Thursday, June 15, 2006

Famine and Peak Oil

I've got a presentation in a few hours, and I'm uploading my power point notes here, in case the computer can't read my thumb drive for some reason.

Peak Oil and Famine

A Trial Thesis

  • Famine is caused by injustice in food distribution, not underproduction of food.
  • Peak oil will not change this situation.

Elaboration & Clarification

  • Peak oil will force a massive reorganization of the food chain.
  • But this will only lead to additional starvation if people react to it unjustly
  • Preparation for the agricultural reorganization should focus on institutions of justice,
  • Preparation for should not be an attempt to match food production to population levels.

  • Background on Famines and Forecasting
  • The current size of the buffer
  • Alternative sources of nitrogen
  • The value of systems thinking over productionism

On famines
  • Famines are not correlated with the underproduction of food, and rarely caused by them.
  • Famines can occur when food production is at a high.
  • Food production can drop as much as 70% in a poor region without triggering famine.
  • Famines come with a particular group loses access to the food stocks

On Forecasting

  • You forecast to help deliberate
  • You deliberate over what you have control over (Aristotle)
  • The goal of forecasting is to develop a range of possible outcomes of differing desirability that you have some influence over.
  • Given this, many cornucopias and catastrophists are forecasting irresponsibly.
The Size of the Buffer

Where is the food missing?

  • Congo
  • Rwanda
  • Burundi
  • Angola
  • Zambia
  • Tanzania
  • Ethiopia
  • Central African Republic
  • Mozambique

Alternative Nitrogen Sources

Alternative Feedstocks for Haber-Bosch

  • Hydrogen from electrolysis
  • Coal, low-quality hydrocarbons

Biotech sources

  • Engineering non-leguminous plants to form a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobia
  • Engineering a nitrogen fixing microbe to operate at an industrial scale, independently of green plant symbiosis.

4. Productionism v. Systems Thinking


  • “Productionism is the philosophy that emerges when production is taken to be the sole norm for ethically evaluating agriculture” (Thompson 1995)
  • “There are no philosophically sophisticated defenses of productionism,” although Earl Butz is a kind of productionist icon.(Thompson 1995)
  • Malthusianism is pessimistic productionism.

Sustainability as systems thinking

  • Identify boundaries of the system
  • A system is sustainable if it is free from internal threats. (Thompson 1995)

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