Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is Industrial Agriculture really such a bad thing?

I hear a lot of talk in the peak oil community about how bad industrial agriculture is. One of the most prominent solutions offered to peak oil is the idea that mankind has to return to smaller scale, local farming. Such a suggestion requires a serious sacrifice. Because of that, the premise deserves a very careful critical analysis. What is so bad about industrial agriculture? Can the problems be fixed by any means other than living life as a peasant subsistence farmer? And more importantly, what if it turns out that the people suggesting we need to localize are incorrect in their analysis?

Keep in mind that industrial agriculture itself has absolutely nothing to do with our wasteful manner of shipping food all around the world in a highly inefficient manner. Take the often mentioned "10,000 mile caesar salad" as an example. It is very possible to use industrial agriculture and ship food moderate distances in a very cost effective way. 10,000 miles is clearly an absurd waste. I wont defend that. The 10,000 mile salad is not a product of industrial agriculture in the strictest sense. That's just braindead marketing and sales people gone amok.

But lets say you could use industrial ag methods to produce a 100 mile salad? If it could be done 1000 times more efficiently than a 0.1 mile salad, due to economies of scale, then where is the loss? There is none.

We currently waste millions of barrels a day driving around doing "food related activities". But if push came to shove, most of us could get a weeks supply of food from the nearest "food hub" for no more than a couple gallons of gasoline a week. We don't do that, but that's not because industrial agriculture is too inefficient. It is because industrial ag is actually too efficient. It is in fact so efficient that it allows us to waste money on complex food rituals, such as driving a gas guzzling vehicle to a restaurant and dining out. The industrial agriculture component of your tab at that restaurant is probably only a couple bucks. Thats only a few percent of your check. Hardly an issue. The real issue is the inefficiency of the service economy that is built around the highly efficient industrial agriculture component. It is the inefficiency of the service economy that comprises the vast majority of everyone's food bill. Unless you prepare all your meals nearly from scratch.

There's no need to grow food yourself.

There's no need to grow food locally.

What there IS a need for is to NOT waste ten or twenty gallons a week driving around this place or that for the purpose of dining, or buying food products that have been shipped around all over the place for whatever reason.

So... industrial agriculture itself is clearly not the issue. Why not just focus on the chemical runoff, GMO, and transport network inefficiencies rather than flushing the baby down with the bathwater?

I am beginning to suspect that people attacking industrial ag (whilst simultaneously not focusing any effort at combatting the true agricultural problems I mentioned) are yet just one more sad layer of cointelpro wrecking the world. Think about it. Industrial agriculture is one of the true godsends of an advanced civilization. Why would anyone want to throw that away and tell people to go spend half their life growing their own food? If that isnt disinfo then I'm sorry but I don't know what is. Who are the ones who would truly benefit from a large portion of people stuck on farms? Think about it.

Do you really think governments would spend less fossil fuels on their war machines even if millions of people went to live on farms as peasants? Ha! And how are you supposed to stop them if you live on a farm? By not paying taxes? Oh, they'll find a way to tax you. Even if you make nothing. They'll come in with tanks and guns blazing to take your land because you didnt pay your taxes. Does it matter that they will, in one day, waste more fossil fuels than you saved in a year? Hell no. My message to people who are advocating subsistence farming as a replacement for industrial agricutlure: you had better wake up and realize that you've been scammed into a false paradigm of thinking.


The same way that "conservatives" have been scammed into adopting liberal tax and spend policies via a tangled web of propaganda that uses deficits and inflation to mask the actual taxation.

The same way that environmentalists have been scammed into helping shut down US industries and moving them to China where they end up increasing the pollution while destroying the economy.

The same way that global warming is being used to set up a sham carbon taxation scheme that will further choke off the economy.

The same way that feminism has been used to destroy the family and get everyone working and mindlessly consuming so no one would pay attention while they robbed and looted us.

I could go on and on. You'd be a fool to think that with an issue as important as peak oil, there wouldn't be any attempts by big money to derail the movement. Question everything. All solutions must be built on the most solid logical foundation. Advocating a total end to one of the greatest advances in all of history is not a logical solution.


Anonymous kyle said...

you're a smart guy but i'm a farmer and i can tell you that for an absolute fact, you can replace the word 'industrial' with 'petroleum,' in the expression 'industrial agriculture.' they are interchangeable terms. the fact is, there is only one way that humans know of to produce food in a manner consistent with a sustainable culture, and that is one without the use of petroleum products (in other words, pre-20th century).

you have a naive view about how food is produced in this country like most people, because industrial agriculture has divorced you from the source of your food. this is one of the most subtly insidious maladies which have been ruining our country, and something which jefferson warned against quite specifically. the truest american spirit is found in small traditional forms of agriculture, so please keep that in mind.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Iconoclast421 said...

How is my view naive, based on the what I've written or where my food is grown? What specific statements have I made that have any relevance to where my food is grown?

Surely, as a non-naive farmer, you can visualize how it is possible to grow enough food to feed a billion people using just a few million barrels of oil. Like I said, if you remove all the plastic packaging, simplify the processing and shipping stages, and use crop rotation and petroleum-augmented permaculture techniques, you will find that there is plenty of energy to grow food.

I'm not arguing that there will be enough petroleum to grow food, and fuel 100 million SUVs and 50,000 jetliners. But there is definately enough fossil fuel to spend on food. There is no point in trying to visualize a world of farming without petroleum. Such a world will never exist, not until long after the corpses of 5.9 billion humans have been buried or burned (or processed into some kind of fuel or soylent green).

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's kind of like the chicken and egg thing - are we growing food to feed 6 billion people or are there 6 billion people because we're growing too much food.

If you believe in the latter, then there is a solution without the need for mass starvation. By slowing down food production, then you slow down population growth. No need for a mass cull, as the first cuts in food production would reduce the surplus supply or at least our surplus requirements (but the reduction in junkfood availability would cause riots). Slowly you could get to producting just what was required and simply cap food production for only 6 billion people's true requirements. Slowly cut production down until we reach a sustainable population.

But it's not that simple is it? There's many other aspect of the economy that would need to be curtailed as well, and I don't think that humans are ready to give up their creature comforts (as you stated) to "save the world."

Theoretically, it could be done, but not sure that non-subsistence farmers would be willing to sacrifice their "easy" lifestyles of working 40 hours plus per week, so they have the luxury of ordering a $4 value meal at a drive thru.

8:52 PM  
Anonymous dylan said...

your idea of ind ag is quite naive.
In no way is it efficient, it's subsidised to death, needs huge quantities of inputs and destroys the soil.

Yes change the distribution by all means, but please educate yourself a bit more. What non farmers don't understand is you can only go so far as an armchair researcher when it comes to food.

But you can still get a better understanding than you have!

read "stuffed and starved" to begin to understand the situation...

10:57 AM  

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