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Agriculture In A Post-Oil Economy

Agriculture In A Post-Oil Economy

The decline in the world’s oil supply offers no sudden dramatic event that would appeal to the writer of “apocalyptic” science fiction: no mushroom clouds, no flying saucers, no giant meteorites. The future will be just like today, only tougher. Oil depletion is basically just a matter of overpopulation — too many people and not enough resources. The most serious consequence will be a lack of food. The problem of oil therefore leads, in an apparently mundane fashion, to the problem of farming.

To what extent could food be produced in a world without fossil fuels? In the year 2000, humanity consumed about 30 billion barrels of oil, but the supply is starting to run out; without oil and natural gas, there will be no fuel, no asphalt, no plastics, no chemical fertilizer. Most people in modern industrial civilization live on food that was bought from a local supermarket, but such food will not always be available. Agriculture in the future will be largely a “family affair”: without motorized vehicles, food will have to be produced not far from where it was consumed. But what crops should be grown? How much land would be needed? Where could people be supported by such methods of agriculture?


The most practical diet would be largely vegetarian, for several reasons. In the first place, vegetable production requires far less land than animal production. Even the pasture land for a cow is about one hectare, and more land is needed to produce hay, grain, and other foods for that animal. One could supply the same amount of useable protein from vegetable sources on a fraction of a hectare, as Frances Moore Lappé pointed out in 1971 in Diet for a Small Planet [12]. Secondly, vegetable production is less complicated…

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