dimanche 27 mai 2018

131- Agroecology -8- A world without petroleum


It will be almost 50 years since the time of the first major oil shock of 1973 that we are told over and over again that the world's oil reserves will be exhausted in 50 years. In 1972, when this serious crisis was looming for a year, the Club of Rome, with the help of a group of MIT researchers, had even planned a depletion of oil reserves twenty years later, in the publication "The limits to growth" https://www.clubofrome.org/report/the-limits-to-growth/
That will definitely happen, that's for sure, although no one is able to predict seriously when that happens. However, one must not be a diviner to understand that a mining resource that is extracted and consumed at this rate, necessarily has a short life expectancy.
That's what will happen at the end of the oil era that interests me today.

Petroleum is the basis of an incredible and very diverse industrial and economic activity, chemistry, pharmacy, agrochemistry, textile, plastics, glues, paints, transports, lubricants, fuels and all their derived products such as paraffin for example. This immense activity will then stop, at least in its present form. Petroleum is today the flagship raw material for all human activity.
Faced with this preponderant place, a huge research activity has been set up, for several decades, to find alternative raw materials for all these activities and productions.

Moreover, the very fertile human genius has already found alternatives for many things. It is often the price, the resistance or the difficulty of supply which makes complex their generalization, as one sees for example for agricultural plastics of vegetable origin. To these technical or economic difficulties, is added the resistance of the current industries which, sometimes, slow as much as they can certain solutions likely to make them competition.
Replacing such a versatile and economical raw material is not easy, especially since oil has shaped, in 150 years, an economic and industrial model whose adaptation is complex.

To put it simply, we can say that petroleum substitutes are oil, cellulose and fibers. These three essential elements to replace petroleum come all from plant and animal production.

The future of humanity therefore passes through agriculture. It's no secret to anyone when it comes to food. But it is likely that few people are aware of it with regard to the chemical industry, textiles, plastics, many modern materials or fuels.
In short, the future of human activities depends on agriculture.

The end of petroleum will profoundly upset the geopolitical balance of the planet, and powerful countries will be those who have been able to preserve their productive capacity in agriculture, whether by preserving agricultural land, by maintaining soil fertility, or the quantity and quality of freshwater resources available for agriculture.

This is where agroecology comes into play, not through the ideologies that are linked to it, but through its development by political choice, and especially by its daily practice by farmers, and in the diversity of its many facets. .
Will major grain countries such as Ukraine still be able to produce as much without a shift to better conservation practices?
Will the frequent refusal to create water reservoirs for ecological or political reasons turn into a serious agroecological problem?

Countries must develop their agricultural potential with a long-term vision, based on conservation agriculture, which can produce a lot while preserving the fundamental resources of biodiversity, soil and water.

Industrial agriculture is not bad in itself. Producing on a large scale has its advantages in terms of quality of structures, compliance with protocols and standards, and investment power, as well as the provision of products. But it must be clearly framed and controlled to avoid the risk of social and environmental drift.

In my opinion, organic farming, in its current forms, will not be able to meet all the needs of humanity in view of the disappearance of the current main raw material.
The current promotion of permaculture as a model to follow and as the future of the world, is more a need to reassure oneself of an intellectual class, mostly favored and urban, largely disconnected from reality, than a farsighted vision of the real needs of humanity and of the planet.
Feeding the world is one thing, but providing it with food, energy and raw materials is another.

The reasonable path to the future is in the middle ground, as is very often the case. And in the case of agriculture, the middle ground lies in an intensive production, but respectful of the environment and the consumer, which does not refuse the chemistry of synthesis by pure dogmatism, but chooses all its production practices for their combination of technical and agronomic advantages on the first hand, and their minimal effects on the environment and health, as well as the saving of resources on the other.

Picture of my own

This agriculture already exists. It is constantly changing, improving day by day, but does not have a real political and social recognition because it does not refuse synthetic chemistry. It is called conservation agriculture for annual cereal and industrial crops, and integrated agriculture for perennial crops and market gardening. But it is not considered politically correct, and finds itself placed by civil society at the same level as industrial agriculture or even the agricultural productivism resulting from the Green Revolution, as it was practiced in the 1960s.
It is totally different, however, and is much closer to organic agriculture than industrial agriculture.
But she has the disadvantage of not to submit to dogma and must be kept quiet.
Guardians of this dogma are in particular the big environmental NGOs, with the support, declared or not, of many personalities of the politics, the spectacle, the cooking and the journalism, and don't accept what they consider as a deviance.
"It's hard to accept the truth when the lies were exactly what you wanted to hear." (Quotation of unknown origin found on Web).

Organic farming retains its place in this agricultural panorama of the post-oil era, to serve a demanding public, rather wealthy, and rather urban. It also remains an important source of evolution and search for new solutions. The fact of never being able to resort to certain solutions obliges to invent, to imagine. Organic farming, in all its forms, is an excellent laboratory of progress.

But agroecology is both a farmer's decision and a political orientation.
Countries that are interested in it, or have already chosen to make it a socio-economic goal, need to make progressive decisions.
Nobody must ever forget that agriculture is not a person.

Agriculture is a whole, a set of people, businesses and interdependent activities, often fragile, that should be changed gradually and with the necessary support so as not to weaken them further.

Countries that will be able to properly prepare for this post-oil era have a bright future ahead of them.

Still, it will be necessary to arrive at this crucial moment with an agriculture in good condition, capable of responding to these new challenges.

Picture: https://image.freepik.com/photos-libre/paysage-rural-en-ete-la-rioja_1398-4757.jpg

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