Sunday, May 29, 2005
The Long Emergency
Elaborate on how sprawl is inextricably connected to oil concerns.Ever since the end of World War II, we've embarked on this project to build ourselves a drive-in utopia -- an economy based on suburban land development, eight-lane freeways lined with fry pits and hamburger shacks and a national big-box chain retail system. It has flourished because of two things: extraordinarily cheap energy and reliable supplies of it, and relative world peace. That has enabled big-box stores to develop 12,000-mile manufacturing and supply chains with the cheap labor overseas. Wal-Mart can move 4,000 TV sets from China to Wilkinsburg, Penn., and keep this tremendous stream of products going around the country with truckers who operate their warehouses on wheels. The system works only because it's cheap to transport stuff.You also point out that the mainstream American diet is essentially predicated on "eating oil."
Yeah, industrial agriculture is another extremely problematical thing. We've now consolidated all of our food production into a very small fraction of the population and our agribusinesses rely on pouring oil byproducts -- pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides -- on the soil. We've got this cheese-doodle and Pepsi-Cola form of agriculture where large companies like Archer Daniels Midland and ConAgra are producing huge amounts of corn and byproducts like corn syrup to create junk food. It's generally understood that most of the food we eat travels [about] 1,500 miles. So we've got all these 1,500-mile Caesar salads winging or wheeling around America to get to our dinner plates. That won't be able to continue when the cheap-oil era ends.
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