Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Display:
I'm guessing that the countries worst hit will be those in which food production has been most industrialised, land ownership most concentrated into fewest hands, and agriculture most ruthlessly repurposed for cash crop (export) production rather than for local eating.  Countries which have decimated their ag/biotic diversity in favour of imported monocrops dependent on heavy fossil-based inputs.  Countries/regions whose elites have based their power and fortunes on the extraction of raw materials and cash crops to be shipped (via fossil fuel, natch) to the industrial hoppers of the bosses.

This doesn't necessarily mean "only poor third world countries".  Cuba for example might come through pretty well, because of its land reform and relocalisation programme (food security) and relative independence (due to embargo, ironically) on export and resource extraction.  Some 3w countries scorned as "poor and underdeveloped" might also look good compared to, say, the US and Canada where land ownership concentration and fossil-dependent food production have reached grotesque, terrifying extrema.

I live on an island where, best estimates suggest, there is at any one time about 7 days' food supply for the population.  This island used to be food self-sufficient, or nearly so, only a generation and a half ago.  Now, only fossil-intensive cargo vessels and trucks provide a steady food supply, and the cost of operating those is climbing daily.  Water's not so much a problem here most of the year (though there are droughty summers) but it will be in many other places.

Everyone is still (imho) stressing out about superficial stuff like the cost of driving luxury cars and whether they can have internet/TV 24x7 and how to keep factories running that produce pallet after pallet of utterly useless cr*p.  Or what will happen to the totally-fictional "value of money."  But as someone -- I forget who -- said, any culture is only about 9 meals away from violent chaos.  It's at about the ninth missing meal that people are willing to steal, kill, anything to feed their kids.  

So I suggest that the nations that will be worst hit by peak oil are those with the most delocalised, long-haul-dependent food supply, or those who have rejiggered their agriculture most grotesquely to serve that long-haul transnat food system, or -- the jackpot -- both.  That is, if we consider "worst hit" to mean greatest suffering and hardship for ordinary people, rather than greatest fictional fortunes lost in imaginary abstract dollars by rentier elites.

This is all ignoring, of course, the wild cards of climate change, novelty pest incursions, saline incursion, drawdown of water reserves, and other issues not directly attributable to fossil fuel scarcity and price increases.  Also I'm ignoring, because it's horribly depressing, the very real prospect that nations that still have functional farmland and local food resources will simply be invaded by their less fortunate neighbours (who, being "advanced" enough to have wrecked their biotic base, will be as wealthy in cars, arms, poisons, etc as they are poor in food and soil) and pillaged.

I still think it is not too late to avert many of these worst-case nightmares.  But a successful soft landing programme requires nothing short of deconstructing the central precepts of the industrial/"Western" culture, including compound interest, finance capitalism, "economy of scale," optimisation/efficiency/rationalisation, white/anglo supremacy, and so on and so on... big project to achieve in a rather limited time frame, transforming wetiko culture into something more reality-based.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 02:31:44 PM EST
I must miss a reference here, but I'm not quite getting the word?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 02:38:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jack Forbes' book popularised the (transliterated) Cree word "wetiko"

Wiktionary entry... "the characteristic of a wetiko is that he consumes other human beings for profit..."


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:09:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I had never heard of it.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:21:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, a wendigo!
The Wendigo (also Windigo, Windago, Windiga, Witiko, Wihtikow, and numerous other variants)[1] is a mythical creature appearing in the mythology of the Algonquin people. It is a malevolent cannibalistic spirit into which humans could transform, or which could possess humans. Those who indulged in cannibalism were at particular risk, and the legend appears to have reinforced this practice as taboo.


When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 04:05:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
immortalised in Anglophone culture by Thurber, I believe:

... perhaps they saw the Wendigo
or were eaten by bears.
this I know not, I only know
that buses headed for Scranton travel in pairs.

(had to do this from memory since -- for some inexplicable reason -- this much-loved bit of doggerel appears not to exist in the googleverse!)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 09:43:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cuba is exhibit A in lack of capacity to adjust to a post fossil fuel future w/o some sort of energy substitute. They remain one of the most import dependent countries in the world.  Imports which it can pay for because it gets dirt cheap oil and has a flourishing tourist industry.  Africa would also be completely screwed minus the massive industrial ag surpluses. In general the poorer the country is the less margin it has to adjust to lower amounts of food in the world - they already eat less, and more of their calories come in the form of basic starch crops rather than meat and processed food.  
by MarekNYC on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 02:47:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How can Cuba both be an example of how to adapt and an example of failure to adapt? Can you two get your sources out so we can decide this question? Parallel diaries?


When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 02:52:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Post Soviet subsidy Cuba adapted quite well given the constraints it was under, greatly reducing the fossil fuel and industrial fertilizer it used to produce its food. The problem is that even with that adaptation it still had to use some of those, and it remained very heavily dependent on food imports.  
by MarekNYC on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:02:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is an overview of the Cuban agriculture story in a form familiar to me from documentaries, first-hand testimony of friends who have done the susti ag tours, etc.  I note the intriguing excerpt:

Despite the embargo, in 2000, President Clinton signed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSRA), which re-authorized the direct commercial export of food products and agricultural products via cash transactions from the United States to Cuba - but not from Cuba to the United States. [emphasis mine -- DeA]

In September 2002, after the U.S. Food and Agribusiness Exhibition took place in Havana, the Cuban government purchased more than $91.9 million in food and agricultural products from subsidiaries of U.S. companies based in Latin America and Canada and directly from U.S. companies.

Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), one of the world's largest exporters of cereal grains and oilseeds, signed a $19 million contract for soybean oil, soybeans, soy proteins, corn, margarine, and rice. In 2001, ADM's lobbying - combined with wreckage in Cuba after Hurricane Michelle - was the tipping point that persuaded the Bush Administration to allow the first sale of goods directly from the United States to Cuba since 1962.

The American Corn Growers Association (ACGA), which, to date, has not taken up trade negotiations with Cuba, would be interested in trade sometime in the future, said its chief executive officer.

"We should be exporting to any nation that needs food," said CEO Larry Mitchell.

With Cuba's well-documented ability to feed itself, why would the Cuban government be interested in spending $91.9 million on food imports?

John S. Kavulich II, president of the U.S. Trade and Economic Council based in New York City, said, "There is a strong political component to the Cubans' decision to purchase food products from us. Of the products purchased since 2001, nearly all of them are available from other sources at better prices."

Kavulich cited rice as an example. The Cubans could buy rice from Vietnam at a significantly lower price, but they choose to purchase from purveyors like ADM instead.

Food First's Rosset agrees. "I believe the Cubans are buying from the U.S. as a political gesture. They hope the food corporations will lobby the U.S. government on their behalf to lift the embargo."

Whether the Cubans bought food from american agricorps as a tit-for-tat deal in an attempt to get the travel and financial embargo lifted, or whether they faced any actual shortage of staple crops, I dunno.  I do know that for many USians of conservative persuasion, Castro is the Great Satan and Cuba is anathema:  nothing that Cuba does can be working.  As the last "actually existing socialism" on earth, it must be publicly proclaimed and proven a contemptible failure so that happy capitalists can dance on Marx's grave.  Op/eds appear regularly in US papers celebrating Castro's great age and infirmity and confidently predicting that "freedom" (meaning US domination) will come to Cuba just as soon as the old tyrant is dead.  

Recently a US op/ed joyfully announced that Raul Castro is likely to relax restrictions on private car ownership and permit real estate speculation -- hey, that sounds like democracy and freedom to me :-)  more like the stupidest possible moves to make at this particular historical moment, but -- as Chekov's protagonist muses at the end of "Three Years" -- we will live and we will see.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 10:10:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With Cuba's well-documented ability to feed itself, why would the Cuban government be interested in spending $91.9 million on food imports?

That statement makes me rather skeptical of the report. Cuba has a well documented inability to feed itself.

Food import dependency dropped drastically in the nineties from about sixty percent to forty percent - that's not what I'd call self-sufficient. Part of that reduction came courtesy of the reforms you rightly praise, but part because of a reduction in food intake to the point of mass malnutrition (though there again, Cuba's well organized and equitable food distribution system prevented the mass starvation that would have ensued in a third world country which relied on the market to enforce demand destruction).

If you feel at looking at some of the stats see this article (written by an anti-Castro academic, but the stats come from the FAO) or wander through the FAO data yourself over here Their latest data (2003) shows that Cuba's domestic production accounted for a little under half of its population's grain consumption (by far the single largest source of calories), one seventh of its edible oil consumption, and about sixty percent of its meat and dairy consumption. The areas where it was self sufficient were roots and tubers and sweeteners.

Cuba's a great example for the argument that we can make sharp reductions in the fossil fuel inputs in agriculture. It's also a great example for how the complete elimination of fossil fuels without some sort of substitute would spell disaster.

by MarekNYC on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 02:09:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Display:

Occasional Series