Peak Oil, Climate Change and the threat to food security

Guest post by David Archibald

In May, WUWT kindly hosted a post with slides from a presentation I gave to the Institute of World Politics in Washington. Following are some further slides from a presentation I gave during the week to the triennial Nuffield Conference in Perth, Australia.


Figure 1: US Wheat and Corn prices 1916 – 2011 in 2011 constant dollars

Grain prices fell 70% in constant dollar terms from the Korean War to the end of the 20th century. In 2008, energy-related inputs relative to total operating expenses were about 60% for both wheat and corn. A $200 per barrel oil price will raise operating costs by 60% from the 2008 level. A similar price response was experienced during the First Oil Shock of 1973. This time the price increase will be permanent.


Figure 2: Tunisian Wheat Consumption 1960 – 2010

The Arab Spring began with a vegetable vendor, but what they mainly eat is wheat. Figure 2 shows Tunisian wheat consumption per capita from 1960. A 2,500 calorie per day diet is 267 kg per annum of wheat and that is shown as the red line in the graph. The population of Tunisia is 10.4 million growing at 1% per annum. On that basis, Tunisian wheat demand is ratcheting up at 28,000 tonnes per annum.


Figure 3: Yemeni Grain Consumption 1968 – 2010

Yemeni agricultural production falls well short of what is required to feed them. While the average per capita consumption of wheat is half that of Tunisia, the median age is also about half that of Tunisia at 18 years. Tunisia’s is 30 years. Similarly, 43% of Yemenis are under 14 years old while the figure for Tunisia is 23%. Therefore Yemen’s biggest wheat-eating years are ahead of it. Note the big jump in grain imports in 1988.


Figure 4: Yemen Oil Production 1982 – 2015

The big jump in grain imports in 1988 is explained by the fact that 1988 was the year that Yemeni oil exports took off. Production peaked a decade ago and is now in steep decline. With or without a civil war, by the end of the decade there will be very little oil production to pay for wheat imports. The population of Yemen is 24 million growing at 2.6% per annum. Population is currently increasing at 630,000 per annum. If we assume that they all make it to adulthood and eat 267 kg of wheat per annum for a 2,500 calorie per day diet, wheat imports are ratcheting up at 170,000 tonnes per annum.


Figure 5: Afghanistan Wheat Consumption 1960 – 2010

As unpleasant as Yemen is, there is a place that is yet more execrable. To paraphrase Mark Steyn, Afghanistan is a pestilential nation of pederasts, the chief exports of which are terrorism and heroin. As Figure 5 shows, the modern history of that country is written in its wheat consumption. Wheat imports started in the mid-1970s when Afghanistan was no longer able to feed itself from its own efforts. Imports keep rising during the early years of the Russian invasion and then collapsed along with domestic production. Population growth didn’t fall below 2% per annum during this period of restricted supply. Wheat imports rose dramatically after the US started its turn at running the country. Afghanistan is very similar to Yemen in having a median age of 18 years and population growth rate of 2.4% per annum. At that rate, the current population of 29.8 million is growing by 715,000 per annum. Thus wheat demand is ratcheting up at about 190,000 tonnes per annum.


Figure 6: Population of Afghanistan from 1960 with a projection to 2025

Heroin is 25% of Afghanistan’s GDP. One day the world may stop paying for that heroin and the Danegeld for its terrorism. So where will the wheat come from then? Another alternative is that there may be a will to send Afghanistan some grain but there will be a physical lack of grain due to a climatic event. Figure 6 shows a possible future for Afghanistan’s population in the event of a sudden cessation of grain imports. Population can be expected to collapse below the natural carrying capacity of the country of about 12 million.


Figure 7: Pakistan Wheat Production 1960 – 2011

Wheat imports into Afghanistan would have to come through Pakistan which would have first call on them. Figure 7 shows that Pakistan’s wheat production profile is quite impressive with a five-fold increase from 1960 to nearly 25 million tonnes per annum.


Figure 8: Pakistan Wheat Production per Capita 1960 – 2032

Figure 8 shows that Pakistan’s per capita wheat production from 1980 has been static in the range of 120 to 140 kg per annum. If population keeps growing at its established trend rate, by 2030 Pakistan will be needing another 8 million tonnes of wheat per annum.


Figure 9: Wheat yields in developing countries 1950 – 2005

The biggest driver of higher wheat yields over the last 60 years has been the development of dwarf strains, pioneered by Norman Borlaug. In a sense, that put off the problem for a generation and made it twice as bad. Wheat yields have plateaued from 1996.


Figure 10: Egyptian wheat and corn consumption by source

Two hundred years ago, Egypt’s population is estimated to have been about 4 million. It is now 82 million and growing at 2% per annum – another 1.6 million Egyptian souls are created each year. As adults, their temporal bodies will want to consume an extra 440,000 tonnes of grain per annum. Figure 10 shows that on established trends, Egypt will be needing to import two thirds of its grain consumption. The projected import requirement matches the current level of US wheat exports.


Figure 11: Egyptian oil production and consumption 1965 – 2020

Food and fuel are subsidised in Egypt. What has helped fund that is Egypt’s oil production. That peaked in the 90s and Egypt’s oil consumption is now higher than its production. Oil and grain imports are now rising in tandem. Whoever controls Egypt from here, either the Muslim Brotherhood or the Army, will have a hard time balancing the budget.


Figure 12: US production of major grains and soybeans 1960 – 2010

The biggest increases in agricultural production in recent years have been from the US and Brazil. The mandated ethanol requirement has increased US corn production by 100 million tonnes per annum. That quantum could feed some 300 million people. In fact total US grain and soybean production could feed some 1,500 million people on a vegetarian diet, with the soybeans offsetting corn’s deficiency in lysine and tryptophan.


Figure 13: Mexican major food imports 1960 – 2010

South of the border, the situation isn’t as rosy. As Figure 13 shows, Mexico imports about half of its food requirement. With a population of 113 million growing at 1.1% per annum, there are another 1.2 million Mexicans created each year who, as adults, will need another 370,000 tonnes of imported grain to feed them.


Figure 14: Mexican oil production and consumption 1965 – 2021

Mexican oil production has peaked and is now falling rapidly towards the level of domestic Mexican consumption. That line will be reached in 2016, beyond which Mexico will have to pay for oil imports as well as increasing food imports, or do without something.


Figure 15: Brazilian sugar and soybean exports 1960 – 2010

Demand pull from China, importing 50 million tonnes of soybeans per annum, has created a supply response in other places. Figure 15, showing a dramatic increase in Brazilian soybean and sugar exports starting in the mid-1990s, begs the question of how much more land in Brazil could be put to the plough. With protein content of 38%, Brazil’s soybean exports equate to 100 million tonnes per annum of wheat in terms of protein content.


Figure 16: Russian wheat production and consumption 1987 – 2010

In accordance with good economic theory, Russian wheat production rose as a consequence of the end of communism in 1990, though it was a very lagged response. The drought in 2010 reduced production by 20 million tonnes and the Russian Government banned exports as a consequence.


Figure 17: World production of major grains in 2009

The World produces about equal quantities of wheat, rice and corn for a total of 2,200 million tonnes. This equates to 311 kg per capita for the seven billion people on the planet. The recent increase of US corn production by 100 million tonnes per annum in response to the price signal from the mandated ethanol requirement suggests that production of grains in the US could increase as the price signal increases. On that basis, there may be the ability to return more land to cropping in the US and increase production by a further 100 million tonnes per annum.

It has been estimated that Brazil has 190 million hectares of currently uncropped land that could be brought into production. Assuming 2 tonnes per hectare, Brazil’s production could rise by a further 380 million tonnes per annum. Similarly, Russia has 40 million hectares of cleared land that could be used for agriculture but currently isn’t. That might provide a further 80 million tonnes of grain per annum. The total is 670 million tonnes per annum of potential further production from the US, Brazil and Russia, which might feed 1,675 million people at 400 kg per capita.


Figure 18: World population growth rates 1950 – 2050

Figure 18 shows the World’s population growth rate from 1950 with a projection in blue to 2050. China’s Great Leap Forward shows up clearly in the chart. 30 million Chinese died as a result of a Government requirement to meet grain quotas while not allowing the peasants to retain enough to live on. This was 5% of China’s population at the time. Assuming that the World could produce a further 670 mtpa of grain and that would feed a further 1,675 million humans, that limit would be reached about two decades from now. There are likely to be some bumps along the way. At one stage in 1816, blocks of river ice from the Mississippi River were encountered by ships 100 kilometres out in the Gulf of Mexico. This was due to the Tambora eruption the year before. As the current de Vries cycle event progresses, the chance that a major volcanic eruption will have an agricultural impact continues to rise.


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So are you saying if they have us over the barrel with our demand on oil, then we should do the same with their demand on food?

So this is why our leaders have been building all them secret well stocked bunkers to hide themselves away during the great population collapse.
On a more serious note what will be the effect of all the new shale oil, tar sands and shale gas on the ability of the world to maintain crop yields? Another thing to consider is the rapid depletion of the Ogallala out West in the USA it is not being replenished and once it’s gone a lot of Prairie out West will revert to desert or be only good for cattle ranching.

Doug in Seattle

A rather Malthusian forecast.

Philip Bradley

In large areas of the world the limiting factor in agricultural production is water availability.
Here in Australia proposals to double food production by damming northern rivers, as has been done in the Ord River, have been met with howls of protest from the Greenies.
In other places like the Middle East desalination could rapidly increase agricultural production.
I think the danger isn’t in being able to progressively increase food production to meet rising demand, albeit at a higher cost. The danger is from a volcanic eruption that dramatically reduces agricultural production for one or two years.
I have long argued that rather than spending money on AGW, something that will happen slowly (if at all) giving us plenty of time to prepare and adapt, we should spent the money stockpiling food in preparation for an abrupt cooling that doesn’t give us time to prepare and adapt.
Otherwise I’d agree with David, as food demand rises relative to supply, the risks associated with a sudden cooling event rise.


Typo: “It has been estimated that Brazil has 190 hectares of currently uncropped land” is missing “million”.
By the way, India is doing fine in its food grains production. There is enough to feed everybody, only, the poor might not get it on their plates because of lack of purchasing power, bureaucratic indifference and/or corruption. This is even without GM varieties. A higher oil price does increase fertilizer and transport prices. Unfortunately western ideas and subsidies for bio fuel did raise Indian food prices a lot the last 3 years.

Gary Mount

A quick research of the Ogallala leads me to the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District
web site where I find that at present usage, if it never rains again there, the water will run out by the end of this century. Is it expected to not rain there much for the rest of this century? Am I missing something?

charles nelson

Well done WUWT…very informative.

charles nelson

Could Kilter explain by what mechanism change the aquifer is not being replenished please?


Don’t get me wrong, but by them fleecing us on oil, it in turn cost more for us to produce food, well it cost us more to produce everything,that in turn drives the cost of everything up. So when I asked or said “So are you saying if they have us over the barrel with our demand on oil, then we should do the same with their demand on food?” It boils down who wants to play fair now doesn’t it, because turning the other cheek sometimes can make a difference, if they slap us in the face then they need a slap back to even things out, or what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so to speak.


About 3200 years ago, within a space of 56 years, city states around the Mediterranean & in the Middle East collapsed.
Possible causes of collapse?
2.1 Volcanoes
2.2 Earthquakes
2.3 Migrations and raids
2.4 Ironworking
2.5 Drought
2.6 Changes in warfare
2.7 General systems collapse
That list seems ominiously familiar. Read it & weep.

John Marshall

Developed countries tend to grow far more of their own food, and export some. Africa needs development to push this assumption into fact. Zimbabwe used to feed Africa when white farmers worked their own lands. Now they have their land confiscated and given to locals who have no expertise or desire to farm by a government led by a criminal Mugabe. The funds wasted trying to prove AGW could have been better spent pushing African development and easing the world food problems.

John Mason

Me says:
October 8, 2011 at 12:33 am
“So are you saying if they have us over the barrel with our demand on oil, then we should do the same with their demand on food?”
I think you’ll find that is already the case.
Peak oil is likely to affect countries that have to import most of their food the hardest. In Western areas such as NW Europe, economic problems are the most likely symptom i.e. economies nosedive once oil gets beyond a certain price – this has happened several times over the past 50 years. What this means on the ground is far much less vehicle use and far more grow-yer-own food in any available space. Have been doing this myself for the past few years. Best get prepared.
In climate terms, drought is the big one to watch out for – and that can occur during warming OR cooling trends – for example, the ice-age climate was a relatively dry one. Human populations aside for a moment, this is primarily as geographical issue, as e.g. Texans may well have noticed this past 12 months.
Cheers – John


Without being alarmist at all there is going to be conflict between production and consumption. We are facing water shortages and we are losing arable land. We are also losing farmers who have been screwed by grain and produce buyers for decades. The bAustralian government have no farming policies and as stated above the city greens are opposed to new dams and water schemes. Problems are looming and governments everywhere are more concerned with a trace gas. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns.


Perry says:
October 8, 2011 at 1:46 am
“2.7 General systems collapse
That list seems ominiously familiar. Read it & weep.”
I’ve read somewhere that historically civilisations have collapsed when their EROEI dropped under 3. (EROEI = Energy returned on energy invested). As one major component of their energy infrastructure was agriculture, and their yield was not high, a cooling climate leading to failed harvests could push them over the edge.

tom roche

We have the capacity to gradually increase global food production, political stability, infastructure, education and price are the biggest factors. A cataclismic event will undoubtedly happen at some stage in the future,as it has in the past, no planning will avert that.


“Heroin is 25% of Afghanistan’s GDP. One day the world may stop paying for that heroin and the Danegeld for its terrorism. ”
The Afghan business model looks pretty sound to me. People never stop paying for dope.

Neil Jones

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy keeps land out of production by subsidising set-aside (it’s a price maintenance thing). What difference, if any, would bringing that back on-line make? They are, after all, the closest suppliers to North Africa with spare capacity.


Here is some simple arithmetic which is worth watching and puts some perspective on this subject.
You will then see why this lecture by Dr R. A. Bartlett, from the University of Colorado, has over 3 million hits!!

Disko Troop

The solution seems quite simple. According to the theory we need to pump increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere thus increasing world temps by four degrees, consequently moving the production area about 4 to 600 miles further North and releasing the vast areas of tundra in Northern Russia, China and Mongolia, alongside increased areas of Canada for grain production. As the major land masses are in the far north the loss of the sub-tropical south would be irrelevant. (Sorry Aus!)
I am going to throw an extra shovel full of coal on the fire right now.
Does anyone have the figures for how much land would be released per degree increase in global temps?

Seems like an opportunity for a new Borlaug to develop a non-plant equivalent … possibly a protein and starch mix grown by bacteria or yeast.

Rising quakes – volcanic activity – cloud cover – storms – floods, as happened before world devastating 5year 1815-20 volcanic winter and during most of the Little Ice Age, that provoked the cannibalic COLLAPSE of deforestating Mayas, Aztecs, Incas…
If altruist rescuers coordinate, humankind may revive truce and mutual-aid to AVERT next ice age!
We immediately must test the proposal to AVERT volcanic winter through crater-caps/grids hold by zeppelins over extra active volcanoes to prevent ash ejection to the stratosphere: the begining of every ice age.
OPEN PUBLIC DIALOGUE, DECENTRALIZATION and GLOBAL AFFORESTATIONS offer food and wood, promote mutual-aid and prevent


I do not quite agree with David about the timing of peak oil -there is lots still to be found in Alaska and arctic waters and also in the southern ocean around the Falklands, southern Chile etc. However, I do agree with his early presentation where he wrote about coal to liquids which is now viable at present oil prices, only politics is a problem, nuclear energy -in particular Thorium reactors which the Chinese will have up and running in about seven year. Countries that ignore or restrict nuclear energy (like Germany) will get left behind. It is notable that the Swiss have voted to lift the restriction on nuclear expansion.


Re Neil Jones – compulsory set-aside, as such, ended a few years ago in the EU, what we have now (in the UK) are schemes to use bits of land for ‘envronmental’ benefit, eg 6m grass strips alongside ditches and streams to reduce fertliser and pesticide runoff, field corners and strips of flower and clover mixes for pollinators and other insects and areas planted for overwinter bird feed.
These are part of ‘environmental stewardship’ shemes or what is called ‘cross-compliance’ see:
I understand that the details vary from country to country.


This really points out how silly it is to grow corn for fuel.


Worth reading. An ongoing series on the issue of food security from DTN:
Agriculture’s Greatest Challenge
Growing enough food to feed a hungry world will create new opportunities for America’s farmers. But it also means greater volatility and uncertainty for your financial future.
Risk And Rewards Of Food Security – A letter from Editor In Chief, Gregg Hillyer
9,000,000,000 – It’s a daunting number of people to feed by 2050. Can the world’s farmers meet the challenge?
Volatility, The New Norm – Sure, the world can’t get enough of what you produce. But strong global demand creates more risk for your farming business.
The Hungriest Continent – Africa struggles to feed its people in a world of plenty.
Producers Prepare to Serve Billions and Billions – The world’s appetite for beef, chicken and pork offers a promising future for the U.S. livestock industry.
Bye Bye Ethanol Boom? – Corn is a key food and feed ingredient. Will the corn ethanol industry win out over feeding the world?
The Food Futurists – These distinguished experts share their thoughts on the challenges of feeding a hungry world and how agriculture will respond.
A New Land Grab? – For some countries, securing their future food supply means looking beyond their borders.


Afghanis exporting terrorism? Last time I looked, the terrorist were mostly of other nationalities. And Muslim activists, at least in Europe, together with mosque building, are paid by Saudis. BTW – there was even a proposal to make Afghan farmers produce raw opium legally, bought and exported for medical purposes, but USA blocked that.
Back to grain – maybe someone should notice European Union leaders – they still favor converting of fields to nature-close meadows or wetlands, cultivating energy plants instead of edible crops and planting fotovoltaic panels instead of sowing cereals.
I’ve read in a British governmental pamphlet, that farmers should change from food producers to landscape guardians.


Chas said
schemes to use bits of land for ‘environmental’ benefit, eg 6m grass strips alongside ditches and streams to reduce fertliser and pesticide runoff, field corners and strips of flower and clover mixes for pollinators and other insects and areas planted for overwinter bird feed.
Oh yes.
And now there starts a completely new research on how to get ergot from cereals.
You know – that pesky poisonous fungus, whose presence in cereals was limited already in 50’s by simple measures as NOT leaving grass strips near fields or mowing such strips twice a year to prevent grasses from blooming and using an occasional fungicide spray. All these things are now a big no-no because of “ecological” approach to agriculture. Necessity of reinvent a wheel again…

Excellent analysis. Fossil fuels are essential to any advanced economy. But food is more essential.
The rise in CO2 is closely tracked by the rise in agricultural productivity. But in their ravenous desire to demonize “carbon” in order to tax the air we breathe, the climate alarmists are deliberately condemning hundreds of millions of poor folks to death by starvation. But they don’t care in the least. They only crave those tax dollars.

R. de Haan

Short term risk is the man made economic collapse.
When farmers can no longer afford buying the seeds, the insecticides and the fuel to work their land…
When the distribution system collapses….
When the US dollar decline, rising oil prices and speculation triggered price hikes buy’s less food, less oil and less seeds….
We are already seeing a second wave of food riots similar to 2008 building quickly.
Things will get worse short term and wide spread famines in Asia a.o. North korea, the Middle East, the Magreb, East- and West Africa and Middle and South America will fill the International agenda’s very soon.
Armed conflict, waste of capital and resources due to the climate change doctrine including the transformation of food crops into bio fuels, more expensive modified seed concepts, rising oil prices, speculation and corruption are driving trends and forces that will deprive a large part of the current world population from affordable food short term.
In the news now:
China ploughs a new corn furrow
Nestle Chief warns of new food riots
North Korea famine looms
Also read what Spengler recently wrote about Egypt and China


How many of y’all think that all the cropland in a country is owned by the citizens or govt’ of that country? You might be surprised to know that there is a rapidly growing international market for crop and forest land.
Jeff Conrad has been in the business of farmland investment for more than 20 years, and he’s never seen more interest in buying property internationally than now.
“There is definitely a change in the U.S. and elsewhere,” says Conrad, the president of Boston-based Hancock Agricultural Investment Group, which purchases and manages farmland in the U.S., Canada and Australia on behalf of institutional investors. It currently has more than $1 billion invested in permanent crops, such as almond groves and major row crops. “We have people calling us out of the blue who want to learn more about our products.”
Interest in farmland isn’t limited to individuals or institutional investors. Countries like China and some in the Middle East are purchasing or leasing large tracts of land in Africa, Australia or South America. The reason? With little arable farmland and limited land resources to expand agricultural production, they are seeking to secure access to crops in the future.
“The primary concerns of the funds from the Middle East,” Conrad says, “is food security. That is my sense of their No. 1 concern.”
Land lovers. The world demand for farmland is further encouraged when you consider today’s existing global “fundamentals,” such as rising commodity prices and economic development around the world, Conrad says. The establishment of burgeoning middle classes in China and India”with increased demand for grain and meat”are further driving the interest in land.
A World Bank report, “Rising Global Interest in Farmland,” released last year, showed international farm sales totaling 111 million acres (about 45 million hectares) in 2009. Prior to that, the average rate of international sales was about 9.9 million acres annually.
Cont’d at link:

Frank K.

Food shortages will never hit home in the U.S. as long as we can visit our local supermarket and see their shelves stocked to the brim with food products we need and use, and priced reasonably.
If the progressives have their way, we will eventually see empty shelves and long lines to obtain basic food items due to shortages. This is because they are doing everything they can to ruin our economy – just look at the lazy progressives who are participating in the Occupy Wall Street protests.
And then, of course, there are the wealthy government science elites like Jim Hansen who want to kill both jobs and energy security (all while hypocritically consuming petroleum products). This is why CAGW-ism must be fought now. It is my fervent hope that after next year’s elections in the U.S., we’ll be able to finally zero-fund the government portion of the CAGW climate industry…

Chuck L

This ia a very interesting analysis. Does it assume increasing amount of arable land continues to be used to grow corn for ethanol, a foolish, misguided, inefficient, uneconomic use of resources? The US and Canada , together, absolutely should use their ability to grow grains as an economic lever to counter OPEC and the natural gas cartel that Russia is trying to create in Europe.

John Mason

Frank K. says:
October 8, 2011 at 5:20 am
“Food shortages will never hit home in the U.S. as long as we can visit our local supermarket and see their shelves stocked to the brim with food products we need and use, and priced reasonably.”
Unfortunately, that’s like saying, “nothing will ever go wrong so long as it doesn’t”!
The issue has nothing to do with political protests in Wall St or anywhere else. It has everything to do with geological constraints and EROEI with respect to finite natural resources. Oil is finite. If it was infinite, why do you (and Redneck, above) think we are having to drill the Deepwater sites, and why are companies drawing up plans to explore the Arctic as soon as the retreating ice makes that feasible?
Cheers – John

Philip Bradley

Some what OT for this blog, but people who demonize ‘speculators’ simply don’t understand how markets work
What a speculator does is increase supply and decrease prices at times of greatest demand.
In a famine, the foresight of speculators will save lives.


Single cell protein can easily outproduce Triticales sps. The technology is well developed.

Patrick Davis

“AntonyIndia says:
October 8, 2011 at 1:17 am”
Agreed. Ditto in Africa.


I’m skeptical of peak oil claims. Shale oil and gas is a game changer. For example, Egypt has shale deposits. The amounts in Egypt are small compared to many other oil shales, but even Egypt has some. From the link:
“An estimation of the total volume of all potential organic rich Cretaceous shale amounts to 4.5
billion bbl of oil in place concerning the area Safaga-Qusseir. In the area of Abu Tartour 1.2 billion
bbl of oil in place was calculated by Troger, (1984).
The obtained results favor that the black shale widely distributed in Egypt represent promising
target for detailed evaluation studies as high potential resource for energy.”

Philip Bradley

I was going to leave the peak oil aspect alone, but my 2c worth.
What David’s graphs show is that the current oil exporting, food importing, mostly Middle East nations will be in deep trouble, not because of Peak Oil, but because of peak low technology oil.
The trend over the last 20 years is toward higher technology oil/gas/coal extraction.
The trend is accelerating with shale gas fracking and expanding oil sands production.
The next wave is robotic mining. A mine is about to open here in Western Australia with no underground workers. All the underground work is done by robots controlled from 2,000 Ks away in Perth.

richard telford

[snip – sorry Telford, not going to allow you to start your own thread hijack here because you don’t like one of Archibald’s slides, your trolling is tiresome – Anthony]

Tim Minchin

[snip – too far off topic – will turn into a hijack on the topic – Anthony]

Peter Dunford

The expansion of the Yemini population with the falling trend for oil revenues implies a dire future for Yemen and trouble for it’s neighbours. However, why do you imply that Yemen’s demand for wheat is increasing at 170,000 tons a year when it is probably stable on that falling consumption trend? (Assuming, of course, that trend continues, I don’t know what they’re eating, but only 40% of those 2500 a day come from wheat based on your figures. Is that trend following the oil revenues down?).


Please don’t ever fall for the sophistry of “peak oil”. We do not burn crude oil in our cars, trucks and airplanes. We burn very carefully refined fuel products made of molecules that are assembled, atom by atom, by a process that breaks down the molecules from some raw, hydrocarbon rich, feedstock.
Crude oil is the primary feedstock for the only reason that, for the time being, it is the least costly source of those atoms. But when crude oil was in short supply during World War II, the Germans used coal as the source of molecules. Based on today’s prices, it becomes less expensive to convert coal to diesel fuel when crude oil costs more than $80/bbl. But we can use other sources of hydrocarbons. A company in Carthage, Missouri was selling a form of diesel fuel that was made by rendering the waste products of slaughtering turkeys. It went bankrupt not because the process didn’t work, but because the resulting product was more expensive than customers wanted to pay. The company had previously run successful tests to convert municipal solid waste and sewage sludge into diesel fuel. They computed that there was enough sewage sludge in the US to supply around half of its diesel fuel needs if properly converted.
The end issue is cost. Presently, fuels made by refining crude oil cost less than fuels made by refining coal, sewage sludge, or turkey carcasses. But the instant those later sources are less expensive, the market will start to use them. We don’t fret about ‘peak whale’ because when overhunting caused the price of whale oil to rise, other sources of oil for lamps was found from coal and crude oil. Then electricity came into use for lighting of homes and streets. Today, even the use of Coleman lamps (that burn a form of gasoline) for illuminating camp sites is giving way to lights that use efficient LEDs and batteries. We can no longer buy whale oil, and who would light their home with it anyway? Neither would they use an open gas flame, as was done for decades.
An exciting frontier of research is to use genetically engineered algaes to produce usable fuel molecules. A recent article stated that at the present time, the break even costs were in the ballpark of $200/bbl. The carbon atoms for algae-produced fuels would come from the CO2-rich gasses from coal-fired power plants.
The plain truth is that we are awash in hydrocarbons that can be converted to usable fuel products. The only issue is cost, that is if government will not intrude and distort economic decisions like it presently does with corn-based ethanol.
“Peak Oil” is a lie that is used in an attempt to stampede policymakers and the public into choices that cannot be productive in the long run, and certainly ones will raise costs and destroy liberty in the process.

We are in global peak oil now. Essential viewing.

Keith Battye

John Marshall says:
October 8, 2011 at 2:00 am (Edit)
Developed countries tend to grow far more of their own food, and export some. Africa needs development to push this assumption into fact. Zimbabwe used to feed Africa when white farmers worked their own lands. Now they have their land confiscated and given to locals who have no expertise or desire to farm by a government led by a criminal Mugabe. The funds wasted trying to prove AGW could have been better spent pushing African development and easing the world food problems.
If the west hadn’t pumped in large quantities of food to Zimbabwe Mugabe’s government would have fallen in the first couple of years of the “Land reforms”. The west has actually propped up Mugabe, as they have many corrupt and incompetent regimes in Africa.


Philip Bradley says:
October 8, 2011 at 6:01 am
For Middle Eastern countries, nuclear is their salvation. Of course, there is a concern due to their belligerent nature, but with nuclear, they can make enough electricity to desalinate sea water. They have plenty of sunshine. Then they can grow food. It would be best to grow the food in a closed system so that water could be recycled. Extra CO2 would also help 😉


Of course, our population is limited by solar energy (crop production), and fossil energy (crop planting, harvesting, transport). We consume much more energy per capita to live in the comforts of civilization than say a family living on a few acres growing their own food. Who wants a new Cultural Revolution where we all go back to the farms? Oh, yeah, the idiots occupying Wall Street and the White House.
Gosh, it looks like the world is headed for a serious crash. Yes, that would be true if the same people running government now keep making decisions. There are two ways out:
1) Extend the benefits of civilization to more of the world’s population. When that happens, the birth rate will fall. Europe’s population is shrinking except for the third-world immigrants who still retain a culture of high birth rate. The United States is also headed toward a negative population growth rate also except for immigration.
2) Develop methods to produce more food, eventually, through biosynthetic food production facilities. The goal is to decouple the human population from arable land area.
In the first approach, we would hope to keep the population limited voluntarily. Seems to work well in some places. However, the benefits of civilization require higher per capita energy consumption. In the second approach, we substitute another energy source for the sun, converting that energy into food. If we can do that, we convert the process from 2 dimensional geometry to perhaps 3 dimensional geometry, or at least reduce the land-area footprint required to produce food. Here again, a very potent energy souce will be required.
Greens are not giving us a way out. Their policies do not lead to the production of enough energy to maintain civilization. They convert our energy supply to one that is also dependent on land area. That’s going in the wrong direction. We need compact forms of energy. Oil is not the answer. Nuclear energy is. The solution is natural gas -> fission -> fusion. Hand wringing about Fukushima is missing the point. If we don’t produce enough energy per capita, the world population will crash. There is better technology available to produce energy from fission, and we need to figure out how to sustain better than break-even fusion in the next couple of centuries.
The Greens are leading us to starvation disease and death on a scale the world has never seen. The Black Death was terrible, with a 50% drop in population. The Green Death certainly will be worse.

Encouraging is that the volcanic activity has ramped down as the sun has recently shifted into a higher gear.
Discouraging though is the issues about the really big bad boy eruptions may not follow what the kids do.


“(Technology advances).. pioneered by Norman Borlaug. In a sense, that put off the problem for a generation and made it twice as bad. ”
That’s the key to the whole article: if we concentrate only on increasing food supply, we temporarily can raise the carrying capacity and allow a harder, deeper fall in population when a crisis in another limiting factor inevitably occurs.
I keep hearing this deep, booming voice in my head. Anybody know what a “cubit” is?

Kip Hansen

Mr. Archibald,
What is the reason that world wheat production has leveled since 1996?