[p2p-research] The one thing depleting faster than oil is the credibility of those measurin...

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Wed Nov 18 02:34:05 CET 2009

Ryan wrote: [quoting from George Monbiot]
> Wyn Evans, who runs a mixed farm of 170 acres, has been trying to
> reduce his dependency on fossil fuels since 1977. He has installed an
> anaerobic digester, a wind turbine, solar panels and a ground-sourced
> heat pump. He has sought wherever possible to replace diesel with his
> own electricity. Instead of using his tractor to spread slurry, he
> pumps it from the digester on to nearby fields. He's replaced his
> tractor-driven irrigation system with an electric one, and set up a new
> system for drying hay indoors, which means he has to turn it in the
> field only once. Whatever else he does is likely to produce smaller
> savings. But these innovations have reduced his use of diesel by only
> around 25%.
> According to farm scientists at Cornell University, cultivating one
> hectare of maize in the United States requires 40 litres of petrol and
> 75 litres of diesel. The amazing productivity of modern farm labour has
> been purchased at the cost of a dependency on oil. Unless farmers can
> change the way it's grown, a permanent oil shock would price food out
> of the mouths of many of the world's people. Any responsible government
> would be asking urgent questions about how long we have got.

Why is someone like George Monbiot so alarmist when you would think he would 
know better?

Cropland- About 349 million acres in the U.S. are planted for crops. This is 
the equivalent of about four states the size of Montana. Four crops -- 
feeder corn (80 million acres), soybeans (75 million acres), alfalfa hay (61 
million acres) and wheat (62 million acres) -- make up 80 percent of total 
crop acreage. All but wheat are primarily used to feed livestock.
   The amount of land used to produce all vegetables in the U.S. is less 
than 3 million acres.

So, the USA has essentially no need to produce corn or soybeans, because it 
has no real need to eat that much meat (in fact, the USA would be far 
healthier if it ate less corn-fed and soy-bean fed meat).

So, I don't worry much about a corn farmer not able to farm. Most of US 
agriculture is unnecessary, as that article shows. So, let's say, with a 
little belt tightening and vegetarism, we need to only farm about one third 
the land we do in the USA, and everyone would be much healthier, also 
reducing medical expenses annually by hundreds of billions of US dollars. 
Equitably distributing the savings would be a matter of politics and a basic 

Now, how to farm that 30% we still want to farm?

Well, while he mentions electric tractors at the end, George Monbiot could 
have Googled "battery powered farm tractor" as I did (after a couple other 
tries not so good, admittedly):
The top match:
Electric farm tractors are a much better idea than trying to run them on 
biofuels because biofuels require about ten acres of a biofuels crop to 
produce enough diesel fuel to run a typical farm tractor, such as those 
below, for a year.
   The owners of the two tractors below have gone a step further and have 
solar-powered them. That means their tractors will run for years with 
absolutely no fuel expense of any kind, and produce zero pollution. In 
addition, these farmer won’t have to be immersed in the very noisy and 
poisonous area of a typical diesel-powered tractor where they would be 
forced to breathe diesel fumes all day long.
   Tractors are obviously a great labor-saving device for farms, and more 
people could invest in tractors such as these now for the current and future 
labor-saving, health and environmental benefits.
   EVMaine.org salutes these two pioneers for their visionary outlook, and 
for their unique solutions.

I get the feeling it took very little time to do those conversions, looking 
at the pictures.

Electric tractors used to be much bigger decades ago. There is one remaining 
commercial producer according to that article, but just lawn tractor sized 
it seems:

But, here is a deeper issue. Lots of people like to work outdoors around 
plants and animals. Maybe not everyone, but certainly more than the 1% to 2% 
doing that now in the USA -- probably more like 10% to 30%, I'd guess, 
considering gardening is the most popular outdoor recreational activity, 
with more than 50% of households. Organic methods of agriculture might 
require twice the labor, but would yield more with less fossil fuel inputs. 
Remember, ground rock makes a good organic fertilizer; it is all you need if 
you have some patience.

Also, good agricultural processes that focus on healthy soil avoid soil 
compaction like tractors do. So, it might be better to do farming without 
tractors. In the 1970s, various alternative designs were made for smaller 
items, including things that could be put at the end of rows and which would 
winch a line connected to an implement. In general, most farms are 
electrified in the USA, and all sorts of electrical implements, either 
battery powered or corded could be made to do farm tasks. And probably very 

As I see it, the "tractor" represents an entire system of profit-maximizing 
exploitive centrally controlled agriculture, where one farmer owns hundreds 
of acres and takes all the profits themselves. Other systems, where people 
have smaller plots, might be more enjoyable for many of the smaller scale 
farmers who could use different types of equipment (including more robots).

As an example, here are three battery powered commercial robotic lawn mowers 
-- which are essentially doing an agricultural task autonomously:

They work by doing mowing every day, so they do not need to be so powerful 
or massive or noisy, and the grass is (they claim) healthier. This is an 
example of rethinking the agricultural problem. You can replace big heavy 
tractors with lots of smaller machines. If you develop good cord reeling and 
unreeling systems, they don't even need batteries. (Maybe a good business 

Here is a mowing robot that is radio controlled and uses liquid fuels, but 
it is claimed it can replace five to twenty people with hand held equipment:

It's not a tractor, it's not a hand tool, but it is something in-between, 
and probably much more fuel efficient than either.

So, there are all sorts of possibilities.

So, the only thing depleting faster than oil is the credibility of the Peak 
Oil scaremongers who can't bother to do Google searches or think that deeply 
about the issue. :-)

But with that said, are people lying about supply levels? I don't know. But 
if they want to make the most money, maybe they want to start a panic to 
drive up prices? It really is hard to know what "facts" to believe when 
there is so much profit to be made by deception and misdirection.

--Paul Fernhout

More information about the p2presearch mailing list