Friday, March 27, 2009

Energy Cost Of Food

I'm off to the Permaculture Design Certificate Course in Molokai tomorrow. Blog updates will probably be infrequent for the next couple of weeks, but stay tuned on twitter.

You've probably heard that each calorie of food we eat takes more than one of fossil fuel calorie*:

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. ... It takes thirty-five calories of fossil fuel to make a calorie of beef this way; sixty-eight to make one calorie of pork. - The Oil We Eat, Harper's Magazine
The following is from Table 1.1 in The Natural Way of Farming.

Farming Method
(Energy Output)/(Energy Input)
Large scale mechanized agriculture (ca. 1980)
Medium scale mechanized agriculture (ca. 1970)
Small scale mechanized agriculture (ca. 1960)
Farming with animals (ca. 1950)
Natural Farming
(Data from Japan, 1980 data is estimate. Latest number from the US is 1 food calorie produced per calorie required.*)

Now watch the presentation below by Saul Griffith about the components of our energy use, and the changes we need to make (including reduction in energy consumption and ramping up clean energy production) in the next 25 years to have any chance of controlling global warming. (If you're in a rush, skip the first 10 minutes or so to the -18.45 mark.)

It's pretty clear that highly mechanized industrial farming can not be a part of any long term scenario.

* See here and here for more in-depth discussion.



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