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The Oil We Eat (from Harper's)

The journalist's rule says: follow the money. This rule, however, is not
really axiomatic but derivative, in that money, as even our vice president
will tell you, is really a way of tracking energy. We'll follow the
Title: THE OIL WE EAT , By: Manning, Richard, Harper's Magazine,
0017789X, Feb2004, Vol. 308, Issue 1845
Database: MAS Ultra - School Edition

Section: ESSAY

Following the food chain back to Iraq

The secret of great wealth with no obvious source is some forgotten crime,
forgotten because it was done neatly.


The journalist's rule says: follow the money. This rule, however, is not
really axiomatic but derivative, in that money, as even our vice president
will tell you, is really a way of tracking energy. We'll follow the

We learn as children that there is no free lunch, that you don't get
something from nothing, that what goes up must come down, and so on. The
scientific version of these verities is only slightly more complex. As
James Prescott Joule discovered in the nineteenth century, there is only
so much energy. You can change it from motion to heat, from heat to light,
but there will never be more of it and there will never be less of it. The
conservation of energy is not an option, it is a fact. This is the first
law of thermodynamics.

Special as we humans are, we get no exemptions from the rules. All animals
eat plants or eat animals that eat plants. This is the food chain, and
pulling it is the unique ability of plants to turn sunlight into stored
energy in the form of carbohydrates, the basic fuel of all animals.
Solar-powered photosynthesis is the only way to make this fuel. There is
no alternative to plant energy, just as there is no alternative to oxygen.
The results of taking away our plant energy may not be as sudden as
cutting off oxygen, but they are as sure.

Scientists have a name for the total amount of plant mass created by Earth
in a given year, the total budget for life. They call it the planet's
"primary productivity." There have been two efforts to figure out how that
productivity is spent, one by a group at Stanford University, the other an
independent accounting by the biologist Stuart Pimm. Both conclude that we
humans, a single species among millions, consume about 40 percent of
Earth's primary productivity, 40 percent of all there is. This simple
number may explain why the current extinction rate is 1,000 times that
which existed before human domination of the planet. We 6 billion have
simply stolen the food, the rich among us a lot more than others.

Energy cannot be created or canceled, but it can be concentrated. This is
the larger and profoundly explanatory context of a national-security memo
George Kennan wrote in 1948 as the head of a State Department planning
committee, ostensibly about Asian policy but really about how the United
States was to deal with its newfound role as the dominant force on Earth.
"We have about 50 percent of the world's wealth but only 6.3 percent of
its population," Kennan wrote. "In this situation, we cannot fail to be
the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is
to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this
position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.
To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and
day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on
our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we
can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction."

"The day is not far off," Kennan concluded, "when we are going to have to
deal in straight power concepts."

If you follow the energy, eventually you will end up in a field somewhere.
Humans engage in a dizzying array of artifice and industry. Nonetheless,
more than two thirds of humanity's cut of primary productivity results
from agriculture, two thirds of which in turn consists of three plants:
rice, wheat, and corn. In the 10,000 years since humans domesticated these
grains, their status has remained undiminished, most likely because they
are able to store solar energy in uniquely dense, transportable bundles of
carbohydrates. They are to the plant world what a barrel of refined oil is
to the hydrocarbon world. Indeed, aside from hydrocarbons they are the
most concentrated form of true wealth--sun energy--to be found on the

As Kennan recognized, however, the maintenance of such a concentration of
wealth often requires violent action. Agriculture is a recent human
experiment. For most of human history, we lived by gathering or killing a
broad variety of nature's offerings. Why humans might have traded this
approach for the complexities of agriculture is an interesting and
long-debated question, especially because the skeletal evidence clearly
indicates that early farmers were more poorly nourished, more
disease-ridden and deformed, than their hunter-gatherer contemporaries.
Farming did not improve most lives. The evidence that best points to the
answer, I think, lies in the difference between early agricultural
villages and their pre-agricultural counterparts--the presence not just of
grain but of granaries and, more tellingly, of just a few houses
significantly larger and more ornate than all the others attached to those
granaries. Agriculture was not so much about food as it was about the
accumulation of wealth. It benefited some humans, and those people have
been in charge ever since.

Domestication was also a radical change in the distribution of wealth
within the plant world. Plants can spend their solar income in several
ways. The dominant and prudent strategy is to allocate most of it to
building roots, stem, bark--a conservative portfolio of investments that
allows the plant to better gather energy and survive the downturn years.
Further, by living in diverse stands (a given chunk of native prairie
contains maybe 200 species of plants), these perennials provide services
for one another, such as retaining water, protecting one another from
wind, and fixing free nitrogen from the air to use as fertilizer.
Diversity allows a system to "sponsor its own fertility," to use visionary
agronomist Wes Jackson's phrase. This is the plant world's norm.

There is a very narrow group of annuals, however, that grow in patches of
a single species and store almost all of their income as seed, a tight
bundle of carbohydrates easily exploited by seed eaters such as ourselves.
Under normal circumstances, this eggs-in-one-basket strategy is a dumb
idea for a plant. But not during catastrophes such as floods, fires, and
volcanic eruptions. Such catastrophes strip established plant communities
and create opportunities for wind-scattered entrepreneurial seed bearers.
It is no accident that no matter where agriculture sprouted on the globe,
it always happened near rivers. You might assume, as many have, that this
is because the plants needed the water or nutrients. Mostly this is not
true. They needed the power of flooding, which scoured landscapes and
stripped out competitors. Nor is it an accident, I think, that agriculture
arose independently and simultaneously around the globe just as the last
ice age ended, a time of enormous upheaval when glacial melt let loose
sea-size lakes to create tidal waves of erosion. It was a time of

Corn, rice, and wheat are especially adapted to catastrophe. It is their
niche. In the natural scheme of things, a catastrophe would create a blank
slate, bare soil, that was good for them. Then, under normal
circumstances, succession would quickly close that niche. The annuals
would colonize. Their roots would stabilize the soil, accumulate organic
matter, provide cover. Eventually the catastrophic niche would close.
Farming is the process of ripping that niche open again and again. It is
an annual artificial catastrophe, and it requires the equivalent of three
or four tons of TNT per acre for a modern American farm. Iowa's fields
require the energy of 4,000 Nagasaki bombs every year.

Iowa is almost all fields now. Little prairie remains, and if you can find
what Iowans call a "postage stamp" remnant of some, it most likely will
abut a cornfield. This allows an observation. Walk from the prairie to the
field, and you probably will step down about six feet, as if the land had
been stolen from beneath you. Settlers' accounts of the prairie conquest
mention a sound, a series of pops, like pistol shots, the sound of stout
grass roots breaking before a moldboard plow. A robbery was in progress.

When we say the soil is rich, it is not a metaphor. It is as rich in
energy as an oil well. A prairie converts that energy to flowers and roots
and stems, which in turn pass back into the ground as dead organic matter.
The layers of topsoil build up into a rich repository of energy, a bank. A
farm field appropriates that energy, puts it into seeds we can eat. Much
of the energy moves from the earth to the rings of fat around our necks
and waists. And much of the energy is simply wasted, a trail of dollars
billowing from the burglar's satchel.

I've already mentioned that we humans take 40 percent of the globe's
primary productivity every year. You might have assumed we and our
livestock eat our way through that volume, but this is not the case. Part
of that total--almost a third of it--is the potential plant mass lost when
forests are cleared for farming or when tropical rain forests are cut for
grazing or when plows destroy the deep mat of prairie roots that held the
whole business together, triggering erosion. The Dust Bowl was no accident
of nature. A functioning grassland prairie produces more biomass each year
than does even the most technologically advanced wheat field. The problem
is, it's mostly a form of grass and grass roots that humans can't eat. So
we replace the prairie with our own preferred grass, wheat. Never mind
that we feed most of our grain to livestock, and that livestock is
perfectly content to eat native grass. And never mind that there likely
were more bison produced naturally on the Great Plains before farming than
all of beef farming raises in the same area today. Our ancestors found it
preferable to pluck the energy from the ground and when it ran out move

Today we do the same, only now when the vault is empty we fill it again
with new energy in the form of oil-rich fertilizers. Oil is annual primary
productivity stored as hydrocarbons, a trust fund of sorts, built up over
many thousands of years. On average, it takes 5.5 gallons of fossil energy
to restore a year's worth of lost fertility to an acre of eroded land--in
1997 we burned through more than 400 years' worth of ancient fossilized
productivity, most of it from someplace else. Even as the earth beneath
Iowa shrinks, it is being globalized.

Six thousand years before sodbusters broke up Iowa, their Caucasian blood
ancestors broke up the Hungarian plain, an area just northwest of the
Caucasus Mountains. Archaeologists call this tribe the LBK, short for
linearbandkeramik, the German word that describes the distinctive pottery
remnants that mark their occupation of Europe. Anthropologists call them
the wheat-beef people, a name that better connects those ancients along
the Danube to my fellow Montanans on the Upper Missouri River. These
proto-Europeans had a full set of domesticated plants and animals, but
wheat and beef dominated. All the domesticates came from an area along
what is now the Iraq-Syria-Turkey border at the edges of the Zagros
Mountains. This is the center of domestication for the Western world's
main crops and live stock, ground zero of catastrophic agriculture.

Two other types of catastrophic agriculture evolved at roughly the same
time, one centered on rice in what is now China and India and one centered
on corn and potatoes in Central and South America. Rice, though, is
tropical and its expansion depends on water, so it developed only in
floodplains, estuaries, and swamps. Corn agriculture was every bit as
voracious as wheat; the Aztecs could be as brutal and imperialistic as
Romans or Brits, but the corn cultures collapsed with the onslaught of
Spanish conquest. Corn itself simply joined the wheat-beef people's
coalition. Wheat was the empire builder; its bare botanical facts dictated
the motion and violence that we know as imperialism.

The wheat-beef people swept across the western European plains in less
than 300 years, a conquest some archaeologists refer to as a "blitzkrieg."
A different race of humans, the Cro-Magnons--hunter-gatherers, not
farmers--lived on those plains at the time. Their cave art at places such
as Lascaux testifies to their sophistication and profound connection to
wildlife. They probably did most of their hunting and gathering in uplands
and river bottoms, places the wheat farmers didn't need, suggesting the
possibility of coexistence. That's not what happened, however. Both
genetic and linguistic evidence say that the farmers killed the hunters.
The Basque people are probably the lone remnant descendants of
Cro-Magnons, the only trace.

Hunter-gatherer archaeological sites of the period contain spear points
that originally belonged to the farmers, and we can guess they weren't
trade goods. One group of anthropologists concludes, "The evidence from
the western extension of the LBK leaves little room for any other
conclusion but that LBK-Mesolithic interactions were at best chilly and at
worst hostile." The world's surviving Blackfeet, Assiniboine Sioux, Inca,
and Maori probably have the best idea of the nature of these interactions.

Wheat is temperate and prefers plowed-up grasslands. The globe has a
limited stock of temperate grasslands, just as it has a limited stock of
all other biomes. On average, about 10 percent of all other biomes remain
in something like their native state today. Only 1 percent of temperate
grasslands remains undestroyed. Wheat takes what it needs.

The supply of temperate grasslands lies in what are today the United
States, Canada, the South American pampas, New Zealand, Australia, South
Africa, Europe, and the Asiatic extension of the European plain into the
sub-Siberian steppes. This area largely describes the First World, the
developed world. Temperate grasslands make up not only the habitat of
wheat and beef but also the globe's islands of Caucasians, of European
surnames and languages. In 2000 the countries of the temperate grasslands,
the neo-Europes, accounted for about 80 percent of all wheat exports in
the world, and about 86 percent of all com. That is to say, the
neo-Europes drive the world's agriculture. The dominance does not stop
with grain. These countries, plus the mothership--Europe accounted for
three fourths of all agricultural exports of all crops in the world in

Plato wrote of his country's farmlands:

What now remains of the formerly rich land is like the skeleton of a sick
man. ...Formerly, many of the mountains were arable, The plains that were
full of rich soil are now marshes. Hills that were once covered with
forests and produced abundant pasture now produce only food for bees. Once
the land was enriched by yearly rains, which were not lost, as they are
now, by flowing from the bare land into the sea. The soil was deep, it
absorbed and kept the water in loamy soil, and the water that soaked into
the hills fed springs and running streams everywhere. Now the abandoned
shrines at spots where formerly there were springs attest that our
description of the land is true.

Plato's lament is rooted in wheat agriculture, which depleted his
country's soil and subsequently caused the series of declines that pushed
centers of civilization to Rome, Turkey, and western Europe. By the fifth
century, though, wheat's strategy of depleting and moving on ran up
against the Atlantic Ocean. Fenced-in wheat agriculture is like rice
agriculture. It balances its equations with famine. In the millennium
between 500 and 1500, Britain suffered a major "corrective" famine about
every ten years; there were seventy-five in France during the same period.
The incidence, however, dropped sharply when colonization brought an
influx of new food to Europe.

The new lands had an even greater effect on the colonists themselves.
Thomas Jefferson, after enduring a lecture on the rustic nature by his
hosts at a dinner party in Paris, pointed out that all of the Americans
present were a good head taller than all of the French. Indeed, colonists
in all of the neo-Europes enjoyed greater stature and longevity, as well
as a lower infant-mortality rate--all indicators of the better nutrition
afforded by the onetime spend down of the accumulated capital of virgin

The precolonial famines of Europe raised the question: What would happen
when the planet's supply of arable land ran out? We have a clear answer.
In about 1960 expansion hit its limits and the supply of unfarmed, arable
lands came to an end. There was nothing left to plow. What happened was
grain yields tripled.

The accepted term for this strange turn of events is the green revolution,
though it would be more properly labeled the amber revolution, because it
applied exclusively to grain--wheat, rice, and corn. Plant breeders
tinkered with the architecture of these three grains so that they could be
hypercharged with irrigation water and chemical fertilizers, especially
nitrogen. This innovation meshed nicely with the increased "efficiency" of
the industrialized factory-farm system. With the possible exception of the
domestication of wheat, the green revolution is the worst thing that has
ever happened to the planet.

For openers, it disrupted long-standing patterns of rural life worldwide,
moving a lot of no-longer-needed people off the land and into the world's
most severe poverty. The experience in population control in the
developing world is by now clear: It is not that people make more people
so much as it is that they make more poor people. In the forty-year period
beginning about 1960, the world's population doubled, adding virtually the
entire increase of 3 billion to the world's poorest classes, the most
fecund classes. The way in which the green revolution raised that grain
contributed hugely to the population boom, and it is the weight of the
population that leaves humanity in its present untenable position.

Discussion of these, the most poor, however, is largely irrelevant to the
American situation. We say we have poor people here, but almost no one in
this country lives on less than one dollar a day, the global benchmark for
poverty. It marks off a class of about 1.3 billion people, the hard core
of the larger group of 2 billion chronically malnourished people--that is,
one third of humanity. We may forget about them, as most Americans do.

More relevant here are the methods of the green revolution, which added
orders of magnitude to the devastation. By mining the iron for tractors,
drilling the new oil to fuel them and to make nitrogen fertilizers, and by
taking the water that rain and rivers had meant for other lands, farming
had extended its boundaries, its dominion, to lands that were not
farmable. At the same time, it extended its boundaries across time,
tapping fossil energy, stripping past assets.

The common assumption these days is that we muster our weapons to secure
oil, not food. There's a little joke in this. Ever since we ran out of
arable land, food is oil. Every single calorie we eat is backed by at
least a calorie of oil, more like ten. In 1940 the average farm in the
United States produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of
fossil energy it used. By 1974 (the last year in which anyone looked
closely at this issue), that ratio was 1:1. And this understates the
problem, because at the same time that there is more oil in our food there
is less oil in our oil. A couple of generations ago we spent a lot less
energy drilling, pumping, and distributing than we do now. In the 1940s we
got about 100 barrels of oil back for every barrel of oil we spent getting
it. Today each barrel invested in the process returns only ten, a
calculation that no doubt fails to include the fuel burned by the Hummers
and Blackhawks we use to maintain access to the oil in Iraq.

David Pimentel, an expert on food and energy at Cornell University, has
estimated that if all of the world ate the way the United States eats,
humanity would exhaust all known global fossil-fuel reserves in just over
seven years. Pimentel has his detractors. Some have accused him of being
off on other calculations by as much as 30 percent. Fine. Make it ten

Fertilizer makes a pretty fine bomb right off the shelf, a chemistry
lesson Timothy McVeigh taught at Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal
Building in 1995--not a small matter, in that the green revolution has
made nitrogen fertilizers ubiquitous in some of the more violent and
desperate corners of the world. Still, there is more to contemplate in
nitrogen's less sensational chemistry.

The chemophobia of modem times excludes fear of the simple elements of
chemistry's periodic table. We circulate petitions, hold hearings, launch
websites, and buy and sell legislators in regard to polysyllabic organic
compounds--polychlorinated biphenyls, polyvinyls, DDT, 2-4d, that sort of
thing--not simple carbon or nitrogen. Not that agriculture's use of the
more ornate chemistry is benign--an infant born in a rural,
wheat-producing county in the United States has about twice the chance of
suffering birth defects as one born in a rural place that doesn't produce
wheat, an effect researchers blame on chlorophenoxy herbicides. Focusing
on pesticide pollution, though, misses the worst of the pollutants. Forget
the polysyllabic organics. It is nitrogen-the wellspring of fertility
relied upon by every Eden-obsessed backyard gardener and suburban
groundskeeper--that we should fear most.

Those who model our planet as an organism do so on the basis that the
earth appears to breathe--it thrives by converting a short list of basic
elements from one compound into the next, just as our own bodies cycle
oxygen into carbon dioxide and plants cycle carbon dioxide into oxygen. In
fact, two of the planet's most fundamental humors are oxygen and carbon
dioxide. Another is nitrogen.

Nitrogen can be released from its "fixed" state as a solid in the soil by
natural processes that allow it to circulate freely in the atmosphere.
This also can be done artificially. Indeed, humans now contribute more
nitrogen to the nitrogen cycle than the planet itself does. That is,
humans have doubled the amount of nitrogen in play.

This has led to an imbalance. It is easier to create nitrogen fertilizer
than it is to apply it evenly to fields. When farmers dump nitrogen on a
crop, much is wasted. It runs into the water and soil, where it either
reacts chemically with its surroundings to form new compounds or flows off
to fertilize something else, somewhere else.

That chemical reaction, called acidification, is noxious and contributes
significantly to acid rain. One of the compounds produced by acidification
is nitrous oxide, which aggravates the greenhouse effect. Green growing
things normally offset global warming by sucking up carbon dioxide, but
nitrogen on farm fields plus methane from decomposing vegetation make
every farmed acre, like every acre of Los Angeles freeway, a net
contributor to global warming. Fertilization is equally worrisome.
Rainfall and irrigation water inevitably washes the nitrogen from fields
to creeks and streams, which flows into rivers, which floods into the
ocean. This explains why the Mississippi River, which drains the nation's
Corn Belt, is an environmental catastrophe. The nitrogen fertilizes
artificially large blooms of algae that in growing suck all the oxygen
from the water, a condition biologists call anoxia, which means
"oxygen-depleted." Here there's no need to calculate long-term effects,
because life in such places has no long term: everything dies immediately.
The Mississippi River's heavily fertilized effluvia has created a dead
zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey.

America's biggest crop, grain corn, is completely unpalatable. It is raw
material for an industry that manufactures food substitutes. Likewise, you
can't eat unprocessed wheat. You certainly can't eat hay. You can eat
unprocessed soybeans, but mostly we don't. These four crops cover 82
percent of American cropland. Agriculture in this country is not about
food; it's about commodities that require the outlay of still more energy
to become food.

About two thirds of U.S. grain corn is labeled "processed," meaning it is
milled and otherwise refined for food or industrial uses. More than 45
percent of that becomes sugar, especially high-fructose corn sweeteners,
the keystone ingredient in three quarters of all processed foods,
especially soft drinks, the food of America's poor and working classes. It
is not a coincidence that the American pandemic of obesity tracks rather
nicely with the fivefold increase in corn-syrup production since Archer
Daniels Midland developed a high-fructose version of the stuff in the
early seventies. Nor is it a coincidence that the plague selects the poor,
who eat the most processed food.

It began with the industrialization of Victorian England. The empire was
then flush with sugar from plantations in the colonies. Meantime the
cities were flush with factory workers. There was no good way to feed
them. And thus was born the afternoon tea break, the tea consisting
primarily of warm water and sugar. If the workers were well off, they
could also afford bread with heavily sugared jam--sugar-powered
industrialization. There was a 500 percent increase in per capita sugar
consumption in Britain between 1860 and 1890, around the time when the
life expectancy of a male factory worker was seventeen years. By the end
of the century the average Brit was getting about one sixth of his total
nutrition from sugar, exactly the same percentage Americans get
today--double what nutritionists recommend.

There is another energy matter to consider here, though. The grinding,
milling, wetting, drying, and baking of a breakfast cereal requires about
four calories of energy for every calorie of food energy it produces. A
two-pound bag of breakfast cereal burns the energy of a half-gallon of
gasoline in its making. All together the food-processing industry in the
United States uses about ten calories of fossil-fuel energy for every
calorie of food energy it produces.

That number does not include the fuel used in transporting the food from
the factory to a store near you, or the fuel used by millions of people
driving to thousands of super discount stores on the edge of town, where
the land is cheap. It appears, however, that the corn cycle is about to
come full circle. If a bipartisan coalition of farm-state lawmakers has
their way--and it appears they will--we will soon buy gasoline containing
twice as much fuel alcohol as it does now. Fuel alcohol already ranks
second as a use for processed corn in the United States, just behind corn
sweeteners. According to one set of calculations, we spend more calories
of fossil-fuel energy making ethanol than we gain from it. The Department
of Agriculture says the ratio is closer to a gallon and a quart of ethanol
for every gallon of fossil fuel we invest. The USDA calls this a bargain,
because gasohol is a "clean fuel." This claim to cleanness is in dispute
at the tailpipe level, and it certainly ignores the dead zone in the Gulf
of Mexico, pesticide pollution, and the haze of global gases gathering
over every farm field. Nor does this claim cover clean conscience; some
still might be unsettled knowing that our SUVs' demands for fuel compete
with the poor's demand for grain.

Green eaters, especially vegetarians, advocate eating low on the food
chain, a simple matter of energy flow. Eating a carrot gives the diner all
that carrot's energy, but feeding carrots to a chicken, then eating the
chicken, reduces the energy by a factor of ten. The chicken wastes some
energy, stores some as feathers, bones, and other inedibles, and uses most
of it just to live long enough to be eaten. As a rough rule of thumb, that
factor of ten applies to each level up the food chain, which is why some
fish, such as tuna, can be a horror in all of this. Tuna is a secondary
predator, meaning it not only doesn't eat plants but eats other fish that
themselves eat other fish, adding a zero to the multiplier each notch up,
easily a hundred times, more like a thousand times less efficient than
eating a plant.

This is fine as far as it goes, but the vegetarian's case can break down
on some details. On the moral issues, vegetarians claim their habits are
kinder to animals, though it is difficult to see how wiping out 99 percent
of wildlife's habitat, as farming has done in Iowa, is a kindness. In
rural Michigan, for example, the potato farmers have a peculiar tactic for
dealing with the predations of whitetail deer. They gut-shoot them with
small-bore rifles, in hopes the deer will limp off to the woods and die
where they won't stink up the potato fields.

Animal rights aside, vegetarians can lose the edge in the energy argument
by eating processed food, with its ten calories of fossil energy for every
calorie of food energy produced. The question, then, is: Does eating
processed food such as soy burger or soy milk cancel the energy benefits
of vegetarianism, which is to say, can I eat my lamb chops in peace?
Maybe. If I've done my due diligence, I will have found out that the
particular lamb I am eating was both local and grass-fed, two factors that
of course greatly reduce the embedded energy in a meal. I know of ranches
here in Montana, for instance, where sheep eat native grass under closely
controlled circumstances--no farming, no plows, no corn, no nitrogen.
Assets have not been stripped. I can't eat the grass directly. This can go
on. There are little niches like this in the system. Each person's
individual charge is to find such niches.

Chances are, though, any meat eater will come out on the short end of this
argument, especially in the United States. Take the case of beef. Cattle
are grazers, so in theory could live like the grass-fed lamb. Some cattle
cultures--those of South America and Mexico, for example--have perfected
wonderful cuisines based on grass-fed beef. This is not our habit in the
United States, and it is simply a matter of habit. Eighty percent of the
grain the United States produces goes to livestock. Seventy-eight percent
of all of our beef comes from feed lots, where the cattle eat grain,
mostly corn and wheat. So do most of our hogs and chickens. The cattle
spend their adult lives packed shoulder to shoulder in a space not much
bigger than their bodies, up to their knees in shit, being stuffed with
grain and a constant stream of antibiotics to prevent the disease this
sort of confinement invariably engenders. The manure is rich in nitrogen
and once provided a farm's fertilizer. The feedlots, however, are now far
removed from farm fields, so it is simply not "efficient" to haul it to
cornfields. It is waste. It exhales methane, a global-warming gas. It
pollutes streams. It takes thirty-five calories of fossil fuel to make a
calorie of beef this way; sixty-eight to make one calorie of pork.

Still, these livestock do something we can't. They convert grain's
carbohydrates to high-quality protein. All well and good, except that per
capita protein production in the United States is about double what an
average adult needs per day. Excess cannot be stored as protein in the
human body but is simply converted to fat. This is the end result of a
factory-farm system that appears as a living, continental-scale monument
to Rube Goldberg, a black-mass remake of the loaves-and-fishes miracle.
Prairie's productivity is lost for grain, grain's productivity is lost in
livestock, livestock's protein is lost to human fat--all federally
subsidized for about $15 billion a year, two thirds of which goes directly
to only two crops, corn and wheat.

This explains why the energy expert David Pimentel is so worried that the
rest of the world will adopt America's methods. He should be, because the
rest of the world is. Mexico now feeds 45 percent of its grain to
livestock, up from 5 percent in 1960. Egypt went from 3 percent to 31
percent in the same period, and China, with a sixth of the world's
population, has gone from 8 percent to 26 percent. All of these places
have poor people who could use the grain, but they can't afford it.

I live among elk and have learned to respect them. One moonlit night
during the dead of last winter, I looked out my bedroom window to see
about twenty of them grazing a plot of grass the size of a living room.
Just that small patch among acres of other species of native prairie
grass. Why that species and only that species of grass that night in the
worst of winter when the threat to their survival was the greatest? What
magic nutrient did this species alone contain? What does a wild animal
know that we don't? I think we need this knowledge.

Food is politics. That being the case, I voted twice in 2002. The day
after Election Day, in a truly dismal mood, I climbed the mountain behind
my house and found a small herd of elk grazing native grasses in the
morning sunlight. My respect for these creatures over the years has become
great enough that on that morning I did not hesitate but went straight to
my job, which was to rack a shell and drop one cow elk, my household's
annual protein supply. I voted with my weapon of choice--an act not all
that uncommon in this world, largely, I think, as a result of the way we
grow food. I can see why it is catching on. Such a vote has a certain
satisfying heft and finality about it. My particular bit of violence,
though, is more satisfying, I think, than the rest of the globe's ordinary
political mayhem. I used a rifle to opt out of an insane system. I killed,
but then so did you when you bought that package of burger, even when you
bought that package of tofu burger. I killed, then the rest of those elk
went on, as did the grasses, the birds, the trees, the coyotes, mountain
lions, and bugs, the fundamental productivity of an intact natural system,
all of it went on.


By Richard Manning

Richard Manning is the author of Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has
Hijacked Civilization, to be published this month by North Point Press.

Copyright of Harper's Magazine is the property of Harper's Magazine
Foundation and its content may not be copied or e-mailed to multiple sites
or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder`s express written
permission. However, users may print, download, or e-mail articles for
individual use.
Source: Harper's Magazine, Feb2004, Vol. 308 Issue 1845, p37, 9p
Item: 11985940

Where are the references? 01.Mar.2004 08:47

Raging Grannie wsb2001@adelphia.net

An article of this import should have references - there aren't any. I went to the Harper's website to ask - they not only offer no way to contact them via email, they don't even give a snail mail address. Anyone know how to contact them or the author, Richard Manning???

Cleveland Hts., OH

Great Article ! 01.Mar.2004 12:26

John B

Great well thought out article ! Nuf sed.

There are few non-destructive choices. 01.Mar.2004 13:30


If you eat, you take... from something else.

Deep is the manure upon the fields of nescience 01.Mar.2004 14:05

Don Tate

I don't want to spend the time to debunk this, but consider that I'm a 46 year old egghead and a Phi Beta Kappa. Agh, agh, agh! Bull- SHIT! :-)

Believe it 01.Mar.2004 15:12


I've worked professionally in sustainable agriculture since the 1970s, including for several universities, several state and federal (including USDA and NCAT) programs, and any number of nonprofit organizations. I have farmed (dairy goats, sheep, cows; meat livestock; produce; cash grain) and consider my life to be devoted to "sustainable food systems."

People are not going to want to hear what Manning has to say because it so completely flies in the face of the Neolithic ideologies we've inherited, as drilled into our skulls by ADM, Cargill, and the fossil fuel industry. Not to mention all that nostalgic back-to-the-land bullshit, whether it comes from the Farm Bureau or a jet-setting, land-owning college professor called Wendell Berry.

But Manning is right about many things that Phi Beta Kappas and others will dismiss. Most people are clueless about how the human food system works, how the agricultures have evolved, though they spout about it endlessly. But it's like climate change--those who have ears, let them listen. And those who've spent their lives getting degrees and pushing ideas, try processing your reactive feelings before opening your intellectual standpipes of misinformation.

Agriculture *has* hijacked civilization, and if you don't want to believe Manning, put in some effort and read a standard geological and climatological history of the Holocene. I recommend Eric Roberts's. Agriculture has been the human food-gathering strategy for only one half of one percent to five percent of our species's existence (depending on how far back you date that--250,000 years for modern /H. sapiens/, or 2 million years for /H. ergaster/). And yet in this brief time, the agricultures have caused more disruption than any other human invention (and remember--cities are the invention of the agricultures).

Everywhere we look we see cascading failures in natural systems, telling us that the agricultures are not sustainable. It is time to evolve something new.

For me, the biggest sadness is that this information has to come from Manning. The field of so-called "sustainable agriculture" has been sitting with its thumbs up its downspout for the past twenty years, not wanting to offend, not wanting to engage with these huge, difficult issues. And with so much invested, by now, in pushing simplistic ideas and Yuppie Chow, that the change is not going to come from that quarter.

The agricultures represent a reframing of the human uses of water and energy, and we'd better wise up and start looking at our food systems from that vantage.

Richard Manning should have continued... 01.Mar.2004 17:04


Richard Manning should have continued his diatribe by next examining waste in human shelters, transportation, and almost every endeavor the modern world attempts. For example, Back when I used to work in Defense Aerospace, I noted how every new supervisor who took over a position would reverse the procedures of his dept. much the same way the proverbial wife would always be moving furniture around in her house. I called this make-work "vibrations" simply because if these actions were tracked through time they resembled a back and forth movement - that signified nothing. One can see such behavior in today's homeowners. I recall an age when people rarely remodeled their homes. The idea was that the house was built smartly to begin with and if it wasn't broke it didn't need fixing. But then came a time when everyone seemed to be continually remodeling their homes. Walls went in, and then the same walls vanished, only to later be replaced. I saw this just the other day on PBS - I think it was on This Old House. Some old house had been designed with high ceilings - as that made the most sense for air-exchange back in the old days. But then in the 70s someone had opted for saving heating energy by lowering the ceilings. But now the same ceilings are once more being stylishly raised back to their former height. But I can predict that in the future some new buyer will once again lower the ceilings. This is a mindless VIBRATION. If we tracked all the mindless vibrations through out our modern civilization we would discover the wastage of vast oceans of hydrocarbons, carpets of primeval forests, decimated animal species and such like. But history seems to suggest that Civilization was never a very efficient beast - and beast it is - though it only exists at the level of 'swarm intelligence' and is always an artificial creature made of abstract human interactions. Civilizations have always fed on the natural world environments, and they poop out waste-lands in their place. Because civilization is an unnatural beast it can never live in a balanced coexistence with nature. The last creature to die will not be a cockroach - it will be civilization, as some last human government lives out its last days hidden in a bunker deep in an earth that resembles Mars.

From Hudson's "The Naturalist in La Plata" 1892 01.Mar.2004 17:15

Chris Talbert

During recent years we have heard much about the great and rapid changes now going on in the plants and animals of all the temperate regions of the globe colonized by Europeans. These changes, if taken merely as evidence of material progress, must be a matter of rejoicing to those who are satisfied, and more than satisfied, with our system of civilization, our method of outwitting Nature by the removal of all checks on the undue increase of our own species.

Ignorant "Educateds"... 01.Mar.2004 18:16


>>> I don't want to spend the time to debunk this, Oh, yeah sure... your time is SOOOO valuable... >>> but consider that I'm a 46 year old egghead and a Phi Beta Kappa ...well whoop de doo for you. Means nothing without some actual input of thought on the topic here...! >>>Agh, agh, agh! Bull- SHIT! :-) Arrogant, ignorant, know-nothing, self-important, pathetic waste of space... hopefully your type will be the first to die off when the inevitable correction famine finally hits Western Civilization. Wake up, dipshit: it's YOUR FOOD SUPPLY too that's being discussed here.

What`s the alternative? 01.Mar.2004 19:21


Oh how I`d love to ask an advanced civilization from another planet how they`d get themselves out of our predicament. Will zero-point energy be the answer or some other alternative source? If we don`t come up with something real quick we`re in deep manure and that`s no joke!

Is this not Plausible? 01.Mar.2004 21:20

Don ergozone@sbcglobal.net

With great intensity I read this article, as I made my dinner, wheat products no doubt. I understand the need for skeptisim as it is a healthy function, yet here is an article that produces common sense arguments as well as a few solutions and yet we can't fathom a resonable response other than to debate to a small extent the value of the thought behind it. I guess I am aiming my sight s at Mr. Tap-a Keg-a-Day Frat boy.

I enjoyed the 1970 Earth Day call for eco responsiblity and what happened, I am a shamed at those who I grew up with who drive these gasmongers SUV's- for protection shake? Remember when VW's where O.K. Didn't they come from Germany where the Autobahn produces 160mph speeds, anyway I digress becausue I am sure there are a number of studies counter to my love for the BUG, but at least it wasn't a Ford Pinto.

I think the bottom line is this "it takes energy to make products" and guess what that energy is, OIL, period. It is needed for everything we produce so how is this wonderfully written article a stretch for anyone's imagination. It's more than follow the money, and for that matter a bit more of connect the dots. Let's all take time to remove ouselves from the Boob Tube, stop looking at our Infotainment News and look more closely at the foundation of our mere mrtal being.

Sadly I must say of those in the 70's who didn't get the message then, how can they provide leadership for the generations that are already here? Remind me to take a bus next time you get in your SUV.

Feed on this idea 01.Mar.2004 21:26

Jim Lee

That correction famine is probably going to be very unpleasant. When I was taught in school biology (40 years ago) that the rabbit population on a desert island would cycle up and up and then drop to nearly nothing, then start over, I assumed that the human race would learn a more advanced way to deal with this problem. WRONG! The people I am surrounded by only what to make their friends and neighbors jealous with their latest model SUV. How can people be so shallow? The erasure of all our open space only drives people to be self righteous about recycling their aluminum cans. How about population control in some benign way, people?

clarification of scientific units 02.Mar.2004 11:58

John Adamo

In food production, the preferred scientific unit of energy is capital C - Calorie, which is defined simply as kcal, or 1000 simple calories. May someone, privy to the author of said article, clarify the author's use of these terms?

Back to the Country 02.Mar.2004 13:09

iwznisk8r iwznisk8r@gorge.com

Read from www.rense.com My wife and I are into our first year as nube Homesteaders. My plans for the future are reshaping because of your article. Many thanks for the insights.

no references 02.Mar.2004 15:19


No references, no credibility.

Destroy the farms 02.Mar.2004 16:59

anonymous ddavidson@sasktel.net

Destroy the farms and grass will grow in the steeets of your cities. Destroy the cities and they will appear as if by magic as mushrooms after a rain if agriculture be allowed to flourish.

The BIG picture 02.Mar.2004 21:18


Insightful article. Informative. Intelligent. Educational.
I saw a referance to zero-point energy in the comments.
Zero-point does exist, and would solve the vast majority of social/political/economic/environmental problems that have been INDUCED upon our nation, upon our world.
Unfortunatly, the suppression of zero-point technologies will continue until the bitter end. As with the suppression of other technologies, the supression of true world history, the supression of education and ultimatly the suppression of the human race.
This is all part of the BIG picture.
The PTB know what they are doing to the world, to us. They know the famine cycle is just around the corner. They know that the current agriculture system is unsustainable. They are well aware that many millions will starve.
But THEY will not starve. They have amassed great 'riches' (food)
Articles such as this used to interest me when i was younger, and i would always wonder why no-one did anything about these things.
As i matured and grew, i found that there was so much deceipt, so many lies, and so many people calling attention to these lies, that it could not be random chance, and the fact that little or nothing was being done to correct any of these problems lead me to the conclusion that the PTB simpy did not want anything to be done.
One of the ploys of the PTB is 'divide and conquer'. We are all fighting the same group of suppressors, but most people only see the little battle before them. These small skirmishes are important, but often times they are fought between two or more qroups that have basically the same net interest, while the PTB sit back and watch their enemy destroy themselfs thru in-fighting. A house divided cannot stand....against the PTB.
Basicly the point im trying to make is that i agree with the theme of this article, but that its part of a much bigger picture that i think everyone should be aware of.
To the simpleton that wrote 'no references, no credability':
I will not lower myself to the level that you reside at, i will merely point out that you could not even leave a valid email address as a 'reference' to lend to your 'credability' That speaks volumes IMHO.


Searching for answers! 03.Mar.2004 01:04

David Lee leedavidm@yahoo.com

Working with the agricultural industry in Australia, trying to communicate a sense of the urgecy for need to increase sustainable practises, I feel like it's all a bit of a time waste after reading this. Fascinating stuff nevertheless...

I am now slightly enlightened in zero-point technologies (interesting article for other novices at  http://users.erols.com/iri/ZPENERGY.html), but would also throw up the work by Viktor Schauberger on energy. Plenty for conspiracy theorists to get their teeth into there, but what's the reality? Who's got the technology, or is it sitting on a shelf somewhere??

Also,  kh5511@msn.com you talk of PTB manipulation and control. What makes you so certain there's more to all this than meets the eye? Feel free to email me with your thoughts and references.

We were warned 30 years ago 03.Mar.2004 06:39

V M Paulsen gini_paulsen@yahoo.com

In 1972 the Club of Rome/Meadows et al published Limits to Growth, updated in 1996, Beyond the Limits, projecting outcomes to 2100, using current trends of population, arable land, pollution, capital investment, etc. These reports were ignored, dismissed and/or disregarded. Now an Easter Island scenario awaits us. Population size and rate of growth remains the drain on all resources. Norms and values about what each of us is entitled to are not consenusally shared, so it is likely that each of us will seek individual solutions for survival, at the expense of the other. The Tradegedy of the Commons, the earth, is something we will all experience, more or less painfully depending upon our socioeconomic status. Achieving the common good, which would require severe constraints upon individual freedom, which might be a solution, is not regarded as a viable US option.

Slavery 03.Mar.2004 14:43


In the previous comment it is stated-
"Achieving the common good, which would require severe constraints upon individual freedom, which might be a solution, is not regarded as a viable US option."
Am i the only person who sees an underlying theme?
Since when are restrictions on personal freedoms a viable option for anyone?
Undoubtedly there would be some whom these 'constraints' would not be imposed upon. Our leaders perhaps, or our leaders leaders maybe.
At any rate, i guess slavery WOULD be a solution, but to throw a quote out there "Give me liberty or give me death"
achieving the common good= communism
severe constraints on personal freedoms=slavery
A true possible solution might be to spend a little more $$ on sustainable agriculture practices and renewable energy sources, and a little less $$ on 'smart' bombs and genetic manipulation.
If we put as much money in the hands of our teachers and scientists as we put in the hands of our sports stars and celebrities it would be a good start. But thats not gonna happen until we all wake up to the lies that bombard us constantly, on levels most people cant even comprehend.

It's slavery, and it's queer 03.Mar.2004 22:58


Please let us not overlook that the food system of the US runs on an economic system that is tantamount to slavery to those who provide the labor. I refer you to the United Farmworkers, the rural arms of the Catholic Worker Movement, and any one of a hundred other sources on the rural sociology of rural/agricultural America.

Without migrant farmworkers--legal and illegal--earning pitiful wages and working in pathetic conditions, we all would have to get used to paying more for our food. Either that or the corporations who profit so richly from food--and their investors--would have to learn how to do with lower profits. This is one of the reasons that even organic farms are going outside the US for their labor (some of the biggest/most economically successful organic farms are in Mexico and South America).

And please do not forget that the US was founded on a slave system centered around the production of agricultural commodities. Plantation agriculture is very close to how today's production agriculture farms work. One can argue that today's farms are more mechanized, more production intensive, which is true, but beside the point. When the time comes to do labor that machines can't do, it's disenfranchised people of color who form the labor force. Today, "free trade" and WB/IMF-inflicted economic desperation has taken the place of the formal contracts of slave ownership of the 19th century.

Cities and agriculture are twins--like Osiris and Set--that co-evolved in the Neolithic.

As for population issues, I refer you all to the wise, humorous, fierce, provocative, and truly compassionate work of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement:


Mathis Wackernagel (one of the proponents of the Ecological Footprint method of resource accounting) has a little algorithm that shows how the earth's population of humans could naturally fall back to 1 billion in 100 years, with no famines, no mass murders, none of that Mel-Gibson-type apocalyptic grotesque/pornographic-suffering stuff. It's quite simple. If for the next century everyone on earth who absolutely had to reproduce for psychological or whatever reasons, limited themselves to one child, over the course of that hundred years (four to five human generations), numbers would reduce naturally, through deaths that will happen anyway. So it is thinkable, and arithmetically simple.

The question is whether humans can evolve to detach from the obsession with reproducing, and reorient themselves to focus on improving quality of life for those children born. The breeding obsession is an outcome of the Neolithic as well--which set up the systems of livestock breeding that came to form the metaphor, and later the enforced ideology, for male/female interactions and sex.

Scientific observation after scientific observation shows that, among many species, sex is "for" pleasure, bonding, relationship-building, community-building...with reproduction as what appears to be a nearly accidental or minor outcome. It is we humans who have turned that all on its nose, and not only tied reproduction to sex, but tried to erase all but this certainly queerest of all possibilities, heterosexual breeding-based sex.

The major summary of how hard scientists have worked to impose the male/female/heterosexual/breeding-based view on all of nature is still the exhaustively documented book by Seattle's Dr. Bruce Bagemihl, /Biological Exuberance/. I recommend it to anyone who is thinking about humanity and human food systems. Most of all for the outstanding job it does of demonstrating just how artificial, local, and temporally restricted breeding-based heterosexuality is.

But we all have inherited such an iron-clad set of biases and programming about this, we find it hard to think otherwise. And since agriculture is, in my experience, the most homophobic of human endeavors (part of the reason I left farming and rural America was fear for my safety in the face of homophobic experiences), it's very hard to question agriculture in these terms.

References 04.Mar.2004 15:51

Joel Visser joelvisser@yahoo.com

For those who require references here are some books that more than back up what Manning contends, each with oodles of footnotes to satisfy your desire for scientific objectivity:

"Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond
"World War III: Population and the Biosphere at the End of the Millennium" by Michael Tobias
"Spirit in the Gene" by Reg Morrison
"The Last Days of Ancient Sunlight" by Thom Mount
"The Time Before History" by Colin Tudge

And while you're at it, take a gander at "Nature and Madness" by Paul Shepard or "In Search of the Primitive" by Stanley Diamond--but only if you aren't afraid of the dark.

Say what? 05.Mar.2004 16:26


I must say that I did notice an underlying theme from brita, and it's not slavery. Thats a different topic all together.
"Scientific observation after scientific observation shows that, among many species, sex is "for" pleasure, bonding, relationship-building, community-building...with reproduction as what appears to be a nearly accidental or minor outcome"
"among many species"
I racked my memory for examples of other species engaging in sex for pleasure. I couldnt think of one.
From what i understand of most species, sex is purely for the purpose of breeding. Hence the law of natural selection, when the males battle it out to decide which will mate. Mankind seems to be the only species that is so infatuated with the pleasure of sex that (he) will engage in it with almost anyone or anything, even with himself.

g-r-e-e-d-. 06.Mar.2004 15:07


referred here from alt.politics - great article and interesting look at history. i loved the lines - "the presence not just of
grain but of granaries and, more tellingly, of just a few houses
significantly larger and more ornate than all the others attached to those
granaries. Agriculture was not so much about food as it was about the
accumulation of wealth. It benefited some humans, and those people have
been in charge ever since. "


from Brita above:
"Without migrant farmworkers--legal and illegal--earning pitiful wages and working in pathetic conditions, we all would have to get used to paying more for our food. Either that or the corporations who profit so richly from food--and their investors--would have to learn how to do with lower profits."

i would say that most if not all our problems today derive from the greed of those born into power. states across the nation are struggling to pay for fire, police, and education, but instead of governments cutting the fat, governments are cutting police, fire and education.

the bottom line is the bottom line - gimme.

what's not attributed to greed is religion's fault - but the two are not mutually exclusive, anyway.


G-r-e-e-d I-n-d-e-e-d 07.Mar.2004 01:28


The root of ALL evil being the love of money.

" It benefited some humans, and those people have
been in charge EVER SINCE " (emphasis added)is the key sentence.
This is the essence of BIG picture that i have mentioned.

" i would say that most if not all our problems today derive from the greed of those BORN INTO POWER. " (emphasis added)
" what's not attributed to greed is religion's fault - but the two are not mutually exclusive, anyway. "
BINGO to you, except i would say the perversion of religion, imho.
<SmirkS> you seem aware, have you seen the BIG picture?
Feel free to mail me.

World peace, whirled peas. Which do you prefer?

Other Great References 09.Mar.2004 15:45


Anything by Daniel Quinn, such as _Ishmael_, _The Story of B_, _Beyond Civilization_. These give a cultural perspective. Derrick Jensen ( _The Culture of Make Believe_ ) also does a great job.

As for the science, several resources exist on this page:  http://ishmael.com/Education/Science/ such as masters' theses, published studies, etc.

As for "what to do,"  http://www.Ishmael.com provides a great start. Educate yourself, talk to people, do what you can, where you are. I happen to be working on Tribal Housing - see  http://www.TribalHousing.com .


This article is based on obsolete science 11.Mar.2004 04:39

Baby Peanut

The author starts out by making some trivial, forgivable errors. He writes about life saying everything has to come from the sun. Anyone who has been casually reading headline news over the years will know about black smokers, aka undersea geothermal vents.

But this omission pales in comparison to the much more glaring one. Why do you think we are so desperate for GMO wheat? It is the key to digging us out of the hole we are in.

Sobering article 11.Mar.2004 18:54

Wired Earp Wired_Earp@excite.com

I also found it unfortunate that this otherwise excellent article lacked footnotes. However, I didn't see any factual assertions in it that seemed off-base, based on my readings elsewhere in recent years. To the contrary, the writer seems to have a very good grip on reality.

The bottom line, as in recent articles on "peak oil" production (do a Google search for "peak oil" to see the rather grim facts and predictions), is that our fantasy world of abundant, cheap oil and endless agricultural frontiers to be exploited by an ever-growing human population is nearing an end, and the adjustments (or "die-back") are not likely to be very pleasant. Not unless we miraculously stop breeding like field mice and also discover some kind of magical energy source (zero-point energy?), neither of which can be considered as anything but the longest of long-shots....

As the well-researched articles on peak oil point out, none of the so-called "alternative energies" (hydrogen, biomass, solar, wind etc.) are realistic or viable without vast, inefficient inputs of cheap oil to build, transport, maintain them, etc. And cheap oil is soon going to become a thing of the past, as we may have already reached the peak in global production, while demand continues to grow, and grow, and grow.

Absolute fact 11.Mar.2004 19:35


I will not let the last comment on this article stand.
Ask yourself-who is baby peanut (no comments from the peanut gallery?) and who exactly is the 'we' refered to in "Why do you think WE are so desperate for GMO wheat? It is the key to digging us out of the hole WE are in."??

First calling the article 'obsolete'. Slurring a factual document.
Then pushing GMO wheat. Genetic Modification (playing God) is their agenda.

These are two signatures of the people who "have been in charge ever since", and i refuse to let them have the last comment on this informative and factual article.

It's very reassuring... 13.Mar.2004 12:12

surfsteve surfsteve@surfsteve.com

It's very reassuring to know that if mankind totally annihilates life on the planet we will at least have black smokers to repopulate the earth but that might take a while... I agree with the article. Practices like genetically modifying wheat only serve to prolong and compound the problem.

WHO is desperate for GMO wheat again?? 18.Mar.2004 16:58

The Willing One

Baby, baby, did you read the article at the end of your own link?

GMO products are not designed to save the world, they are designed to profit the patent-holders.

The only attribute of Monsanto's GMO canola is that it is tolerant to their patented Roundup herbicide. This means you can blast the snot out of your field with this fine Agent Orange derivative and the extremely expensive crop remains. As if monoculture farming isn't bad enough... but hey, that's your business if you can keep it to yourself.

Too bad you can't. The seed blows into your neighbor's field, storms pick it up and carry it for 10's or even 100's of miles. Around here nobody can grow organic canola any more because of the level of GMO contamination is high enough that their crops can't be certified organic. Monsanto et. al. are either evil geniuses or incompetent idiots, depending on whether / not you think they saw this coming.

But now that it *is* a well-known problem, do they back off? Of course not, that would be the action of a sane and responsible company. Their response is to sue innocent farmers for using their patented seed without a license(!?!) when they should be getting sued (and are) for destroying peoples' livelihoods.

And they *still* want to shove GMO wheat down our throats. Even conservative, conventional farmers are fighting back - they don't want it, as they know that most foreign markets will refuse it.

BTW, not only does the stuff pollute other farmer's fields, it pollutes your own. When you try to rotate crops, what happens? Blast the fields with Roundup and last year's canola survives - so now it's a super weed in your own damn field, plus it's cross-pollinating with everything else... How long will it be before Monsanto comes out with some kind of Uber-Roundup that will kill even Roundup-tolerant crops?

BTW, it appears that GMO canola is more susceptable to fusarium, which is a real problem on the prairies right now. Bonus! Thanks Monsanto.

Don't even get me started about "golden rice." What a crock.

== TWO ==

We're all DEVO 18.Mar.2004 17:09

s.e.t.h. sethinthebox@yahoo.com

Though I'm still rubbing the sleep from my eyes in regards to Peak Oil production and its implications, I must say I found this article too important to suppress or deny. It clearly and simply defines the path of our dependence on oil and its involvement in our food supply.

When you tell someone that the end is nigh you will either be mocked or asked to leave. Americans live in a fantasy world and it is growing evident that some will fight and kill to maintain that mirage, while other spin their wheels in frustration mired in the failings of modern society.

For the longest time, I could not understand why the Powers That Be would conciously do things that decrease our chances of surviving. After reading information about Peak Oil production (www.dieoff.org)I realized the answer: fear. Unfortunately, the PTB have had this information much longer than us, perhaps 50 years or more. They are not stupid as I once thought, but terrified. Posturing themselves to be the last ones in the cold, cold water as the ship goes down. Fear is a huge waster of energy, this is obvious, and though it does not excuse the PTB,it is at least understandable on a human level; no one wants to lose the wealth they have.

What baffles me is the blind devotion that people in a scientific age have toward their religions. Don get me wrong, as a pastor's kid, I've witnessed the best and worst that religion has to offer, but what is inexcuseable is the attitude that God is out there just to make sure that we populate the Galaxy. The sad fact is that we are not excused from the web we weave and there is a very good chance we could spoil this planet for whatever the next dominant species would have been.

A few things that I think we can definitely expect are more police, more religious sentimentalism, less personal freedoms and privacy, more people and more war. I'd like to be the positive person I once was, but the facts are clear and very few people will be prepared when the hammer comes down. I can only hope that I represent a chain of people who are waking up and that our numbers will reflect a progressive and positive change in our otherwise bleak future.

Kindest regards

Reply 20.Mar.2004 18:42


Mr.Manning raises some very interesting issues. We Americans enjoy lifestyles, both rich and poor, which are the envy of the World. This is due to a number of variables such as: constitutional republic government, hardworking imigrants, public education, plentiful natural resources and cheap energy. We need not be ashamed of our past accomplishments as a standard of freedom, peace and safety for the rest of the World. We do though as average citizens need to be better informed with issues such as energy and agriculture in order to let our representatives know our views. Powerful special interest groups looking short-term are wooing our representatives in Washington D.C. and infuencing governmental policy that affects us and America long-term.
I don't know Mr. Manning's qualifications to report on both agriculture and energy issues. I can't comment on his accusations against ADM. Big business always seems to be the easy scapegoat, but the average citizen has just as much voice if they get informed and involved in their goverment.
I feel I do have some qualifications to speak on these issues by formerly being involved in agriculture as a farmer - with a B.S. from Penn State in Horticultural Science and am presently involved in the natural gas industry with a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering and working on a M.S. in Energy Management from NYIT, NY,NY.
America runs on cheap energy, but that will be changing very shortly. Most of the petroleum used in this country is used for transportation. The fertilizers that Mr. Manning refers to is mainly manufactured from natural gas. We import over half of our oil, a large part of it coming from Mexico and Venezuela, some from the Middle East. Until a few years ago we produced all of our own natural gas. Imports from Canadian fields have helped to meet our voracious appetite for it the last few years, but the Canadians want to keep some for themselves. The energy companies are looking to liquified natural gas, shipping it from foreign plentiful sources, but at a higher price than our "homegrown". Add to this China's booming economy based on the USA model of transportation and energy use. Europe keeps their fuel prices high through taxation to encourage conservation and portray the "real value" of oil products on the environment. Supply and demand will soon dictate America's prices through the world market. America needs a national policy that addresses honestly all the energy issues in this country, which includes conservation, alternative energy sources, sustainable resources and cogeneration. "The Prize" is a good book to read on the history of oil.
Going back to agriculture, fertilizers are not the main determining variable in crop production at risk today. Granted, modern day agriculture is based on increased production from the "green revolution" which involves breeding high yielding rice, wheat, and corn varieties, resulting in increased yields through intensive use of modern fertilizers and herbicides, but the main variables at risk are germplasm diversity and water. Diversity is a law of nature just as any other scientific law. Plant germplasm is necessary in order for plant breeders to introduce characteristics back into a plant species that might make it more resistant to a particular disease or predator. The germplasm issue can be resolved through political means , but water is another problem. Most of the Worlds agriculture lands are irrigated. Most people do not realize that you can not keep irrigating land to produce crops. What happens is that salts are left behind as water filters through the ground and the soil becomes none productive. Add to this the fact that in California right now water wars are taking place where farmers are selling their water rights from the Colorado River to some of the cities. China does not have enough water to irrigate its crop lands if they model their agriculture after ours. Farmers in North Texas are not able to pump all the water they want from their underground aquifer. Sustainable agriculture policy in America needs to be addressed before there is a real food crisis in this country as well as the rest of the World. Policy change will only take place through two methods either (1) from an educated public that forsees a crisis and takes corrective measures or (2) through a reactive response after a catastrophic event takes place.

Here is more specific data 26.Mar.2004 08:35


Eating Fossil Fuels

by Dale Allen Pfeiffer

© Copyright 2003, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. This story may NOT be posted on any Internet web site without express written permission. Contact  admin@copvcia.com. May be circulated, distributed or transmitted for non-profit purposes only.

[Some months ago, concerned by a Paris statement made by Professor Kenneth Deffeyes of Princeton regarding his concern about the impact of Peak Oil and Gas on fertilizer production, I tasked FTW's Contributing Editor for Energy, Dale Allen Pfeiffer to start looking into what natural gas shortages would do to fertilizer production costs. His investigation led him to look at the totality of food production in the US. Because the US and Canada feed much of the world, the answers have global implications.

What follows is most certainly the single most frightening article I have ever read and certainly the most alarming piece that FTW has ever published. Even as we have seen CNN, Britain's Independent and Jane's Defence Weekly acknowledge the reality of Peak Oil and Gas within the last week, acknowledging that world oil and gas reserves are as much as 80% less than predicted, we are also seeing how little real thinking has been devoted to the host of crises certain to follow; at least in terms of publicly accessible thinking.

The following article is so serious in its implications that I have taken the unusual step of underlining some of its key findings. I did that with the intent that the reader treat each underlined passage as a separate and incredibly important fact. Each one of these facts should be read and digested separately to assimilate its importance. I found myself reading one fact and then getting up and walking away until I could come back and (un)comfortably read to the next.

All told, Dale Allen Pfeiffer's research and reporting confirms the worst of FTW's suspicions about the consequences of Peak Oil, and it poses serious questions about what to do next. Not the least of these is why, in a presidential election year, none of the candidates has even acknowledged the problem. Thus far, it is clear that solutions for these questions, perhaps the most important ones facing mankind, will by necessity be found by private individuals and communities, independently of outside or governmental help. Whether the real search for answers comes now, or as the crisis becomes unavoidable, depends solely on us. - MCR]

October 3 , 2003, 1200 PDT, (FTW) -- Human beings (like all other animals) draw their energy from the food they eat. Until the last century, all of the food energy available on this planet was derived from the sun through photosynthesis. Either you ate plants or you ate animals that fed on plants, but the energy in your food was ultimately derived from the sun.

It would have been absurd to think that we would one day run out of sunshine. No, sunshine was an abundant, renewable resource, and the process of photosynthesis fed all life on this planet. It also set a limit on the amount of food that could be generated at any one time, and therefore placed a limit upon population growth. Solar energy has a limited rate of flow into this planet. To increase your food production, you had to increase the acreage under cultivation, and displace your competitors. There was no other way to increase the amount of energy available for food production. Human population grew by displacing everything else and appropriating more and more of the available solar energy.

The need to expand agricultural production was one of the motive causes behind most of the wars in recorded history, along with expansion of the energy base (and agricultural production is truly an essential portion of the energy base). And when Europeans could no longer expand cultivation, they began the task of conquering the world. Explorers were followed by conquistadors and traders and settlers. The declared reasons for expansion may have been trade, avarice, empire or simply curiosity, but at its base, it was all about the expansion of agricultural productivity. Wherever explorers and conquistadors traveled, they may have carried off loot, but they left plantations. And settlers toiled to clear land and establish their own homestead. This conquest and expansion went on until there was no place left for further expansion. Certainly, to this day, landowners and farmers fight to claim still more land for agricultural productivity, but they are fighting over crumbs. Today, virtually all of the productive land on this planet is being exploited by agriculture. What remains unused is too steep, too wet, too dry or lacking in soil nutrients.1

Just when agricultural output could expand no more by increasing acreage, new innovations made possible a more thorough exploitation of the acreage already available. The process of "pest" displacement and appropriation for agriculture accelerated with the industrial revolution as the mechanization of agriculture hastened the clearing and tilling of land and augmented the amount of farmland which could be tended by one person. With every increase in food production, the human population grew apace.

At present, nearly 40% of all land-based photosynthetic capability has been appropriated by human beings.2 In the United States we divert more than half of the energy captured by photosynthesis.3 We have taken over all the prime real estate on this planet. The rest of nature is forced to make due with what is left. Plainly, this is one of the major factors in species extinctions and in ecosystem stress.

The Green Revolution

In the 1950s and 1960s, agriculture underwent a drastic transformation commonly referred to as the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution resulted in the industrialization of agriculture. Part of the advance resulted from new hybrid food plants, leading to more productive food crops. Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250%.4 That is a tremendous increase in the amount of food energy available for human consumption. This additional energy did not come from an increase in incipient sunlight, nor did it result from introducing agriculture to new vistas of land. The energy for the Green Revolution was provided by fossil fuels in the form of fertilizers (natural gas), pesticides (oil), and hydrocarbon fueled irrigation.

The Green Revolution increased the energy flow to agriculture by an average of 50 times the energy input of traditional agriculture.5 In the most extreme cases, energy consumption by agriculture has increased 100 fold or more.6

In the United States, 400 gallons of oil equivalents are expended annually to feed each American (as of data provided in 1994).7 Agricultural energy consumption is broken down as follows:

· 31% for the manufacture of inorganic fertilizer

· 19% for the operation of field machinery

· 16% for transportation

· 13% for irrigation

· 08% for raising livestock (not including livestock feed)

· 05% for crop drying

· 05% for pesticide production

· 08% miscellaneous8

Energy costs for packaging, refrigeration, transportation to retail outlets, and household cooking are not considered in these figures.

To give the reader an idea of the energy intensiveness of modern agriculture, production of one kilogram of nitrogen for fertilizer requires the energy equivalent of from 1.4 to 1.8 liters of diesel fuel. This is not considering the natural gas feedstock.9 According to The Fertilizer Institute ( http://www.tfi.org), in the year from June 30 2001 until June 30 2002 the United States used 12,009,300 short tons of nitrogen fertilizer.10 Using the low figure of 1.4 liters diesel equivalent per kilogram of nitrogen, this equates to the energy content of 15.3 billion liters of diesel fuel, or 96.2 million barrels.

Of course, this is only a rough comparison to aid comprehension of the energy requirements for modern agriculture.

In a very real sense, we are literally eating fossil fuels. However, due to the laws of thermodynamics, there is not a direct correspondence between energy inflow and outflow in agriculture. Along the way, there is a marked energy loss. Between 1945 and 1994, energy input to agriculture increased 4-fold while crop yields only increased 3-fold.11 Since then, energy input has continued to increase without a corresponding increase in crop yield. We have reached the point of marginal returns. Yet, due to soil degradation, increased demands of pest management and increasing energy costs for irrigation (all of which is examined below), modern agriculture must continue increasing its energy expenditures simply to maintain current crop yields. The Green Revolution is becoming bankrupt.

Fossil Fuel Costs

Solar energy is a renewable resource limited only by the inflow rate from the sun to the earth. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, are a stock-type resource that can be exploited at a nearly limitless rate. However, on a human timescale, fossil fuels are nonrenewable. They represent a planetary energy deposit which we can draw from at any rate we wish, but which will eventually be exhausted without renewal. The Green Revolution tapped into this energy deposit and used it to increase agricultural production.

Total fossil fuel use in the United States has increased 20-fold in the last 4 decades. In the US, we consume 20 to 30 times more fossil fuel energy per capita than people in developing nations. Agriculture directly accounts for 17% of all the energy used in this country.12 As of 1990, we were using approximately 1,000 liters (6.41 barrels) of oil to produce food of one hectare of land.13

In 1994, David Pimentel and Mario Giampietro estimated the output/input ratio of agriculture to be around 1.4.14 For 0.7 Kilogram-Calories (kcal) of fossil energy consumed, U.S. agriculture produced 1 kcal of food. The input figure for this ratio was based on FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) statistics, which consider only fertilizers (without including fertilizer feedstock), irrigation, pesticides (without including pesticide feedstock), and machinery and fuel for field operations. Other agricultural energy inputs not considered were energy and machinery for drying crops, transportation for inputs and outputs to and from the farm, electricity, and construction and maintenance of farm buildings and infrastructures. Adding in estimates for these energy costs brought the input/output energy ratio down to 1.15 Yet this does not include the energy expense of packaging, delivery to retail outlets, refrigeration or household cooking.

In a subsequent study completed later that same year (1994), Giampietro and Pimentel managed to derive a more accurate ratio of the net fossil fuel energy ratio of agriculture.16 In this study, the authors defined two separate forms of energy input: Endosomatic energy and Exosomatic energy. Endosomatic energy is generated through the metabolic transformation of food energy into muscle energy in the human body. Exosomatic energy is generated by transforming energy outside of the human body, such as burning gasoline in a tractor. This assessment allowed the authors to look at fossil fuel input alone and in ratio to other inputs.

Prior to the industrial revolution, virtually 100% of both endosomatic and exosomatic energy was solar driven. Fossil fuels now represent 90% of the exosomatic energy used in the United States and other developed countries.17 The typical exo/endo ratio of pre-industrial, solar powered societies is about 4 to 1. The ratio has changed tenfold in developed countries, climbing to 40 to 1. And in the United States it is more than 90 to 1.18 The nature of the way we use endosomatic energy has changed as well.

The vast majority of endosomatic energy is no longer expended to deliver power for direct economic processes. Now the majority of endosomatic energy is utilized to generate the flow of information directing the flow of exosomatic energy driving machines. Considering the 90/1 exo/endo ratio in the United States, each endosomatic kcal of energy expended in the US induces the circulation of 90 kcal of exosomatic energy. As an example, a small gasoline engine can convert the 38,000 kcal in one gallon of gasoline into 8.8 KWh (Kilowatt hours), which equates to about 3 weeks of work for one human being.19

In their refined study, Giampietro and Pimentel found that 10 kcal of exosomatic energy are required to produce 1 kcal of food delivered to the consumer in the U.S. food system. This includes packaging and all delivery expenses, but excludes household cooking).20 The U.S. food system consumes ten times more energy than it produces in food energy. This disparity is made possible by nonrenewable fossil fuel stocks.

Assuming a figure of 2,500 kcal per capita for the daily diet in the United States, the 10/1 ratio translates into a cost of 35,000 kcal of exosomatic energy per capita each day. However, considering that the average return on one hour of endosomatic labor in the U.S. is about 100,000 kcal of exosomatic energy, the flow of exosomatic energy required to supply the daily diet is achieved in only 20 minutes of labor in our current system. Unfortunately, if you remove fossil fuels from the equation, the daily diet will require 111 hours of endosomatic labor per capita; that is, the current U.S. daily diet would require nearly three weeks of labor per capita to produce.

Quite plainly, as fossil fuel production begins to decline within the next decade, there will be less energy available for the production of food.

Soil, Cropland and Water

Modern intensive agriculture is unsustainable. Technologically-enhanced agriculture has augmented soil erosion, polluted and overdrawn groundwater and surface water, and even (largely due to increased pesticide use) caused serious public health and environmental problems. Soil erosion, overtaxed cropland and water resource overdraft in turn lead to even greater use of fossil fuels and hydrocarbon products. More hydrocarbon-based fertilizers must be applied, along with more pesticides; irrigation water requires more energy to pump; and fossil fuels are used to process polluted water.

It takes 500 years to replace 1 inch of topsoil.21 In a natural environment, topsoil is built up by decaying plant matter and weathering rock, and it is protected from erosion by growing plants. In soil made susceptible by agriculture, erosion is reducing productivity up to 65% each year.22 Former prairie lands, which constitute the bread basket of the United States, have lost one half of their topsoil after farming for about 100 years. This soil is eroding 30 times faster than the natural formation rate.23 Food crops are much hungrier than the natural grasses that once covered the Great Plains. As a result, the remaining topsoil is increasingly depleted of nutrients. Soil erosion and mineral depletion removes about $20 billion worth of plant nutrients from U.S. agricultural soils every year.24 Much of the soil in the Great Plains is little more than a sponge into which we must pour hydrocarbon-based fertilizers in order to produce crops.

Every year in the U.S., more than 2 million acres of cropland are lost to erosion, salinization and water logging. On top of this, urbanization, road building, and industry claim another 1 million acres annually from farmland.24 Approximately three-quarters of the land area in the United States is devoted to agriculture and commercial forestry.25 The expanding human population is putting increasing pressure on land availability. Incidentally, only a small portion of U.S. land area remains available for the solar energy technologies necessary to support a solar energy-based economy. The land area for harvesting biomass is likewise limited. For this reason, the development of solar energy or biomass must be at the expense of agriculture.

Modern agriculture also places a strain on our water resources. Agriculture consumes fully 85% of all U.S. freshwater resources.26 Overdraft is occurring from many surface water resources, especially in the west and south. The typical example is the Colorado River, which is diverted to a trickle by the time it reaches the Pacific. Yet surface water only supplies 60% of the water used in irrigation. The remainder, and in some places the majority of water for irrigation, comes from ground water aquifers. Ground water is recharged slowly by the percolation of rainwater through the earth's crust. Less than 0.1% of the stored ground water mined annually is replaced by rainfall.27 The great Ogallala aquifer that supplies agriculture, industry and home use in much of the southern and central plains states has an annual overdraft up to 160% above its recharge rate. The Ogallala aquifer will become unproductive in a matter of decades.28

We can illustrate the demand that modern agriculture places on water resources by looking at a farmland producing corn. A corn crop that produces 118 bushels/acre/year requires more than 500,000 gallons/acre of water during the growing season. The production of 1 pound of maize requires 1,400 pounds (or 175 gallons) of water.29 Unless something is done to lower these consumption rates, modern agriculture will help to propel the United States into a water crisis.

In the last two decades, the use of hydrocarbon-based pesticides in the U.S. has increased 33-fold, yet each year we lose more crops to pests.30 This is the result of the abandonment of traditional crop rotation practices. Nearly 50% of U.S. corn land is grown continuously as a monoculture.31 This results in an increase in corn pests, which in turn requires the use of more pesticides. Pesticide use on corn crops had increased 1,000-fold even before the introduction of genetically engineered, pesticide resistant corn. However, corn losses have still risen 4-fold.32

Modern intensive agriculture is unsustainable. It is damaging the land, draining water supplies and polluting the environment. And all of this requires more and more fossil fuel input to pump irrigation water, to replace nutrients, to provide pest protection, to remediate the environment and simply to hold crop production at a constant. Yet this necessary fossil fuel input is going to crash headlong into declining fossil fuel production.

US Consumption

In the United States, each person consumes an average of 2,175 pounds of food per person per year. This provides the U.S. consumer with an average daily energy intake of 3,600 Calories. The world average is 2,700 Calories per day.33 Fully 19% of the U.S. caloric intake comes from fast food. Fast food accounts for 34% of the total food consumption for the average U.S. citizen. The average citizen dines out for one meal out of four.34

One third of the caloric intake of the average American comes from animal sources (including dairy products), totaling 800 pounds per person per year. This diet means that U.S. citizens derive 40% of their calories from fat-nearly half of their diet. 35

Americans are also grand consumers of water. As of one decade ago, Americans were consuming 1,450 gallons/day/capita (g/d/c), with the largest amount expended on agriculture. Allowing for projected population increase, consumption by 2050 is projected at 700 g/d/c, which hydrologists consider to be minimal for human needs.36 This is without taking into consideration declining fossil fuel production.

To provide all of this food requires the application of 0.6 million metric tons of pesticides in North America per year. This is over one fifth of the total annual world pesticide use, estimated at 2.5 million tons.37 Worldwide, more nitrogen fertilizer is used per year than can be supplied through natural sources. Likewise, water is pumped out of underground aquifers at a much higher rate than it is recharged. And stocks of important minerals, such as phosphorus and potassium, are quickly approaching exhaustion.38

Total U.S. energy consumption is more than three times the amount of solar energy harvested as crop and forest products. The United States consumes 40% more energy annually than the total amount of solar energy captured yearly by all U.S. plant biomass. Per capita use of fossil energy in North America is five times the world average.39

Our prosperity is built on the principal of exhausting the world's resources as quickly as possible, without any thought to our neighbors, all the other life on this planet, or our children.

Population & Sustainability

Considering a growth rate of 1.1% per year, the U.S. population is projected to double by 2050. As the population expands, an estimated one acre of land will be lost for every person added to the U.S. population. Currently, there are 1.8 acres of farmland available to grow food for each U.S. citizen. By 2050, this will decrease to 0.6 acres. 1.2 acres per person is required in order to maintain current dietary standards.40

Presently, only two nations on the planet are major exporters of grain: the United States and Canada.41 By 2025, it is expected that the U.S. will cease to be a food exporter due to domestic demand. The impact on the U.S. economy could be devastating, as food exports earn $40 billion for the U.S. annually. More importantly, millions of people around the world could starve to death without U.S. food exports.42

Domestically, 34.6 million people are living in poverty as of 2002 census data.43 And this number is continuing to grow at an alarming rate. Too many of these people do not have a sufficient diet. As the situation worsens, this number will increase and the United States will witness growing numbers of starvation fatalities.

There are some things that we can do to at least alleviate this tragedy. It is suggested that streamlining agriculture to get rid of losses, waste and mismanagement might cut the energy inputs for food production by up to one-half.35 In place of fossil fuel-based fertilizers, we could utilize livestock manures that are now wasted. It is estimated that livestock manures contain 5 times the amount of fertilizer currently used each year.36 Perhaps most effective would be to eliminate meat from our diet altogether.37

Mario Giampietro and David Pimentel postulate that a sustainable food system is possible only if four conditions are met:

1. Environmentally sound agricultural technologies must be implemented.

2. Renewable energy technologies must be put into place.

3. Major increases in energy efficiency must reduce exosomatic energy consumption per capita.

4. Population size and consumption must be compatible with maintaining the stability of environmental processes.38

Providing that the first three conditions are met, with a reduction to less than half of the exosomatic energy consumption per capita, the authors place the maximum population for a sustainable economy at 200 million.39 Several other studies have produced figures within this ballpark (Energy and Population, Werbos, Paul J.  link to www.dieoff.com).

Given that the current U.S. population is in excess of 292 million, 40 that would mean a reduction of 92 million. To achieve a sustainable economy and avert disaster, the United States must reduce its population by at least one-third. The black plague during the 14th Century claimed approximately one-third of the European population (and more than half of the Asian and Indian populations), plunging the continent into a darkness from which it took them nearly two centuries to emerge.41

None of this research considers the impact of declining fossil fuel production. The authors of all of these studies believe that the mentioned agricultural crisis will only begin to impact us after 2020, and will not become critical until 2050. The current peaking of global oil production (and subsequent decline of production), along with the peak of North American natural gas production will very likely precipitate this agricultural crisis much sooner than expected. Quite possibly, a U.S. population reduction of one-third will not be effective for sustainability; the necessary reduction might be in excess of one-half. And, for sustainability, global population will have to be reduced from the current 6.32 billion people42 to 2 billion-a reduction of 68% or over two-thirds. The end of this decade could see spiraling food prices without relief. And the coming decade could see massive starvation on a global level such as never experienced before by the human race.

Three Choices

Considering the utter necessity of population reduction, there are three obvious choices awaiting us.

We can-as a society-become aware of our dilemma and consciously make the choice not to add more people to our population. This would be the most welcome of our three options, to choose consciously and with free will to responsibly lower our population. However, this flies in the face of our biological imperative to procreate. It is further complicated by the ability of modern medicine to extend our longevity, and by the refusal of the Religious Right to consider issues of population management. And then, there is a strong business lobby to maintain a high immigration rate in order to hold down the cost of labor. Though this is probably our best choice, it is the option least likely to be chosen.

Failing to responsibly lower our population, we can force population cuts through government regulations. Is there any need to mention how distasteful this option would be? How many of us would choose to live in a world of forced sterilization and population quotas enforced under penalty of law? How easily might this lead to a culling of the population utilizing principles of eugenics?

This leaves the third choice, which itself presents an unspeakable picture of suffering and death. Should we fail to acknowledge this coming crisis and determine to deal with it, we will be faced with a die-off from which civilization may very possibly never revive. We will very likely lose more than the numbers necessary for sustainability. Under a die-off scenario, conditions will deteriorate so badly that the surviving human population would be a negligible fraction of the present population. And those survivors would suffer from the trauma of living through the death of their civilization, their neighbors, their friends and their families. Those survivors will have seen their world crushed into nothing.

The questions we must ask ourselves now are, how can we allow this to happen, and what can we do to prevent it? Does our present lifestyle mean so much to us that we would subject ourselves and our children to this fast approaching tragedy simply for a few more years of conspicuous consumption?

Author's Note

This is possibly the most important article I have written to date. It is certainly the most frightening, and the conclusion is the bleakest I have ever penned. This article is likely to greatly disturb the reader; it has certainly disturbed me. However, it is important for our future that this paper should be read, acknowledged and discussed.

I am by nature positive and optimistic. In spite of this article, I continue to believe that we can find a positive solution to the multiple crises bearing down upon us. Though this article may provoke a flood of hate mail, it is simply a factual report of data and the obvious conclusions that follow from it.



1 Availability of agricultural land for crop and livestock production, Buringh, P. Food and Natural Resources, Pimentel. D. and Hall. C.W. (eds), Academic Press, 1989.

2 Human appropriation of the products of photosynthesis, Vitousek, P.M. et al. Bioscience 36, 1986.  http://www.science.duq.edu/esm/unit2-3

3 Land, Energy and Water: the constraints governing Ideal US Population Size, Pimental, David and Pimentel, Marcia. Focus, Spring 1991. NPG Forum, 1990.  http://www.dieoff.com/page136.htm

4 Constraints on the Expansion of Global Food Supply, Kindell, Henry H. and Pimentel, David. Ambio Vol. 23 No. 3, May 1994. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.  http://www.dieoff.com/page36htm

5 The Tightening Conflict: Population, Energy Use, and the Ecology of Agriculture, Giampietro, Mario and Pimentel, David, 1994.  http://www.dieoff.com/page69.htm

6 Op. Cit. See note 4.

7 Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy, Pimentel, David and Giampietro, Mario. Carrying Capacity Network, 11/21/1994.  http://www.dieoff.com/page55.htm

8 Comparison of energy inputs for inorganic fertilizer and manure based corn production, McLaughlin, N.B., et al. Canadian Agricultural Engineering, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2000.

9 Ibid.

10 US Fertilizer Use Statistics.  http://www.tfi.org/Statistics/USfertuse2.asp

11 Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy, Executive Summary, Pimentel, David and Giampietro, Mario. Carrying Capacity Network, 11/21/1994.  http://www.dieoff.com/page40.htm

12 Ibid.

13 Op. Cit. See note 3.

14 Op. Cit. See note 7.

15 Ibid.

16 Op. Cit. See note 5.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Op. Cit. See note 11.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 Op Cit. See note 3.

26 Op Cit. See note 11.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 Op. Cit. See note 3.

31 Op. Cit. See note 5.

32 Op. Cit. See note 3.

33 Op. Cit. See note 11.

34 Food Consumption and Access, Lynn Brantley, et al. Capital Area Food Bank, 6/1/2001.  http://www.clagettfarm.org/purchasing.html

35 Op. Cit. See note 11.

36 Ibid.

37 Op. Cit. See note 5.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 Op. Cit. See note 11.

41 Op. Cit. See note 4.

42 Op. Cit. See note 11.

43 Poverty 2002. The U.S. Census Bureau.  http://www.census.gov/hhes/poverty/poverty02/pov02hi.html

35 Op. Cit. See note 3.

36 Ibid.

37 Diet for a Small Planet, Lappé, Frances Moore. Ballantine Books, 1971-revised 1991.  http://www.dietforasmallplanet.com/

38 Op. Cit. See note 5.

39 Ibid.

40 U.S. and World Population Clocks. U.S. Census Bureau.  http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html

41 A Distant Mirror, Tuckman Barbara. Ballantine Books, 1978.

42 Op. Cit. See note 40.

Elimate the problem 29.Mar.2004 15:13


I don't need a paper or references or anything to understand what is going on. I can SEE it happening all around me. I have watched forests fall, animals vanish, fish dissapear, the natural world arround me crumbling and eroding, all before my own eyes. I can FEEL the Earth dying. It's not something I analyze with numbers and spreadsheets, it's something I know without a single doubt in my mind. I am sure that many of you feel it too. Anyone who has ever had a favorite fishing, hunting, snorkeling, hiking, swimming, camping, etc. etc. spot has probably noticed it's destroyed or a mere husk of what it used to be. We can all talk about food, oil, energy, pointing fingers at processes and methods and practises. The problem is TOO MANY HUMANS on this planet. I does not matter what new enegry source is discoverd, or wonder food developed. The only immediate solution to the problem is less humans, a lot less. I can only think of one way vast numbers of humans can die while leaving the precious resources around them intact - a Virus. I do not believe in God, but I hope and pray that Humans will lose the battle for domination of the Earth. We have been winning for a long time and it's Nature's turn to strike back. I just hope she can do it in time. I am not sure if Aids is good enough, possibly it is underestimated. If Nature cannot come up with something on it's own, someone better do it for her. Richard makes his statement with a rifle. Well someone better make one with a good Bioweapon.

The Virus that changed the earth 05.Apr.2004 20:13

looking ahead

I think you are onto something. Nature will transform. Remember though, there are no winners or loosers in this dance. It's us who makes it look like it's an energy football game to be lost. We will be transformed as we have been for millenia. There is not one molecule in your body that has not been in multiple life forms before. Every breath you take has been through many lungs and as you exhale will again be inhaled.

Yes, I'm damned scared about these inevitable scenarios but the only solution is to NOT live every precious minute in fear. Even if we all give up our SUVs, stop air conditioning our houses, stop commuting 20 miles to work, stop eating meat, stop heating our homes, stop making babies we will still die eventually - every single one of us will. When our decisions become more and more driven by fear everything that we cherish beyond our physical bodies will also disappear.

Yes, I will do my thing to spend money=energy to save energy, save water, save food, try to restore - but in the end it is more the intent then the content that counts.

to what end? 07.Apr.2004 19:06

a casual observer jimaramaman@hotmail.com

i'm encouraged by all of the "believers" writing comments that indicate respect for mr. manning's work. it makes me think that there is perhaps more awareness out there than i thought america had. i've been surprised at how little awareness there is in idaho, the state i live in. working for the environmental protection agency for 13 years i ran up against many extractive industries - timber, mining, oil and gas, monoculture agriculture - and few seem to be either aware of or care about the impending crisis. this was also surprisingly (for me) true among my co-workers at the epa. there was a general apathy for such issues and i would bang my head against the wall trying to get some awareness, but no salt.

then i started to wonder if i was the one who was missing something. so, like a good scientist, i stepped back and re-evaluated my suppositions. i spent a year and a half trying to figure it all out. i mean i stripped my beliefs to the bone and tried to see if my thought process was sound. my psychologist said i "unraveled". what i came up with is this:

1) we, like all life on this planet, are slaves to our genes. we are programmed to survive, reproduce, and have our offspring reproduce. you can think of us as elaborate dna-making machines.

2) we, unlike most other life on this planet, are also significantly affected by our memes. a discussion on memes is beyond this note, and likely beyond my abilities. i refer you to "the meme machine" by susan blackmore and "the selfish gene" by richard dawkins. briefly, a meme is a unit of behavior or culture gained by copying. their propensity for a meme to be copied, like genes, is the increased survivability they offer to the bearer, but there's more to them as well that i won't get into. think of languages, religions, and popular styles - all meme-driven. most other organisms do not have many memes - their behavior is guided mostly by their genetics and slightly by an individual's own learning. of course it varies by species, but humans truly are meme machines.

3) memes and genes have co-evolved over the millennia.

4) there seems to be no reason to hypothesize the existence of a god or gods.

5) human ethical behavior is the product of an interaction between the co-evolved genes and memes that we have had.. in other words, there is no reason to hypothesize that goodness or badness exist. or even better or worse. the only thing that affected what genes and memes were passed forward is what worked at that place and time. certain genes and memes survived to the present, the rest didn't.

so, what i am getting to in a nutshell, (nut's hell) is that there seems to be no reason for humans to be doing anything other than what they are currently up to. the people who are using up and tearing down are not doing anything "wrong" because there is no wrong. nor are you doing anything "right" by doing what you do. they merely have different implications.

i realize that sounds like blasphemy, but bear with me because i might just say something useful to someone eventually. i mean, you have to understand a system if you want to have any real hope of pushing it in a direction that you want it to go. in this instance i doubt that it would do any good to evade reality.

so, after looking the beast in the eyes, maybe we can come up with a truly effective plan. so you say you want to avert the upcoming disaster. another way of saying this is you want the average person to behave in a way that will hurt themselves and their children in the short run, but may help their children's children and their species as a whole in the long run. i doubt that we currently have such forward-looking genes or memes, and i'm pretty sure that is what is wanted. so you'll just have to make some new ones.

i think we can dispense with genes pretty quickly. altruism almost definitely has genetic components, but genetic change is far too slow. now if we started a few hundred years ago....

so it's memes. we can further dispense with politicians of power since they don't look past the next election or coup attempt. (can you imagine this as a campaign issue!) so we are left with the general public. just telling people about it won't work since they are too self-centered to worry about anything more than five years away, and plenty busy and greedy to resist a frontal effort. the only way i see is to get a meme planted into the average person's brain that it is cool or sacred or ethical to do what you want them to do (have no babies, bike to work, eat veggies, etc.). you'll have to make it an idea or behavior that will spread by itself once started by being copied. personally, i think the human population has a swift kick in the teeth coming and there's not much of anything we can do about it. but i could be wrong. just find the right meme. people are intrigued by foreign cultures. maybe getting a cadre of actual third-world people to mentor the west by sharing their life stories. once a month they cook native food and sing native songs in exchange for a half-hour of consciousness raising and progress checking. that's all i got - cheers!

Planting memes 10.Apr.2004 15:56

looking ahead

"Casual observer" What is the most effective way to plant memes? Yes, we can lead by example but eventually you have to stand up and be counted. If you added up your annual energy consumption you'll realize that even a frugal non-mainstream lifestyle (living off the elk herd like Richard!)uses more energy than is sustainable given the large number of us.

Matryrdom is a powerful meme. The next movement is hungry for martyrs. Looking at the current political picture it's not clear yet, at least in my mind, if our islamic brothers are the martyrs of the next movement.

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birthday flowers 26.Sep.2004 19:40

rose, birthday flowers

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air 70% nitrogen 25.Oct.2004 03:30

agt.bubbles on ebay agtbubbles@netscape.net

Besides the trace minerals fertilizer is mainly N,K,P.air is 70% nitrogen.There might be a useful strategy for a gene splicer to fixate on the nitrogen in the air as a nutrient source for some type of food plant,maybe nonexisting now.like here in Florida they have air plants.I'm not sure if they get their N from the air but it seems thats why thery're called air plants.My 2 cents worth.

US subsidation of small farms 07.Nov.2004 23:58

Samantha Atchley

When the author of this article mentions that 15 billion dollars are spent every year on subsidation of agriculture, it makes me wonder what will happen in the next few years since the US has signed an agreement (along with various other countries) to no longer subsidize their small farms, etc. as they have formerly done. I donnot recal the name of this agreement, but it hapened fairly recently. What will be the concequences for the small farmers in this country and around the world? Will they have to turn to even worse agricultural processes in order to maintain their livelihood? Obviously their need to be changes made, but are the ones being taken what are best for the world we live in?

Powerful Article 12.Nov.2004 10:37

Jessica M Ludgate jessicamludgate@excite.com

Great article full of facts the world tends to turn its back on and continues to enjoy the all the resouces of today with no thoughts about tomorrow. Hopefully, these important global issues will be addressed soon instead of being ignored.

Response to article 12.Nov.2004 19:51


I thought the article was very informational. It addressed many issues going on right now. Although I didn't believe everything that was said in the article I agree with some of it. I had similar thoughts to a things presented in article. I think This article is great for people who don't understand what is happening around them. This is just my personal opinion! F. Rubio CSS:205 extra Credit

Devastating Article 08.May.2007 15:24

The Future

The author has put together a mind blowing shock to consciousness to bring it back to reality. There are soooooo many gems here. Yet we must find a solution to the problems. Regarding energy all coming from the sun and plants transforming that energy into food/energy/wealth: technology can also turn the sun into energy. There is enough tidal power in the ocean to power the entire planet. There is enough sun falling in deserts to power the entire planet. There is enough wind blowing at any one time to power the entire planet. So we are sitting on capacity to power 3 greedy planets and haven't touched oil yet. This does not by any means address the multitude of other ways we depend on oil for plastics etc but we can derive wealth if we find the will ('they' won't do anything that is profitable) to do it. Regarding food production, the author's focus on such a mind bending few plants and their effects is devastating. We must begin to grow as large a diversity of foods as possible - there are between 80,000 - 110,000 edible plants in the world depending on who is counting. Yet most people consume only 12 and of that twelve the bulk comes from only 4. Sick.

I encourage each person to look within themselves and see the solution. The consciousness that is who and what we are co-conspired to put us in this predicament to make sure we remember it and its infinite talents. Keep on people!