The following graph is from a post over at the Oil Drum, thanks to Jason Bradford for the data and analysis.

Comparison of Energy Consumption and Agricultural Population

The graph compares the Energy Used per capital of a nation against the Percent of that population that are farmers. The bubble size is representative of the comparable population size. More “developed” countries use more energy and have less farmers. It seems easy to stick anything on the axis of a graph and draw a conclusion from it, but considering that the energy used is predominately fossil fuel based when it comes to replacing human labour – at some point we are going to have to start the process of reinvesting in agriculture – to the point where potentially more than half of the population is involved in the production of food – take another look at the graph – there are a lot of countries around and above the 50% mark – and none of them use more than 100 GJ/Person/Year – this is about 50 SUV tanks full of gas a year – that’s all.

This situation should be a concern for us in North America, just as it appears – we are hanging out there in terms of agricultural reliance on oil without any policies in place to reverse the trends of the 20th century where oil replaced human labour and expertise in the fields. Castlegar is in a prime position to convert unused and underutilized lands into agriculturally productive lots. In previous generations, this has been a reality of life, during wars or other emergencies, communities found ways to supply for their own needs or perish. Somehow we think we are immune from history – that we have evolved beyond these risks. However, it is likely that we’ve passed the point of efficiency and security in the agricultural sector and now rely heavily on faraway places to provide over 90% of the food we consume. Any shift back from this point would radically improve community sustainability, and while we are not going to be able to grow everything, that is not a reason to not try growing anything as a community.

The point being that all our efforts to be green are still to some degree or another unsustainable. To truly call something sustainable, it has to be able to be replecated without degrading the earth, without exhausting resources and without harming our health. Existing agricultural practices in North America, even those that are large scale organic – cannot claim to be at all sustainable.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.