Via GroovyGreen:
Jon Bosak, a peak oil authority at TCRP, has written a brief on whether or not the agriculture industry of 1900 could support the 20 million people of today living in NY. This study is based upon the assumption that when peak oil hits, and an eventual decline occurs, transportation of food stuffs from around the nation–and world–will become too expensive and prohibitive. Bosak’s study finds that while it would be tight, NYS would in fact be able to ’survive’ off of the agriculture output of the early 20th Century.
From his essay:

If the independent analysts are right in predicting the peak of production to occur around the end of this decade, then it’s not going to be long before we see the first impact of oil depletion on our food supply: the end of long-distance food imports. If you think it’s sweet to get drinking water shipped to you from Fiji because you like the shape of the bottle, enjoy it while you can; some day this will be the kind of thing you’ll tell your unbelieving grandchildren.

Proponents of “relocalization,” anxious to resurrect our local sources of food production and distribution, don’t need to worry about the future of their movement; a large invisible hand is going to take care of relocalization simply through the agency of rising fuel prices. But when everything is local, what will there be? When we can no longer afford to hype agriculture with inputs of cheap fuel, will we all starve? What’s the worst case? Could a completely sustainable New York State feed itself?

Providing a detailed answer to this question would require a team of experts and some pretty sophisticated computer modeling, but we can get an interesting ballpark estimate if we first consider what the state actually did produce a century ago, before it came to rely on oil- and gas-based factory agriculture, and then ask whether the level of production that we know was sustainable without large inputs of cheap fossil fuel could support the state’s current population.

Jon does a great job breaking down per capita what each resident could expect to receive from food grown within the state. (It would be interesting, however, links to see his references for the amount of food production in 1900.) I am curious to see if this included or excluded food that residents grew in backyard gardens and plucked from home grown fruit trees. All in all, it seems that we would enjoy plenty of potatoes and apples, but not much in the way of other veggies and meat products. I am curious too, why the amount of chicken and eggs produced in the state was so low. It would seem to me a few chickens per family or in the neighborhood would produce enough eggs (and male chickens for meat) to go around. Perhaps chicken wasn't such a staple of the American diet at the time.

All in all, it is a very interesting thought and a great short read. I hope that more thought and energy is put into this dilemma that is approaching us.

A couple of other quick thoughts:

And there wouldn’t be many cups of cheer to lighten the mood either; the pound of hops, seven pounds of barley, and seven pounds of rye due each person would produce a spartan portion of beer and a small amount of whiskey, with a little under two gallons of wine per year to round out a ration of alcohol bordering on the abstemious.

That's why people like my Grampa were making batches of homemade fruit wine (peaches, pears, apples, etc), and using the old basement still to distill quality hooch from those batches. Where there's a demand, people will come through, I believe!

And I love his final thought:
Still and all, it’s not an end game that looks that terrible if we start planning for it. For those of us living close to the food sources upstate, it’s possible to face a postcarbon future with the hope that a massive effort to reclaim former farmland can yield enough to feed everyone in New York, even people living in cities.

What our city dwellers might have to trade us for it is their interesting question.

(emphasis mine)
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3 comments:

On 6:01 PM , Al Z said...

This post reminds me of the Cuban example; something I heard on NPR over the weekend. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba's main source of energy dried up and was faced with just this kind of scenario. Avg. daily caloric intake dropped from 3000 to under 2000 in 4 years. In response they radically shifted agricultural production, and "have created what may be the world’s largest working model of a semi-sustainable agriculture, one that doesn’t rely nearly as heavily as the rest of the world does on oil, on chemicals, on shipping vast quantities of food back and forth"

from Bill McKibben's article "The Cuba Diet"

http://www.harpers.org/TheCubaDiet.html

 
On 10:46 PM , peakguy said...

We'll trade you what cities have always traded - a central point for goods to be traded, labor to add value to those goods and hey maybe an interesting place to drink the remaining alcohol rations. We've got these wonderful harbor and rail links in NYC. I'm sure we could set-up some textile mills to assemble some warm clothes for you country folks with big houses to heat in winter :)

 
On 6:38 AM , LuceLu said...

I think the city or market square in Syracuse will again become a center of commerce and trade. Also satellite, and communications would again be based in the city. Quick, somebody redig that canal! LOL

As for us here in the outer suburbs, 13 - 20 mile commutes will seem unweildly. There will be many people returning to the city. City crime will either increase initially and then decrease due to increase in employment in factories and move on due to the rising cost of housing or stay the same necessitating deputized armed citizen patrolling neighborhoods (or just the national guard if it gets too bad).

For those of us still shunning the city, abandoned suburban lots would then be reclaimed farmland and forest.

Hops used to be a big crop here in upstate NY which supported many breweries. I don't see rationing where in that area. Rationed or, more likely higher priced goods would be in imports that we use every day like coffee, chocolate, some spices, tropical fruit. But then that is what trade is all about, that stuff used to come down the canal in barges, ports and railroads but now comes trucked in on 18 Wheelers.

I think that not much will really change, those that own the means of production will be at the mercy of those who own the means of distribution (ala Grapes of Wrath). And the rest of us will get around it by directly producing much of what we need if we can avoid the factory jobs.

I don't see healthcare, housing or higher education costs decreasing. I think taxes will either stay the same or increase due to the changes in infrastructure that a shift from an oil economy would necessitate.

Interesting premise.