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06.09.10

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Nightmare Truths

By Stett Holbrook


I had a terrible dream the other night. For reasons that weren't entirely clear in the dream, the social and political order of the United States had broken down. Night was falling and martial law had been declared. People were packing up their belongings—and weapons—and heading into the hills while others hunkered down in their homes. I ran frantically through the house looking for guns, ammunition, food, batteries, sleeping bags and anything else I could think of to prepare myself and my family for the coming anarchy. Trouble was, I didn't know where my family was and I was terribly worried for their safety.

I figured my best bet was to set up camp in the mountains while I tried to figure out the whereabouts of my wife and children. On the way out of town, I stopped at a Italian restaurant where the owner and his family gave me the last bit of food that remained in the display case, a slice of pizza and some mozzarella cheese, if I remember correctly. Minimally provisioned, I headed out into the fear-filled night. I woke up with my heart beating hard in my chest. It didn't take much analysis to figure out what had fueled my nightmare. The day before, I had read an analysis of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by Richard Heinberg, a fellow at Santa Rosa's Post-Carbon Institute and author of Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis. Heinberg, who has been sounding the peak-oil alarm for years, warns that as easy-to-access oil and coal dries up disasters like the ghastly BP spill will become more common as we are forced to greater lengths to tap harder to reach, riskier petroleum deposits.

"The Deepwater Horizon disaster reminds us that, of all nonrenewable resources, oil best deserves to be thought of as the Achilles heel of modern society," Heinberg writes. "Without cheap oil, our industrial food system—from tractor to supermarket—shifts from feast to famine mode; our entire transportation system sputters to a halt."

As a food-centric person, my mind naturally goes to food. As much as soil and water, our food system depends on cheap oil and gas for transportation, pesticides and fertilizers. Remove oil from the equation, and watch governments fall, riots ensue and death by starvation march across the globe.

If you buy the peak-oil argument—that at some point, regardless of price, oil production reaches a maximum rate and begins to decline—it's hard not to believe that unless we start to wean ourselves from oil immediately, a global food crisis is a question of when, not if. These are the things that wake me up at night.


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