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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

390. THE EROEI OF GARDENING SUCKS

The blowhards of the peak oil community are strongly in favor of gardening as a solution. There are a few problems with this. For example, if you're unemployed, where are you going to get land to garden on? If you already own land, and it's paid off, then you're a rich person, and don't need any help. The people who genuinely need a solution (at least in today's financial crisis) are unemployed people, foreclosed people and poor people, and they don't have any land. And they can't get any land because they need a job to get money to obtain the land. And, as we saw in the previous article, the peak oil community takes a very dim view of net job creation because that would inevitably involve growth.

But let's put those concerns aside for a moment. Let's suppose that you're unemployed, but you just happen to have a quarter acre of idle land lying around. Since this is a fantasy, let's also suppose that you're completely unencumbered by other tasks, and have all the costly organic seeds, shovels, hoes, wheelbarrows, hoses, books and other capital you need to start your own little "local agriculture" shangri-la. First, you'll need to trench the land with a shovel, work in the organic compost, and plant your corn crop. Of course, this will all be done by hand, because dependence on modern energy sources is unsustainable. Watering, hoeing, weeding, pest control, harvesting, shelling and milling will all return to the wonders of a "world made by hand". Here's the unit you'll be using to grind dried corn into meal:

Oops... That looks a little too high-tech and fossil-fuel intensive. Too much embedded eMergy. Plus you'd have to ship it on a diesel-fueled truck to your tent. So you (or more likely your wife) will end up using one of these state-of-the-art "green" units for maximum sustainability:


Okay. You've completed your first cycle of agriculture in harmony with Gaia, and you've got your crop in. How much do you have? Well, let's look back at historical yields (bushels/acre) from the "made by hand" days. This chart is from the USDA (click to enlarge):

I'm figuring we're going to have to go back to at least the 1930-40s to get bona fide made-by-hand yields, but let's be generous and say 50 bushels/acre. You know, maybe you got lucky and turned out to have a green thumb.

You'll have to toss out varmint damage and the disturbing freak show oddities like this one:
But let's suppose you bag a solid 10 bushels. How much value did you clear? Well, corn prices at the moment are about $4 a bushel, so damn if you didn't clear a whole $40 worth of corn for 5 months of backbreaking work! A sum you could have made a lot quicker and easier by working a single 6 hour day at McDonald's:

$6.55 an hour: He's lovin' it

Of course, we're assuming that you're grinding your own corn, so let's do that comparison too. A typical bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds (25.4 kg), so your total harvest -- in terms of corn meal -- will be 560 pounds. The current rate for bulk corn meal is about $15.80 for a 50 pound bag. So your corn meal, which took months to grow and weeks to grind, is worth a grand total of $177. Wow! That's equivalent, by the way, to 3 days of work at a minimum wage job.

Don't get me wrong. I actually enjoy gardening, and used to grow big gardens myself. Gardening is fun, and a good way to get some fresh air and exercise. But the reality is this: it doesn't even come close to making economic sense. If you calculate all your costs -- land, materials, equipment, the value of your time -- and compare them to the value of your output, you'll come out massively in the red every time.

Gardening is basically a bourgeois fantasy, pushed by dilettantes and intellectuals who are well-off enough to indulge in it as a hobby. It's not a genuine solution for the average person, or the poor. Intensive gardening will make those people even poorer, not better off.
by JD

195 Comments:

At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 5:42:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

As always, please use the Name/URL option (you don't have to register, just enter a screen-name) or sign your anonymous post at the bottom. The conversation is better without multiple anons.
Thank you!
JD

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 6:28:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you focused on corn, a cash crop fit for long term storage, and how much work that alone takes. The reality of gardening is that on a real working farm the garden is a hobby. The only way you are going to raise enough calories for you and your family is with some sizable fields of grain. If people could live without large cash crops we never would have developed staple grain agriculture in the first place. Unless you are going to live the tenuous life of a hunter gatherer you need a large crop that is fit for long term storage (at least a year). A few fruit trees and rows of potatoes in the back yard are not going to feed a family. Especially in the year you garden goes bad. And if you think you can garden without a bad year... well you are obviously not speaking from experiences.

Backyard gardening is fine if you have a backyard and the time and tools. Its an excellent way to get some healthy food if you have the land and time. And for people who have the land and time its a great way to stretch your food dollar. But its not something you can live on.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 7:32:00 AM PST, Anonymous AndrewRyan said...

There are a few problems with this. For example, if you're unemployed, where are you going to get land to garden on?

Why, the return of serfdom, of course! (with the PO prophets/doomers as the feudal lords). You might be enslaved, but at least you'll be living off the land and not using any fossil fuels!

"World made by hand", indeed.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 7:43:00 AM PST, Blogger OneCrazyMama said...

Truer words were never spoken. I couldn't agree more about gardening. Still, as you've mentioned, the theraputic benefits are great to those with the ability. And hell, maybe it will take your mind off troubling things for a while.

The "world made by hand" notions that harken back to the "good old days" never seem to appreciate the reality of just how hard (and many times how BLEAK) those days of yore really were for those who lived it. Unlike my peers, and I'm guessing, I listened to the stories my grandparents told of their "good old days". They may have been "simpler" times, but it was by no means some kind of utopia.

I don't see how an attitude predominated by Neo-luddism is going to save the masses.

Not that I'm in the "technology will save us" camp, but I think we need to restructure our thinking--collectively. Whatever the case is, the future will need to be tooled in a way that fits current needs and knowledge. It won't serve anyone well to try replicating the past. Unless anyone is taking notes, it is acting as we have previously that poses a problem.

If everything was as simple as throwing out our iPod's and migrating back to the farm, then there wouldn't really be much of a problem in the first place. Would there?

Long story short: I agree.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 8:25:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

JD,

Good way to put it. Remember, though, that the response will likely be: but who cares what the dollar value is?! The dollar will be worthless after THE CRASH! How much food can your awesome farm yield to supplement your nitro-paks?!

Or something along those lines. Actually, I'm curious if one could farm enough food for a year on a half-acre of land. I suspect the answer is, "no." At least not any Western staples. Rice, maybe.

----

Andrew Ryan,

It's funny how people think that the return to local everything will be a glorious future of freedom, libertarian self-sufficiency, environmental "sustainability," and peace with Gaia Goddess herself. Despite the empirical evidence to the contrary, it's become a pervasive mythology in our culture. I suspect its strength in the US is somehow rooted both in millenarian Christian beliefs and the libertarian American ideal of self-sufficient living as a sort of ideal alternative to our current lifestyle. It's an interesting set of beliefs, though: you have a sort of rapture (the "crash"), where billions die and only the righteous live. The survivors of armageddon then get to build a world made by hand (because we will forget all forms of engineering, somehow?), and then live in harmony with the planet in some sort of Eden.

Of course, this has been made clear by others, so I'm not adding much. Still, I like to piece it all together on my own.

In any case, I'll say this much: there is nothing "better" about the agrarian past. I did a lot of research as a student on both Chinese and Japanese peasant lifestyles, and it's fairly apparent that it sucked in both countries. China, due to its high population density, probably had it worse, but Japan wasn't some sort of picnic either (despite its near-steady state economy for some periods.) The thing that history tells us is that farmers living on small plots of land suffer very high diminishing marginal returns on their labor, meaning that most people live hardscrabble, unfortunate lives. If you want anything beyond staple crops you work even more. It's just not a good way to live.

While I do bemoan the fact that we have grown specialized to the point of sub-sub-sub-sub-specialties, it's still worlds better than being completely at the whim of nature and chaos for your livelihood. As a small tenant farmer or a small landholder, you are very nearly always on the edge of subsistence during your whole life because you lack the resources to grow a surplus and therefore also the resources to trade (your surplus) for other goods.

If anyone is interested, by the way, in Chinese tenant farming, check out the book The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Yangzi Delta. It's quite academic, but it gives a good overview of the quality of life that the average Chinese peasant farmer enjoyed.

----


OneCrazyMama,

I think the difference between an optimist and a pessimist when it comes to these debates is that the optimist looks to the future and says, "We can develop new and better ways to live," whereas the pessimist says, "We will regress because there are no better alternatives." Not everyone frames it with that language, but it's the essential difference in my mind.

I am in the former camp, in case anyone hasn't figured it out.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 8:39:00 AM PST, Blogger David Grenier said...

JD,

Overall I agree but a few nitpicks -

1. I think you need to go back before the thirties to find a time when most agriculture in this country was done by hand. I read a great book over the summer called "The Worst Hard Time" about the dust bowl years, and he was talking about the prevalance of mechanized agriculture around the time of WWI.

2. I think that the gardening idea is that this is for surviving in some post-apocalyptic wasteland - a time when there are no jobs at McDonalds nor big industrial farms driving down the price of grain. It doesn't seem to make sense to try to garden now, except as training for the future. Though if I'm going to train for life after the Crash I'll do it by playing Fallout 3 on my PlayStation.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 8:58:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

David,

Have you reserved your spot in a Vault-Tec vault yet? I mean, seeing as you seem pretty SPECIAL, I think it's about time you do so. Personally, I figure it's better off to just get a leg up on the competition and pump myself with the FEV. Super mutants have some decent stats, and not all of them are uncultured boors. There is the whole "not being able to mate" thing, but hey, who cares when you're eating radroach meat just to survive?

But really, look on the bright side: the Great Resource Wars don't happen until 2070-something anyway.

(Note: only someone who's played Fallout will get this post. Sorry!)

Seriously though. If you play video games at all, guys, play Fallout 1, 2, and 3. They are spectacular.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 9:08:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's not a genuine solution for the average person, or the poor. Intensive gardening will make those people even poorer, not better off."

Yes, JD, please encourage your little echo chamber of Gen-X losers to engage in those really high-EROEI activities like hamburger-flipping, video games and electric scooters. Better yet, encourage them all to get spayed and neutered. That'll boost unemployment for doctors and keep more of you hair-brained tyrants off the street.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 9:19:00 AM PST, Blogger JD Walters said...

I agree with Ari that the key is to develop new, improved lifestyles that incorporate all the progress we've made with industrialized agriculture and modern capitalism more generally without repeating the latter's destructive excesses. 'Powering down' is not the way to go.

But I think it is important to acknowledge some of the failings of industrialized agriculture as we know it: soil erosion, toxic pesticides and the food insecurity that comes with supply chains that depend on transporting food from thousands of miles away.

The answer is not to have everyone working with their hands on a tiny feudal plot of land, but I think there is much to be said for more local food production in the form of community supported agriculture or cooperatives, for example, which would take advantage of the best modern technology and science available but would use more sustainable agricultural practices (such as using natural predators instead of pesticides and crop rotation, for example) and more directly benefit the surrounding community.

Even though 'going local' is not a panacea and I want international trade and large-scale industrialism to continue, I do think there is a big place for it in the solutions to our climate and economic crises.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 9:32:00 AM PST, Blogger Sean Daugherty said...

The trolls seem to be paying less and less attention and getting more and more shrill....

I pretty much agree with what JD Walters has said. I think a lot of people tend to see a stark dualism where there really shouldn't be. Modern agricultural practices may have plenty of room for improvement, but that doesn't mean that the solution is to return to some pre-industrial "golden age."

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 9:32:00 AM PST, Anonymous benny MOAG cole said...

When you can do it, growing fruits and vegetables is great. Do it for the flavor -- I do it on a former parking lot near downtown Los Angeles.
But the calories are not there. You need meat and fat, and flour and rice. Raising pigs can help, but they smell pretty bad. Maybe some bean plants will get you some calories, but hardly enough to live on. Some people raise rabbits (as shown in a certain film about Roger-GM).
Every time I go to a grocery store, I marvel at how cheap it all is (I am middle-class). Even fast-food restaurants are cheap.
Yes, I cringe when I see a Hummer, or people's second and third homes destroying Montana landscapes. I wonder who buys those $82,000 BMWs.
But this lifestyle is way, way better than subsistence farming.
We can use the price mechanism to pare back excesses. But subsistence farming? Give it try for five years. You'll be back.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 9:36:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JD, A little off topic, but what is TOD doomers obsesion with Karl Denninger all about? I did some research and the guy is a IT professional, yet they treat him like he is some sort of financial profit? wtf?

-NotaDoomer

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 9:54:00 AM PST, Blogger thedoomletter said...

I recently had a conversation with my uncle who kept a big garden for years about tips and tricks. His first and most adamant tip was not to bother. He said basically the same thing that you are saying in your post.

If everything is fine economically, peak oil is not going to be a problem and you are happy with your position in society then that is correct. The most economically efficient way is to get the best paying job possible and subjugate the labor of your food production to poor people around the world.

I think peak oil and economic instability is a concern (I don't feel you have debunked it sufficiently). Although I don't know if having gardening skills will help in the future, it certainly can't hurt. The best advice I ever read on a peak oil website is to get in shape and try to enjoy life as much as possible. If the shit hits the fan, my garden won't support me. But the social capital I have because of all of the free veggies for my neighbors certainly won't hurt.

Energy return (calories produced vs. calories burned) probably doesn't suck depending on how you do it. Since corn is your example, lets run with it. Small scale subsistence farmers which produce corn as their staple crop have managed to survive (and have been the basis for several empires) in central America for centuries.

To say that it sucks infers it is a negative return when it likely isn't. It may not be ideal, but neither is this society for a lot of us.

And if landless masses want to garden, they can. I found a piece of out of the way unused land and made my garden. In the city where I live now there are hundreds of places (usually in poorer areas) on which people can garden if they want to do so. It would be trespassing, but planting a garden in the hood is not likely to get many complaints from neighbors.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 9:55:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I wonder who buys those $82,000 BMWs.
But this lifestyle is way, way better than subsistence farming."

That's pure genius. Tell us, which is better, to be a lawyer or a janitor?

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 10:16:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Anon,

That's pure genius. Tell us, which is better, to be a lawyer or a janitor?

I know a lot of lawyers. I'd almost have to say the latter...

JD Walters,

Agreed. There is always room for improvement, but the solution won't be to go back to swearing loyalty to some fiefdom. Hahaha.

Sean,

Exactly! This is why I keep getting frustrated when I'm construed as being some sort of Reagan-Republican douche who worships at the altar of Julian Simon and Friedman.

I don't, but I also don't think that everything Reagan said was wrong, I don't think that Simon was completely incorrect, and I still think Friedman was a damn fine economist.

I also think that there's something to be said about their critics, who I listen to as well.

However, I refuse to be a pessimist. Pessimism sucks.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 10:30:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the food insecurity that comes with supply chains that depend on transporting food from thousands of miles away."

I've never seen any evidence of this. any disastrous examples?

here is your security. if someone doesn't ship food thousands of miles they will soon have no food. real simple. it's someone's job and livelihood.

so much for alledged for insecurity.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 10:45:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Anon,

The problem with the shipping is in supply chains. If you have a break in the chain at any point, you can have temporary shortages. Japan's butter shortage is a good example of this.

One of the nice things about the US is that we actually produce a surplus of a lot of the foods we need, and can ship most of those foods all over via rail. In fact, as anyone who's been to Omaha knows, it's the rail hub of the nation.

Despite the fact that the US is supposed to be some terribly planned dumb-dumb country, the fact that rail is centered on the breadbasket (corn country) is actually quite brilliant. Mistake? I don't know the history to say. However, it does reduce volatility in essential grain supply for pretty much everyone in the US.

It's the fancy stuff that can get tricky. A break in the chain from a wholesaler of bananas from Central America can be really nasty for the downstream portions of the chain. Kind of like how a problem with a manufacturing process at the early stages can be more troublesome for your specs than toward the end (six sigma and all that crap.)

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 10:56:00 AM PST, Blogger JD Walters said...

Does anyone know if it's true that U.S. agribusinesses are paid to destroy huge quantities of food to keep prices artificially high? If so, we shouldn't have a food supply problem if they stopped this practice and really pulled out all the stops in production.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:05:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

JD,

Yes and no.

Agriculture in the US is a strange beast. It was heavily subsidized in the middle of the century, and produced so much food that it brought food prices so low that farmers in other countries couldn't make a living.

Today, we have reduced production a fair bit, but there is definitely still a surplus. Some food does get destroyed to keep prices high, but in some ways that's a good thing. We don't want food prices too low, as that chases out domestic farming in countries that need it (Africa, for example.) US cotton absolutely decimates African cotton, which is terrible for the development of domestic agriculture there.

On the other hand, too high of prices also hurt, and keep people hungry. Agriculture pricing is tricky in both the short and long run.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:15:00 AM PST, Blogger Sean Daugherty said...

NotaDoomer,

Denninger appeals to a lot of folks on TOD because he affirms their worldview. A crash is coming, and the sooner it gets here, the better. For what it's worth, I think Denninger brings up some valid points, but he takes them too far, and is far too strident in his presentation. But he appeals to the "Stop Growth Now" people for obvious reasons.

Anon,

The insecurity is largely hypothetical, at least so far. The concern is that, should oil supplies evaporate quickly, it will become prohibitively expensive, if not impossible, to ship sufficient quantities of food sufficient distances. As Ari suggests, it may be a concern, but it's not as great a concern as the doomers make it out to be. For what it's worth, I tend to see relocalization of farming equally, if not even more, risky. A bad year for climate would have greater potential to wipe out food for an entire region without the infrastructure to transport food from elsewhere. For maximum security, redundancy is key.

JD Walters,

From time to time, yes, the government encourages and/or subsidizes farmers to produce smaller yields. This goes back to the Great Depression and the Agricultural Adjustment Act. The goal is to keep prices high, but the rationale is long-term stability.

The dilemma is pretty simple, really: a surplus of produce (for example) drives prices down. This translates to reduced income for farmers, many of whom are subsequently driven out of agriculture entirely. Fewer farmers means less food in the long term, which is bad for everyone. So by keeping down yields, consumers pay a little bit more now, but the security of the food supply in the future is much better secured.

Free market corrections can be a bit dangerous when dealing with the food supply. They may get the job done, in the long term, but end up hurting people badly in the short term.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:21:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are reaons why junior left the farm long, long ago. Work from well before sun-up to well after sundown, 24/7? Pops had to run the place like a mini Adolf just to keep the kids from jumping ship.

It didn't work then. And it won't work now.

Pops couldn't keep 'en down on the farm once they saw the big city.

Corporate farming works wonders.

Anon- Robet Dobb

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:36:00 AM PST, Blogger Sean Daugherty said...

To say that it sucks infers it is a negative return when it likely isn't. It may not be ideal, but neither is this society for a lot of us.

This is absolutely key to "doomer psychology," if you'll pardon the phrase. The people who are most likely to anticipate total systematic collapse are the people most dissatisfied with the current system, and those who foresee themselves best able to cope within a post-collapse system. Like AndrewRyan said, the doomers see themselves as the post-peak feudal lords.

Back when I went through my doomer phase, I was always a little shocked by the glee with which some folks seemed to greet imminent collapse (see Kunstler for but one example of this). Then I realized that I had a different perspective than most: I'm a type-1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic. I wouldn't survive in a world unable to produce enough insulin and transport it to me. I got more clueless "look on the bright side of Armageddon" responses than I could count, and all of it slid right off me.

That doesn't speak to the facts one way or the other, of course. My wanting to avoid an oil crash has no more effect on whether or not there will (or will not) be an oil crash than Kunstler or Savinar's cheerleading. But it does have an absolutely critical role in the way that coverage of peak oil is presented. The outcome is not preordained, despite what either doomers or cornucopians would have you believe. And, as it happens, I find optimism and positive efforts to stave off collapse more compelling than the alternatives, because I don't want to live in a "world made by hand."

Beyond that, though, it's another false dichotomy. The choice isn't (or shouldn't) be between industrial agriculture as it currently exists and a return to tenant farming. Presenting it that way is disingenuous in the extreme.

That being said, of course there's nothing wrong with gardening. It can be a positive experience, and it's a skill worth having if you're so inclined. But JD is correct in pointing out that being able to till a small patch of tomatoes isn't going to protect you from the results of a PO-related total collapse.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:37:00 AM PST, Anonymous Peak Silly said...

LOL. This is one of your funniest posts. According to the Peak Doomers the only chance we have of diminishing the apocalypse of Peak Oil is to grow crops on our roofs like they do in the magical utopia that is Cuba.

There is already a movie out about how such gardens have already saved Cuba from Peak Oil. The facts that Cuba survives on subsidies from places like China and has to import a billion dollars in food a year don't mean much to the PO crew.

I also love when they got googley-eyed over "organic" farming practices in 3rd world countries -- which requires the heavy use of "nightsoil" aka human excrement and forced labor. It ain't some happy farming commune in Marin or Berkeley. In the PO world farming with human fertilizer is surely a better to grow food than using plants genetically engineered to be more productive.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:42:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

The insecurity is largely hypothetical, at least so far. The concern is that, should oil supplies evaporate quickly, it will become prohibitively expensive, if not impossible, to ship sufficient quantities of food sufficient distances. As Ari suggests, it may be a concern, but it's not as great a concern as the doomers make it out to be. For what it's worth, I tend to see relocalization of farming equally, if not even more, risky. A bad year for climate would have greater potential to wipe out food for an entire region without the infrastructure to transport food from elsewhere. For maximum security, redundancy is key.

Exactly! And even with the "climate crisis," climate is already chaotic enough that I don't want to be subject to only buying food grown in the tri-state area. Look at what the "little ice age" did to crops. It warn't pretty, to say the least.

The vulnerability paradigm tells us that we should always build our systems based on the idea that climate can turn around and shove a large object up our collective arses. I tend to favor this paradigm because it's not needlessly paranoid like the precautionary principle, but it also recognizes that a system needs to be able to weather random, destructive events.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 12:23:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

The title says "The EROEI of gardening sucks" and then you discuss the economics of gardening?

What's the idea of discussing gardening from the point of view of economics anyway, when even the doomer's point is self-sufficiency? Wouldn't that be a more sensible point of view?

I guess you wouldn't ever really be self-sufficient with back yard gardening either, but given a large enough back yard, i guess you could be a lot closer to self-sufficient.

I'm sure growing organic food isn't as efficient either, but people are still willing to pay more for that food, so it does make economic sense. And afaik it has been growing quite nicely lately.

All in all I really didn't understand what the aim of the post was.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 1:23:00 PM PST, Blogger bc said...

This highlights the whole problem with "localization". The whole reason for industrializing agriculture is because it is more efficient, i.e. using less energy per unit yield.

So if energy supply is declining, how on earth does it make sense to do things less efficiently?

Doomers seem to think that PO will cause time to start ticking backwards and we go back to 200 years ago, or earlier. Of one thing we can be sure, the future will not be just history going backwards.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 1:23:00 PM PST, Blogger OneCrazyMama said...

Maybe the answer is to use all of our backyards and share. Maybe the whole problem is just that we need to divest the collective consciousness of the very notion of self and cast of the idea that the perpetuation of self is the primary tool for survival.

But, then, that would be a utopia and those don't really exist anymore than true dystopias do...although, they do make for good and often inspiring fiction. :)

All the same, I agree with the overall assumption that gardening is a great skill and a good hobby, but probably not the ticket to survival for the masses. If it were that simple, again, there wouldn't be a problem.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 1:30:00 PM PST, Blogger OneCrazyMama said...

JD,

On "going local"...I do think it would be nice if people could go at least a little "local". At least, it would be a good change to have a certain sense of community. Do I think we should all revert to some preindustrial state? No, but I think the challenge of the future (beyond energy matters) will be to balance the global and the local parts of human life. That's my two bits, of course. Not that it is an important, influential or particularly interesting two bits at that :)

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 1:38:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

The whole reason for industrializing agriculture is because it is more efficient, i.e. using less energy per unit yield.

Do you have a source on this?

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 1:44:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But JD is correct in pointing out that being able to till a small patch of tomatoes isn't going to protect you from the results of a PO-related total collapse."

And of course, no one said that a solitary "small patch of tomatoes" would protect anything.

Why such disdain for the idea of gardening/agriculture? You like to eat, don't you?

A small patch of tomatoes is great. It won't protect you from a crash, but then no one expects it to. What will? T-bills? Gold? Investing in the future just got a lot tricker and riskier. The big boys of Wall Street apparently just found out that their economic assumptions were fatally flawed. Knowing where to invest in this market is no simple task, and disparaging local agriculture on the basis of EROEI is incredibly petty and mean-spirited.

Everyone has to eat. I'd much rather invest in local food than GM or Ford, but I didn't get to choose.

Whatever our future brings, it won't uniquely agrarian or technological, or utopian or dystopian, but some wild mix of all of it. With the grinding poverty that already grips large portions of the globe, subsistence farming is at the very least preferable to hunger and death.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 2:00:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Anon,

A small patch of tomatoes is great. It won't protect you from a crash, but then no one expects it to. What will? T-bills? Gold? Investing in the future just got a lot tricker and riskier. The big boys of Wall Street apparently just found out that their economic assumptions were fatally flawed.

Sure, but the market is always tricky. Even during "good" times, it's damn near impossible to beat the S&P 500. Stick your money in a CD and be austere, I say.

And the bank a-holes' assumptions were bad, but that doesn't make the entire industrial market bad.


Everyone has to eat. I'd much rather invest in local food than GM or Ford, but I didn't get to choose.


Why not? Invest in a cooperative. I'm sure those opportunities exist.

Whatever our future brings, it won't uniquely agrarian or technological, or utopian or dystopian, but some wild mix of all of it. With the grinding poverty that already grips large portions of the globe, subsistence farming is at the very least preferable to hunger and death.

You're falling prey to the same problem that dogged the bankers: you're too sure of too many things.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 4:06:00 PM PST, Anonymous Soylent said...

"Does anyone know if it's true that U.S. agribusinesses are paid to destroy huge quantities of food to keep prices artificially high?"

Yes, by several different mechanisms.

Some US farmers are paid not to grow anything; some farmers are paid for growing prairie grass and other conservation crops.

Corn ethanol production is subsidized and encouraged with the active support of the agricultural sector and congress members who seek their support.

Meat and dairy is much more heavily subsidized directly and indirectly(e.g. through subsidies for corn and soy) than other grains, vegetables and starchy tubers which tend to be eaten directly by humans.

I don't think it has anything to do with mallice. It's just that farmers are too darned good at growing food and developing countries are too darned poor to buy as much as they need or want. Farmers naturally have to think of ways to sell more food or produce less food and sell it at a premium(e.g. organic farming).

In terms of energy accessible to humans conventional, industrial scale farming gives you very roughly 13 million kcal/acre for cassava, 9 million kcal/acre for potatoes, 8 million kcal/acre for corn, 7 million kcal/acre for rice, 3 million kcal/acre for wheat, 3 million kcal/acre for soybean etc.

The variations here aren't hugely important except for subsistence farmers(who highly favour cassava and spuds for obvious reasons); it is more important to get a varied and palatable diet, better food security(e.g. some crops store better and if some catastrophic new pathogen were to wipe out most potatoes it's not as troublesome if you can rely on all these other crops) than a smallish factor 4 in kcal/acre. But when you take corn and soy and use it to produce pork you're losing 90-95% of the energy you put in; that's huge. The most energy efficient meat is chicken.

"If so, we shouldn't have a food supply problem if they stopped this practice and really pulled out all the stops in production."

That's not true. The big problem is still the abillity of poor people to pull themselves out of poverty and entitle themselves to sufficient quantities of food; despite protestations to the contrary by the doomers. At some sufficient price you can always outbid meat producers and corn ethanol producers, but the people who are suffering from minor supply shocks today aren't in any position to do more than plead for assistance if the price goes up.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 4:15:00 PM PST, Anonymous Soylent said...

"Investing in the future just got a lot tricker and riskier."

You're supposed to buy low and sell high. The past has made it abundantly clear that an economic crisis is just the right time to buy stocks and other assets. The general public has this annoying tendency to buy into a bubble and sell when it pops; apart from being assinine(buy high, sell low) it will indiscriminately crash the price of companies, some of them in very good shape, which can then be picked up for cheap.

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 5:24:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

soylent,

As Buffett so famously said, "When other people are greedy, be afraid. When other people are afraid, be greedy."

 
At Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 7:24:00 PM PST, Blogger wchfilms said...

" OneCrazyMama said...

JD,

On "going local"...I do think it would be nice if people could go at least a little "local". At least, it would be a good change to have a certain sense of community. "

There is this in Los Angeles, to some degree. Many of the communities, such as Brentwood, have a 'real' farmers market once a week. Kind of neat. Great people watching too.

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 1:00:00 AM PST, Anonymous Brother Cadfan said...

Regarding destruction of food stocks by government, the EU has certainly engaged in similar activities with the infamous grain mountains. Until food prices started climbing, farmers within the EU were basically being paid to leave land go fallow. This had great environmental benefits for wildlife such as birds; indeed there was grumbling that some conservation gains would be reversed when farmers started, to actually farm again!

Again on the subject of localisation. Singing John Barleycorn in the community yurt might sound attractive to many city dwellers. However, as many (often English!) migrants to rural Wales have discovered, small communities are often introverted places unable to innovate.

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 3:29:00 AM PST, Blogger Gareth Doutch said...

WTF is going on with that corn?!!!

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 3:46:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

^
Haven't grown much corn, have you Gareth? ;-)
It's a very common corn illness called "smut".

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 4:55:00 AM PST, Blogger Gareth Doutch said...

No I haven't! (and why TF would I want to? :D )

Yeah I got suckered into the gardening thing too. A couple of dismal summers later and I figured out that by far the best way for me to feed my family was to keep earning wages doing what I do best, and hand over a small portion at the supermarket, who get low prices from the farmers for me. Simple really.

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:17:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

It's also known as huitlacoche in Mexico. I haven't had it, but I hear it can be quite good if prepared properly.

It doesn't exactly make too many Midwestern corn farmers happy, though. No market for it in the US!

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 9:30:00 AM PST, Anonymous benny "MOAG" cole said...

By the way, there is an article in the October issue of Fast Company, about a guy at a Davis, CA co. named Arcadia Sciences, who is developing hybrids that grow as well, on one-third of the normal amount of nitrogen fertilizer.
Imagine!
The doomers are almost never right; one reason is that assume everyone else is also spending 24/7 sniveling, not developing answers.
Happily for most us, there are smart people out there willing to do the serious research and development to improve our lives. Yes, for the profits involved, but we still get the huge benefits.
I have been researching palm oil a lot lately, and big, big improvements underway there too.

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 10:26:00 AM PST, Blogger OptimisticDoomer said...

But Benny, the doomers tell me hybrids will turn me green or make me grow a 2nd head. They are bad bad bad.

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 10:31:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

OptimisticDoomer,

No, man, we're going to run out of lithium. PEAK LITHIUM.

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 12:18:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No, man, we're going to run out of lithium. PEAK LITHIUM."

It's worse than that.
Apparently all the hydrocarbon based energy embedded in the factories and the making of the vehicles means that it costs more energy to produce the vehicles than they will deliver in their lifetime. So it's not worth doing.

Because, of course, as we all know here on POD, no other energy except oil counts. Not Coal, not Nuclear, not Wind, not Solar.

Nope, you can only use petroleum energy to build anything so obviously the Pyramids or Machu Picchu were the first round of peak oil and their civilizations collapsed when the EROEI went negative. We're DOOOOMMMMMEEEEED I tell ya.

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 1:20:00 PM PST, Anonymous Drewboy said...

Good article on lithium:

http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2008/1124/034.html

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 1:50:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Drewboy,

Interesting article. The author commits something of an ad hom by saying that so-and-so is an engineer, but so-and-so is not, but I think it's pretty clear that lithium is not as rare as people are claiming.

It should be interesting to see how the "battery wars" play out, though!

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 2:21:00 PM PST, Anonymous Steve in Eastern Europe said...

Going right back to OP:
"If you already own land, and it's paid off, then you're a rich person, and don't need any help."

I own land. Almost an acre. Cost me the equivalent of,say, $15,000. I am not a rich man. My income is around $250 a month!

My land has fruit trees and nut trees and I have a cellar full of potatoes at minimum effort.

I have a well with drinkable water. I have a reliable supply of wood for my heating, cooking and hot water for personal hygiene.

What more would I want? Maybe a couple of goats and some laying chickens, and possibly guinea pigs for meat.

EROEI - rubbish. Try living somewhere where they do actually grow stuff. Locally. And share it, and preserve it.

I have to say that it is a rare priviledge to read a thread with so much bolloxs spouted!

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 3:22:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No ned to wait.

Limited time offer. Act now. Supplies are limited.

http://paulville.org/news.html


Anon- Robert Dobb

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 3:23:00 PM PST, Anonymous Demesure said...

Steve from EE,

Be happy you still own land because the greeniacs and/or peakoilers would want you to be subjected to the ”smart growth” trends towards ultra high density cities to save transportation fuel and to give more space to Nature. They'll hate suburbans and people with a garden, ie large ecological footprint like you. And you may not even be allowed to use the well in your garden because it must be rubberstamped by bureaucrats with some obscure environmental reasons (that's what happens NOW in France).

Worse than that, the things you're producing is an offense to the environment because organic yields suck and you'll use 3x more land to produce the same quantities compared to a modern farm (this year, in France, the yield/hectare of organic cereals is just one third that of conventional products).

And last but not least, having a 250$/month income sucks. Maybe you're happy with that but maybe you're happier if you have more. Anyway to me, it sucks, especially if some bad events should happen to you or your family or if you want to do of your life other things than eat, sleep, work & f.ck.

A sustainable life is not a life, it sucks! I've lived and travelled enough around the world to know it sucks.

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 4:48:00 PM PST, Anonymous benny "MOAG" cole said...

Steve from EE;
I think it is great what you have. But for everybody? Who can be sure to have clean drinking water, like you? Remember cholera? Read history books. When people start pooping around where they get drinking water, you get big, big problems.
Okay, on $250 a month, how about medical treatment? Or do you just go get it free, on the state's dime? I don't blame you, but such a system cannot work, if everybody lives on the land, and then tries to get free health care. Who pays for it?
Roads? I bet there is a state-financed highway reasonably near your acre. Again, who pays for it?
I find most "rugged individualists" are really parasites. State-subsidized roads and health care, even schools etc.
I don't blame any individuals for trying to find a lifestyle that works best for them. But face facts: If we all try to live on our acre, we will have to give up medical care, clean drinking water, dentistry. Soon the roads would be in disrepair, and when a tooth went bad you would have to yank it out with pliers. Your wife after menopause would look like a hag, with a hairy face, and grey stringy hair.
If you got VD you nose would eventually disease off your face.
Really, let's face facts.

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 5:08:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

Hi Steve, welcome to POD. I have an open mind, and would be very interested to see my points refuted. However, your story is typically vague. Can you give us some more details?

For example:
-How long ago did you purchase the land? How long did it take you to pay it off? What was the interest rate? What was your payment? Where did you live while buying the land? How long did it take you to grow the fruit/nut trees? How many trees do you have? What type of fruit/nut do they produce? What is the yield? How big is your potato patch? What is the yield? How much, in kilograms, is a "cellar full"? Do you live on this land? Or do you commute to it? Where is your cellar? Is the wood for your fuel also produced on the same lot? How much area does the wood producing part consume? How much effort is "minimal effort"? And, if you don't mind telling us, where do live? In what area of what country?

I'd like to see you make the case that your system is workable and economically feasible for low income people, as you suggest. After all, why be poor and hungry when you can easily own a food lot like you do? My suspicion is that your set-up doesn't save you money, and in fact costs you money. In other words, it's a luxury that poor people can't afford. I'd like to see you disprove that.

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:50:00 PM PST, Anonymous AaronM said...

While I agree with your conclusion (private farming is for fun not survival), you miss a few points that help out the gentleman farmer. First, the yield of corn per acre planted has improved over time (regardless of how the corn is grown or harvested) because the plants have been engineered to have better yields 2) the addition of a little livestock goes a long way - an acre is the amount a man with an ox can plow in _one day_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acre). Can you feed an ox off of the silage from one acre? That I don't know and I'm kind of lazy :-) Regardless your estimate of 10 bushels for one person seems like it would be off by at least an order of magnitude, 2 or 3 if the person can get their hands on an ox. Also, for harvesting, we have this tidbit from http://www.foodreference.com/html/fcorn.html

"In the 1930s, before the machines were available, a farmer could harvest an average of 100 bushels of corn by hand in a nine-hour day. Today’s combines can harvest 900 bushels of corn per hour—or 100 bushels of corn in under seven minutes!"

There's a reason why farmers had big families... because their family farms needed that many people to harvest in the short time available to them.

I garden a tiny bit but corn isn't a good crop for suburban life (small yard, too many trees blocking sunlight). A single cucumber plant keeps me in cukes all summer, a few tomatoes and I'm covered for those. One pumpkin plant for Halloween, and strawberries because they taste so great right off the plant and spread themselves for free!

Here's a lengthy discussion of native american corn yields http://books.google.com/books?id=860BvwZ2qScC&pg=PA181&lpg=PA181&dq=native+american+corn+yields&source=bl&ots=RogjJQbyz2&sig=ZyCAFyMxxC-1GYHzWIJxTnHadO0&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=3&ct=result#PPA182,M1 but I think I've gone on long enough... great blog, I enjoy it!

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 7:33:00 PM PST, Anonymous Mike S. said...

OK your basic point is sound, gardening is hard work even with a gas-powered rototiller. And the ultra-Greens (like Pol-Pot mark II, aka Richard (where are my serfs? I demand the government round up 50 million serfs!) Heinberg have no clue.

However, having grown up on a farm, I would point out there is a large class of land-rich cash poor people, who have been hammered pretty much out of active farming but still have land. A lot of the going but marginal farms from my childhood are growing over with returning forest. That whole base thread you began with is wrong.

Better wages for less work in town was part of the problem, and the rest was the subsidies to big agriculture to produce the cheapest possible food-like substances for the cities, which is where the votes are.

Personally, I do have 2 acres (having grown up in the country I can't deal with neighbors closer than that) and when I was unemployed back in 2002, I grew a big garden. And I still have one. I find it relaxing, as long as Heinberg's goons aren't around. (And of course he's going to have goons, who is going to grub in organic subsistence farms with hand tools by choice?)

If your point was to provoke thought, you succeeded. If it was to convince people to move into efficiency apartments and stimulate the economy by eating out, you failed.

 
At Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 11:58:00 PM PST, Blogger Richard said...

JD, have you ever considered taking your anti PO message on the road and delivering seminars to help people dealing with PO-induced depression? Once you got a reputation, you could make a lot of money!

Your messages never cease to convince me that PO is complete and utter shite, and I can't say enough for how you've turned around my attitude.

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 12:09:00 AM PST, Blogger Richard said...

One point I like to make when it comes to gardening is seasonal variation. I too am a keen gardener. I do it to try and save money, plus because I find it rewarding, good stress relief, and fresh vegetables taste better. Yes, my time in the garden is valuable, but I do it on weekends when I wouldn't otherwise be making money, and I'd much rather be planting seedlings than I would be flipping burgers and paying secondary tax in my 'spare time'.

I have a few fruit trees that do what most fruit trees do - produce a lot at one time of the year. The trouble is, fruit also rots, so you can't just pick it all and keep it in a bag then eat as needed. You end up wasting some. For the other 95% of the year, you have to buy that fruit if you want to eat it.

Sure, you can preserve it, but in an argument where a non-PO'er was pushing for something that used the same resources as that process requires (energy, imported ingredients for many countries, storage space) the PO'ers would be quick to jump up and down about the lack of sustainability of such a concept in a post-PO era, so they shouldn't be allowed to suggest it if they want to play that game.

Besides which, they slam solar power for exactly the same reasons - seasonal variation in output and batteries not being an efficient way of storing all the energy, so lets have some consistency here.

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 12:52:00 AM PST, Anonymous Brother Cadfan said...

AaronM-

Quite correct of course land-owning farmers used to have large families.

One of the problems round my way at least, was the issue of inheritence and what to do with the excess children. To make this work, the land either had to be divided up between the kids, not very practical for various reasons. Or, encourage the excess kids to leave farming and move into towns - obviously many peaksters do not believe this is viable.

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 6:29:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...who is going to grub in organic subsistence farms with hand tools by choice?"

Fucking A right. Nobody in their right mind would farm with hand tools unless at the point of a gun, I don't care how hungry you are.

Why do these doomer nuts think they have to farm by hand? For all the work they put in, they could just save the money and buy a bunch of Ramen noodles and eat for years instead of working from dawn 'till dusk shoveling shit.

When would they find time to play video games, or jack-off with porno when they're pulling weeds all day out of their organic bean spouts?

What a bunch of fucking loosers. Haven't they heard of nuclear power?

Larry

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 6:33:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing about gardening though, one time my dad forced me to rake leaves and my nose piercing got infected from some fucking shit in all that dust. That alone should teach people that gardening is for loosers.

Larry

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 7:36:00 AM PST, Anonymous AndrewRyan said...

Your wife after menopause would look like a hag, with a hairy face, and grey stringy hair.

Lol Benny, you had me laughing at that comment.

Also don't forget what many of these 'living off the land' types leech most, aside from health care and roads,.....national security, defense, and stability.

To illustrate my point: Compare a "self-sufficiency" farm/commune that would exist in the U.S. or Western Europe to one in Zimbabwe.

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 8:06:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Anon,

I think it's safe to say that we can stick to debunking the silliness of peak oil prophecy without resorting to racism and epithets.

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 8:10:00 AM PST, Anonymous AndrewRyan said...

anon:

Racist tone aside, that was my point. I picked Zimbabwe due to how incredibly corrupt the government of that country is. For instance, what if these self sufficieny/neo luddite types tried to build and farm their bullshit in some other countries? Let's say, Zimbabwe. Well, they would have some trouble buying land due to corruption (who actually owns the land there?) and the fact that it takes 1.6 trillion Zimbabwe dollars to buy a loaf of bread there.

Also, who is going to protect their land and crop? Certain countries just don't have democratic or national stability. Who is going to stop their land from being raided by starving savages? In this country, things like that are ensured by a government, police and courts. These things, of course, are made possible by all the citizens of the country. So while neo-luddites/doomers/powerdowners/localizers/hippies/etc. scoff and ridicule the 'sheeple', 'Nascar Americans', greedy Americans, etc.....their worryless existence on their commune farms (the ones that actually practice what they preach and live off the grid) is made possible by everyone else in this country.

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 8:19:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...their worryless existence on their commune farms (the ones that actually practice what they preach and live off the grid) is made possible by everyone else in this country."

You're goddamn right it is. While those fucking hippies are out there on their"farms" smoking pot and raising organic orgugula, real Americans are working their asses off selling cars and video games and stuff that real taxpayers need.

It really should be against the law for those hippies to stay out on their farms while the rest of us do real work and pay taxes.

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 8:27:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Anon,

Concern trolling is still trolling.

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 8:34:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Concern trolling is still trolling."

What's your point? Gardening sucks, don't try to gloss over that essential fact with your smarmy political correctness.

It's not trolling if it's true.

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 8:36:00 AM PST, Anonymous AndrewRyan said...

I sense sarcasm in the real Americans are working their asses off selling cars and video games and stuff that real taxpayers need. comment :P

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 5:19:00 PM PST, Anonymous benny "MAOG" cole said...

Please delete racist remarks. It makes the whole board look bad, and it is disheartening to read.

 
At Friday, January 9, 2009 at 5:24:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

Babun, the EROEI connection is pretty straightforward. With an ordinary minimum wage job ($6.55/hour), you need to work about 2.5 hours to buy a 50 pound bag of corn meal ($15.80, has 82,250 calories). You'll burn about 250 calories working for 2.5 hours at a typical retail job, so that would be an EROEI of about 329 = (82250/250). Obviously you're going to burn orders of magnitude more calories planting, growing, weeding, watering, harvesting, shelling and hand-milling corn from seed. Therefore, the EROEI of gardening sucks.

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 12:11:00 AM PST, Blogger Tim said...

Peak Oil Debunked: Amory Lovins. Nuff said.

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 1:17:00 AM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Babun, the EROEI connection is pretty straightforward. With an ordinary minimum wage job ($6.55/hour), you need to work about 2.5 hours to buy a 50 pound bag of corn meal ($15.80, has 82,250 calories). You'll burn about 250 calories working for 2.5 hours at a typical retail job, so that would be an EROEI of about 329 = (82250/250). Obviously you're going to burn orders of magnitude more calories planting, growing, weeding, watering, harvesting, shelling and hand-milling corn from seed. Therefore, the EROEI of gardening sucks.

That's not EROEI. It's not you producing the corn meal. It's economics making it easy and fast and cheap for you to buy.

What you said is that the economics of gardening sucks.

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 1:56:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

That's not EROEI. It's not you producing the corn meal.

It definitely is EROEI. You expend a certain amount of work (energy), and you get an amount back. Then you take the ratio. That's the very definition of EROEI.

The fact that I don't produce the corn meal is irrelevant, just like the fact that I don't produce the oil itself is irrelevant to calculating the EROEI of petroleum. If you include all factors, EROEI is always exactly equal to 1.

EROEI is an inherently economic concept because it involves the notion of an "investment" and an agent who does that investing. The only thing that needs to be included in EI is energy expended by the agent.

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 3:51:00 AM PST, Blogger Hydraulics said...

It definitely is EROEI. You expend a certain amount of work (energy), and you get an amount back.

EROEI is the ratio between energy obtained and energy expended to generate it, not some kind of economical equivalence. If you want to speak about EROEI of corn, please provide figures for energy required to get x pounds of corn.

Obviously you're going to burn orders of magnitude more calories planting, growing, weeding, watering, harvesting, shelling and hand-milling corn from seed.

A vague and unsupported statement to say the least.

If you don't want to fill these pages with silly computations then change the title of the post in:" The economics of gardening sucks".

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 5:04:00 AM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

It definitely is EROEI. You expend a certain amount of work (energy), and you get an amount back. Then you take the ratio. That's the very definition of EROEI.

The fact that I don't produce the corn meal is irrelevant, just like the fact that I don't produce the oil itself is irrelevant to calculating the EROEI of petroleum. If you include all factors, EROEI is always exactly equal to 1.

EROEI is an inherently economic concept because it involves the notion of an "investment" and an agent who does that investing. The only thing that needs to be included in EI is energy expended by the agent.


EROEI is related to physical processes only and does not involve economics. You're just being ignorant now. Whether you twist the interpretation of the term is irrelevant - the etymology and public interpretation of the term is in my opinion unambiguous.

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 6:48:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

EROEI is related to physical processes only

Not true. Consider regulations mandating anti-pollution scrubbers for coal plants, or restoration of the land after strip mining. Energy to comply with those regulations is always included in EI when calculating the EROEI of coal. But those regulations are not physical requirements. They're political requirements that can be eliminated with a stroke of the pen.

You can take it much further. For instance, the energy requirements of labor also involve political assumptions. There's nothing in physics which rules out a coal mine worked by slaves.

Whatever your stance on the issues, it's perfectly clear that environmental and labor standards are not requirements imposed by physics. Therefore, EROEI involves political elements. And, in fact, piling on as many of those political elements as possible is a common tactic used by environmentalists. That's how they cook the EROEI numbers of energy sources they disapprove of, like coal or nuclear.

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 7:49:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Therefore, EROEI involves political elements. And, in fact, piling on as many of those political elements as possible is a common tactic used by environmentalists. That's how they cook the EROEI numbers of energy sources they disapprove of, like coal or nuclear."

I have to admit you have a lot of chutzpah to maintain this charade. What is it you're so afraid of? Why all the subterfuge?

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 2:03:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Not true. Consider regulations mandating anti-pollution scrubbers for coal plants, or restoration of the land after strip mining. Energy to comply with those regulations is always included in EI when calculating the EROEI of coal. But those regulations are not physical requirements. They're political requirements that can be eliminated with a stroke of the pen.


That's rather a different thing than including economics, I'd argue. It's directly related to the physical process. Economics, on the other hand, is a completely other ball game. I can't believe you're actually arguing about this.

Of course you can count different EROEI scenarios depending on policy - but they should still be based on physical processes and not economical. The difference compared to your assumptions is obvious. As i see it - you're trying to argue that economics + EROEI = EROEI. That is not so.

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 2:47:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Anon,

Subterfuge? That would imply that JD is deliberately using deceit to achieve his goal: he's not. He's merely taking a different tack with EROEI than some use. Very different thing.

Babun,

I think where you and JD are disagreeing on is whether EROEI should be a social or an individual measurement. JD is arguing against gardening from an individual perspective. In other words, that the energy return on growing corn at home is very low relative to the energy return from working a shitty McJob.

The question, then, is whether or not EROEI should always be seen as a social measure, or whether or not the individual return on investment should even be considered.

I think both are legitimate ways of approaching it.

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 3:14:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

Good point, Ari. I don't find "language cop" arguments persuasive. I think it's perfectly legitimate, for instance, to calculate the EROEI of an animal, i.e. (energy contained in food)/(energy expended to obtain that food).

We had a similar argument a while back at TOD. Alan Drake was stressing the importance of calculating EROEI for conservation techniques. For example, he wanted to calculate how much energy could be obtained (saved) by investing energy in building insulation, digging tunnels etc. That's a very important metric (more important than the usual supply-obsessed definition of EROEI, IMO), and I agreed with Alan. Nate meanwhile turned into the language cop, and told Alan that wasn't EROEI and shouldn't be considered. Apparently EROEI just brings out the anal retentive in people. It's a sacred cow.

Personally, I'm a pragmatist. If it calculates like EROEI, and it's a ratio of energy invested to energy returned, then I call it EROEI. The purists remind me of outraged old timers who insist that zero isn't number.

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 4:47:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

EROEI is not the only measure of worth. Reconsider corn. It's a monoculture that is wellsuited to largescale corporate Ag. Of course an organic farm without fossil fuel can't compete 'apples to apples' with ADM.


The organic farm is more competitve when it comes to produce like tomatoes and greens, but again. EROEI is just one incmplete measure of worth. Where Jd shows a very shortsighted bias is in his choice of activities to belittle.

What's the EROEI of porn? A sit com? A tractor pull?
Gardening and organic farming produces healthful food. EROEI doesn't tell the whole story.

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 6:10:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Ari and JD, if you do not understand the etymology of the term EROEI - i urgently advise you to seek an understanding in it. Without the understanding of the term your arguments are stupid.

 
At Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 7:14:00 PM PST, Blogger Sean Daugherty said...

I kind of agree with Babun on this one. The economic value of an ear of corn from my personal garden is (at best) only indirectly related to the actual energy embodied within that ear of corn.

Economic and political concerns can affect the amount of energy invested, of course: if you are required by law to invest in coal scrubbers for a coal-fired plant, and the installation and operation of those scrubbers requires additional energy investment, then it changes the equation. But the same amount of energy is produced by that plant, regardless of how much anyone is willing to pay for it.

Of course, the EROEI of subsistence gardening probably isn't all that great, anyway. But that's an argument that requires a bit more research to make. And JD has a valid point about how many EROEI doomsayers effectively "cook the books" by assuming/pretending that the extra energy investment required by policy is entirely non-negotiable.

That's the problem I assume JD and Ari are getting at. EROEI is not the be-all and end-all of energy discussions. It's a very important piece, of course, but there are numerous other things that should be factored as well. Like the previous Anon says, EROEI is not the only measure of worth.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 3:48:00 AM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

I think where you and JD are disagreeing on is whether EROEI should be a social or an individual measurement. JD is arguing against gardening from an individual perspective. In other words, that the energy return on growing corn at home is very low relative to the energy return from working a shitty McJob.

The term EROEI was coined to calculate (through physics) things from an energy production point of view.

The view presented is a personal time/effort/money comparison which has nothing to do with the physical requirements of producing the good. It's economics.

When you use the term EROEI as you do - it is no longer a universally applicable calculation. EROEI should be a universally applicable calculation - it was designed to be this - and in my opinion this is what EROEI is.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 4:09:00 AM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Personally, I'm a pragmatist. If it calculates like EROEI, and it's a ratio of energy invested to energy returned, then I call it EROEI. The purists remind me of outraged old timers who insist that zero isn't number.

If calculability is the only requirement for the usage of the term to be valid i'm sure you can come up with a million scenarios with different results of EROEI. Do you see the dilemma with your usage? If you use it like this, it's no longer really universal and would require further information about the circumstances to be fully correct (the eroei of gardening sucks as compared to buying food yourself as a wage earner in the US).

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 4:36:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

The ratio I calculated above, (82,250 calories)/(250 calories) = 329, clearly is a ratio of energy returned to energy invested. So what should we call that ratio, if not "energy returned on energy invested"?

The ratio makes no reference to economics. Calories and calories are both physical units. It tells you how much energy a person can obtain by expending a certain amount of energy. Are we not allowed to talk about that ratio? Are we allowed to talk about it provided we don't say the taboo phrase "energy returned on energy invested", even though that's what it actually is?

I think there is room for various notions of EROEI because similar ratios crop in various circumstances. You have the ordinary EROEI we're all familiar with (energy produced on energy invested). You have the sort of EROEI I'm referring to here, where an animal expends energy to obtain energy (energy obtained on energy invested). And you have the sort of EROEI that Alan Drake referred to (energy saved on energy invested). You also have the EROEI when one form of energy is converted into another, such as when you liquefy coal. All of these situation are naturally regarded as energy returned on energy invested. So why can't we speak of them as such?

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 6:28:00 AM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

All of these situation are naturally regarded as energy returned on energy invested. So why can't we speak of them as such?

Ok well, perhaps i was a bit off on this. I suppose you can use the term EROEI for whichever process that is suitable.

However, the title "the eroei of gardening sucks" is still very much misleading. And the connection is far from "straightforward" as you claimed. The general interpretation of that would in my opinion be that it's compared to some other way of producing food, and not a comparison between buying the food and making it yourself.

I guess my strong reaction to your usage of the term is that I associate EROEI with a thorough research of the energy inputs whereas your usage here does the exact opposite and hides the energy inputs (and I believe I'm not alone in this association).

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 7:04:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The general interpretation of that would in my opinion be that it's compared to some other way of producing food, and not a comparison between buying the food and making it yourself."

That's it. When you compare growing a monoculture like corn, with cheap oil to plant, harvest and transport the crop and cheap natural gas to fertilize it, to growing corn using only your own compost and cover crops, then sure, it would appear that Archer Daniels Midland corn is the better return for your effort than growing it in your own backyard.

If that's the way you want to use EROEI, then compare some other foods, say tomatoes. The EROEI of gardening in this sense is much better.

But that's not the JD's point. JD's raison d'etre is bashing "doomers," and some "doomer" somewhere advocated organic gardening. Using JD's narrow, cynical logic, doomers are always wrong, doomers advocate gardening, ergo gardening is wrong/bad/sucks. EROEI in JD's hands is just a bludgeon to use on his perceived enemies.

Now if JD were to apply his same narrow-minded logic to all those GDP-enhancing jobs he wants to grow, he'd find that most of them have EROEI that are far lower than even gardening, and that's assuming one could even calculate the EROEI of jobs like haircuts, carwashes, applying tatoos, coding video games or manufacturing aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons.

There are innumerable, pesky externalities that make computing EROEI, even JD's vague, relative EROEI, problematic if not impossible.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 10:12:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Babun,

Let me make myself clear: I do understand what EROEI is. Completely. But I see EROEI as being applicable in different ways than others seem to. In this case, EROEI is a measure of the individual's energy return from the corn he eats.

After all, EROEI is just a measure of how many calories of energy we get out of a source of energy relative to the energy we put into getting it. It doesn't matter if it goes into a vehicle or a power plant. Energy used to power a human being through the manufacture of ATP is really no different in practice from the energy used to power an automobile though the refining of petroleum. It's just organic vs. inorganic chemistry.

If calculability is the only requirement for the usage of the term to be valid i'm sure you can come up with a million scenarios with different results of EROEI.

Well, there is a reason why EROEI measures are so wildly variable...

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 11:00:00 AM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

If the point of the post was to actually discuss the EROEI of gardening it should have included comparisons of modern mechanized agriculture and gardening and the energy inputs and outputs of them.

The whole point in the gardening solution argument is preparation for worse (catastrophic) times so I don't see the use in trying to refute it with the economics of today.

The EROEI of gardening may still suck, but this post hasn't really discussed that issue in a sensible fashion.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 11:12:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The EROEI of gardening may still suck, but this post hasn't really discussed that issue in a sensible fashion."

The point of this post was not to discuss the EROEI of gardening, but to disparage and belittle the commentors in favor local economies and agriculture in the previous post "Growth = jobs."

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 11:21:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Babun,

Forget for a second how much energy the mechanized farming processes cost in energy and look at the individual level. From an individual perspective, what has a better EROEI? Gardening, or working some specialized job for money to buy food?

Let's worry about the system-level EROEI of food production later. That's a different EROEI measure altogether.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 11:23:00 AM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

The point of this post was not to discuss the EROEI of gardening

Funny thing that the title still says "the eroei of gardening sucks" though.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 11:41:00 AM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Forget for a second how much energy the mechanized farming processes cost in energy and look at the individual level. From an individual perspective, what has a better EROEI? Gardening, or working some specialized job for money to buy food?

Well obviously working that specialized job since food is cheap. But can you tell me what the point is in calculating EROEI on an individual level?

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 11:57:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But can you tell me what the point is in calculating EROEI on an individual level?"

It serves a a red herring for those who still believe that growing the GDP is the only worthwhile activity.

As worshippers at the altar of GDP, you'd think Ari and JD would just give the locavores their due and just get over it and move on. Unfortunately, their hatred of "doomers" blinds them to that little hypocrisy of theirs.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 12:11:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Well obviously working that specialized job since food is cheap. But can you tell me what the point is in calculating EROEI on an individual level?

Well, for one it tells us why people don't see fit to all start gardening in their backyards just yet-- they intuitively know that the caloric return is lower than going to the market.

By the way, don't get me wrong: I love gardening. I used to grow a tiny garden outside of my apartment in Japan. I had some of the best watermelon I've ever had thanks to that little garden. But it was fairly energy intensive to grow, and I was SOL in the winter (well, I wasn't... but my poor plants were!)

I think what this exercise is interesting for is to show how much energy "old-fashioned" methods require the individual to input. I mean, if we're really just interested in ATP production from food eaten, then we can say that the individual is almost always better off in a specialized society. I'm actually interested in this now, because we often see EROEI used as a measurement of how many widgets we can power with a gallon of x fuel, but rarely do we see it as a measure of how much energy I get out of the food I eat relative to how much I put in.

I agree that there are "hidden" energy costs at every corner, but EROEI is always plagued with those kinds of problems anyway. This is a good springboard for finding better, more accurate measures, IMO.

Anon,

Enough. We get it.

By the way, this schtick:

It serves a a red herring for those who still believe that growing the GDP is the only worthwhile activity.

is getting old.

As worshippers at the altar of GDP, you'd think Ari and JD would just give the locavores their due and just get over it and move on.

What is their "due," pray tell? I'm not sure I actually understand what "due" I'm obligated to give them.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 12:23:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What is their "due," pray tell? I'm not sure I actually understand what "due" I'm obligated to give them."

Who contributes more to the GDP, or has the better EROEI: the unemployed autoworker or the organic farmer?

Their due is precisely that. Or the other way, Stop using EROEI as some general-purpose club to bash those you disagree with.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 12:31:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Anon,

That's a poor comparison. I think a better comparison would be: who contributes more to food security: the backyard gardener, or the serious organic farmer?

I LIKE the idea of organic farming and think that we should continue to research it. However, I'm fairly certain that extremely small scale organic farming probably (key word) doesn't yield as much in calories per acre as larger farms, due to the economies of scale present in agriculture.

Gardening is a hobby, in my opinion, that one should engage in for fun and personal satisfaction. It is not a high EROEI activity, however, and should be recognized as such. That doesn't, however, mean that it's "bad." It's just not a return to the glorious yeoman past.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 12:36:00 PM PST, Blogger Hydraulics said...

The ratio makes no reference to economics.

JD, you are wrong and insisting with this argument will only make you lose credibility. EROEI doesn't need any kind of hour wage or price for corn bushel to be defined: actually you don't even need an economic system underlying.

Your speculations about political factors show that EROEI depends on boundaries and choices, and on this you are quite right. Unfortunately this has nothing to do with the original post and its misleading title.

From an individual perspective, what has a better EROEI? Gardening, or working some specialized job for money to buy food?

Ari, in order to calculate the EROEI you have to compare the energy returned and invested in the same process. Bigger wages will always give higher EROEI (as you call it), so what? I haven't yet seen a sound estimate of energy required to plant, grow, weed, harvest...

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 12:43:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

JD, you are wrong and insisting with this argument will only make you lose credibility. EROEI doesn't need any kind of hour wage or price for corn bushel to be defined: actually you don't even need an economic system underlying.

It's funny to me that a lot of people on the Internet believe that credibility is so fickle. I mean, it's like the people who think that James Watson doesn't know biology because he's batshit insane about race...

But anyway, that's neither here nor there.

Ari, in order to calculate the EROEI you have to compare the energy returned and invested in the same process. Bigger wages will always give higher EROEI (as you call it), so what? I haven't yet seen a sound estimate of energy required to plant, grow, weed, harvest...

I am comparing the SAME PROCESS. Namely, the consumption of food as necessary for the production of ATP. In other words, the input of fuel necessary to undergo the Krebs cycle in the conversion of food into usable energy.

I put fuel in, my body "refines" it, and I get usable energy.

EROEI, but looked at from the individual's perspective.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 12:44:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"However, I'm fairly certain that extremely small scale organic farming probably (key word) doesn't yield as much in calories per acre as larger farms, due to the economies of scale present in agriculture."

Please remember what enables that economy of scale - cheap, imported oil. Take away cheap, imported oil and the economy of scale vanishes and the organic farmer is on a more level playing field with Big Ag. Big Ag depends on some very expensive military infrastructure to protect its oil supply line.

Lots of tension in the ME oil patch these days. Small time Somali pirates are getting a lot of press. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see some of that supply line compromised.

Shouldn't part of the cost of our military be factored into the EROEI of corporate agriculture production?

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 12:45:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Well, for one it tells us why people don't see fit to all start gardening in their backyards just yet-- they intuitively know that the caloric return is lower than going to the market.

Exactly. It serves no other purpose than to explain the actions of the individual and is therefore not really relevant to the argument of gardening as a solution.

I do also believe that specialization is at least on some level useful, and I don't think it's realistical or effective for everyone to make their own food. But i do favor local food production for a number of reasons though. E.g health aspects, supporting the local economy and increased supply security.

I believe that local production of some goods is sensible whereas it may be less so with others. And often you have a mix of local production/imports.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 12:54:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Please remember what enables that economy of scale - cheap, imported oil. Take away cheap, imported oil and the economy of scale vanishes and the organic farmer is on a more level playing field with Big Ag. Big Ag depends on some very expensive military infrastructure to protect its oil supply line.

Ugh, no. This is not the ONLY thing that enables economies of scale. A large part of it is specialization in society meaning that people leave farms for other jobs, allowing large tracts of lands to be farmed at once (instead of by small farmers). Another part of it is the development of agricultural science and the other equally important factors (such as irrigation and specific breeds of crops.)

I think it's also interesting to note that many of the major organic producers are also "Big Ag," and depend to some degree on economies of scale as well. For one, modern irrigation seems to work better on large tracts of land.

But i do favor local food production for a number of reasons though. E.g health aspects, supporting the local economy and increased supply security.

OK, I have to ask: why is it healthier and how does it actually increase supply security? I mean, I daresay that history has shown us that India enjoys far more food security since the Green Revolution (oh most damned of all damned revolutions!) than prior. The same goes for the OECD, really. Perhaps I lack the evidence otherwise, but I'm going on history.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 1:02:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Gardening is a hobby, in my opinion, that one should engage in for fun and personal satisfaction. It is not a high EROEI activity, however, and should be recognized as such.

Are you sure about this? Surely it has to be a net positive for early agricultural societies to have flourished? Not all land is equally productive though. Gardening may have a good EROEI. It's just that if everybody does it, then there's no human capital to invest on anything else. We can use oil to produce edible calories but then we can't create human capital of the oil left over from killing oil-based agriculture.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 1:17:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

OK, I have to ask: why is it healthier and how does it actually increase supply security?

It's healthier because it's more fresh, and organic farming is possible since it doesn't have to be transported long trips or be stored for a long time. Pesticides and conservation poisons can more easily be eliminated. It increases supply security by being a redundant supply of food and also because it's not dependent on long chains of logistical infrastructure prone to disruptions.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 1:21:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"
Ugh, no. This is not the ONLY thing that enables economies of scale. A large part of it is specialization in society meaning that people leave farms for other jobs, allowing large tracts of lands to be farmed at once (instead of by small farmers)."

You city boys really don't get it. Fossil fuel is the chief enabler to Big Ag. Without fossil fuel for tractors, harvesters, etc, agricultural technology is set back 100 years. Large tracts simply cannot be farmed "at once" without either fossil fuels OR lots of human and animal labor, kind of like the way it was done until the late 18th century.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 1:42:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Babun,

Surely it has to be a net positive for early agricultural societies to have flourished?

Comparing early agricultural societies to modern ones, which ones would you say have greater caloric intake per square kilometer of land developed for food? I'm not saying that gardening is necessarily negative net EROEI, but that modern processes are much, much more efficient at yielding a lot of calories per calorie input.

It's healthier because it's more fresh, and organic farming is possible since it doesn't have to be transported long trips or be stored for a long time. Pesticides and conservation poisons can more easily be eliminated. It increases supply security by being a redundant supply of food and also because it's not dependent on long chains of logistical infrastructure prone to disruptions.

Actually, the "freshness" argument depends. I've read a number of studies (mostly from my UCLA days, mind you) that showed that flash frozen veggies are MORE nutritious than "fresh" because they are preserved.

What's a "conservation poison," BTW?

I do like redundancy, but what happens if local supply dries up? Remember that local food supply is just a different kind of supply chain with different weak links. Let's say I live in NY (I do), and we happen to have a bad season (this is a miserable winter, BTW!). If our food supply chain is designed around local production, then we have to buy from outside our previous radius. But if food production is not surplus based anymore, where do we get food from?

Also, it totally ignores the comparative advantages that each region has. I mean, there's a good reason why corn is generally grown in Nebraska and not in Florida.

You city boys really don't get it. Fossil fuel is the chief enabler to Big Ag. Without fossil fuel for tractors, harvesters, etc, agricultural technology is set back 100 years. Large tracts simply cannot be farmed "at once" without either fossil fuels OR lots of human and animal labor, kind of like the way it was done until the late 18th century.

You mean to tell me that there is absolutely NO OTHER WAY? It's TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE?

I mean, like, it would be the equivalent of dividing by zero impossible?

No way, no how?

No way, José?

ES IMPOSIBLE?

無理だ?

BTW, just because I currently live in a big city doesn't mean I don't know about small town life or living around agriculture.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 1:49:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I mean, like, it would be the equivalent of dividing by zero impossible?"

Please. If "large tracts at once" without fossil fuels is so plausible, please, tell us how'd you'd do it. I'm sure lots of organic farmers would like the tip too.

You're the one insisting on precise terminology and no language games - spare us the handwaving.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 2:36:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Anon (HDT?),

I don't honestly know for certain, but I can make a few guesses.

One thing that I think might work would be overhead lines powering equipment like electric buses (this is initially capital intensive, but has definite pluses, including low variable costs in the long run.)

Another thing would be to apply the electric machinery that JD has showcased:

http://peakoildebunked.blogspot.com/2007/12/317-electric-agricultural-machinery.html

and

http://peakoildebunked.blogspot.com/2008/08/375-heavy-duty-electric-truck.html

applied on a larger scale. The latter is especially interesting as a technology that can be applied at larger scales.

I mean, the average farm size in the US, as of 2002, was around 450 acres. 51% of all farms are 1 to 99 acres, and 33.1% are 100 to 499 acres. Only 3.7% of farms are more than 2000 acres.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/StateFacts/US.htm

Now, I don't know what percent of the nation's food is produced on those 2000+ acre farms, but even 2000 acres is about 3 square miles. I think it's certainly possible to imagine ways of making those 40 miles-on-a-charge heavy duty truck drive trains pull a combine or something else.

Do I know for certain what farmers will replace diesel with? Nope. But I know it's not "divide by zero" impossible, either.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 2:56:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Comparing early agricultural societies to modern ones, which ones would you say have greater caloric intake per square kilometer of land developed for food? I'm not saying that gardening is necessarily negative net EROEI, but that modern processes are much, much more efficient at yielding a lot of calories per calorie input.

I don't really know. I'd be interested in seeing some numbers. I don't believe a lot of research has been put into this. I'm not convinced before i actually see some numbers. It may be so, or then it may not. This blogger included a few sources to propose the opposite :

http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/energy/

What's a "conservation poison," BTW?

Well, I can't say I know a lot about the subject, but afaik they do use different kinds of chemical preservatives when shipping fruit and vegetables over long distances.

I do like redundancy, but what happens if local supply dries up? Remember that local food supply is just a different kind of supply chain with different weak links. Let's say I live in NY (I do), and we happen to have a bad season (this is a miserable winter, BTW!). If our food supply chain is designed around local production, then we have to buy from outside our previous radius. But if food production is not surplus based anymore, where do we get food from?

Well then you just import the food. What do you mean by surplus based? There's a lot less logistics involved in local production.

Also, it totally ignores the comparative advantages that each region has. I mean, there's a good reason why corn is generally grown in Nebraska and not in Florida.

As i said you have to consider the pros and cons about every localization process. If you want to localize stuff you should try to do it wisely. It doesn't have to totally ignore these advantages.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 3:07:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Do I know for certain what farmers will replace diesel with? Nope."

I didn't think so, and I'm sure you haven't thought about how farmers will do without fertilizers manufactured with natural gas.

AGain, the corporate agriculture we have now depends upon cheap, readily available oil, and last I heard, the US still imports about 2/3 of the oil we consume.

Let us know how you plan to keep the cornflakes on the table without fossil fuel, Ari. Until then, I thank goodness there are still some human beings on the planet who haven't been infected with your allergy to simplicity.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 3:22:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Here's a direct link to one of the publications that blog mentioned :

http://www.ehponline.org/members/2002/110p445-456horrigan/horrigan-full.html

I know the EROEI estimates do shift rather wildly - but just having read up a bit on the subject it would seem that the EROEI of modern mechanized agriculture and the transportation and food processing related to getting the food to its consumer loses hopelessly to local food production EROEI.

Then you could also think about the issue on a smaller scale. A normal sized human being working hard around the week consumes about 3000 kcal per day. I believe one gallon of diesel is about 35000 kcal, which would equal to about 12 days of hard human labor.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 3:49:00 PM PST, Blogger Hydraulics said...

It's funny to me that a lot of people on the Internet believe that credibility is so fickle.

JD made explicit reference to economics in order to get that ratio; he even added that "EROEI is an inherently economic concept", and then pretended that "The ratio makes no reference to economics". Fickle, you said?

Anyhow, I thought you would argue about this sentence:

"EROEI doesn't need any kind of hour wage or price for corn bushel to be defined: actually you don't even need an economic system underlying."

I am comparing the SAME PROCESS. Namely, the consumption of food as necessary for the production of ATP. In other words, the input of fuel necessary to undergo the Krebs cycle in the conversion of food into usable energy.

I put fuel in, my body "refines" it, and I get usable energy.


You are just trying to change subject. Now you name it ATP production but it's always the same: a comparison on how many kJ you are able to buy depending on your activity. Very different indeed.

If you just want to prove that, from an individual point of view and ceteris paribus, the higher the wage the better, there's no need to use EROEI (and you are obviously right).

But then again, I suggest you to change the title of the post.

EROEI, but looked at from the individual's perspective.

Quite fair. Since you and JD are unable to provide estimate of energy needed to plant, grow, weed and so on, you define your own EROEI.
Have fun with it!

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 3:57:00 PM PST, Anonymous Brother Cadfan said...

I don't know what historically happened in the US, but in Britain steam engines were not totally uncommon from the late nineteenth century onwards for mass agriculture. Indeed, it was the very use of this in agriculture that freed up workers to migrate to the cities and thus the industrial revolution proper. Note that this occured in the 19th century, before the arrival of oil products. It was common to send food products to big cities en masse from the 1700's onwards.

Even in the West Indies any plantation machinery was often powered by the burning of a sugar cane waste product.

On the subject of fertiliser, hasn't JD covered this point?

Anon at 307: Too right I have an 'allergy to simplicity'. My great grandparents didn't abandon their farm with no good reason. It didn't pay the bills in the 1920's, again before cheap oil became widely available.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 4:06:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Hydraulics,

I'm not "changing the subject." I'm saying why I think this is an interesting take on the deal. That's all. Telling me to change the subject is pretty silly, though, since this isn't even my blog!

Babun,

Well, I can't say I know a lot about the subject, but afaik they do use different kinds of chemical preservatives when shipping fruit and vegetables over long distances.

And "conservation poison" is now an accurate way of referring to preservatives?

Salt is now "poison?"

Well then you just import the food. What do you mean by surplus based? There's a lot less logistics involved in local production.

The idea behind modern ag is that you produce enough that it can feed yourself and your own locale but can also sell to whatever markets exist.

But saying "you just import food" is pretty hard to swallow, considering how long it takes to establish supply chains on that level. I mean, let's say that some awful year hits the tri-state area, and yields are bad. Does the food come from Nebraska now, or what? I mean, that's obviously not "importing," but it's buying from elsewhere. But when your market is built around growing for a local population, you aren't going to grow a lot more than the equilibrium amount (this is what tends to happen with dairy, for example.) If you have a problem with the supply in your location, however, then you could theoretically buy from elsewhere, but what if there is no surplus to buy?

The one advantage to our current system is that it tends to allow for greater-than-domestic-equilibrium production, which means that a bad year raises prices, but doesn't mean no food on the average _____ (insert nationality)'s plate. My understanding, based on what I see in the relevant history and current studies, is that the LESS localized food systems tend to be the more secure.

Anon (please use a name?),

I didn't think so, and I'm sure you haven't thought about how farmers will do without fertilizers manufactured with natural gas.

Well, for one, Haber-Bosch is not dependent on NG per se. It's just cheaper than the alternative. But let's be clear here: peak oil ≠ peak natural gas per se. I do, however, like the idea of developing agricultural processes that are less dependent on synthesized fertilizers.

AGain, the corporate agriculture we have now depends upon cheap, readily available oil, and last I heard, the US still imports about 2/3 of the oil we consume.

Wait a second. You just said natural gas. Now it's oil. Sure it imports oil, but so what? The US produces enough oil and natural gas on its own that if worse came to absolute worst it could ration and keep agriculture more than supplied.

Let us know how you plan to keep the cornflakes on the table without fossil fuel, Ari. Until then, I thank goodness there are still some human beings on the planet who haven't been infected with your allergy to simplicity.

It's funny how you spend more time trying to insult me than actually discussing any relevant points with me. I don't mean to say that you don't have anything to say, but I wonder why you (assuming you're HDT) refuse to actually have a discussion.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 7:47:00 PM PST, Anonymous mdf said...

I didn't think so, and I'm sure you haven't thought about how farmers will do without fertilizers manufactured with natural gas.

Haber-Bosch reacts hydrogen and nitrogen to make the ammonia.

Methane is a source of energy -- steam reforming isn't exactly a free lunch, nor is HB either -- and hydrogen.

The nitrogen comes from the air. (Peak Air?)

So, without the methane, you get your energy and hydrogen somewhere else.

Now, do I have to spell it out for you? If even the random editors at Wikipedia can figure it out, why can't you? (Note: that is a hint.)

AGain, the corporate agriculture we have now depends upon cheap, readily available oil, and last I heard, the US still imports about 2/3 of the oil we consume.

Oil != methane. Are you sure you know what you are talking about?

Let us know how you plan to keep the cornflakes on the table without fossil fuel, Ari. Until then, I thank goodness there are still some human beings on the planet who haven't been infected with your allergy to simplicity.

Energy is energy: physical reality doesn't care where it came from, or how you use it. When the oil runs out, we switch to electricity from molten salt nuclear reactors or similar technology.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 8:12:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Let us know how you plan to keep the cornflakes on the table without fossil fuel, Ari."

Mining is mostly electrical already(draglines, crushers, pumps, conveyors, slurry pipelines...). Phosphate ore also represents a fairly large uranium resource that could be co-mined if uranium wasn't dirt cheap(a happy problem).

Recovery of phosphorus from municipal waste water treatment has been demonstrated at about 50% efficiency. We'll see, we've got a few hundred years to work on it before it starts to become a serious problem.

Less phosphorus can be wasted in the first place with precision farming, better irrigation and run-off control, GM crops and soil improvement techniques for increasing phosphorus adsorbtion. The more phosphorus we save the less new phosphorus we mine, the more marginal the phosphorus we can afford to mine becomes; it has a disproportionately large effect on extending the useful reserves of phosphorus. On the millenia scale we might well have some kind of universal mining machines grazing the sea-floor for phosphorous and other minerals; it's not at all clear.

Ammonia is a pittence energy-wise; it's a few percent of world natural gas use.
The techonological genie is out of the bottle and there's no way to put it back in. You can use coal or biomass/waste gasification. You can use surplus or intermittent electricity. You can use the sulfur-iodine cycle in high temperature gas-cooled reactors or solar-thermal collectors. You can develop solid state ammonia synthesis using SOFC fuel cell technology and produce ammonia directly from air, water and electricity at potentially much lower capital costs, less energy demanded than electrolysis + haber-bosch, can be used in a distributed fashion(if SSAS is cost-effective it will have no problem scaling to very small sizes or dealing with intermittency, unlike Haber-bosch where you'd have to buffer the hydrogen to make sure you have a steady supply).

Farming is a pittence, energy-wise. The chief component of energy use in farming is ammonia and drying with natural gas/diesel/propane. When farming equipment eventually need to go all-electric in a century or two I think we'll be more than ready enough for it.

Most energy used in food production is in fact distribution and processing. Both of which are easier to electrify than farming equipment.

Railroads are already substantially electrified(except in the US where this has meant additional taxation and was deferred).

Short distance trucking between rail stops and end users can eventually be electrified or replaced with a network of electric trams shared between container carrying cars and public transport.

Large container ships can use small nuclear reactors just as easily as ice-breakers, naval ships or submarines.

Corn can be processed into corn flakes, baked and dried using electrical energy or some mixture of electrical energy solar drying.

The tiny amount of plastics needed for cornflakes packaging can be made from any of a vast array of sources. It could be made from cellophane or lignin-based plastics, it could be made from cracked algae oil or vegetable oil, it could be made through gasification and processing of any organic matter, it could be made from conversion of ethanol to ethylene(raw material for both PE and PVC). You could omit the plastic bag all toghether and just vax coat the inside of the card board box.

Card board, last I checked, was not terribly difficult to make or recycle, but you could still improve on it by developing a process to make high quality paper from faster growing crops like prairie grasses, bamboo or hemp. If you're feeling really cheeky you could have a swing at producing it from kudzu and combine it with an eradication project.

Electricity can be produced from uranium-235 in the interim(next century or a few). We have enough U-238 and thorium until the sun exits the main-sequence. It will probably be supplanted by something better at some point, but not because of running out of fuel.

When intermittent electricity will suffice there are significant wind resources that can be harvested quite cost effectively but the economics of shipping it all around the continent and cleaning up the intermittency is a horror show(for now).

I think you're severely underestimating just how large the buffer is. Just how much oil is simply pissed away heating leaky homes, long distance commuting in 1.5 average occupants in several tonnes of steel and glass. How much food is destroyed by feeding it to livestock, subsidizing non-production of food, deferring development of GM crops...

I see no problem what-so-ever over the medium to long term.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 8:24:00 PM PST, Blogger craftycorner said...

As the oil becomes less abundant, as it will over time we will adapt our farming or agricultural science to meet our needs and cultivate other energy sources which are out there. I speak of solar, wind, nuclear.

I do also see an increase of gardening too. Gardening provides a variety not offered by big agriculture. The Heritage varieties of just the tomato are legion and come from yellow to green.

Even the landless can garden to some extent via container which add nutrients and flavor to bland diets of mere starch. A few pots of peppers can put fire into store bought beans and rice.

Gardening is an addition to diets around the world. When prices of basic grains skyrocketed, third world residents planted vegetables in pots, yards, anywhere they could locate some dirt to lower their food bill.

A garden need not be a big production.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 9:12:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Craftycorner,

Like I've said, I'm not "anti-gardening." I LOVE my houseplants, and love growing fresh herbs and tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes beat the pants off of those store bought monstrosities they call "tomatoes" these days.

I just don't think it's something we should do with a high caloric return in mind. We should do it because it TASTES GOOD.

Honestly, these debates are so... bleh. I mean that: bleh. We sit here and debate the EROEI and other such sterile measures and don't talk about what REALLY matters: is it delicious tasty? And you're damn tootin' it is!

I hereby propose a different measure from EROEI in this debate: TROEI (tastiness return on energy inputted). Stick that in yer craws, guys. :-)

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 9:12:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Inputted = invested. Or whatever. You get my point.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 9:32:00 PM PST, Anonymous DoctorJJ said...

Well, I am a big fan of this blog, however, I do not agree with this loose interpretation of the term EROEI. Obviously, the economics of small time farming suck. Hell, the economics of large scale farming isn't great most of the time, depending on grain prices. That being said, I will weigh in on the actual EROEI of farming. Let's take that 1 acre plot of ground and we'll single crop it with corn. Depending on where you live and the quality of ground you are talking about, the typical yield for unfertilized, non-irrigated corn is somewhere between 50-70 bushels per acre. So, we'll go with the low estimate and say you can get 50 bushels each year from your little 1 acre plot. Each bushel of corn weigh 56 lbs, so that equals 2800 lbs of corn per year, or 1,271,200 grams of corn per year. There are .85714x calories per gram of corn or 1,089,600 calories total in your harvest. Say the average male needs about 2400 calories per day to live and you have 454 days worth of food. Therefore you would end up net positive for the year based on energy spent vs energy gained. That being said, the total amount of time (energy) required to prepare an acre of land for planting, planting the corn, hoeing it occasionally, harvesting, storing and preparing it to eat, is pretty small. Really. It doesn't take that much time for 1 acre. Even by hand, even without modern equipment. That would leave you with a lot of other time to spend doing other activities, like making arrowheads, killing deer, tanning their hides, sewing clothes out of them, etc.

DoctorJJ

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 10:01:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

But saying "you just import food" is pretty hard to swallow, considering how long it takes to establish supply chains on that level.

Some solidness would be needed for these arguments. Afaik this is what my own country does at the moment. We grow most of the stuff here and then when there are worse years we import more. Over the years imports have shifted a lot but I haven't really seen any media coverage of problems with supply chains.

I wasn't talking about completely eliminating agricultural exports in favor of local production either. We'd still need to have global exporters, "swing producers" i guess. Of course if local production was to increase, the demand for imports would decrease so the large global producers would have to produce less. The point was to move a large part of this exported production to the local level.

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 10:32:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

.85714x calories per gram of corn

DoctorJJ,
Your figure seems to be off. Calories in corn meal are 442 cal per 122 g, or 3.6 cal per gram. That would give you 4,576,320 cal per harvest, or roughly 5.2 years of food per harvest. So even assuming that 2400 cal per day are spent working corn, for all 365 days, we would get an EROEI of 4,576,320/876,000 = 5.2. Since corn is a seasonal product, we should be able to reduce hours worked to about 4 months, so that would give an EROEI of about 16.

On the other hand, as noted above, the EROEI for obtaining corn meal via a burger-flipping job is roughly 329, and you can obtain a years worth of corn meal (= 876,000 cal, or approx. 535 lbs.) for $169, or three 8-hour days at the burger joint. That leaves 362 days of the year for loafing and other activities.

Here's my question: If farming corn is so easy, why is there any hunger problem at all in the United States?

How many people, even on the peak oil and survivalist sites are 100% self-sufficient in food? None that I know of. Why is that? Why don't they do as you describe, DoctorJJ, and live the relaxing life of corn farming? Surely someone, somewhere, in the US would live that way if it was so easy. Where are the examples?

 
At Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 10:55:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Babun,

How local is local, though? You seem to be advocating for national production, which I think is perfectly fine. But what kind of radius are we talking, here, before it's no longer "local?"

Now we're gettin' to something interesting. We're defining "local!"

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 12:22:00 AM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

How local is local, though? You seem to be advocating for national production, which I think is perfectly fine. But what kind of radius are we talking, here, before it's no longer "local?"

I'm advocating for local production whereever and however it is sensible.

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 12:43:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Babun,

Nah man, let's get down to brass tacks and work out some working definition!

I propose this: local is no greater than 60 kilometers from a major city center. "Extralocal" is anything within a major political body.

This works well, I think, because it lets the "local" moniker have some kind of physical meaning, but also allows us to work in the nation-state level of affairs as well.

My $.02

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 5:13:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How local is local, though? You seem to be advocating for national production, which I think is perfectly fine. But what kind of radius are we talking, here, before it's no longer "local?"

No one has written more passionately and persuasively about local economies than Wendell Berry.

He describes the ideal local economy here:
http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/299/

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 7:36:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

No one has written more passionately and persuasively about local economies than Wendell Berry.

Passion and persuasion are nothing but hot air. What is needed are practical solutions. Solutions that address all the issues and run the numbers.

As I said, this stuff is basically a bourgeois fantasy, pushed by dilettantes and intellectuals who are well-off enough to indulge in it as a hobby.

What's Wendell Berry's solution for the poor, and the unemployed, and the working class, who don't own 125 acre farms, and don't have supplemental cash flows from novels and poetry and speaking engagements?

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 11:14:00 AM PST, Anonymous kolm said...

Of course energy efficiency of gardening is very poor; that's more or less exactly the reason it is no longer in broad use. Well, that and hygiene issues.

I do not think, however, that it is advocated because of efficiency issues; rather it is mainly advocated for the same reason guns, generators and emergency rations are advocated, i.e. because some people believe in a collapse of infrastructure to a degree you can only trust yourself, hence subsidiarity becomes a necessity.

Not that I would agree with that believe.

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 11:40:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What's Wendell Berry's solution for the poor, and the unemployed, and the working class, who don't own 125 acre farms, and don't have supplemental cash flows from novels and poetry and speaking engagements?"

I don't know that Wendell Berry set out to find a universal "solution" for the poor, unemployed, farmless, etc. I can imagine people who fall into those categories working on farms if they were of a mind to, grow some of their own food, and sell the occasional poem, but then that wouldn't be a perfect solution for everyone, would it? And of course if it's not a perfect, universal solution, it's not worthy of consideration.

Maybe he should start a blog where he disparages and sneers at those who disagree with him. I hear that's a growth industry, and it's obviously worked so well for you it must the solution for the poor, landless, et al.

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 11:41:00 AM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Of course energy efficiency of gardening is very poor; that's more or less exactly the reason it is no longer in broad use.

No it's not. I'd argue the reason is we found a shitload of other energy and figured out we could use our own more creatively.

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 1:30:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

No it's not. I'd argue the reason is we found a shitload of other energy and figured out we could use our own more creatively.

Babun,

People started migrating away from the tenant farmer model long before oil. There were fits of specialization and movement away from generalist living even in the late-18th century.

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 2:14:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

People started migrating away from the tenant farmer model long before oil. There were fits of specialization and movement away from generalist living even in the late-18th century.

That was hardly what I was saying either.

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 3:34:00 PM PST, Blogger david pasquinelli said...

how does this debunk peak oil?

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 8:50:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

I don't know that Wendell Berry set out to find a universal "solution" for the poor, unemployed, farmless, etc. I can imagine people who fall into those categories working on farms if they were of a mind to, grow some of their own food, and sell the occasional poem

Where are the farms that are hiring? If Wendell Berry's vision is a realistic idea, then where are the jobs?

Here's a typical recent story:
Inglewood resident Michael Brown has a master's degree in counseling and has spent 20 years working as a mental health professional. He lost his job at Kedren Community Health Center last March because of a cutback in state funds. On Friday, Brown, 43, made his first visit to a food pantry. He and his 9-year-old daughter had nowhere else to turn. "The unemployment checks aren't enough to cover the rent, the food, the car insurance," Brown said while awaiting a bag of free groceries at St. Margaret's Center off Hawthorne Boulevard. "The money runs out every month." Government officials reported Friday that 2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008. The nation's unemployment rate is at a 16-year high of 7.2%. California's is 8.4%.

What does Wendell Berry's back-to-the-land program have to offer this guy? Telling the guy to get a job on a farm, feed himself by gardening, or write poetry is not very helpful.

Doomsites like peakoil.com and LATOC are all about how to get enough money together to buy a doomstead. In fact, I've seen people on peakoil.com change over the years from staunch anti-capitalist activitists to crass day-traders -- all because they need large sums of money to buy and equip land.

As I've been saying, the back-to-the-land strategy is very costly. It's a "solution" for the rich and upper middle class. In other words, it's not a solution at all. It's just another "lifestyle".

 
At Monday, January 12, 2009 at 9:00:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

how does this debunk peak oil?

Hi Dave. Welcome to POD. This blog doesn't debunk peak oil, per se. As you can see from the disclaimer on the title page: "This site officially accepts that oil is finite, and will peak someday".

This blog focuses on debunking the hype and agendas associated with peak oil.

Localization and gardening are a perennial topic in the peak oil community, and are promoted as the solution by numerous peak oil gurus, like Kunstler, Heinberg etc. For example, Heinberg is on the record in favor of Pol Pot style forced relocations to the countryside. You can't really talk about peak oil without addressing this topic.

 
At Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 5:20:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What does Wendell Berry's back-to-the-land program have to offer this guy? Telling the guy to get a job on a farm, feed himself by gardening, or write poetry is not very helpful."

Nobody's telling the guy that he must get a job on a farm, but then you knew that. FYI, your snotty little blog entries are not very helpful to that guy either. In case you haven't noticed, the US lost almost 3 million jobs last year alone, despite all the high-tech, free market, "growth" mechanisms you're so proud of.

Why isn't laissez-faire capitalism helping this guy?

Again, try to understand that "solutions" are not always universal and perfect for everyone, regardless of their age, income, savings, etc.

And Land doesn't have to be purchased to be farmed. There are all sorts leases and sharing arrangements that can be negotiated.

 
At Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 6:28:00 AM PST, Anonymous AndrewRyan said...

And Land doesn't have to be purchased to be farmed. There are all sorts leases and sharing arrangements that can be negotiated.

Anon: I believe this is called serfdom, i.e. slavery to leased land. It was tried back in the feudalism age and 98% of the population was enslaved and miserable.

Keep in mind, people high on the PO/die off ladder (i.e. Ruppert) have gone on record as saying they will do everything in their power to make sure that the PO doomer/prophets have a "special place" at the "new table" after the supposed die off. They want to be the masters, and want everyone else to be the slaves.

 
At Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 11:06:00 AM PST, Blogger Hydraulics said...

I'm not "changing the subject." I'm saying why I think this is an interesting take on the deal.

Ari, I think it's interesting too, but has nothing to do with EROEI. The concept can be stretched quite a bit, and even Cleveland (a reputable source, I think) has defined a quality-corrected EROI in order to weigh energy prices.

If the post aimed to give a different interpretation to EROEI, IMHO this should have been clearly stated at the very beginning, not halfway through the comments.

And the funny is, I also agree on the general conclusion ("gardening sucks"), only I haven't seen anything more than an ordinary economic analysis here.

Btw, I'm not an EROEI worshipper.

Telling me to change the subject is pretty silly, though, since this isn't even my blog!

Good point. :)

 
At Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 12:44:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Yeah, hydraulics made me wanna get back to the core argument with JD :

The ratio I calculated above, (82,250 calories)/(250 calories) = 329, clearly is a ratio of energy returned to energy invested. So what should we call that ratio, if not "energy returned on energy invested"?

That ratio could be called energy returned on energy invested, but the fact is that you didn't get any energy return on your energy invested. You got money for your energy invested. Then you bought energy for that money.

If you are allowed to make "loops", let me give you an example of your methodology taken a bit further :

I work one hour at McDonalds, and i make that $6.55. I invest that in a lottery coupon. I win a million dollars. I reinvest that and get 10x returns. I buy oil with the money. What's the EROEI? Pretty damn great i tell you!

If EROEI is supposed to be a measure of what you can use as primary energy and what not, why the hell isn't everybody working at McDonalds, which obviously has a better EROEI than ANY ENERGY SOURCE IN THE WORLD!?

 
At Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 1:23:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

Here's my question: If farming corn is so easy, why is there any hunger problem at all in the United States?

Because people lack the skillset and the mindset to be able to do this. And because of laws, private property, economics, little or no capital.

How many people, even on the peak oil and survivalist sites are 100% self-sufficient in food? None that I know of. Why is that? Mostly because of the aforementioned issues.

Why don't they do as you describe, DoctorJJ, and live the relaxing life of corn farming? Surely someone, somewhere, in the US would live that way if it was so easy. Where are the examples?

Nobody said it was easy. But it should be possible. I guess the requirements are very much more easily fulfilled in 3rd world countries than in e.g the US. And I think they prefer the American way of life.

I guess an exchange student -scenario could be nice :)

 
At Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 5:10:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew Ryan writes about leasing land, "I believe this is called serfdom, i.e. slavery to leased land."

There are any number of ways to have title to land in the US, leasing is just one of them in use, right now. It's a fact of life, not some medieval tragedy.

One simple example is leasing some of your pasture to another farmer to graze his herd. Some people lease small garden plots from CSAs. It's not serfdom, or slavery, it's just two indviduals maximizing the use of what they have.

I really don't understand where this hostility for agrarian advocacy comes from. It's suspiciously over the top, wouldn't you say? Slavery, you really want to go with "slavery?"

 
At Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 5:19:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"They want to be the masters, and want everyone else to be the slaves."

Ease up on the Red Bull, chief.

 
At Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 6:49:00 AM PST, Anonymous AndrewRyan said...

anon:

I guess I'll have to repeat myself to get it into that small little brain of yours. Ruppert has gone on record saying that he wants him, and other PO/die off cheerleaders, to be in charge after all their fantasy die off occurs. One of JD's early posts highlights Colin Campbell's rhetoric on reducing the UK's population down to 2 million people (hint: He intended on being one of the surviving 2 million).

A lot of doomer followers themselves have some type of entitlement to the future because they read a book on backyard farming and browse the LATOC forums every other minute.

Ease up on the Kool-Aid, chief.

 
At Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 8:48:00 AM PST, Anonymous AndrewRyan said...

correction to my last post:

A lot of doomer followers themselves think that they have some type of entitlement....

 
At Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 2:45:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Ruppert has gone on record saying that he wants him, and other PO/die off cheerleaders, to be in charge after all their fantasy die off occurs."

And some people believe they're going to get teenage virgins when they die. You're really obsessed with Ruppert, aren't you? You don't really think he could be in charge, even if he really wanted to?

Talk about a conspiracy nut. You "anti-doomers" win the whacko conspiracy-mongering war hands down. And your"debunker" blogs are so petty and mean-spririted than even the debunker dittoheads won't post here anymore, all 10 of them.

 
At Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 7:38:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(My apologies to our host, but some things need to be said. Edit/delete as needed, JD: I understand completely.)

And your"debunker" blogs are so petty and mean-spririted than even the debunker dittoheads won't post here anymore, all 10 of them.

The irony is delicious: fucktard doomer nitwits excitedly froth forth on the death of billions of people, wanting to hold "meetings" to decide who gets to be put to the sword and who doesn't ... all the while lecturing us on "mean spiritedness".

My advice to you is simple: kill yourself. Right now would be fine. Indeed, why the delay? As soon as news of Ruppert floating face down in his bathtub, or Campbell's body washing up on the shore near some bridge, coupled with a general, across-the-board increase in suicides by those who believe in the inevitability of the "die off", well, maybe we can begin to take their ideas more seriously. What finer sign of an intellectually honest position on this subject but to volunteer for the cull?

Until that 'happy' day though, why not just take your loathsome package of doom, irrationality, and general anti-human, lazy-ass ideologies and shove it?

 
At Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 7:48:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

make that 11 debunker dittoheads...

 
At Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 8:29:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Anon,

Say what you want, but I have in general been gracious and even-handed with even those who have been fairly rude toward me.

Also, call me what you want, but I'd rather be known as a "skeptic" or a "debunker" than credulous in the face of such a decidedly misanthropic movement (e.g. doomers).

 
At Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 8:46:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

make that 11 debunker dittoheads...

Once again, you demonstrate serious irony issues: doomers are, virtually by definition, the masters of dittoheadness.

I mean, how can anyone possibly read any of the virulently misanthropic claptrap from Ruppert, et al, and not recoil at the complete stupidity of their position? Not just the "we gotta start choosing who dies, like, yesterday" stuff ... but the entire line of reasoning that leads them to make complete idiots of themselves, one blog entry after another.

Good grief, even the simplest fact checking puts the lie to essentially all of their arguments. Whatever happened to "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof"?

I find it difficult to come to any other conclusion other than the hard-core doomer is little more than terminally credulous fruitcakes. A kind of history/economy/pschology version of the dingbats who don't believe in the germ theory of disease. You've read one 'book' (if that!) on the subject, and no more are necessary.

In short, dittoheads.

 
At Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 8:55:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ari,

"Ditto."

!

 
At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 5:06:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...and not recoil at the complete stupidity of their position?"

Let's see, you guys have your panties in a wad because you believe Mike Ruppert and a handful of "doomers" want to enslave you. And from that you conclude that eradicating small-scale agriculture is a wise thing to do, based on some half-baked interpretation of EROEI.

I can't believe that all of you are really that stupid. Andrew Ryan, yes, he is that stupid. The rest of you must be part of some Trolling Experiment.

Enjoy the Depression on you electric scooters.

 
At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 7:00:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

Related link:
Let's ditch this 'nostalgia for mud'

 
At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 10:18:00 AM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Enjoy the Depression on you electric scooters.

Anon,

We're quite far from a depression, though I do think it's about time we called this current situation "The Great Recession."

JD,

I don't always agree with Spiked, but this article hits it on the head: it's Marie Antoinette masquerading in a "country cottage" to see how "the peasants live."

Anons in general,

Can you PLEASE use handles? It's hard to figure out who's who. Honestly, just give yourselves numbers (Anon1, Anon2) or something.

 
At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 10:29:00 AM PST, Anonymous mdf said...

I don't always agree with Spiked, but this article hits it on the head: it's Marie Antoinette masquerading in a "country cottage" to see how "the peasants live."

It suggests the doomers who think back-to-the-stone-age is not only an inevitable necessity, but pretty darn good, haven't traveled much further than the 7-11 down the street, let alone to a so-called "third world country".

 
At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 12:40:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

mdf,

One thing that I suggest to those who call for a "return to the land" is that they go and do it. And I don't mean buy a small cottage-style farm in Nebraska and grow organic beets or something. I mean go and try it with a Luddite commune or something of that sort. They exist, and I'm sure that one would even allow someone new in. Short of that, there's always the Peace Corps. There are many ways for the average Westerner to get out there and see what the "old ways" are really like.

This is not to say that I'm entirely enamored with our urban consumption lifestyle. I would definitely like to see people caring less about "things" and more about other people.

Nor do I necessary eschew the idea of farming as a noble pursuit, either. But after a few episodes of "Dirty Jobs" I start realizing how lucky I am to not be a "pig waste collector" or something of that sort.

 
At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 2:54:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

".... I mean go and try it with a Luddite commune or something of that sort. They exist, ..."

They exist, eh? Could you supply the audience here the names of a few such communes?

Surely if the benighted doomers here were to take your advice and join one of these Luddite commune, we'd see just what a horrid, muddy low-EROEI serfdom of a mess it really was. WE'd come to our senses, abandon our muddy low-EROEI, Ruppert-worshipping ways and get with the high-tech growth program.

So please, give some names or locations of these Luddite communes so we can get muddy and let the healing begin. I'm guessing they don't have phones or websites?

See you in the pig shit!

 
At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 3:20:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My advice to you is simple: kill yourself. Right now would be fine."

Make that 10 debunker dittoheads and one garden variety sociopath.

 
At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 4:44:00 PM PST, Anonymous AndrewRyan said...

Dipshit anon:

They exist, eh? Could you supply the audience here the names of a few such communes?

Do you really need people do google/wikipedia for you? Dumbass.

Wikipedia's list

However, you already knew they existed. You are just in denial because you wouldn't be caught dead joining one. You want to continue to live (read: leech) off of "the system" while at the same time denouncing it because it makes you feel cool (and makes you a hypocrite!).

 
At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 5:08:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Make that 10 debunker dittoheads and one garden variety sociopath.

Your ilk say there are too many people, and yet, strangely, refuse to set a good example.

What's up with that?

 
At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 5:08:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for providing that list, Andy! This is a real eye-opener. The nerve of those eco-villagers!

Sustainable villages with classrooms!? Is this shit for real??

I'll bet their EROEI reaaly sucks and they allow whites and coloreds to mix!

I hope they kill themselves.

 
At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 5:17:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope they kill themselves.

Why? As far as I can tell, none of them are suggesting "discussions" be held regarding who gets to live and die, in order to maximize the chances of the 'species' surviving the coming die-off.

Or whatever the neo-racist crap happens to be.

On the contrary, these people are, unlike the jello-brained lazy doomers, actually putting their money where their mouths are.

May they and their offspring live long and joyous lives.

 
At Friday, January 16, 2009 at 5:49:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As far as I can tell, none of them are suggesting "discussions" be held regarding who gets to live and die, in order to maximize the chances of the 'species' surviving the coming die-off."

Oh, but they do! They have not only suggested those grisly discussions, they have participated in those discussions and have formulated real plans to kill off all the people who don't worship Kunstler and Mike Ruppert.

All the anti-doomers are correct in their hatred of doomers. The more scorn and ridicule you can heap on them here, the better off humanity will be.

If you want your dream of unlimited growth - population and economy - to come true, you'd better ratchet-up the rhetoric against those doomers now before they start killing innocent people to achieve the die-off.

 
At Friday, January 16, 2009 at 6:30:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aside from the fact that the general public seems to be fascinated by anyone who speaks an opinion loudly (however erroneous that opinion may be), is there any reason anyone should actually care what YOU think about much of ANYTHING, JD?

 
At Friday, January 16, 2009 at 6:38:00 AM PST, Anonymous AndrewRyan said...

Man, what's with this thread and bringing all of the anon scum out of the woodwork? Looks like you found a touchy subject, JD. Exposing some of the negatives of backyard gardening really gets under the doomer's skin.

 
At Friday, January 16, 2009 at 11:59:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Exposing some of the negatives of backyard gardening really gets under the doomer's skin."

NO shit. Wait 'till those doomer scum find out that their backyard gardens produce orders of magnitude more CO2 than real farming with tractors and fertilizer.

Backyard gardening is threat to the American way of life. We need to stamp out this insidious menace before it catches on and all the stupid liberal tree-huggers ruin this country.

 
At Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 3:56:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Think GOATS and SHEEP.

they eat anything you plant (or dont plant), provide a good source of FAT and meat... ..hair/ stuffing and hides etc.

I dont see any "doomer" advocating corn/maize as a survival garden.

Working at McD's wont give you enough to survive in the CITY.

Gardens are indeed a HOBBY in the Burbs, but real farmers with significant land ( say 20 acres or more) will survive well and have what to trade in economy.

The Virginian from PeakOil.com

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 4:56:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Working at McD's wont give you enough to survive in the CITY."

Yes, but JD and his amen chorus don't really care about that. It's the GDP. Every burger flipped adds to the GDP. It represents growth.

What you said makes perfect sense, but perfect sense is not what this blog's about. It's about showing hatred for anyone who doesn't share JD's faith in technology and free markets.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 8:38:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saying the EROI of gardening 'sucks' is like saying the EROI of eating 'sucks'.

But the world would be a better place without quacks like JD so please do not garden JD!

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 11:44:00 AM PST, Blogger Sean Daugherty said...

Yeah, looks like you definitely touched a nerve there, JD.

As I mentioned before, I share many of Babun's misgivings about your use of EROEI as a term here, but I still think you're fundamentally onto something. With the exception (like the Virginian says) of a few people with the land, knowledge, and ability to survive off of subsistence farming, gardening is not going to insulate anyone from the TEOTWAWKI predicted by its strongest proponents. Leaving aside everything else you've said, you really nailed it as a bourgeois fantasy.

But you've pulled in a much louder chorus than usual of people who would rather portray you as the big bad cornucopian bogeyman, and who've conveniently ignored that you explicitly said that have gardened and enjoy gardening as a hobby. A lot of ad hominem attacks are flying around these parts.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 11:56:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The EROI of Petroculture Sucks:

Energy Inputs to Agriculture
Accession number;05A0132028
Title;Energy Inputs to Agriculture
Author;BOYS A F F(Wakodai Keizaikeiei)
Journal Title;Energy and Resources
Journal Code:Z0986A
ISSN:0285-0494
VOL.26;NO.1;PAGE.27-32(2005)
Figure&Table&Reference;FIG.2, TBL.2, REF.75
Pub. Country;Japan
Language;Japanese
Abstract;Invention of the chemical fertilizer and improvement on the variety brought about the extension of the agricultural production.The agriculture became energy-intensive even in the developing countries.However, output energy per input energy lowered.It was proven that the yields increase even in the labor- intensive agriculture reversely.Input of natural gas, rock phosphate, and potassium ore is necessary for the production of the chemical fertilizer.2/3 of the chemical fertilizer will escape and bring about ground water pollution and eutrophication of water, and also the soil is acidified.When the consumption to processing, distribution and cooking is included, 5 times of the energy for food calorie is consumed.It is possible to cultivate the world, even if the industrial and chemical farming system is changed to the small-scale and labor-intensive organic farming.

http://sciencelinks.jp/j-east/article/200505/000020050505A0132028.php

Grab a hoe or starve...

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 12:04:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

I thought the post was pretty much completely a misfire. If you'd want to dismiss gardening as a solution you ought to discuss the implications on society as a whole instead. The economics of today is not really a valid context and the EROEI argument doesn't really hold (and does EROEI even matter?).

I may sound a bit critical sometimes but I think there's way too much ass-kissing on this blog and far too little thoughtful criticism. And I'm not trying to put off anyone from posting, just trying to keep the balance.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 12:17:00 PM PST, Anonymous mdf said...

Grab a hoe or starve...

Speak for yourself.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 1:03:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What exempts you from eating?

Anonymous mdf said...

Grab a hoe or starve...

Speak for yourself.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 1:23:00 PM PST, Blogger Sean Daugherty said...

Babun,

I'm neither an economist nor am I particularly well versed in energy as a field. I agree that applying a contemporary economics analysis to the subject of post-TEOTWAWKI gardening kind of misses the point.

On the other hand, I think JD is onto something at a more basic economical level, which is where I see the question of EROEI and economics dovetailing. Fundamentally, economics deals with the production and distribution of goods and/or services. An activity which produces less than it consumes is, at a very basic level, uneconomical, in the same way that an energy source that requires more power to harness than it provides has a poor EROEI.

Obviously, in practical application the equations get muddied significantly, and I think it's a mistake to compare the economics of a job at McDonald's versus the EROEI of a subsistence garden. But the question of whether or not the energy, supplies, and expertise needed to produce a garden capable of providing even a moderate amount of calories is feasible, even under a worst-case, post-peak scenario is a valid question, I would think.

That's the issue that I think has been clouded by a lot of pointless back-and-forth regarding whether or not Friedman-style economics has any place in discussions of EROEI (or whatever). Of course I don't dispute that full-fledged farming is capable of producing enough food for a person to live off of, but that's most definitely not the same thing as saying that urban or suburban gardening is an effective survival strategy if and when the food trucks stop moving.

I have to give a shout-out, once again, to the Virginian above for being one of the first in this too-lengthy thread to actively address that. There's nothing wrong with gardening, but advocating as a one-size-fits-all "solution" to the worst-case scenarios is either profoundly naive or an outright lie. And a lot of the anon-trolls who've crawled out of the woodwork for this post seem to be suggesting just that thing.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 2:08:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There's nothing wrong with gardening, but advocating as a one-size-fits-all "solution" to the worst-case scenarios is either profoundly naive or an outright lie. And a lot of the anon-trolls who've crawled out of the woodwork for this post seem to be suggesting just that thing."

How utterly disingenuous. Up 'till now, JD is the only one who has made the phoney claim that 'doomers' view gardening as a one-size-fits-all "solution." It's not. The truth is that gardening and small-scale organic agriculture are just one of many ways to produce one the essential elements of life - food.

The EROEI of cornmeal argument for working at McDonalds is one of the lamest red-herrings to ever appear on this blog.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 3:55:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

To further add to a long thread...

One problem I find with the blog medium is, of course, the option for people to remain completely anonymous. It tends to attract a good deal of trolling and bad behavior since someone can just run around and act like they're posting on 4chan hurr hurr and all that.

However, I do think that there has been a lot of good discussion here, amidst the stupidity and silliness. The truth is that gardening is NOT a "one size fits all" solution-- nor is it even much of a "solution" to any problem other than boredom and maybe the desire for super fresh veggies.

Again, though, that doesn't mean that gardening is "bad." But this strange fascination that people in the green and resource depletion (sometimes the same) communities have with "localization" rarely addresses the fact that localization and "self sufficiency" are almost always MORE costly in some way (time, resources, money, labor, etc.) A major problem with the PO community is that they see oil as the ONLY goddamn resource that matters-- it's not. Whether they like it or not, things like water, labor, land, other forms of energy, and money will be weighted in any decision a society makes regarding localization.

Is JD's EROEI calculation incorrect? I don't know. I do know that I've seen literally dozens of EROEI calculations of the same things being wildly different (nuclear is a good example,) and that this makes me question ALL EROEI calculations (and the notion itself, to be frank.) I also believe that EROEI is used too narrowly to really be useful for most people.

Still, I am disappointed by the behavior of the Anonymous posters. I think it's one thing to want to play Devil's advocate, but it's another thing entirely to simply prance around being an ass for the sake of being an ass.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 4:38:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

The Virginian is conceding my point, not refuting it. For independently wealthy landowners who don't need a job, growing their own food may be a viable long-term survival strategy. For the vast majority of working people, it's not. If you're counseling people to garden to weather peak oil, you should also counsel them to stockpile plenty of tissues for when they lose their job, and get their land stripped due to failure to pay the mortgage/rent/taxes.

For most people, gardening through a collapse is based on the very far-fetched idea that society and the food system will collapse, but their job won't. It's a form of denial. Honest advice would be "Get rich and become a landowner" not "Get a garden", because the latter isn't secure without the former.

This is core issue #1 of my post, and there hasn't been a good rebuttal.

#2 is the fact that gardening for self-sufficiency makes you poorer. Babun, which choice do you choose in reality to obtain your grain? a) Working for 6 hours at your job, or b) Working all summer on your land and a hand mill? If your answer is a), you're conceding my point, not disputing it. In fact, I dropped in at peakoil.com because they we're talking about this thread, and even the doomsteaders there admitted that they intend to rely on big-Ag for grain. Don't you love the smell of diesel and herbicides in the morning?

Babun had a hard time coming up with any 1st world examples of people living self-sufficient on their own land. My thesis is that people don't do that because it makes you drastically poorer. Do the calculation: Pay out a big sum to buy an acre, and grow all your own food on it. Then calculate its value. You'll be paying a large sum of money for the privilege of working your ass off -- for a tiny fraction of your previous wage. In other words, you're paying to become dramatically poorer.

If we look outside the 1st world, we see numerous examples of people living self-sufficiently on their own land. These are the world's poor, living in extreme poverty. That is my #2 core point: A step back to self-sufficiency is a step back to poverty. I haven't seen a rebuttal of that point either.

A lot of trolling about minor irrelevancies, but nobody is refuting the core points. That's why this one hits a nerve.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 4:59:00 PM PST, Anonymous mdf said...

Obviously, in practical application the equations get muddied significantly, and I think it's a mistake to compare the economics of a job at McDonald's versus the EROEI of a subsistence garden.

I don't see the "mistake", nor do I see any "muddied equations".

McDonald's: labor input is X,

Subsistence garden: labor input is Y,

and the output is the same. EROEI is going to be massively in favor of the McDonald's solution. The reason is simple: the economy is nothing more than an "energy amplifier". The performance improvement for working at McDonald's is powered by the general dissipation of large amounts of energy in the global economy.

The doomers, of course, want to include all that extra energy in the EROEI computation. Two reasons why this is, um, silly:

1) we aren't "making" this energy, we simply find it and use it,

2) despite the screeching, neo-Malthusian millennialist rhetoric from these jokers, we aren't running out of energy.

We can accept (1) as true, since, as far as is known, these guys aren't running in large hamster-wheel powering the Sun -- they would (rationally) use found energy like the rest of us. Do you know just how tremoudously inefficient photosynthesis is?

(You may wish to consider the ethanol screak-fest when it comes to synthesizing energy and the importance of EROEI in that field.)

Point (2) is, of course, the irreconcilable core of the situation. The doomers believe, with basically no supporting evidence, that Y2K will cause the end of the world ... oh wait, not Y2K, but oil running out ... yada yada yada.

Now I guess if we were in fact running out of energy, where every lasy joule counts, a detailed analysis would be required. But since there is enough energy on this planet to power our civilization for as long as we choose to live on it, undertaking a detailed EROEI analysis, including all possible inputs and the like, would be a bit like a fish in the ocean being concerned about water running out.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 5:23:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A lot of trolling about minor irrelevancies, but nobody is refuting the core points."

No, JD, you haven't made any points. All you've done is batted around the flimsy strawmen you created out of thin air.

Strawman #1: Doomers claim that we can be self-sufficient by growing all our food in backyard gardens.

The reality is that local agriculture, CSA's, farmer's markets, etc. make a lot of sense for people who like to eat good food.

Strawman #2: It's more energy efficient to buy cornmeal with money made working at McDonalds than it is to grow the corn in your backyard.

And no one disputes that. Try living in the real world on the wages made at McDonalds OR what one could make selling produce from one's back yard.

No one has claimed that gardening or local agriculture is a universal solution for everyone under any and all conditions.

Your logic is pathetic, JD, and your motives are shallow.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 at 5:33:00 PM PST, Blogger Ari said...

Anon,

I've seen at least a few "doomers" argue in favor of backyard food growing as a sort of "self-reliance behavior." I can't say whether this is a commonly held belief or not, but I do know that I've seen it said. I also see a lot of people arguing for the whole "off-the-grid" sort of lifestyle-- especially on green blogs.

Also, the energy efficiency issue HAS been disputed: particularly in the comments here!

And again: please use a name. Why do you anons all insist upon not using any names? It's really not a lot to ask for from people to at least give us a name/handle.

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 5:16:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'I've seen at least a few "doomers" argue in favor of backyard food growing as a sort of "self-reliance behavior.'

So have I, and these "doomers" are - again - not arguing that their "self-reliance" behavior is - or should be - a universal, one-size-fits-all solution for everyone on the planet. They supplement their diet/income with what they grow in the backyard, they do not depend on the backyard for all their needs. And the same is true for the larger organic farms, CSAs, coops, etc.

Are you this critical of all the kibbutzniks? Seems to me you'd have a little more sympathy for this kind of effort.

It's a pity that you and JD are so filled with hatred for the things you don't understand.

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 5:42:00 AM PST, Anonymous greenneck said...

Good post and lots of interesting comments... as 'doomer' from Canada who actually lives off the land I'll just chime in.

Before I do, I'll add that not all 'doomers' are created equal. I consider myself a pragmatic guy, and have foreseen the current economic collapse a long time ago, and made sure I was ready for it. I don't expect any kind of die-off, just a repeat of the 1930s, which already started. It will get worse before it gets better. I'll ask you this JD: if you lose your job, and can't find another, what will you do?

Now with some points:

1. You don't have to be 'rich' to own land. There are deals out there. I bought 65 acres for less than 100K 20 years ago, and built a modest house on it for another 50K. This is all within a middle-class, even working-class means. All it takes is discipline and focus.

2. You don't have to be a Luddite to become a small farmer. Where do you get the idea we have to give up technology? Those doomers who do set themselves up for failure. I do a lot of work by hand, but also use chain saw, tiller and generate electricity. Like you say, oil and electricity will not disappear anytime soon.

3. You DO need another source of income. Selling your food won't do. In my case, I sell firewood that I cut from my land (only 2 acres are cultivated, the rest is a wood lot). That nets me about 10K$ a year; I don't even need all that. My main expenses are property taxes and insurance.

4. It IS hard work, and yes, I am technically poor, compared to the average north American. But this lifestyle buys you freedom and peace of mind - no worries about the economy for this guy. That alone is priceless.

5. Finally, my food is not laden with pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics and 26-letter chemicals. Sure, big-Ag produces tons of 'food' for cheap, but people are literally being poisoned by it. This to me was a big motivator in growing my own.

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 6:12:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MDF,

(Mind Dissipation Factor?)

This a blog about facts. If you want to make statements like the one below you must provide citations or be banned forever from this quality blog.

JD

"Now I guess if we were in fact running out of energy, where every lasy joule counts, a detailed analysis would be required. But since there is enough energy on this planet to power our civilization for as long as we choose to live on it, undertaking a detailed EROEI analysis, including all possible inputs and the like, would be a bit like a fish in the ocean being concerned about water running out."

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 6:45:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

I've seen at least a few "doomers" argue in favor of backyard food growing as a sort of "self-reliance behavior."

It goes much deeper than that. Doomers are obsessed with self-sufficiency, and riding out a collapse of civilization on a doomstead. greenneck's post is a good example. As is this peakoil.com thread: How much land is enough for a doomstead?

From that thread:
"If you look at a doomstead as a subsistance farm you will come up with larger requirements. A subsistance farm not only provides food but also provides fuel, fiber for clothing, timber for building materials, leather and a surplus of some commodity that can be sold or traded for the things not found or produciable on that land such as iron or salt, glass etc.
The food has been covered above. About a million calories per person per year in a variety that provides a sound diet. Then there is the food for draft animals and those raised for wool ,meat and leather. Both summer pasture and hayfields and or corn land for winter forage have to be allowed for." A horses head is never up".
Some land for growing flax or cotton depending on climate for clothing or a cash crop to trade for clothes.
Then there is fuel. Wood to heat the house and workshops, plus a crop to turn into liquid fuel for lamps and tractor/rotortiller fuel. or more cash crop land to buy a couple of barrels full each year. A wood fired chainsaw isn't to practical. And timber to saw out for building materials for everything from rafters to fence rails. Maybe twenty acres just in woodlot plus five or ten more of maples for your sugar and syrup."

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 6:56:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

I'll ask you this JD: if you lose your job, and can't find another, what will you do?

Move in with relatives, mooch, loaf, go on welfare, eat charity rations, deal drugs, steal, murder people like yourself for your food supply etc. etc. :-)

To keep the thread on topic, could you give us a brief run down on your food growing situation greenneck? How self-sufficient are you in food, and what are your main crops? IIRC, you're in Canada, so you've got a very short growing season.

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 8:34:00 AM PST, Anonymous mdf said...

Anon: If you want to make statements like the one below you must provide citations or be banned forever from this quality blog.

You mean like how your statements are backed up with citations?

In any case, my deepest apologies: I assumed this was common knowledge to any reader here.

You can begin your education here:

http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/cohen.html

JD has an article on uranium from sea water too (google it up). Naturally, that's just uranium. There is about 4x as much thorium. The current TOD has, in fact, an article on the subject of a thorium reactor. (As expected, a few people are having trouble with the idea of practically limitless energy. "Filthy humans are undeserving wretches. Back to your mud-huts, slaves!" But by and large, the discussion is reasonable! Perhaps the LFTR is the cure for doomerism?)

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 10:12:00 AM PST, Anonymous greenneck said...

"murder people like yourself for your food supply"

As you know us doomers tend to be armed to the teeth, so don't come alone :)

As to my food production, you are right about the growing season, it's only 5 months (mid May to mid October) so I have to be good at storing and preserving.

Although I do have an area planted with corn, our main staple is root vegetables: potatoes, turnips, beets, etc. Last fall we collected some 1,400 pounds of potatoes from a plot about 3,000 square feet. This alone could sustain 2 people for almost a year, but you'd get tired of it, not to mention dietary deficiencies.

We also grow beans (300 pounds of them last year), all kinds of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, etc. We also keep a few hens for eggs.

Most of our meat comes from hunting: venison, moose, ducks, geese, grouse and rabbits. Lots of them around.

We also have a greenhouse abutting our house, where we grow some fresh greens and vegies during winter.

There are also lots of berries and wild mushrooms around.

Even at that we're not totally self-sufficient, so we barter some stuff (mostly our surplus eggs and berries) for things we don't grow, like citrus, seafood, etc.

I'll be the last to pretend to have achieved a complete break from the economy; I agree with you doing would mean living in near destitution. I just have rearranged my life to be as insulated from the whims of the economy as possible.

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 10:17:00 PM PST, Anonymous Babun said...

For most people, gardening through a collapse is based on the very far-fetched idea that society and the food system will collapse, but their job won't. It's a form of denial. Honest advice would be "Get rich and become a landowner" not "Get a garden", because the latter isn't secure without the former.

Well gardening in the collapse sense would be a bit small for a solution. I guess you'd need a full-fledged farm for that. But the point - who says you can't save up in advance? I thought this is what doomers are advocating : preparing in advance. Anyway, I don't believe you need to be rich. You just need to be saving up for a number of years being a middle class guy living in the 1st world.

#2 is the fact that gardening for self-sufficiency makes you poorer. Babun, which choice do you choose in reality to obtain your grain? a) Working for 6 hours at your job, or b) Working all summer on your land and a hand mill? If your answer is a), you're conceding my point, not disputing it. In fact, I dropped in at peakoil.com because they we're talking about this thread, and even the doomsteaders there admitted that they intend to rely on big-Ag for grain. Don't you love the smell of diesel and herbicides in the morning?

I guess farming in this sense is a full-time job so yeah, probably. You could make some money of it too though. My choice is of course the easy work because of my beliefs about future development (and I don't think I'd be able to farm even if i was a doomer), but that's hardly essential regarding the issue.

Babun had a hard time coming up with any 1st world examples of people living self-sufficient on their own land. My thesis is that people don't do that because it makes you drastically poorer. Do the calculation: Pay out a big sum to buy an acre, and grow all your own food on it. Then calculate its value. You'll be paying a large sum of money for the privilege of working your ass off -- for a tiny fraction of your previous wage. In other words, you're paying to become dramatically poorer.

Well this is probably one of the many reasons.

If we look outside the 1st world, we see numerous examples of people living self-sufficiently on their own land. These are the world's poor, living in extreme poverty. That is my #2 core point: A step back to self-sufficiency is a step back to poverty. I haven't seen a rebuttal of that point either.

If you're talking about a collapse in the food and economic systems it's pretty self-evident you're talking about increased poverty, yes.

My point is only that given enough willpower this (farming for self-sufficiency) would be possible. But I don't expect a lot of people to have that willpower - or the other skills and abilities needed.

 
At Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 6:19:00 PM PST, Anonymous Soylent said...

JD don't forget with nixtamalization if you want to avoid pellagra(niacin deficiency) and reduce the level of mycotoxin(putative carcinogen) by some 90%.

 
At Tuesday, February 3, 2009 at 4:27:00 AM PST, Anonymous Mark said...

"...a whole $40 worth of corn for 5 months of backbreaking work!"


JD, you do realize that most of the time during those 5 months human labor isn't involved?

I can understand your fun you have poking at the peakniks, yet your post is largely one big strawman. Bushels per acre is not something that depends on high-energy inputs. Most of that increase is due to greater knowledge of biology and ecology. That's not something that "runs out," well, not intentionally atleast. I can't speak for the willfully ignorant.

Economy of scale, division of labor and exploitation of real world resources, and not strawman with one arm tied behind their back, easily can acheive comparable yields that don't require fossil fuel inputs.

 
At Wednesday, February 4, 2009 at 11:44:00 AM PST, Anonymous Mark said...

One other thing.

Gardening IS farming. Are you claiming farmers can't even beat minimum wage per hour? Profitability of small-scale farming (gardening) is even better ($/hr) when it's not hampered by professional overhead.

No taxes.
No retail containers or locations.
No transport.
No marginal inputs such as fertilizers or other chemicals which only increase yields financially.
AND NO LAND COSTS. The land is free or nearly free. Lawns already exist and can be turned to cropland easily. Even rental land can be had for in-kind payment like the micro-farmers do.

The fact is JD, "gardening" is just an example of farmings highly scalable nature. Each hour and square footage produces the same profit. It's just a matter of how many hours per day and days per years can be used to produce a living.

5 hours a week working in a garden might not produce a "living" like 20 hours a week at Mickey-Ds but it does make more money per hour.

Oh yeah, you also forgot that at even at 10 bu/ac (LOL!) index harvest corn will still produce several tons of stover (giant grass) which can be feed to livestock. The manure can then be made into mushrooms. The mushroom waste can then be fed to worms or live stock. The worms can feed chicken that lay eggs. All that biomass is filtered into high-quality human food.

Don't play the role of a debunker without knowing simple ecology design.

 
At Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 6:58:00 AM PST, Anonymous jddebunked said...

greenneck,

Thanks for completely taking the wind out of JD's sails. I'm also an organic farmer and felt the need to give him a small dose of reality a few months back, but quickly tired of his mouth-breathing chorus of assholes (Ari being the exception to the rule). Of course I may be blinded by a bit of professional pride, but you make a wonderful case for our way of life, something which techno-worshipers could never understand because they've never experienced it. There is no point in pulling yours out for the sustainability big dick contest which JD is so fond of playing. We'll see where he is at the end of 2009 and where you are.

Because truly JD, throwing money down the rat-hole of exorbitant big city rents while working a shitty service job is much preferable to being thrifty and hard working in the country while eating good food and spending time with people you care about. Clearly this is the one perfect solution to all the world's problems which your critics are so blind to. How on earth do you manage to be so brilliant?

 
At Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 8:55:00 AM PST, Anonymous jddebunked said...

so whats the matter JD, now that a few knowledgeable agriculture people have shown your strawman argument for what it is has a cat got your tongue? since you're so fond of wasting your life gathering statistics which prove nothing to nobody, this website does an excellent job of refuting your claims about small-scale gardening not being profitable: http://www.spinfarming.com/

of course, these are people farming in the real world and not a bunch of internet geeks speculating about it from the comfort of their luxurious 250 sq. ft. apartment, if that counts for anything.

 
At Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 6:36:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

jdd,
If the SPIN system works, and people can make $50,000+ a year growing vegetables, with no up front investment, then I think it's a great idea. I'm totally in favor of free enterprise. Of course, if their system genuinely works, one wonders why there is any hunger/unemployment at all in the US. Why get food stamps, or go to the food bank, or look for a job, when you can make $50,000+ a year by starting tomorrow from nothing? Can you explain that for me? Something isn't adding up. I suppose we could settle the issue by examining the books of their system, but that's not possible because they're charging money to even find out what it is. I have an open mind of course, but it smells a bit like snake oil to me.

At any rate, they're promoting a business for making money by growing vegetables. Which means they're relying on big-ag for their calories and proteins, and the supermarket for their food purchases. They're no different from an urbanist like me. They're just in a different line of business.

As for refuting my point, you definitely didn't. My point is not that profitable farming is impossible. My point is that food can be obtained much more easily by working a minimum wage job and purchasing, than by grunting it out in your back yard. Come back when you've got a cogent rebuttal to that point, Kyle.

 
At Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 8:00:00 AM PST, Anonymous jddebunked said...

um, their system works because it funded the farm i now own in the country. that was how i knew about it to show you the link, because i don't waste my life combing the internet to prop up my opinions with statistics which reinforce my worldview. so yeah, point totally refuted there. besides i don't remember them saying that if the millions who have been unemployed by the lovely free-market all turned around and started using their program they'd be able to do it profitably. in other words its like any business.

and if you bothered to look there were other farmers profiled on the site who were successful at growing food in a non-rural setting. want to see another urban farm where i used to work since farming is 'like so teh unprofitable' without 1,000,000,000 acres of corn and pesticides and fertilizers? www.sweetwater-organic.org

food isn't simply calories, or do you subsist on an all grain or meat diet? i concede your bogus straw man point (which if we look at the title of your post had nothing to do with your original argument), farmers in the first world are not self-sufficient. but nobody said they had to be. why don't you go work at mcdonald's for a month and see how much organic food it buys you. not a lot. however the csa farm model as well as the spin farm model complete rebut your point, and more so they turn it upside down on its fool head, because in fact it turns out the only way to eat high quality food worth a goddamn and *not* have to overpay for it is to grow it yourself, or short of that, join a csa which provides an exceptional value (produce 30-40 weeks of the year) for a minimal yearly cost (usually for a couple hundred dollars).

as far as just growing a few plants in containers and having a little plot in your backyard (and most suburban backyards are not an acre but most folks have room for a plot or two), the EROEI kicks the shit out of mcdonald's if you have a sane person's view of how you want to spend your limited time on earth. but i guess my subjective value is to be outside enjoying nature and taking care of the earth rather than making minimum wage while participating in the destruction of earth through ruinous farming practices.

the only thing that sucks about gardening is that there are dumbasses like yourself out there trying to talk people out of doing it. my advice would be to use your blog to write about all your pet research projects which might have enough fairy dust in them to come true one day and leave thinking about the real world to the folks living in it and making it a little better.

 
At Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 8:24:00 AM PST, Anonymous jddebunked said...

well, well, well...

i went looking for a statistic to bring a smile to your face, and look what i found while browsing the nytimes:

"The Agriculture Department came out with its Census of Agriculture last week, and the headline was that the number of farms increased by 4 percent from 2002 to 2007, with most of the new farms being small, part-time operations."

 
At Monday, March 2, 2009 at 1:29:00 PM PST, Anonymous jamelet said...

I'd much rather be working in McDonalds sweat kitchens than outside with plants....oh wait

 

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