler Ridge. And while those outside of the province may think this is a joke and such an antique form of energy generation is being implemented, it is important to note this - that the single largest corporate donor to the British Columbia's Liberal Party is Teck Cominco, the provinces largest miner of coal.
But oil, natural gas and coal are only a few resources that produce energy, there are of course, wind, hydro, solar and even nuclear means by which energy can be produced. And Julian Darley highlights the current state and potential of these technologies.
Julian Darley: Now electricity much of which is produced by big hydro including the Peace area - Peace River and Columbia. Now this is interesting that many of you may think that British Columbia is an exporter of electricity but in point of fact it's not. According to these numbers it's an importer of about 5% but my industry contacts tell me it's actually more like 11%. So there's certain interesting massaging going on with these numbers. Anyway it's an accepted industry fact that B.C. is an electricity importer. There aren't many wind turbines in British Columbia at all and as far as I know there aren't any big ones. Somebody can tell me if I'm wrong about that but so far I don't think there are any big ones - I say a one megawatt wind turbine. Now if a one megawatt wind turbine in Germany here for instance produces about one gigawatt hour you could see that if you were to produce all of this with wind turbines you'd need about 60,000. And there are about a million dollars each so you can see that that's a $60 billion investment, which is a lot of money. And of course you'd need storage and so forth because wind doesn't blow all the time. The problem is although there are some very good wind resources in British Columbia they are not very much in the Vancouver area. That's a very difficult issue and we'll talk about that a little bit later. But there's no easy way of just dropping in all these wind turbines into the local area and just making up for the hydro.
Now you may say, well British Columbia's got all this water and it's got hydro and it seems to work very well. That is if you like big hydro but I don't like big hydro for various reasons. Putting dams in wrecks river systems - there's just no way around it. It's something we really shouldn't have done but I'm not denying that it certainly produces a lot of electricity. However, if you look around the world in the last few years, you will see that big hydro is in trouble just about everywhere. It's been in trouble in South America. It's been in trouble in Scandinavia and also in California and virtually everywhere where there's big hydro is being affected by, well in my opinion, by climate change. Climate skeptics won't accept that but they cannot deny that big hydro is tending to produce less electricity. And I was just reading a report the other day that Spain itself, its own hydro is in trouble and that's causing it to burn more coal and natural gas. And this is what happens. If you can get your hands on whatever the cheapest form of fuel be it coal or natural gas, when your hydro gets in trouble that's exactly what you tend to do. And this is another thing that we need to bear in mind.
Notice also that photovoltaic panels which don't work frightfully well in Vancouver, although they do produce something in the summer - they produce less than, I think less than a gigajoule which is a billion joules. So that means you'd need 215 million square metres and they're about $1,000 each, so that's an awful lot of money. And one of the difficulties about solar of the power of production is that in 2004, there's only about 1,000 megawatts produced in the entire world. So if you want to suddenly drop much more than that in then you will take the entire world's production. That isn't to say that we shouldn't be doing all the wind we can and all the solar we can we just have to get real in understanding how much will be required to make up for the enormous amount of big hydro and fossils and in many places nuclear. And by the way British Columbia uses nuclear power because it imports nuclear power, at night from Washington State and then holds back the water and then sends the power to the U.S. in the daytime for expensive prices. So as far as I understand it B.C. Hydro actually makes a profit even though it's an importer.
Jon Steinman: While the province of British Columbia aims to respond to energy needs by building coal-fired power plants, they are also, at the current date of this first broadcast, running a PR campaign designed to assure British Columbians that the province's energy needs are being properly addressed. In one of their television advertisements, a voice indicates how "British Columbians use more energy than we produce." And while it would be ideal to see follow-up information on how we can better reduce our energy consumption, the voice instead continues by indicating this, "so that is why we are aiming to be self-sufficient." But as Julian Darley has now explained many of the barriers to achieving this, there are even more barriers that this PR campaign fails to address. And one of these is the rapidly increasing population of this province. And Julian Darley uses this to introduce his idea of Global Relocalization.
Julian Darley: Now one of the reasons why we need to take the situation seriously is the population of British Columbia has practically doubled in about 30 years. It's gone from just over two million people to just over four million people and I understand that there are plans to double it as fast as possible from that, which I think is a huge mistake.
Now population is one of the things that's driving the difficulties of our planet. We've got about 6 ½ billion people heading to goodness knows what. Eight, nine, ten, twelve billion - population increase is a problem everywhere and population increase in rich countries is a particular problem because we use so many resources. We use much more resources per capita than a Bangladeshi. So this population increase is a serious matter.
Many people will say well we can just substitute our way out of this big energy problem and there are some good wind resources in British Columbia but they are mostly not where people live. The best wind resources are in the north of Vancouver Island where people do not live by and large, in northern coast of B.C. where not a large number of people live, some obviously, and in the Peace River district. So all of these resources are still a long way from where the people of British Columbia tend to live and that's important. That's important if you're interested in energy security, if you're interested in getting your resources from within your locale which is what I hope you are starting to do and will be increasingly persuaded because that's what we should be doing.
Jon Steinman: And yet another barrier that the B.C. government's PR campaign also does not address is Canada's current position in regards to trade. And this position, as Julian Darley points out, is another reason why Canadians need to start thinking fossil fuel free.
Julian Darley: With regard to Canada which is increasing its oil output thanks to the tar sands which takes a lot of natural gas, and even though its natural gas is declining, it's still exporting a lot of oil and gas. Why should Canadians take this matter seriously? The natural gas situation is the first answer. Because of that decline which I hope is demonstrable, because of that decline that means Canada cannot go on exporting so much natural gas for a long time. In fact it might be rather worrying to the Canadian government. But when you look at these numbers, you see the only sensible thing is to curtail natural gas exports to the U.S. as soon as possible. Now this is not going to be very popular in either Ottawa or Washington or many other places but the rate of decline for Canada's natural gas will be much faster than the rate of decline for the U.S. And Canada depends on its gas very, very heavily. So it's a very, very important matter to think about - how to get away from natural gas. It's not only going to be an energy issue it's going to be foreign policy issue and it's going to be a serious economic issue.
The other aspect is that of oil. Canada's native conventional oil production has long been in decline and the only reason its overall petroleum production is increasing is because of the tar sands which currently depend very heavily on natural gas. So that's a problem in itself since natural gas is in decline. You could use other things to produce the tar sands but it's much easier to use natural gas. Unless you want to vote for the increased use of the tar sands which is a very bad idea from a number of points of view you are going to be part of that if you don't start trying to act on reducing your exposure and use of oil.
Now it's a much more difficult thing to say to a Canadian audience you really should get off oil and gas than it would be, say to an American audience or to most other places in the industrialized world, particularly Britain which is in virtual production freefall for oil and gas and is now an oil and gas importer. And by about 2010 it's going to be an enormous oil and gas importer so in somewhere like Britain it's blindingly obvious, not that the British government is reacting in sensible ways. But it's much easier to say to a British audience, look, it's pretty clear from these graphs that you've got to move fast. You've got less than about five years before you're a massive oil and gas importer.
So it's a much more difficult subtle thing with a Canadian audience. You will be, and I'm Canadian too so I will be quite severely affected by this pretty soon and one of the other reasons is we're all connected together. Unfortunately all these global energy markets, particularly oil but now coming with gas are connected together. So even if you're still able to produce quite a lot of oil and gas, the prices will go up and there will be no immunity from the price shocks. Canadians should still take the idea of becoming fossil free as fast as possible very seriously.
Jon Steinman: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner. One key point that Julian Darley failed to mention when speaking of Canada's trade position in regards to our energy resources is that of NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement. In 1993, when NAFTA was first created, the oil industry lobbied hard for what is now included in Chapter 6 of the Agreement, and is known as a proportionality clause. This clause states this, that if Canada were to cut its exports to the United States of oil, natural gas, electricity or coal, as a result of shortages, we would also have to proportionally cut this supply to ourselves as well. And this is one of many reasons why critics of NAFTA indicate that this Free Trade Agreement is one which continues to destroy our country's independence. And when the United States consumes vast amounts more energy than any other nation, much of which goes to American military interests, we are, as Canadians fueling America. In fact over 70% of Canada's supply of oil is exported to the United States.
But all of this has all been rather grim sounding news, and Julian Darley of the Post Carbon Institute is much more interested on what can be done to respond to an energy crisis. And again, this is the idea of Global Relocalization, where he suggests our needs need to be addressed on a local level. Aside from energy, one of our primary needs is of course food, and Julian Darley answers the question, "Why Global Relocalization."
Julian Darley: Global relocalization is our response to the major criticisms that we have of the material economic, if you like, operating systems that we've known in the last 150 years which is basically capitalism and communism. We think that both these systems are extremely problematic. They're both predicated in different ways on growth and industrialism and on the building of empire and an awful lot of war and military activity.
One of the things that we are going to have to face up to as we go into big energy decline is some of the paradoxes of the kind of animal that we are, are going to show up and we aren't going to like them very much. The biggest paradox of all is that by and large we are a creature of fire. It is fire that has allowed us to get where we are now. About 80 - 85%, all the energy we use in the industrialized world is fossil fuel; a large portion of which we burn. We certainly had, unfortunately, mastery of fire by at least 60,000 years ago when we were able to burn down forests in Africa. And so it's fire that has characterized the recent human evolution that we see. So to call ourselves Paleolithic which means Old Stone Age I think is very misleading. We should be calling ourselves Paleoignithic or something like - old fire age and "neoignithic" - new fire age or "neopyrithic" - making these words up but you get the idea. Ignis and pyro are Latin and Greek for fire. It's very important how much more important fire was for us.
Not only are we a creature of fire, we've become a creature of agriculture. We've controlled fire and now we think we've controlled the soil. And we made this move from the Paleolithic, the Old Stone Age to the Neolithic. We started making it about 10,000 years ago. It didn't happen overnight and it was in different places in the world. And one of the chief characterizations of the Neolithic change was that yes we started doing agriculture in a bigger and bigger way. And we started ruining our soil from the word go more or less in most if not all places - not all places but most places and we started building big settlements. It wasn't possible to build big settlements without access to agriculture and to a great extent irrigation too. Catal Huyuk one of the first towns/cities in the world, of about 6,500 odd people in southern Anatolia, about 7 to 9,000 years ago - impossible to have 6 - 7,000 people in a settlement which doesn't move without agriculture.
The paradox of this situation is we've got ourselves to 6 ½ billion and frankly I'm not sure how much it would matter whether we were at 1, 2, 4, 5 billion. I think there are far too many people on the planet. You cannot have that number of people without doing fixed settlements. But the paradox of the situation is we are a creature that doesn't particularly like being fixed down. Look at our obsession with travel, with mobility, with running around all the time. And that's pretty deeply rooted inside who we are. We would go, as gatherers or hunters. We would settle - I dare not even really use that word. We would stop somewhere for a bit. We would do things; we would catch things; we would find things and no doubt we would create a mess but then we would move on. And nature would, by and large clean up after us. It might take awhile but it would do the job. And as long as we can keep making a mess and moving on that was okay. And maybe there were only five million of us as gatherers/hunters.
So here we have a creature addicted to mobility but it was part of our toolkit for survival. It made perfect sense. So we like mobility but unfortunately we were very messy so we make a mess and move on. Now we have 6 ½ billion people, mostly in cities, some of them absolutely vast, making a huge mess, unable to move on and unable to really get serious about cleaning up after ourselves.
This is a paradox which means there is no perfect city - far from it. I'm pretty sure and I'm not alone in thinking in there's no such thing as a sustainable city. We're going to have to, sort of muddle through in sort of an eminently British kind of way. There's no Golden Age to look back to. There's no utopia, there's not perfect situation. There are too many of us. I think the evidence points to and we're not really designed for doing settled living. Now that's a paradox that's going to be very, very uncomfortable for us. I think the important thing about grasping this, what I call the Neolithic nemesis - it was very unfortunate that we became Neolithic, but we shouldn't get too cross with ourselves when we find that we can't achieve the perfect route. And I think that's sort of comforting in a way and it should encourage us to be practical rather than thinking well if we can't be perfect we're not worth bothering. I mean it's the wrong attitude.
Jon Steinman: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly radio program produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. My name's Jon Steinman. Today's topic is that of fossil fuels, which as is increasingly the case, provides the foundation for the growing, processing, production, distribution, storing, and preparation of food. As was referred to earlier in the program, we are, essentially, eating oil.
A reminder that should you miss any of today's broadcast or want to learn more about this topic, you can visit the Deconstructing Dinner website at cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
We are currently listening to clips from a presentation by Julian Darley of the Vancouver-based Post Carbon Institute where he presented the current state of our energy resources.
The most common response to issues such as climate change for example, is to reform the system to better address the concern. But as Julian Darley suggests, the response to an energy crisis is not about reforming the system, but replacing it.
Julian Darley: Then we've got contradictions and I distinguish between a paradox and a contradiction. Paradoxes are something we're kind of stuck with - we're stuck with too many people; we're stuck with the Neolithic nemesis and we've just got to manage the best we can. A contradiction is something that we've downright invented ourselves and we can do something about. Now this gets into the very serious matter of the system we've got - the system of expansion and of growth. And if we think about this system which is called by its detractors, of which I'm one, capitalism, what's it designed to do? It's designed to extract stuff from the earth and turn it into stuff and send it to people at a profit. Now the thing about this system is it doesn't really give a damn whether it's useful or damaging to the environment or damaging to us for goodness sake. Look at all the things that we consume and stick in our mouth which are dully bad for us. But the metric is does it make a profit? If you can sell it to lots of people and make a reasonable profit, that's good. That's the system we've got. It never turns around and looks at the ends and says should we be doing this? There's no way of a system for doing this. There's no real system for planning which is going to be very difficult for us. When you get into resource shortages especially energy shortage, one of the main things you have to do is start planning.
So, we've invented many contradictions, one of the biggest of which is our operating system and we, unless we do something about this are going to find that we cannot, I believe, just reform this system. We need to replace it with something else. And that's why we've conceived of global relocalization. It is an antidote to, it is absolutely an opposite to globalization which is really just a grand form of capitalism in its final stages, a form of empire. And to put it really bluntly, the system of capitalization and globalization I regard as being little more than a system of legalized rape.
So much of what gets talked about, hardly surprisingly but very unfortunately, configures us and reinforces us in the role of the individual. And that's going to be a very tough thing for us to face. We think of ourselves unfortunately as individuals. But in order to do what we're suggesting here, this little rubric or mantra of - produce 90% less and make the rest. The idea being that we should aim to cut our energy and our material demand by at least 90% then we might be able to make up some of the rest. In some places we may have to make up all of the rest with substitutes like wind and solar and biofuels and biomass. But if we try and just substitute the entire big fossil fuel and big energy system we've got and try and grab even more of the planet's phytomass, that's to say what the sun turns into physical organic material, if we try and grab much more of that I think we will be forcing the planet into even quicker ecosystem decline.
In fact what we should be trying to do, is even as we're trying to dramatically reduce our demand, we should be trying to work out what can we actually give back to nature. What can we unpeel from concrete and tarmac and let go back into forest and other kinds of natural system. Because I think we are starting to find out, not just through global warming but from many other things that we've really taxed our system to a dreadful extent. So all at the same time, there are many things that we need to do at once. But if we make a very serious effort about reducing our demand some of the other things will be easier than if we try to think about sustaining what we've got. I think this is a very difficult path. I fear we'll find it's impossible and this is one of the reasons why I'm quite a robust critic of sustainable development. I know that's become a buzzword in the last 18, 19 years since the Brunton Commission enshrined it.
Development is not a word for industrial growth. You can't have sustainable growth especially not sustainable industrial growth on a limited spherical planet. So we're going to have to question, one of the awkward things we're going to have to question is sustainable development. Thinking about how to do that reduction - I mean 90% is a colossal reduction; 9% is a pretty large reduction but 90% is huge. It's pretty obvious that we are going to have to stop using a lot of fuel and one of the fastest ways to stop using fuel is to move from a fuel to a foot economy. We're actually going to have to think about using our leg muscles a lot more for getting ourselves around.
Now, of course this quite rightly provokes chortles in the audience. But if you think about this, what other animal cannot get its food either by running or swimming or walking or flying.
Jon Steinman: As Julian Darley indicates in this next clip, when attempts are made to be mobile on foot or bicycle, it becomes clear how important municipal governments are in addressing this idea of relocalization. And this is perhaps a better time than any to direct listeners to the many community-based initiatives taking place around the province and across the country, initiatives that address this very idea of relocalization. And these resources are listed all throughout the Deconstructing Dinner website, and I do invite you to explore those on the individual pages for each broadcast. And again, that website is cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
Julian Darley: The rest of nature doesn't use fossil fuels to get its food. Does that make other animals stupid or does that make us stupid? And we're going to find us paying a very heavy price for that dependence of so much of our systems, particularly our food systems on fossil fuels. One of the things that happens, as you try to give up your cars, those of you that have got them, particularly the private automobile which is such a problem, you will start to see the full scale of the problem that we're in. You'll say to yourself, I would like to go to the local shop and buy some locally grown tomatoes for instance or some locally grown grain. You start walking and you walk and you walk and you walk and lo and behold you don't find a local shop for some considerable way. And that's the trouble. Unless you've got a local shop within about five minutes walk you're not going to be able to simply abandon your car and get your local produce. And then the store itself won't be able to buy locally grown produce if there isn't any or if the farmers have been driven out of business.
So you start to see that this is an infrastructural matter, that this is a systemic matter. That you can make small cuts in your energy use and if you get rid of your car that's quite a substantial one. But if you're actually going to make them over a long period of time and in a sustained kind of way then you need to change the infrastructure. And you need to move from a high energy infrastructure to a low energy infrastructure. Now we should not underestimate the size of this task because for the last 50, 100, 150 years, North America and many other places too, have been building themselves a multi trillion dollar very high energy infrastructure which is going to be incredibly bad as we go into energy decline. This is why we have to start organizing ourselves to think about systemic and infrastructural change. That means we need to become part of the municipal government system. We need to be able to talk to municipalities. We need to be able to talk to the organizations which deliver and provision these large scale resources. And so much of what we need to do cannot be done at the individual level. It must be done at the community level, at the collective level. And this is going to be a big change and is going to challenge our notions of individuality and we're going to have to think of ourselves more in community and more, what part do I play in society. What is my role in society not so much, who am I as an individual.
Jon Steinman: And you're tuned into Deconstructing Dinner. There is inherently a benefit to use food as a starting point from where we can re-approach the structure of our communities, and that is that all of us eat, and any increased attention paid to food, can also allow us to see the other parts of our lives that need relocalizing.
Julian Darley: In terms of production - to produce that smaller amount, that substitute amount, it is going to mean moving from this very passive consumer economy to community provisioning. We're going to have to think about direct production. It means shockingly enough, I hope not to all of you, perhaps to none of you, but it's going to mean actually putting your fingers in the soil and putting seeds in there. And seeds which we hope which will grow. Sensible seeds for the kinds of soil and the weather conditions we've got. Weather, by the way tends to be rather short on rain in the summer despite what we've seen for the last couple of months. The weather pattern is not all that helpful for dry agriculture, for unirrigated growing. And once you start doing irrigation you have to think about life much more carefully so we need to think about that too.
So we're going to have to start thinking once again about direct production, actually making things that we need; growing things that we need and doing it locally and doing it and harvesting it in such a way that we can conceive of doing this for thousands of years, not just for a couple more years. So it means we can't do this equivalent of slash and burn which we as humans have been doing for thousands of years. We're basically running out of stuff to slash and burn. This will also apply to everything else that we need - our clothes and our shoes and our spectacles. Once you start thinking about provisioning all that stuff locally, it gets pretty tricky. We're going to need on a local level and there's a municipal level, to assess our vulnerability to material supplies and energy supplies. And we're going to have some dramatic and rather salutary surprises.
Some students on the campus of UBC recently discovered that the campus was able to in theory, generate perhaps 2% of its own energy. That's about 1/500th at best of the energy, possibly more like 1/1000th. And when you think about that - let's say let's be generous, let's say it's 1/500th, you would probably - I haven't counted all the buildings on UBC but I suspect you'd have to remove practically every building on the campus. And you may not even have a whole building left to be supplied with that much energy. And this really dramatic when we start thinking of it like this.
So we need to be thinking at a community scale. We need to be thinking also about what kind of local businesses do we need to recreate or create from scratch. A lot of this is "re." The reason why we stress the relocalize is that we need to renew, repair, recover things. So even if there wasn't much of a local economy, a local provisioning system, a more of a closed loop, we still need this "re" word because we mustn't be thinking about grabbing lots of new resources. We have to be trying to make use of what we've already got. And it's not going to be easy. This all sounds pretty tough and I don't think it's going to be frightfully easy at all but there's a couple of very positive things about this.
The first one is that so many of the things that we're going to need to do right now are not economic at all which is going to make it very difficult to do them. Well how is that positive. That means that we're going to need to do lots of small scale demonstrations of things so that we're ready when things start to get more difficult. That the demonstrations will not make money. You will not be able to go to the bank and say lend me a million dollars for this wonderful thing, this what we call a post carbon experiment; I'm going to make a big wad off it. I can pretty well tell you for sure that you won't. Not especially with energy being so cheap, especially energy in British Columbia.
But nonetheless, just because energy's so cheap right now, that shouldn't deter you from doing experiments. Because when life gets awkward, especially with energy, you need to spend a long time - years, to put this in place. It's like you cannot become a farmer overnight. It takes years to build the soil up. It takes years to understand the soil, the climate even if it were staying reasonably steady. These are, if you like, the respiratory cycle of nature is much longer. It's years and decades and we're already very late starting into this.
So I strongly encourage you that if you're interested by this, join us at Post Carbon, postcarbon.org. Post Carbon is where we are thinking about how to do these kinds of experiments. And Shelby Tay who's our local groups co-ordinator is in the audience here waving her hand. She has been doing a splendid job in helping groups to get started all across the world. At last count, I think last Thursday we had 76 groups all around the world thinking about how to do Post Carbon experiments and how to raise awareness in their community. And there's already work going on, there's already a local group here in Vancouver so it makes it a lot easier to join. And as we have our world headquarters here too, that also makes it easier to join and start working with us. And we are doing everything we can to join with municipalities, not just the local municipalities but other municipalities so that we can learn from each other. And also working with, increasingly with, local businesses to create them and bring them back from the brink of extinction because we will need local businesses, we need local provisioning.
Jon Steinman: With the local provisioning that Julian Darley speaks of, he expands on this idea in relation to local energy needs. One term he uses is that of District Heating, a term not so familiar to North Americans but District Heating is a system for generating both electricity and heat in a centralized location, and then distributing that to homes and businesses within the vicinity. And this is a method already in use in much of Europe, but such systems require intensive infrastructure.
Julian Darley: It's an infrastructural problem. If you need more district heating, you can't just go out and buy $5 worth of district heating if there are no pipes under the ground to deliver that district heating. This is where you have to work with your local governments to make this happen and it's not very easy. Places like Scandinavia, particularly Sweden which by the way has pledged to get off oil and gas by 2020, Sweden has already and other places too have already done a lot of work in terms of getting district heating in. Now yes Vancouver does have district heating and so does UBC but it's only in isolated areas. The point is, it's not something you can just arrange for yourself tomorrow morning to have yourself some district heating. It's a community level thing. It's an infrastructural thing.
I will mention here that when it comes to co-ordination we're going to need all the practice we can. Strangely enough I think we should be playing in orchestras and singing in choirs and putting on theatre and dancing and putting on social dances because that helps us to learn to co-ordinate. Another thing where we learn to co-ordinate is - I'm a member and on the Board of Directors of the co-operative Auto Network here in Vancouver which is an extraordinary organization which allows you to abandon your car completely and share in the some 120 vehicles which already exist and are available to members of CAN in the area of Vancouver.
Why do I mention it in this co-ordination section? Because you have to learn to co-ordinate your life differently. If the car that you want at that moment is not available it's either tough or you've got to try another one which may be much farther away, may not be. But you have to think about life. It brings you the awareness of mobility. You actually have to think about all this easy travel. So not only is it part of moving from a fuel to foot economy, it forces you to think about mobility; it forces you to think about co-ordination.
As we go into energy decline there are likely to be some very serious consequences and there will also be other things - there are other things going on in the economy to do with money problems. And there's likely to be very high levels of unemployment because so much of the high energy economy relies on doing rather silly things and these silly things will tend to go away as their either isn't the energy or the money or neither to pay for them. So there will be large amounts of unemployment and most of us, unless you are a farmer who's able to produce most of your own food, most of us are more or less wage slaves. We depend upon the money that we earn to buy ourselves food.
Now if you are relocalizing and thinking about those local businesses and the local revisioning and the direct production actually growing stuff yourself and learning how to do things, that is a place where there is some hope for bringing back local employment and is the only way that I can think of that will neutralize the kind of unemployment inferno which is going to come along otherwise. And one of the things that we're going to also have to think about which is tricky to do is local currency or local money. We have seen in depression after depression, especially the Great Depression that, what can happen is this massive unemployment. There's lot of people standing around able to do things and in those days they were still able to grow things. They still knew how to grow things and there were a lot less people. But there wasn't the money. So food was rotting in the fields for various reasons including the fact that there was not enough money for people to go and buy these things or to be paid to do things. And what we are expecting to happen is that there will be a massive problem with the money system at the same time as we go into energy decline. The two are linked and they will tend to feed each other in various unpleasant ways. So that means we need to think about alternative local currency systems which are very difficult things to get in place and they don't always work very well. So that's another thing which is a community level thing. You can't just go out and invent a money system tomorrow morning and just use it yourself.
Jon Steinman: In wrapping up today's broadcast, I will first remind listeners that this broadcast will be archived on the Deconstructing Dinner website where the visual components to the Julian Darley presentation will also be provided. And again both the recording and the visual presentation are courtesy of the Necessary Voices Society, and their website is necessaryvoices.org. I also greatly encourage you to browse the website of the Post Carbon Institute and especially their Global Media Project, and that website is postcarbon.org.
And I will leave you with these final remarks that concluded Julian Darley's presentation that took place in February of 2006 in Vancouver.
Julian Darley: We need to think very carefully about a lot of these complex infrastructural systemic issues. It will mean breaking a lot of existing connections. This is also going to be very difficult. If you think about it, the electricity that's coming into these light bulbs has probably come from the Columbia region or indeed from Peace River. Well right now as we go into darkness it may well be coming from the nuclear power stations in Washington State which is even a more unpleasant thought. But it's coming a very long way.
If you look at everything's that in the room, including ourselves, unless you've come here by bicycle or walked here, everybody else has come here by using, almost certainly by using some kind of fossil fuel. Everything that's in this room is either made out of it or brought here by it. These are all connections which need to be changed. In fact they need to be cut and we need to make new connections. I believe those who co-operate and share will do much better than those who fight.
One of the fastest ways to get your consumption down is by sharing it. If you have one object per ten people, that's ten objects. If you can somehow share that one object for ten people you suddenly can cut your consumption by about 90%. So sharing is the single fastest way of cutting consumption of anything but it requires co-ordination and it will require changing the way we think. And that may be one of our most difficult problems, to change the way we think. We think of ourselves as individuals, as bounded masterful cells instead of thinking of ourselves as being parts of communities, creatures who need to share. Community after all means sharing with.
I thank you for your attention. (audience applause)
Jon Steinman: And that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant Dianne Matenko.
The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.
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