James Howard Kunstler on The Future of Agriculture

There are people who I suspect make a good living off of gloom and doom prognostications. They write best-selling books with all the evidence to back up their claims. They give speeches. They tell us with certainty what’s going to "go down" and just how bad it’s probably going to get when the disaster strikes. There were several such “experts” during the Y2k scare. They were all wrong.

James Howard Kunstler is a current doom & gloom celebrity. As a “Peak Oil” prognosticator, he has a big following. His credibility comes from his ability to write in a compelling manner. And it comes from the fact that what he has predicted appears to be coming true.

If we are indeed in the beginning stages of a Peak Oil crisis (what Kunstler refers to as the “Long Emergency”), life as we have known it in the industrialized west is, undoubtedly, going to change. Actually, I think it already is changing. Will it change as radically as Kunstler postulates? Probably not. But if it’s half as bad, it’s going to be significant. And, like I said, the guy appears to be right on so far.

In a recent editorial in “The Daily Reckoning” Kunstler writes about the flooding in Iowa and equates it to a “wet version of the 1930s Dust Bowl.” He predicts changes coming to agriculture. Here is an excerpt:

[We currently have] an agribusiness model of farming cranked up on the steroids of cheap oil and cheap natural-gas-based fertilizer. Both of these "inputs" have recently entered the realm of the non-cheap. Oil-and-gas-based farming had already reached a crisis stage before the flood of Iowa. Diesel fuel is a dollar-a-gallon higher than gasoline. Natural gas prices have doubled over the past year, sending fertilizer prices way up. American farmers are poorly positioned to reform their practices. All that cheap fossil fuel masks a tremendous decay of skill in husbandry. The farming of the decades ahead will be a lot more complicated than just buying x-amount of "inputs" (on credit) to be dumped on a sterile soil growth medium and spread around with giant diesel-powered machines.

Like a lot of other activities in American life these days, agribusiness is unreformable along its current lines. It will take a convulsion to change it, and in that convulsion it will be dragged kicking-and-screaming into a new reality. As that occurs, the U.S. public will have to contend with more than just higher taco chip prices. We're heading into the Vale of Malthus - Thomas Robert Malthus, the British economist-philosopher who introduced the notion that eventually world population would overtake world food production capacity. Malthus has been scorned and ridiculed in recent decades, as fossil fuel-cranked farming allowed the global population to go vertical. Techno-triumphalist observers who should have known better attributed this to the "green revolution" of bio-engineering. Malthus is back now, along with his outriders: famine, pestilence, and war.

We're headed, it seems, toward a fall "crunch time," and that crunching sound will not be of cheez doodles and taco chips consumed on the sofas of America. I think we're heading into a season of hoarding. As the presidential campaign moves into its final round, Americans may be hard-up for both food and gasoline. On the oil scene, the next event on the horizon is not just higher prices but shortages. Chances are, they will occur first in the Southeast states because oil exports from Mexico and Venezuela feeding the Gulf of Mexico refineries are down more than 30 percent over 2007.
You can read the whole editorial at this link: ”Status Quo-Oh” by James Howard Kunstler


mark said...

I enjoy Kunstler, {although his occasional vulgarity gets on my nerves}, I think he is on to something, but I think it will happen more gradually than he does. I think things will just get tighter, little by little, over the years, and things will change. One day ten years from now, you will all of a sudden notice that the world is much different than it was before. It will occur to you that you haven't seen a strawberry box, that says "grown in Mexico" on the package, in a long time.Or the lettuce, won't say packed in California. They will be much closer to home. There will seem to be many more people growing food, than there was years earlier. More train travel, and you'll forget how long it's been since you flew anywhere. Many such things, I think will be like this. Not like falling off cliff, but more like a long gradual slope down to a new world.
But, I could be wrong about that.

Anonymous said...

I, too, like Kunstler, and have been reading him for some time. I also like Matt Savinar's Peak Oil site. None of it Christian, and Kunstler can, indeed, cross the line w/the profanity. All that said, he has been bang-on w/his prognostications... mainly because they are not subjective (for the most part). Fr. Vincent McNabb, as well as Chesterton, spoke of this. I am a Traditional Roman Catholic, so I am familiar with their writings, as well. Fr. McNabb pushed Christians to leave Babylon, to go Agrarian, for the pursuit of truly Christian family values... Love your blog, by the way. Want to do the same "return to the land", as you have. God bless you. You are doing the right thing. Too many people of Faith feel way too comfortable in suburbia. We should feel uncomfortable within the confines of secular materialism...

Too often... we feel right at home... Particularly these days...

Alex Tiller said...

Hi Hennrick. Thanks for this post. It’s tough not imagine the future of agriculture changing dramatically. I too believe that major changes are coming and if things are left un-changed, farming in 10 years will look a lot different. I predict (shake my magic 8 ball) that we will see a return to localization, although I doubt most people will turn their front lawns into gardens. While corn is the major US crop and goes into most products we eat, I would expect a shift from all the vegetable production in California. First reason; diminishing water resource. Second reason; you can easily grow lettuce and carrots in Ohio and upstate NY and transport them to the densely populated Eastern Seaboard much cheaper than driving them across the country. The trend is already starting to happen with people motivated by social and environmental beliefs, but eventually I think the real power (economics) will come into play.

Alex Tiller

Bret4207 said...

Kunstler's views are based partially on current events, partially on conspiracy and partially on outlandish fear. While I agree with some of his thoughts, others are so unbelievable as to border on the ridiculous. Nevertheless, things are going to change and we need to prep for those days.