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Petrocollapse and Food Security at the South Central Farm

by Jennifer Murphy Sunday, Feb. 05, 2006 at 12:52 AM

Jan Lundberg, oil industry analyst, founder of Auto-Free Times and came to Los Angeles last weekend to speak on the issues surrounding peak oil. I attended the Sunday afternoon talk on “Petrocollapse and Food Security”, an appropriate title for the location, the South Central Farm.

Petrocollapse and Fo...
janlundgren2.jpg, image/jpeg, 288x255

The farm may be receiving an eviction notice any day now, and in the light of Jan’s talk, this makes no sense at all. The average distance food travels between the farm and the dinner table in this country is 1500 miles. Our city’s food supply lines are dangerously dependent on petroleum-powered transportation and petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. Rather than destroy existing vibrant, community-operated agricultural production we should be supporting and expanding it to every neighborhood in town.

Despite his gloomy message of petrocollapse, Jan opened with an upbeat song called “Get up and change the world”. He accompanied himself with his guitar and encouraged the audience to sing along. The sound system for this event was bicycle-powered. A simple generator and battery was hooked up to a bike on a trainer. It was created by Eric Einem of LA Post Carbon. Audience members took turns quietly pedaling throughout the talk.


According to Jan, “Oil use is hard-wired into our culture”.

The U.S. has put little effort into alternatives because we have a blind faith in technology, believing naively that “they’ll think of something”. The problem with that is, to adequately prepare for petrocollapse takes decades. We should have started 30 years ago. Jan sees unavoidable changes coming. He calls these impending changes petrocollapse, rather than peak oil.

“Peak oil is a single event, while petrocollapse covers the widespread impact of that event.”

He went on to say, “Petrocollapse is a serious threat to our economy. Our belief in unending growth and “the rising tide lifts all boats” is bull. Peak oil will terminate business as usual. New Orleans post-Katrina, writ large the problems with depending on government to help in times of crisis. With petrocollapse there is a good chance of a die-off of millions of people. “

Some people tout Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as the answer but there are many problems with this, including the danger and expense of transporting it. Jan says the answer is not in alternatives like biodiesel either. He asked us to imagine how much additional arable land we would need to plant enough oil producing crops to replace the 120 billion gallons per year of gasoline used by American vehicles.

“Getting rid of Bush and putting up solar panels is not enough. We are dealing with much deeper problems. Between petrocollapse and global warming we have to look at food security. Here at the South Central Farm we have urban farming. This is part of the solution. We can learn from Cuba as well, how it recovered after it’s petrocollapse.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba lost 90% of its imports, including crude oil, most foodstuffs, spare parts, agrochemicals, and industrial equipment. It was a terrific shock to their economy and a lesson in resourcefulness for us. Untrained people began to grow food on rooftops, backyards and small plots of land. Urban farming became a key component in food security. By 1999 Cuba's agricultural production had fully recovered, using only organic methods.


Jan shared some surprising facts about automobiles. I didn’t realize that most of the air pollution and energy usage by cars happens in the production process, long before it hits the highway. This is true for hybrids as well as gas-guzzlers. Another fact - if one averages in the hours spent earning the money needed to buy a car, insurance and gasoline, the average driving speed slows down to a measly 5 miles per hour. So are we really saving time by driving?

Transportation is the biggest user of fossil fuels. Jan’s message on this subject is clear, not only do we need to get out of our cars; we need to tear up the roads too! Start with your driveway if you have one. Pavement encourages fossil fuel use, it’s made of fossil fuels, it blocks rainwater from soaking into the soil and renewing our aquifers, thus creating storm water runoff and polluting the ocean.

The Lundberg de-paving technique
1. Invite the community in to help and make it a party.
2. Widen existing cracks with a sledgehammer, enough to wedge in a crowbar.
3. Tip and lift the pieces out. If they are too big, use the sledgehammer on them.
4. Use the broken pieces for walls or permeable walkways.
5. Scrape the top layer of soil off (toxins seep into it)
6. Mulch it well
7. Plant

He said he grew some fine melons in what used to be his driveway in the first season after removing it.

He suggests we start acting as if petrocollapse is happening already. Try cutting way back on your use of fossil fuels and see what happens. Ed Begley jr. spoke at the Saturday night event about his experiment of trying to live without petroleum for a week. You can listen to this and Jan’s talk as well, here, thanks to Sound Posse:

Jan has been trying to live without using any plastics. He now carries canvas bags and stores his food only in glass jars, but plastics are everywhere. There is currently 6 times as much plastic in the middle of the ocean as there is zooplankton. Plastic pollution is killing ocean life. Plastic bags and bottles in the ocean decay into bits the size of krill - small, shrimp-like crustaceans. These bits are mistaken for food by fish, mammals, and birds, eventually choking or poisoning them.

A host of poisonous chemicals are imbedded in plastic, causing genetic damage and disease to humans as well. We are exposed to these kinds of toxins from the womb onward. Phthalates are especially toxic. These are the chemicals that make plastic flexible, like in garden hoses and rubber duckies. It’s also used in wallpaper, furniture, deodorant, nail polish and perfume. Jan recently went on an 18 day fast to flush out the plastics and other toxins from his body.

He says, “We have to be healthy to be able to process the pollution and the bad news we are constantly exposed to”. Fasting done correctly can be very healing.


Jan wrapped up his talk with some suggestions for action.

“We have to stop believing what we’re told by corporate media and the government. Look into hands-on ways to get off fossil fuels -- like composting to feed the soil, composting toilets, bee-keeping, grey water irrigation.

Radishes take only 60 days from seed to harvest but the time to start a garden is before the disaster. We need to start preparing and practicing now. Some of these techniques are illegal because of current building codes, but we can learn about them now.”

The more we can bypass the dollar system and share skills and barter goods, the better. This is another important tool of sustainability.”

We also need to support places like the South Central Farm, recognizing them for what they are, sources of sustainable food security, now and in the post-carbon future.

Jan closed with another song, this one written for his daughter when she was a tree-sitter in an old growth forest in Humboldt County. The title is a quote from her, one that we can all keep in mind in the struggle to save the farm, “Direct action will get the goods”.

Following Jan Lundgren, Tezozomoc, an organizer with the South Central Farmers, spoke briefly about the situation at the farm.

He said that the farm is unusual for many reasons, one being that it combines food supply with leisure space. Modern cities can’t imagine this when creating zoning codes, but it’s a very old and natural way to live. The marketplace, the children’s play areas, the meeting place, and the cropland are all together.

The struggle for the farm, Tezo said, comes down to 2 opposing paradigms: are we about survival or about profit? Do we view nature as a living deity or as a stockroom? He hopes the farm can provide a third option, a synthesis that allows for many viewpoints.

"Aqui estamos y no nos vamos!"

Thanks to the Los Angeles outpost of the Post Carbon Institute for organizing this event. Their website has many article and links on how to prepare ourselves for petrocollapse. Thanks also to the South Central Farm for hosting it. For updates on the situation there go to
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Bike powered sound system

by Jennifer Murphy Sunday, Feb. 05, 2006 at 12:52 AM

Bike powered sound s...
bike_power.jpg, image/jpeg, 288x250

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Bike powered sound system

by Jennifer Murphy Sunday, Feb. 05, 2006 at 12:52 AM

Bike powered sound s...
bike_power_2.jpg, image/jpeg, 288x216

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