I just watched a delicious Kunstler anti-suburban rant, and though I live not unhappily in a town that violates every principle that Kunstler advocates, I think he’s absolutely right about urban design. (and am sadly bemused by Austin’s feeble attempts to try some.)
But I don’t buy his peak oil Long Emergency idea. I don’t think we are running out of oil fast enough to matter.
So what does that mean for the futurist?
(I always wanted to be a “futurist”, and I haven’t got all that much future left. So call me a futurist, I won’t mind. As far as I can tell, a futurist is someone who doesn’t know anything much about the future but gets paid to give entertaining keynotes anyway, mostly because of thinking about the future pointlessly but obsessively.)
And I want to talk about the Future Salad.
I am really not worried about my 3000 mile salad, as I’ve explained a couple of times before. If there’s any civilization at all, getting the energy to move food around will not be a problem. Food is light and valuable; energy costs per unit are not about shipping. The stuff that gets hard to ship is stuff like gravel, sand, ore. The heaviest industries will relocate closer to raw materials. Roadbuilding may get expensive, and not a minute too soon.
But it will still be cheap to ship a tomato form wherever it is to wherever the cheeseburger is that wants it. Or, perhaps, the grainburger, since the cheeseburger is a major greenhouse gas emitter among foods…
Now, I’ve seen nothing anywhere about year over year variability outside the ENSO question. So NOTE THAT THIS IS SPECULATION. But it seems to me that the faster things change, the more climate transients we will experience. This is sort of a natural extrapolation from a systems engineering perspective. There’s no guarantee in nonlinear systems, but in a typical linear system, the more it is pushed out of equilibrium, the more ALL MODES are excited, including modes that may not matter much in natural conditions. That means all the real oscillations famous, obscure and unknown on any scale that has a “memory”, i.e., components with state persistent over multiple years.
I am a bit surprised that I haven’t come across anybody addressing this question. (I have half an idea why. Consider which subculture’s turf this would naturally fall upon.) I’d appreciate any correction on this front, either about somebody already having looked at this, and/or whether it’s a reasonable expectation. Suppose my hunch is right, though.
The problem is that it won’t be all that cheap to grow a tomato. Why? Because nobody will know when and where to plant the thing. Frank Dobie quotes an old Texas saying that “Texas has no climate, only weather”. And as the rest of the world becomes more like Texas, the whole concept of climate will get swamped by the concept of climate change. You won’t know from one year to the next what to expect. You will plant the wrong stuff at the wrong time in the wrong place and the wrong stuff will fall out of the sky onto it.
The only defense is massive diversification. The winner will own farms in many places, and will plant stuff speculatively. (There will finally be private sector jobs for people who can make climate models behave sensibly, but failures will still be commonplace.)
Peak oil localizes. Climate change (at least with disruptive interannual variability) globalizes. The small holding cannot be safe against year over year variabilities and extreme events that can swamp productivity. The dispersed global operation can. Peak oil is good for back-to-the-land fantasies, but climate change concentrates food power and water power in the control of vast continental and global scale holdings.
That’s because 1) I think climate change is a big deal and 2) peak oil isn’t. And 3) I suspect year-over-year variation is going to be a very big deal in agriculture under full-blown climate change.
That is a risk I haven’t seen addressed anywhere. Anyone out there know better?
If I’m right it means the best strategy is to hedge your bets, and only enormous holdings will be able to do that.
So I figure the future salad still will come from a dozen farms in a dozen countries. But they’ll all be owned by Coca-Cola or Pepsico. And it will be expensive.
Another possibility is to grow food indoors.
Either way, the return of the small-farm pioneer homestead lifestyle imagined by Kunstler and so many others in the “transition movement” won’t happen. Climate change is not the only reason that it doesn’t seem like a good bet to me.