Killing the Soil that Feeds Us: Food, Profit & the Fatal Impact of Petro-Dependent Agriculture | EV & N 308 | CCTV

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In the face of menacing climate change, agricultural systems around the world are under pressure to produce more food — fast.   In response many “agricultural experts” are promoting the expansion of petro-intensive growing techniques, deploying ever greater amounts of nitrogen fertilizers derived from natural gas.   In pursuing this strategy humans are linking their primary production system (agriculture) irretrievably to non-renewable fossil fuels.  As these fossil fuels become ever more expensive petro-intensive agriculture will begin to appear ever more disastrous for human survival.

The tragedy is that while fossil-fuel based agriculture has been widely praised and broadly disseminated through the “green revolution” (and its logical extension in the “gene revolution”) petro-dependent agriculture of this kind is ultimately destructive because it is killing the natural fertility of the soil.  We need to remember that topsoil is the ultimate life-support system of all civilizations.  We may think we live in a “post-industrial” society or a “post modern” culture, but we should not kid ourselves.  There is no such thing as a “post-agricultural” civilization.  Ultimately there are limits to the industrialization of agriculture.   Agriculture is a subset of biological processes, infinitely more complex and precarious than assembly-line industrial processes.

The human community needs desperately to learn how to build soil and sequester atmospheric carbon in an increasingly enriched reserve of topsoil that can support solar-sustainable agriculture.   Instead, in pursuit of immediate profits, agribusines corporations (often owned by petrochemical firms) are driving global agriculture into ever more elaborate forms of petro-dependence.   More and more of the world’s population has come to depend on fewer and fewer crop species, grown in ever more narrow regions of the world with ever greater subsidies from fossil fuels and fossil water supplies.  All the while the distance between rural production zones and areas of growing urban consumption is increasing, committing food systems to greater investments in processing, refrigeration, storage and transportation — all of which is enabled only by further fossil fuel subsidies.

Meanwhile, on every continent, in every culture and in all nations on Earth humans have become net-destroyers of topsoil and turned their petro-intensive food system into a net-emitter of greenhouse gases and an “energy sink” for food production.  This cannot and will not persist for long in geologic time.

Properly designed agriculture should capture solar energy, not run itself on fossil energy subsidies.  It should sequester carbon in the ground, not combust fossilized carbon and release the massive carbon reserves stored in the soils.  By killing Earth’s topsoil and linking its agriculture irretrievably to the increased use of fossil fuels humans are committing collective suicide.

Spurts of growth with one or another of the petro-intensive technologies like those deployed in the “green revolution,” may look impressive and create vast fortunes for petrochemical firms and agribusiness multinationals in the short term.  Nevertheless, without building soil fertility and re-creating an agriculture that sequesters carbon and sustains itself with throughput solar energy, human civilizations cannot and will not endure for long in a climate changed world.

See related:

as well as:

With examples of the purposeful transformation of key crops for the convenience and profit of agribusiness firms:

And a range of work by:



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