Geri Guidetti Food Supply Update : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Food Supply Update: October 19, 1999

Critical Oil to Fork "Thread" Threatened by Y2K (Part I of a three-part series)

Copyright ) 1999 by Geri Guidetti

The Ark Institute, PO Box 142, Oxford, Ohio 45056 800-255-1912

As a young college professor and fledgling science writer some 27 years ago, I remember reading the personal account of a senior science journalist who had, years before, been invited by our government to witness a new,above-ground nuclear explosion in the Nevada desert. Not knowing what to expect of the test detonation, the man was unprepared for what he was about to see. Later he would write anemotional essay about his experience and the new technology. Though I do not remember who he was, I will always remember how he began his essay: "There I stood, on the brink of hell...."

Despite the obvious differences between a space- and time-limited detonation of a single nuclear bomb and thepotentially catastrophic impact of prolonged, widespread technology failures in Y2K, the latter may very well trigger in thousands, millions or even hundreds of millions of people, an equally acute sense of fear, horror and powerlessness. Some of us may, indeed, come to the conclusion that we are teetering on "the brink of hell." Please understand that I don't make that comparison lightly, or suggest it irresponsibly, for effect. I am serious and, based on new, highly credible information, I am that concerned.

The Ark Institute concerns itself with issues of food security in the United States and throughout the world. Before Y2K was even a blip on our radar screen, we had initiated, in 1994, a public dialogue about our increasing, nearly total, dependence on technology and a handful of powerful, multinational corporations to feed us. I was concerned that any natural or manmade threat to a single component of our current food supply system had the potential to topple the entire system. Sadly, it appears that we will soon be confronted by multiple threats to our food and water security, directly, indirectly or unrelated to Y2K. In this three-part series, I would like to look at some of these threats, and discuss some steps we might take to increase our personal and community-wide food and water security.

Threat #1: TheY2K Threat to Oil

Like a rich, complex, intricately woven and richly colored tapestry, the successful production, processing, transportation, distribution, sales and personal preparation of food are entirely dependent on the integrity and strength of the common "thread" of technology binding them together. Though often referred to as the "millennium bug", a metaphor that has now been transformed into cute tee shirts

sporting often comical cartoon insects chewing holes in the shirt ,the real world Y2K problem might be better thought of as flawed thread that has been woven throughout the entire tapestry of modern civilization. That thread forms the very foundation of the fabric of which modern civilization is woven.

Old weavers (programmers), working with crude machines, knew the thread was flawed and would eventually break, but they expected the tapestry would be replaced by the time the flaws became apparent. It wasn't replaced. Instead, more and more weavers added to the tapestry over time, creating layer upon layer of intricate, multicolored and functional design. It was difficult to believe that anything so beautiful could really be flawed to the point of failure--until the first threads began to break, and the resulting weaknesses caused parts of the tapestry to unravel, leaving random holes throughout the beautiful cloth. Despite heroic efforts by the weavers to fix the flawed thread wherever breaks occurred, eventually the breaks would be too many and the fixes, themselves, will have generated flaws in those parts of the tapestry still intact.

Some of the old and many younger weavers (programmers) fear that they will not be able to tie in and incorporate new pieces of thread without creating a bump, a wrinkle or a distortion somewhere else in the tapestry. They may be right, especially when you consider that this is a global tapestry. Bit by bit, the integrity of the original cloth will deteriorate, they say. After years of trying to salvage the flawed tapestry, the weavers--and their employers--will have to admit failure and create a whole new cloth based on sound thread and a sustainable, less critically dependent design.

With less than 75 days to go before the roll-over, I have come to expect, and am preparing for, this more pessimistic outlook. Barring unthinkable nuclear or chemical catastrophes (more about them in Part II and III) or extensive, catastrophic weather patterns, whether or not we eat next year comes down, directly or indirectly, to oil. Oil to fork-it really is as simple as that. Here in the U.S., the modern, commercial agricultural miracle that feeds all of us and much of the rest of the world, is completely dependent on the flow, processing and distribution of oil, and technology is critical to maintaining that flow. Without timely and expensive inputs, yields of all basic food crops, as well as seed for the following year's (2001?) crops, would plummet or stocks simply disappear because....

*oil refined for gasoline and diesel is critical to run the tractors, combines and other farm vehicles and equipment that plant, spray the herbicides and pesticides, and harvest/transport food and seed

* food processors rely on the just-in-time (gasoline-based) delivery of fresh or refrigerated food

*food processors rely on the production and delivery of food additives including vitamins and minerals, emulsifiers, preservatives, coloring agents, etc. Many are oil-based. Delivery is oil-based.)

*food processors rely on the production and delivery of boxes, metal cans, printed paper labels, plastic trays, cellophane for microwave/convenience foods, glass jars, plastic and metal lids with sealing compounds. Many of these are essentially oil-based.

*delivery of finished food products to distribution centers in refrigerated trucks. Oil-based, daily, just-in-time shipment of food to grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, schools, etc., all oil-based, customer drives to grocery store to shop for supplies, often several times a week.

So what, you ask? We have plenty of oil? Think again. The U.S. currently imports about 55% of its oil. Our food supply, and our economic survival as a whole, depends on the steady availability of reasonably priced oil. Oil is our Achilles heel. We use about 18 million barrels of oil per day to sustain our current lifestyles. We have anywhere between 45-60 days of oil stockpiled in the U.S., according to several expert sources. Life as we know it stops if we drain that supply. The big question is, are our foreign sources of crude oil Y2K compliant?

Two respected consulting firms' ongoing studies would suggest that they are not. London-based, International Monitoring, rates the potential for severe disruptions in transportation, utilities, telecommunications and government for 140 countries on a 1 to 6 scale. One is the best case scenario, and 6 is the worst. The scores of 8 OPEC nations averaged out at 4.5. This translates into a moderate to high risk of political system disruptions, delays in transportation averaging 37 days, and utility disruptions of 15 days. Though the U.S. was rated a 1.4 on the same scale, the figure does not take into account the likely impact of disrupted oil imports on the U.S.

A late 1998 study by GartnerGroup, a very highly regarded technology research/consulting firm, estimated that 50% of companies in Kuwait, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates would have Y2K failures. For comparison, GartnerGroup estimated 15% of U.S. companies would have failures.

Multiple sources are now reporting that the Y2K status of large numbers of embedded microchips governing oil pumping, processing, shipping and refining processes are unknown. In fact, oil companies have reported publicly that they have adopted a "fix on failure" policy with respect to embedded systems in refineries and at oil well heads, reinforcing experts worries that there are too many unknowns to predict that all is well with oil. We are dependent on foreign oil sources to the tune of 55%. You can't disrupt 55% of the life supporting "blood flow" of the U.S. without significant impact. You can't disrupt 45%, 35%, 25% or even 10%, for that matter, without disrupting the U.S. economy.

Bottom line? If we think we are food secure here in the United States and other industrialized countries simply because we have gas in the car, frankly, we are delusional. Despite the appearance of an endless bounty of food, it is a fragile bounty, dependent upon the integrity of the global oil production, refining and delivery system. That system is entirely dependent on the thread of technology. Modern, technology-based agriculture produces both food, and seeds for next year's food, just-in-time. There are precious little reserves of either food or seeds to sustain any protracted interruption.

In the warm, sunny and food-abundant summer and fall, the "dumb" gophers, squirrels and ants know enough to store food for not-so-abundant days. Our grandparents and their grandparents knew how to grow and preserve their own food to ensure their survival. What makes us think that we are different--that we don't have to look ahead to leaner days when we might have to depend only on ourselves to eat? Technology and the incredibly rich tapestry it has made possible has created a false sense of security for so many of us. The thread is flawed; the tapestry is now fragile; famines are possible. We must take that seriously.....Geri Guidetti, The Ark Institute

-- matt (, October 19, 1999


Another good discussion can be found here.

Got wheat and a grain mill?


Non-hybrid seeds?

A small plot to grow a garden?

A way to protect your crop?

Powdered milk? Cows need grain to eat too. How do farmers get grain for livestock? All part of the very long (and fragile) food chain and extensive division of labor.

Daddy I'm hungry. Sorry, I don't want to hear this when I knew, I should have, could have prepared. What will be your answer? Do you have children? Do you love them? Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. There is no shame in preparing. JUST DO IT!

-- MarktheFart (, October 19, 1999.

Folks, a year of dried, staple food (read wheat, corn, rice, beans) MAY NOT be enough.

Think newbie farmers. Think mistakes.


-- mushroom (, October 19, 1999.

mushroom, I had reasoned the year 2001 could be far worse than the year 2000 because all that happens in 2000 will come to roost in 2001. I am predicting an unprecendent global famine. One is going to have to be on alert throughout the year 2000 to grab what one can for 2001 when and if any becomes available.

I totally agree with you that one year is not enough, but I do think there will be spikes in availability of products in 2000. Gluts will surface from products sitting at ports unable to move and then suddenly moving as a herd.

-- Paula (, October 19, 1999.

mushroom -- we lost three gardens in a row to unusually cold and wet spring weather followed by unusually hot and dry weather. You're right!

-- helen (, October 19, 1999.

Thanks Matt

This article lays it out so that even the blind can see. Y2K is a many layered problem. Because so and so is complient in itself means very little in the overall context of the problem. This is what most can't seem to grasp or do not wish to.

-- Ed (, October 19, 1999.

--- "Bottom line? If we think we are food secure here in the United States and other industrialized countries simply because we have gas in the car, frankly, we are delusional. Despite the appearance of an endless bounty of food, it is a fragile bounty, dependent upon the integrity of the global oil production, refining and delivery system." ---

Oil is one of several easily broken chains of dependency. Probably the most critical at this time.

The y2k remediation of oil related facilities will depend to some degree on the misguided concept of fix-on-failure. The current plan is to have all chemical and oil refining processes suspended for the roll-over. And then to begin a phased restart of production plants. The plan is to use fix-on-failure where failures occur.

However, if failures happen in safety related sytems, the results may be total destruction of these facilities. Chemical plants and oil refineries are dangerous work environments. Some of the danger is minimized by carefully maintaining pressures, temperatures, proportions and volumes. Careful monitoring of these prevents deadly explosions and fires.

How many operators and workers will call in sick or simply refuse to perform tasks once safety has clearly become an issue. State and Federal laws which clearly apply to safe operation and worker safety may halt this plan once a few plants have malfunctioned with catastrophic results.

To quote Murphy's Law:

Nature sides with the hidden flaw.


-- no talking please (, October 19, 1999.

Markthefart & Mushroom: You don't realize how right you are. I have been involved in the agricultural field for more than 18 years. I can tell you that Geri is a prophet if things do indeed go bad. A famine in the year 2001 is a VERY REAL POSSIBILITY. If people truly understood what it takes to grow a crop, harvest that crop, and bring it to the marketplace, they would be amazed. FUEL is the well as other inputs. If people thimk that growing a garden to support their families' needs is easy...good luck. We have disasters on a regular basis out here in the commercial agricultural world on a seasonal basis....SEASONAL BASIS...not daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Most people have no idea what it actually takes to grow a crop, bring it in, and store it for later use. This is just another example of "the division of labor"....Books can guide, but experience is best. Unfortunately, in a biological situation, you may only get one chance (season=3,4,5,6,7 months) and that's it until next year.


-- shepherd (, October 20, 1999.

Folks, I just posted some more information regarding petroleum usage on the thread "Oil, Transportation, and Food".

Heavy truck fuel consumption is almost FOUR TIMES greater than that used by utility companies.

As of January of this year, transportation uses over *4 million* barrels of oil a day more than we produce in this country, according to the Department of Energy.

Civilian transportation useage is almost 5 times that of heavy trucks.

Guess which will get cut first?

Have food for your family, some extra for your neighbors, whether they scoffed or not.

Hunker down to survive.

-- mushroom (, October 20, 1999.

You guys are worrying about nothing. I've had a "lesson" from our resident agricultural economist, kenny decker, and here's what he has to say:

"Jeanne, Oh, great. Another homesteader ready to lecture at the LSE. Do you have any idea how much oil we squander? Do you think if there were a shortage the SUV drivers would take precedence over farmers? Do you think the strategic oil reserves would be used for Sunday drivers? Do you realize how a substantial price increase would move domestic wells (currently unprofitable) back into production? Do you think anyone is practicing conservation given the unusually low energy prices?

Here's a clue, Jeanne... in the event of an oil "crisis," the price of goods (including food) will increase. There is nothing magical about farming. The farm is a business producing food for the marketplace.

Like any business, when the price of production rises, a price increase is passed to consumers. Unless people decide to stop eating, they will pay increased costs. In some items, there may be shortages, but right now we have wheat rotting in the fields due to low prices.

People are not going to eat more during an oil crisis... they are just going to pay more. We have far more productive capacity in American farming than we need. We have simply kept marginal farms in production through ag subsidies.

Your writing suggests a shallowness of thinking about agriculture and economics. I'll be eating cake next year, Jeanne, and you are welcome to a piece if you stop by."

So you see, there's nothing actually to worry about. Our food will just cost more...decker will have cake and millions of others will have bread--if they can afford it. Agricultural economics according to Decker - what a laugh! Here's my prediction: fuel/energy of all types & inputs of all types will have gone sky-high in price by next summer. Your average 50 yr old+ farmer/rancher will not be able to afford to produce the normal amount of food/fibre for the same amount of overhead. I do not believe they will try to increase debt-or go into debt- just to maintain the same level of production. My husband raises cattle and we sell beef directly and breeding stock(registered Murray Grey cattle). If our overhead expense goes through the roof we certainly are not going to borrow money. We'll just have to cut the numbers of cattle down to what we can maintain in good condition on strictly forage. That is a management difference of significance....not all will be able to do it and some won't try. I predict that we will have SIGNIFICANT food problems in the next 8 to 24 months and longer if the energy problem persists. I will look for the next installment of the essays from the Arkinstitute; they seem to be right on target. "Oil to Fork" indeed - quite an appropriate title.

-- jeanne (, October 20, 1999.

Mr. Decker, although a pleasant person to exchange emails with, does not get "out of the box" too well.

I do so hope he is absolutely correct.

My BEST CASE scenario for the next couple of years is to see the US economy in about the same shape as that of Russia's right now. With a jury rigged "command structure" struggling to get things "back to normal".

"Never have so few wished so hard to be completely wrong"

-- mushroom (, October 20, 1999.

I am sick with the thought of the loss ahead.

For newbie farmers, there has to be strategic contingency planning such as a large supply of a variety of seeds, beans and grains for cooking AND sprouting.

Sprouting may the immediate answer for 90% of the GI population that isn't able to make it as farmers the first year out.

Once again, how much better if we could try to gather into small groups to form cooperative gardens with higher yeilds and more shared labor.

Perhaps, like fix-on-failure, a certain amount of us will discover that option after Y2K's impacts begin to be felt.

Just hope that enough of us have stored adequate supplies to make it possible.

-- Sara Nealy (, October 20, 1999.

I did some quick research this morning. Here are some local prices for basic grains. No, not in fancy buckets, just food in 50 pound sacks.

These prices are for the Midwest, your's will vary depending on your region.

Corn: 50 lb. sacks $2.23

Wheat 50 lb. sacks $2.50

Soybean Meal: Per 100 pounds $10.25 (they will sack it up, may cost a bit more)

Oats 50 lb. sacks $3.91

Think here. For under $400, you could have 6,000 pounds of food. That's roughly 18,000 to 24,000 "people days" of food. That's a lot easier than worrying about neighbors "coming after" your preps.......

Safer, too.

-- mushroom (, October 20, 1999.

Paging RC and Dog Gone!! Have you heard anymore from your sources in the Mideast?? Please pass on whatever info you receive..good or bad news! (here's hoping that you check into this thread)

-- jeanne (, October 20, 1999.

Good thread.

Let's move it back to the top.

Too important a subject to die.

-- mushroom (, October 22, 1999.

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